Scripture doesn’t tell us?

In Darrel Falk’s latest intervention on Dennis Venema’s behalf at BioLogos  (#70551), he refers Bilbo back to previous statements of his (and BioLogos‘) position, especially in his replies to William Dembski, on the extent to which God directs evolution.
Since when those articles were posted it seemed to me, as to others, that he was defending a preference for unguided evolution, whilst allowing the bare possibility of divine action within it, his (moderately) clear statement to Bilbo that he is completely agnostic on the matter makes the meaning of the statement he quotes from his earlier article clearer:

I see no scripturally-based rationale for determining the expected ratio of natural vs. supernatural divine activity in creation.  Scripture is silent on the issue and so far at least, science is as well—other than demonstrating that many biological features and mechanisms previously thought by some to be evidence of supernatural action can now be explained via God’s regular activity—that associated with his natural laws.  For the present, I think it is best to withhold judgment about the extent to which God suspends his ongoing regular activity in favor of miraculous supernatural activity in the history of the creating life’s diversity.

So, he says:

…since Scripture, as I see it leaves the matter open, and science doesn’t provide a clear answer either, I think it is pointless to speculate further.  I don’t think I am dancing around the issues.  I am simply saying “I don’t know,” because the two ways by which I would know (God Written Word and the scientific investigation of God’s World) do not provide the answer for me.

Darrel’s position is that Scripture gives no direction on the matter, and therefore that agnosticism is the faithful option. But is it actually the case that the Bible has no position about it?

As I remember Darrel’s original case, he majored on the fact that the Genesis creation account is not intended as a scientific description of God’s means. And in that I agree with him. I would take it as a functional account of the ordering of the cosmos for man and not relevant to science at all. But even many of those taking it as a literary or theological account of the material creation would regard it as compatible with undirected evolution on the proviso that the the “natural” mechanism were constrained enough to guarantee the specific goals of God’s creation words, such as the sun, a large moon, wild animals distinct from livestock and, of course, mankind created in God’s image.

But Genesis is not the only account of God’s work in creation, or in the ongoing processes of the natural world. Darrel, in the Dembski article and its comments, quoted passages like the last chapters of Job and Psalm 104. He interpreted them as God’s showing delight in the natural creation that has emerged, in whatever manner. But they don’t actually say that, as I pointed out at the time. They teach, very clearly, God’s self-proclamation of wisdom in making the particular beasts as they are (Job); his wisdom, care and love in providing for their individual needs (Job and Psalm 104); and, at his pleasure, withdrawing that provision or renewing it (thus “creating” them anew – Psalm 104). This is unequivocally a hands-on picture of God’s involvement in creation, which removes any doubt one might have from the indefinite nature of the Genesis account.

That this picture of God’s involvement is not restricted to these passages is clear from any reading of the Old Testament. Indeed it is a theological commonplace. His involvement in, and sovereignty over, events is there from start to finish: the accidental cast of a lot, the random trajectory of a broken axehead, the management of the weather, the setting up and pulling down of kingdoms, the sending of blessing and disaster, prosperity and disease. Active divinity is absolutely characteristic of the Old Testament, and is pointedly contrasted with the do-nothing impotence of the false gods of the nations. His very name, “Yahweh”, is to do with “being there for his people” as a protecting Father rather than any sense of Platonic “being”. Mighty acts are his very character.

To turn that Big Picture into Falk’s “Scripture gives no direction the issue” absolutely requires the process of dismantling it as primitive, or inconsistent with science, or anthropmorphic or whatever, a process which nobody at BioLogos has even suggested, let alone attempted. And indeed it would be impossible to deconstruct it without also deconstructing Christianity, because it carries on in the very teaching of Jesus. The reason I often quote the passage about no sparrow falling to the ground apart from God’s will is that it uses God’s hands-on role in nature in order to justify our own trust in God’s hands-on care for our lives, down to numbering the very hairs on our head. The most serious thing that could happen to any one of us – martyrdom for the faith – bears as much relationship to God’s will for us as his care of the life of a valueless sparrow. We are intended, clearly, to avoid the conclusion that because God’s care for the sparrows is sketchy or non-existent, then anything might happen to us at any time. The opposite is the case – if even a sparrow’s death is intimately related to the will of God, how much more are our times in his careful and loving hands. We are secure because God’s government of nature is meticulous.

One could, as with the Old Testament, add passage to passage to show God’s direction of nature in the service of his Kingdom, from the fish that Jesus brought to the nets of his disciples, or caused to swallow the temple tax, the famine that served to unite Jewish and Gentile believers, the storm that carried Paul to his appointed destiny in Rome, the disease that punished Herod’s pride, or the viper that demonstrated Paul’s apostleship to the inhabitants of Malta. That is hardly “leaving the matter open” – it is slamming the door with a resounding bang!

As for science, methodological naturalism precludes it ever “providing a clear answer.” The question is purely theological, though once the role of God as Creator is admitted, it is also valid to ask if the natural mechanisms are up to the task of creating as God is describes as doing.

Here again Scripture is hardly silent. The active picture of God in both Old and New Testaments is interlaced with descriptions of him as a God who plans all things in detail. That planning includes the outworking of human history, but also of the natural world. He never watches to see what happens in nature, though he is sometimes represented as doing so in human affairs. He relates to us personally – he relates to nature instrumentally. Nature, indeed, is what God does to accomplish his purposes. The idea of a world left to run by established laws and/or chance is as alien to the Bible as the idea of parliamentary democracy under the Davidic king. As indeed is a world which God governs by constant miraculous interventions – but as my last post shows, that is a false dichotomy which only serves to confuse.

So, Darrel, unless you have any evidence to the contrary, Scripture does not leave the matter open at all. It clearly rejects both naturalism and supernaturalism in favour of a strongly teleological providence which governs every aspect of the natural world. Whether that providence is “interventive” or “non-interventive” is one for the philosophers, but it is nevertheless  ongoing directive activity. And it is non-negotiable whilst one holds to a Bible-based theology, unless one is ready to do a considerable amount of work to undermine its biblical basis. Pleading agnosticism in the absence of such work is, to speak plainly, flying in the face of Scripture.

Jon Garvey

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.
This entry was posted in Creation, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Scripture doesn’t tell us?

  1. Cal says:

    It needs to be firmly fixed that the natural and the historical/anthro don’t get blended, which happens to distort some of the picture. Just because humans are choosing, which may or (most of the time) may not be in accordance with His will, doesn’t mean a) Nature is some self-choosing demiurge or b) God is not sovereign over His creation not being able to act or only able to react.

    The Lord’s will is being done regardless of those against it. Those who act against it, even willingly, end up in fact fulfilling it without ever once passing that responsibility for doing it back to Him.

    I think we agree, I just wanted to stress that for any reader. I also like the bit as YHWH, being for His people. How very true!

    Cal

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Quite true Cal. Humans, and angels, are distinguished by rational will. We experience choice, so we have a will. If we had no power to choose, it would be because will doesn’t exist (as Augustine said).

    Conversely, what in non-human nature is there for God to react (or be unable to react) to? If there are not beings with will, there are no choices being made. And if “chance” is put up as a proxy for “will”, then it is either subordinate to God’s will, or it would be a particularly blind, independant god.

  3. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    PS It’s not that Augustine said will doesn’t exist – I was merely echoing his argument in “on free will”.

  4. Gregory says:

    “As for science, methodological naturalism precludes it ever “providing a clear answer.” The question is purely theological, though once the role of God as Creator is admitted, it is also valid to ask if the natural mechanisms are up to the task of creating as God is described as doing.”

    Sorry to bring out my lyrical harp, Jon, but it confuses me why you still use the term ‘methodological naturalism’ as if 1) it is a clear and effective philosophy of science (PoS), 2) it offers effective, far-reaching and meaningful insights into science, philosophy and religion discourse, or 3) it is a healthy and helpful ideology for Christians-in-science to embrace. Personally, I don’t think it is or does. So I don’t use MN except to show how ludicrous it is and how it would be better the sooner it is thrown into the PoS garbage dump of history. Could you please help me to understand why you nevertheless hold onto it linguistically or why you raised it (from smelly-refuse) in this thread?

    Here’s an example where ‘Scripture doesn’t tell us’ whether or not embracing the language of ‘methodological naturalism’ is a Godly thing or not.

    As for ‘purely theological,’ I would just suggest if the topic of ‘evolution’ is involved, ‘the question’ is not and cannot be ‘purely theological.’ It simply must involve philosophy (in English language it was apparently the Cambridge Platonists who first used ‘evolution’), along with science and religion/theology/worldview. This is where I think you become captured by a ‘sola’ fallacy, Jon, i.e. the ‘sola theology’ fallacy (cf. the ‘royal/elite hierarchy of knowledge’) on a topic that imho obviously and inevitably involves other major realms as well. This is the same problem with Thomas’ attacks on BioLogos from a ‘purely theological’ perspective (whatever his happens to be). I’m not in any way denigrating ‘pure theology’ when it properly applies. But then again, you only use the term ‘evolution’ 3 times in the above thread, near the beginning, which makes is seem that ‘evolution’ isn’t actually part of ‘the question.’

    If I understand the main point you’re making to Falk is that he should incorporate language such as “active on-going directive activity of God” into biological theory. You are asking for his biological understanding to be more heavily influenced by theology and more deeply permeated by ‘purely theological’ language than you seem to think it currently is. Oh, I’d like to be a fly on the wall if you two ever end up meeting face to face! But what I don’t understand is if you’re suggesting he should try then to publish these new linguistic insights in peer-reviewed biology journals or just to promote them on BioLogos Foundation media sources, where ‘pure theology’ is not the main goal.

    That said, I think this statement of yours provides much food for thought and reflection: “Nature, indeed, is what God does to accomplish his purposes.” First I thought to distinguish this from ‘nature is what God is, i.e. a more panentheistic position. The philosopher in me thinks of ‘essence’ and ‘existence,’ as if you are suggesting that ‘God doing nature’ means I am ‘done’ both as a person and as a natural entity. But this also raises the ‘determinism’ issue (aside from what you call ‘anthropomorphism’), and if you and I and others can be said to ‘co-create nature’ in so far as reality reveals character or personhood.

    I’m wondering then what you do with the philosopher in you, Jon, how does ‘the lover of wisdom’ within you influence you on this topic, because he (whoever and wherever he is) might help us to find bridges between BioLogos and the IDM that are currently not in sight to most parties involved. You’re great at citing the names of theologians in history. But to me you seem to under-credit or not-involve the great philosophers who have also deeply defined peoples’ self-understandings of themselves as individuals and in communities (for His people), along with (in partnership) scientists and theologians (and martyrs), throughout human history.

  5. Cal says:

    I miss Conrad on BioLogos but I remember him responding to a poster (maybe Beaglelady, not sure) who talked about chance and creation by quoting Einstein,

    “Chance is God’s way of staying anonymous”

    TE and YEC both end up putting up the same cartoon character when it comes to models of creation. How marvelous that as we discover deeper levels of physics, the more powerful it truly reflects God’s glory.

  6. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Gregory

    I used “methodological naturalism” because it is overtly endorsed by the person quoted as saying that science doesn’t provide a clear answer. I concentrated on Scripture for the same reason: Darrel said that science does not give an answer, and his (not my) agreement with MN precludes it ever doing so. It’s slightly odd that he would speak as if it might.

    Scripture, on the other hand, is his other stated source of authority, and so I was simply examining his conclusions in that field and finding them wanting. Scripture does not mention evolution – but you say I did, three times, no less. I wasn’t counting. What’s the correct number of mentions?

    I didn’t involve philosophers because they were not cited as an authority by Darrel, to whose words I was responding. I suppose I could have introduced them on the basis that Darrel ought to have done so, but that actually wasn’t the piece I was writing. I can, however, remember offhand citing on this blog Plato, Aristotle, Lane Craig, Plantinga, Nancey Murphy, Ed Feser, Flew, Dennett, Ruse, and probably others.

    “If I understand the main point you’re making to Falk is that he should incorporate language such as “active on-going directive activity of God” into biological theory.”

    Then you’ve misunderstood me. On BioLogos Darrel is not engaged in biological theory, but in science and faith interaction. The terms of that are quite well-established both in popular discourse and in the academic literature. People like Barbour, Peacocke etc have no difficulty whatsoever in theorising about divine activity in relation to natural science, and in distinguishing the two as they relate them.

    The main point I’m making to Darrel here is that if you make a case using Scripture, you shouldn’t distort what it says.

  7. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Cal

    Conrad is alive, well, and on a yellow card at BioLogos under another name! That is a good quote, though, and I wonder what Einstein meant (perhaps we should read “The World as I See It” and find out!). But I suspect, from what I can understand of his atheological cosmic theology, that he meant it as more than scientific metaphor.

    “God does not play dice” implies that he was not happy with true randomness at the heart of the cosmos, and this quote seems to follow that line. The BioLogos position seems to be that God might have set up randomness as a quasi-independent determinant, which he watches and uses but doesn’t control. It can’t be totally independent because it follows statistical laws which, one supposes, God initiated.

    It is important, though, in the question of “freedom” that’s been floating around, that chance is a non-material determinant of things that are material. It doesn’t give things, or people, freedom but takes it away. At a human level I plan to visit Mother, but a random lorry crushes me. A trilobite seeks to reproduce itself, but a random mutation diverts that to reproducing something else.

    But Einstein does seem closer to the historical Christian idea of chance as being under the government of (what he conceives to be) God. He wants, it seems, a Universe in which reason, rather than chance, is the ultimate cause.

  8. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Gregory

    On your more substantive points:

    That said, I think this statement of yours provides much food for thought and reflection: “Nature, indeed, is what God does to accomplish his purposes.” First I thought to distinguish this from ‘nature is what God is, i.e. a more panentheistic position. The philosopher in me thinks of ‘essence’ and ‘existence,’ as if you are suggesting that ‘God doing nature’ means I am ‘done’ both as a person and as a natural entity. But this also raises the ‘determinism’ issue (aside from what you call ‘anthropomorphism’), and if you and I and others can be said to ‘co-create nature’ in so far as reality reveals character or personhood.

    “Does” rather than “is” – agreed. I don’t think Scripture (the subject of the piece!) gives any suggestion of panentheism, but it does suggest an intimate concern with, and interaction with, the natural world. Indeed, in some circumstances nature is pictured almost as an extension of God, in that the thunder is said to be his voice, etc. Allowing for poetic licence, it still doesn’t hint in the least that God is nature, but that he both directs and cares for it. Peacocke’s panentheism it is not.

    As ever, I was careful to distinguish human from non-human nature, to avoid encroaching on the free-will issue in a discussion ultimately about biology and physics. Yet it’s true that insofar as we are of the material and animal creation, we come under the same kind of governance, whatever that be.

    It’s almost axiomatic that what I am as an adult human could be termed “co-creation”, if only by taking the limiting case of my failures (as the authors say, “I am grateful to Prof Bloggs for his insights – all the errors are mine.”). Yet ontologically, I started life as “done” by God, which is just the way it was, like it or not. Genesis says “Let us make man” in chapter 1, and “God created Adam from the dust of the ground” in ch2. And throughout the Bible, sinners are wont to complain to God, “Why did you make me thus?” and get prophetic rejoinders about pots and clay. None of them thinks to complain, “Why did we create me thus?” because it’s obvious that God alone knit us together (Ps 139).

    What human freedom does to progress that creation, and to add to what God does in nature for good or ill, is another matter. Yet since you raise it, it does lead to reflections on God’s ultimate oversight: in the falling sparrows example, how many sparrows fall because men pushed them? Jesus mentions their low price – presumably they were bought as cheap food, or as pets, so were subject to the will of man. Yet “not one of them falls to the ground apart from my father’s will.” Deal with that mystery as you will, but it matters in context because the reassurance Jesus gives his disciples is that human persecutors can’t harm us apart from our Father’s will.

  9. James says:

    Gregory wrote:

    “If I understand the main point you’re making to Falk is that he should incorporate language such as “active on-going directive activity of God” into biological theory.”

    I would never have interpreted Jon’s argument in that way. I took it that Jon was trying to correct Darrel’s inadequate Biblical theology. Since BioLogos claims to be putting together biology (referred to by Bio-) and theology (referred to by Logos), it is obviously as necessary to get the theology right as to get the biology right. The ID people have of course repeatedly claimed that BioLogos gets the biology wrong, because neo-Darwinism is false. Jon is adding that BioLogos gets the theology wrong, because it is nowhere near Biblical enough.

    Gregory mentions a desire to build bridges between BioLogos and ID. I have nothing against building bridges between ID and theistic evolution, but BioLogos represents an execrable version of theistic evolution, and I see no reason why any ID person should wish to co-operate with it.

    On the other hand, Gregory mentions philosophy as a natural bridge. I thnk this is an excellent suggestion. The problem is that BioLogos has shown contempt for philosophy, especially in relation to faith; it opts for a mushy fideism, ignoring 19 centuries of philosophical theology. Yet Jon here, who makes no claim to any ability in philosophy, actually argues about theology with a keen philosophical mind, making precise distinctions regarding both method and metaphysical substance. The fact that Jon rarely drops names of philosophers does not mean that he is not thinking philosophically. Indeed, on the question of divine action, he has done more rigorous philosophical thinking than the whole staff of BioLogos combined. But they will reject all his suggestions. Until there is virtually a complete change of staff at BioLogos, the TE/ID rapprochement, which I and Jon and many others desire, is not going to happen.

Comments are closed.