On broadening the vision of theistic evolution

In my recent long essay, I contrasted the commonest modern manifestions of theistic evolution with the approach of TE’s first representatives in Darwin’s time. I showed that the latters’ central distinctive was divine teleology. This contrasts directly with the cautiously expressed undirectedness of evolution in the Origin of Species, due to Darwin’s near-atheist agnosticism, and even more with the insistent secularism of Huxley and his successors, which has become the default position in biological science.

I also demonstrated that modern TE, formulated academically by the science and faith scholars (mainly liberal Protestant and Catholic) and popularised by authors often from within the biological professions (also multi-confessional but with a higher proportion of avowed evangelicals), has tended to make a virtue of ateleology by developing a “hands-off” theology of nature’s freedom. This is heavily dependent on the personalist view of God that began to diverge from historic theology in the nineteenth century.

The early TEs expressed their teleology primarily in terms of design. In this it is clear they, like Darwin, were influenced by the natural theology of William Paley , but their concept of design, in the context of Darwin’s theory, was more centred on intention than mechanism, ie that although one could say that species arose from variation and natural selection, one must still say that their complexities and beauties were God’s work. God truly did create, in detail, through evolution.

This contrasts with the spirit of modern theistic evolution, in which the emphasis on God’s non-interference and the autonomy of natural processes renders specific outcomes both scientifically impossible and theologically undesirable; and in which supposed errors, waste and “immoralities” in living things are taken to exclude God’s detailed intentionality therein.

Those early TEs might, alternatively, have expressed themselves philosophically, in terms of Aristotelian final causation, and indeed occasionally they did so. As Charles Kingsley wrote:

So we will assert our own old-fashioned notion boldly; and more: we will say, in spite of ridicule, that if such a God exists, final causes must exist also. That the whole universe must be one chain of final causes. That if there be a Supreme Reason, He must have a reason, and that a good reason, for every physical phenomenon.

Final cause has, for the Thomistically-challenged, to do with God’s purpose for each of his creatures, and in classical theology this extended to the simplest of inanimate things. God made water to wet things, the sun to light the earth and so on, as well as imposing the form of, say, a fish, on matter in order to help populate the sea.

That’s not to say one can necessarily discern any or all of God’s purposes. There are classic cases like the eye, clearly intended for seeing. But it’s obvioulsy less clear why, for example, God should make hundreds of species of near-identical gnat. The point is, however, that God actually has some purpose(s) in creating all things that exist, or else they could not exist.

This is utterly congruent with Christian theology, which has always taught God’s working out of everything for his own purpose, his creation of all things in heaven and on earth, and his care towards everything he has made. The last is found in plenty of detailed biblical examples from God’s feeding of ravens and clothing the lilies to his giving and taking of individual creatures’ lives. This, as Brian Davies explains well in his The Reality of God andf the Problem of Evil , is the most intimate possible way in which the Creator can be seen as involved in his Creation, demonstrating at once his imminence and supreme transcendence. He is sovereignly and creatively involved with all he has made, at every moment.

In my view, the way modern theistic evolution has subordinated itself to naturalistic science, tailoring its theology to match (or, alternatively, preferring such theology because it meshes so easily with methodological naturalism) has weakened any distinctive contribution it might make to human knowledge and well-being. Its God is largely compartmentalised to personal piety, and has little or nothing to contribute to the scientific project. Indeed, the desire to keep science God-free appears to explain the otherwise unaccountable silence of, say, BioLogos writers on new scientific developments favouring teleogy withinin nature. TE, in other words, by downplaying final causality, has wedded itself to an instrumental, Baconian, vision of science. As Ed Feser says of the scientific enterprise in his book on Aquinas:

Having redefined “success” as the achievement of dramatic technological progress and in general the manipulation of nature to achieve human ends, [the moderns] essentially won a game the Scholastics were not trying to play in the first place … But [the Scholastics’] emphasis was on formal and final causes and the like, because they took these to be more fundamental to our understanding of the nature of things and to yield knowledge that had greater moral and theological significance.

This would matter less if theistic evolution were a purely scientific enterprise, like biology itself. It’s argued, even within TE, that natural science, as the study of natural phenomena, ought to avoid teleology. But theistic evolution, like any science-faith rapprochement, ought to have higher goals than cheer-leading for particular scientific theories. I would argue that those goals should include “the moral and theological significance of things”, and hence their divine formal and final causes.

This is not that strange a view, for science actually already has two distict motivations, though they are often confounded. The first is the Baconian project of taming nature and bending her to the human will. It was Bacon who sought to exclude final causality from science because (as we are often reminded by supporters of science) they are irrelevant to the project of interrogating nature to reveal her practical secrets. One only needs to understand efficient causes to manipulate them. One doesn’t need to know the purpose of a pig if one only intends to use it as a source of genetically-human insulin. One doesn’t care if chickens “ought” to live in the open if efficient egg-production is ones reason for investigating their biology.

But there has always been another strand to science, which is the sheer joy of knowing what the universe is about. Seen theologically it is the desire to think God’s thoughts after him, not so that one can rival his acts, but so that one can honour his wisdom and power. If that is not a major motivation for the science-faith enterprise (and I don’t much care in this particular regard whether that is labelled as Divine Action Project, Creation Science, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution or whatever), then in my view they may all just as well pack up and go home, for all that they will add to human knowledge and wisdom.

But you’ll see from the last paragraph that the “faith” element cannot be separated from the “science” element completely. For a start, if (as in Newton’s or Kepler’s or Maxwell’s case) worship is a motivation for doing science, as much as, say, the desire to discover “useful” things for the benefit of mankind, then it will affect ones whole approach as a researcher.

But in addition, the theological admission of final causation will not only inform the worship of the whole Christian community if it is understood and explained widely, but might actually move science forward in a way that is more productive than naturalistic materialism has proved to do.

Regarding the first, there might be some apologetic purpose in demonstrating that “God must have done it.” But it is much better to show what God did, in all its wisdom, and that includes why he did it – final causality. It’s not particularly edifying, in my view, to give the churches the message of what God didn’t do in creation, especially when that’s often linked to Scripture and the Church having got the fundamentals wrong hitherto.

Regarding the second – moving science forward – I believe final causation, far from being a science stopper, is both a spur to research and a precautionary principle. I’ve already said that some final causality is inscrutable and some self evident. Some is in between – hard to discern, but potentially useful once it is searched out. Failure to consider teleology has now, I think, been clearly shown to have delayed biological progress. It’s now nearly 70 years since Barbara McClintock’s discovery of transposons suggested internal teleology in organisms. Yet she had to stop publishing her results in the fifties because of the abuse she received from the scientific establishment. She finally got a Nobel Prize for it in the eighties, but the significance of her research has yet to have its full impact, and that in the teeth of continued mainstream opposition to her successors such as James Shapiro.

Similarly, for all the controversy over the ENCODE project, there is a strong and informed body of opinion stating that the Junk DNA concept has delayed understanding the function of non-coding DNA for some twenty years. The default position of a scientist working with a belief in final causes would be, “What’s that for?” rather than “How has that error persisted?” (Though actually, without final causes there can be no errors – just observations. Hardly a motivating concept.)

At least in the study of the organisms purpose is commonly assumed, whilst it is denied in principle. The whole business of assigning function is to assign purpose: this chunk of DNA is for that useful protein. Yet it is not only organisms but the whole of nature, and particularly ecology, that shouts out “final causation”, as well it should to the believing scientist, for biblically creation (bara) has to do with the organisation of the world’s function at macro-level, and not the mere existence of objects.

Logically, for instance, it’s as true to say that cleaner fish exist for keeping fish colonies healthy as it does to say that eyes exist to give sight. I wrote a little about ecological systems here. It makes perfect sense to say that wolves exist in the Yellowstone ecology in order to maintain the variety and health of the environment, if you’re willing to accept final causation – and why would a Christian not accept it, except by swallowing the materialist delusion that efficient causes alone explain reality?

There is a practical aspect to this, of course. If you are going to change some aspect of nature – an environment, or a creature’s (or a human’s) genetic makeup, you ought first be asking why (in final cause terms) it was as it was to begin with, on the assumption that there are one or more reasons. You would not assume it was purposeless, but weigh its final causes, if and when uncovered, against the good that might result from interfering with them.

There’s actually a group out there campaigning to save the guinea worm, which the rest of the world is trying to eradicate. It’s bizarrely amusing in using the same kind of language as campaigns against fur-seal culls, yet clearly (to the rest of us) far less convincingly. Yet it does have a point: it may well be that guinea worm is an unmitigated evil and its eradication an untrammeled good, but one should start from the assumption that it has some role in the world’s God-given economy and research that before deciding on destruction. I believe such studies may have been done, but if so the same attention was not given to the possible “reasons” for bacteria to exist, before wholesale introduction of antibiotics. Bacteria were just bad. Now we face the possible failure of the whole antibiotic concept through resistance. Is it not possible that asking teleological questions about what bacteria are for might have led us to better understandings of the issues?

That may seem unscientific, or even an impossible demand. But consider this: a major report from conservation organisations published only today shows that of 3,000 key UK species studied, 60% are declining and 10% are in imminent danger of extinction. One can say without much fear of refutation that this situation is almost entirely the direct or indirect result of Baconian science-technology, which sought to bend nature to man’s will without first making any attempt to ascertain what God’s will for it had been in the first place. Science may not have been responsible for eradicating the wolf from Britain (thus causing in the end our overpopulation of deer), but the blame for most of the rest must go to “improvements” made to our land  in the name of scientific progress.

No less a scientist that Stephen Hawking is of the opinion that the earth will be uninhabitable within the next thousand years. What he doesn’t say, but unconsciously admits, is that a biosphere that God has maintained perfectly well for 3.5 billion years would have been killed off in maybe 1,500 years by science and technology’s efforts to improve it. Even the fallen human race had kept it largely intact for millennia before that: it seems sin can damn a race, but it takes science to destroy the whole world.

So I suggest that not only the human race, but science itself, would be better served by taking final causation into account. Who is going to do that if not theistic scientists, and theistic scientists who actually believe in final causation and let it influence their approach to their work? And what groups today are committed to such an approach? I fear it is not the likes of BioLogos, by reason of their naturalistic approach to both science and theology, nor ID or YEC folk, because of their specific sociological agendas.

But somewhere, there may exist successors to the nineteenth century characters I named in my essay – who would no doubt appear to most people, by their philosophical and theological approach, to be throwbacks to the mediaeval age. They’d be more concerned to understand nature in its relationship to God’s will than to manipulate it to our own. They’d even follow the “unscientific” quest to determine some of that will in individual cases. But by that token, they might even be of more long-term practical use to the world than science has actually been thus far.

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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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37 Responses to On broadening the vision of theistic evolution

  1. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks a lot for your endorsement, Ian. Of course I agree thoroughly with your “hands on” interpretation of final cause – it was front-of-mind as I wrote, even if it didn’t come across strongly enough.

  2. seenoevo says:

    I’m all for real science, and I’m confident you are, too. Nevertheless, I think I know what you meant when you wrote: “it seems sin can damn a race, but it takes science to destroy the whole world.” Good line.

    You also wrote: “but science itself, would be better served by taking final causation into account… And what groups today are committed to such an approach? I fear it is not the likes of BioLogos, by reason of their naturalistic approach to both science and theology, nor ID or YEC folk, because of their specific sociological agendas.”

    Don’t ID & YEC take final causation into account?

    What is the specific sociological agenda of the ID?

    What is the specific sociological agenda of the YEC?

    Does the non-ID non-YEC pro-final causation TE have a sociological agenda?

    Lastly, your essay called to my mind words written over 80 years ago:

    “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.” – G.K. Chesterton

  3. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Hi seenoevo

    As always simplifications need slight unpacking, and even then will still be simplifications. To start with, for most Christians origins are a religious, not scientific matter, and well down their working theological agenda. So they follow their church’s stance, or work out their own. Let’s put that to one side.

    For those committed enough to bother (eg you, me and all readers of this blog), we all start with the cultural disadvantage of a post-Enlightenment background. You’d be amazed how much cultural common ground there was historically between US Fundamentalism and Liberalism as offshoots of the Evangelical movement (http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/articles/charles_finney_vs_westminster_confession.shtml). Shaking off our non-Christian blinkers is harder than it looks, and finally impossible.

    With regard to science, that Enlightenment worldview taints all our approaches: I’ve already said that TE tends to ape secular science in refusing to consider teleology. But look at Creation Science, and it’s all about alternative non-teleological science: God did it this way (rather than God or nature doing it by evolution). I’d say there’s little consideration of final cause/pupose. Sociologically that’s because, in order to provide a counterblast to evolutionary explanations and appear scientific, the case can’t be argued from teleology, as that’s not accepted as a scientific category.

    The same is true of ID, since whatever its strengths or weaknesses it’s presented as a scientific project: part of that is to argue that design-causes should be admitted to science as best explanations. But to emphasise the purpose of natural phenomena wouldn’t be a good sales pitch to science – though of course both IDers and Creationists believe in teleology, and even discuss it, certainly at the level of God’s intention to produce man and tree frogs rather than just “life”. I don’t think it affects their approach to science much though, beyond the (valuable) thing of suggesting that “useless” things in nature probably aren’t useless.

    In case I didn’t make it clear enough above, the sociological agenda of both YEC and ID – and, though insufficiently in my view, TE – is to loosen the grip of naturalistic materialism on people’s hearts and open them to God’s truth – whether that is in the religious, cultural or scientific areas varies quite a lot between individuals. But note that both ID and Creation Science restrict their programmes to those aims – you don’t get much Creationist pharmacology research, for example. My article was trying to look at how a Christian approach to science overall might look, and how it might further science qua science, rather than science qua apologetics.

    Your last question is hard to answer, because it hardly exists as a force now, though it seems Ian Thompson (a nuclear physicist, btw) is trying to promote a genuinely scientific movement to that end. My own agenda is primarily theological: I want to show Evangelicals (especially) that there’s genuinely no fundamental conflict between rigorously orthodox Evangelical doctrine (see all over the blog for what I mean by that!) and whatever science, properly understood, may turn up, even if it’s significantly mistaken. I think that would lessen materialism’s grip too, as well as defusing some of the culture-wars conflict on the matter: though I’m not blind to the fact that truth has never been a good sales pitch when it doesn’t match cultural norms.

    At the same time, I believe science will be seriously mistaken whilst it is founded on naturalism, sans final causation. I’m not a working scientist (just a retired doctor), but truth matters to me – and science does too, as the search to understand as much as we are permitted to about the created realm, and glorify God for it.

  4. seenoevo says:

    You wrote:
    “My own agenda is primarily theological: I want to show Evangelicals (especially) that there’s genuinely no fundamental conflict between rigorously orthodox Evangelical doctrine (see all over the blog for what I mean by that!) and whatever science, properly understood, may turn up, even if it’s significantly mistaken.”

    I’d rather not look all over the blog to see what you mean by “orthodox Evangelical doctrine”. Would you please describe what “orthodox Evangelical doctrine” is FOR YOU NOW?

    Can you see that Christian religious beliefs CAN have a fundamental conflict with science when science is “significantly mistaken”? Christian religious belief should be centered on truth, and on The Truth which does not contradict any truth. What if a truth-seeking Christian entertains or adopts something which is intended to support or supplement his faith, but that something later turns out to be false, or at least “significantly mistaken”. Is this not problematic for both his faith and for that “something”?

    If a Christian adopted an old ages, evolutionary view of the world and of the Bible because science said this view was correct, but later science turned out to be “significantly mistaken” in this view, that would be a problem, I think.

    Also, do you have one or two examples of where modern science was “significantly mistaken”?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi seenoevo. By that phrase I mean historic catholic (small “c”) Nicene and Chalcedonian Christianity, as interpreted by the magisterial reformers in such statements as the Westminster Confession, and summarised in the five “solae”:
      1 Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)
      2 Sola fide (“by faith alone”)
      3 Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)
      4 Solus Christus or Solo Christo (“Christ alone” or “through Christ alone”)
      5 Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”).

      The contribution of the English Puritans in terms of practical life in the Spirit, and the recovery and development of those distinctives via the scholarship of such institutions as Tyndale House, Cambridge are also important to me (since I lerned much from there), but such teaching is scattered across the world, often outside what is called “Evangelical”, which unfortunately often is anything but nowadays.

      I actually disagree that getting the age of the earth wrong need be a big problem: the problems come from letting the science dictate new doctrine, or in other words confusing science with metaphysics, as with the concept of Darwinian “non-direction” being allowed to trump the doctrine of special providence. So I’ve known people with sound biblical faith from YEC, OEC, ID, TE and variants, and have even ranged through some of them myself over the decades, without any change to my core convictions. The famous example of geocentrism is another where, over the couple of centuries of discussion, sound believers argued for both sides, and often changed, realising that their core principles remained intact. Science can (and does) inform scriptural interpretation: it should not govern doctrine.

      The fact is that science, by its nature, will always be wrong in detail: it is, after all, only the sophisticated version of making sense of the world, and changes partly by progress, and partly (though scientists don’t like this) by prevailing fashion.

      One example of the former from my own specialist field, with great importance to people but not to faith, is the realisation that chronic back pain is not primarily a biomechanical problem, but a neurophysiological one. Though I suppose it might affect prayer, if some smart-arse was praying “Please heal Jack’s slipped disc” when they should have been praying for rebooting of pain pathways!

      An example of the latter might be the way life is often viewed in computational terms now, compared to mechanical terms in the time of Paley of Darwin. Both have some truth – both are inadequate. Both are compatible with sound faith.

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Hi Seenoevo and Jon,

      Just a couple of thoughts to: “Christian religious beliefs CAN have a fundamental conflict with science when science is “significantly mistaken”?

      This statement may mean that: (i) somehow we may envisage a time when our beliefs as human beings, of religion, and our understanding from science, may be such that we can conclude we would not be mistaken on either, and (ii) is it conflict that we should seek and identify, or instead seek to harmonise our beliefs with OUR understanding of the world we live in?

      These type of questions are based on the view that we must always seek to find the truth – the seeking suggests we may not have reached the point where we can say, we know what is true and need not seek it any more.

      I understand the subject is large and many points can be discussed – this is a general comment.

  5. pngarrison says:

    “there is a strong and informed body of opinion stating that the Junk DNA concept has delayed understanding the function of non-coding DNA for some twenty years.”

    Jon, this is self-serving ID propaganda, and as uninformed an opinion as I can imagine. This kind of assertion could only be made by people who have never set foot in a DNA lab or picked up a pipette (the UD peanut gallery.) The reason for not looking in detail at hundreds of millions of base pairs of non-coding DNA 20 years ago was simply that there were no adequate methods for doing so. Molecular biologists were not waiting for ideological instruction from IDists, as can be seen from the massive characterization efforts of the last decade. Those efforts didn’t happen because people listened to Jonathan Wells. They happened because adequate methods became available. All the methods for looking at junk DNA are dependent on first having genome sequences and the high capacity robotics that was developed during the genome projects, as well as the extremely powerful new sequencing methods that were developed during and after the initial genome projects were done. Indeed, if researchers hadn’t been interested in those vast tracts of non-coding DNA, the people who wanted the genome projects to consist of sequencing only coding sequences and closely surrounding areas would have prevailed.

    Even in the absence of high-throughput methods, a number of labs were fishing out many copies of the transposons and other repetitive sequences that make up most of the “junk” and working out how transposition works. A guy in my department did this with mouse L1 elements, and it involved countless manual sequencing gels (~800 bp/4 lanes) and hybridizations to find more L1s. (A full-length L1 is 6 Kb, so it took several gels to sequence both strands.) In the ’80s and early ’90s we thought in terms of chunks of a few thousand base pairs. Millions, tens of millions were unworkable.

    As far as whether there really is a lot of non-functional DNA, I think the arguments for it are still persuasive and ought not to be ignored for purely ideological reasons. The defining down of “function” by ENCODE doesn’t change things at all. See http://selab.janelia.org/publications/Eddy12/Eddy12-preprint.pdf which includes this:

    “If there is an alternative hypothesis, it must provide an alternative explanation for the data:
    for the C-value paradox, for mutational load, and for how a large fraction of eukaryotic genomes
    is composed of neutrally drifting transposon-derived sequence. ENCODE hasn’t done this, and
    most of ENCODE’s data don’t bear directly on the question.” — Sean Eddy

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi pngarrison

      Thanks for your insider correction. My only excuse is that I was deliberately avoiding ID sources, my main one being the from the references to the Wikipedia entry:

      Khajavinia A, Makalowski W (May 2007). “What is “junk” DNA, and what is it worth?”. Scientific American 296 (5): 104. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0307-104. PMID 17503549. “The term “junk DNA” repelled mainstream researchers from studying noncoding genetic material for many years” ( http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-is-junk-dna-and-what ).

      Yet I’ve also seen similar thoughts expressed, for example in James Shapiro’s book and Denis Noble’s latest paper. Disagreements about the solidarity, or otherwise, of the scientific community bedevil the origins discussion, so it’s not a big point for me to concede. Maybe the bioinformaticians, molecular biologists and systems biologists need to talk to geneticists more?

      Yet I still think that philosphical, if not ideological, considerations are bound to affect research to an extent. If ones underlying expectation is to find function/organisation/purpose (which was, after all, Newton’s theological motivation) it must surely make one a different researcher from someone whose fundamental expectation is accident/disorder/unguidedness (which is arguably why polytheistic cultures did not develop science).

  6. seenoevo says:

    At a superficial, first-impression-level, five “solae” seems about four too many. This reminds me of how I’ve grown to shun use of phrases such as “what it’s all about” and “the bottom-line is”. You can hear one say ‘Regarding X, the bottom-line is Y’, and then ‘the bottom-line is W’, ‘the bottom-line is Z’. The terms are often used in a way that is inaccurate, misleading, hyperbolic, and sometimes outright false.

    At a deeper level though, what is the SOURCE of such “solae” teaching? It can’t be Scripture, at least not for #1 & #2. On #1, I don’t think Scripture says “Scripture alone” about anything. On #2, see James 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and NOT by faith alone.” (I understand the original magisterial reformer, Martin Luther, wanted James excised from the reformed Bible.) If the source of such “solae” teaching is not Scripture but instead the “magisterial reformers”, then what is THEIR source and THEIR justification for the teaching?

    You say you “disagree that getting the age of the earth wrong need be a big problem: the problems come from letting the science dictate new doctrine”. For TEs, “age of the earth” is invariable tied to “age of life on earth”, which invariably means millions/billions of years. HOW is this NOT dictating new doctrine? Is not traditional Christian doctrine that Christ died to redeem us of our sins and that these sins were both our fault and the cause of spiritual AND physical death? How can you have physical death for billions of years before the first sin was committed by man? I’ve never read of any Christian theologian proposing a “retroactive effects of the Fall” doctrine. Even if there is, and I just missed it, wouldn’t this be “new doctrine”?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


      I don’t intend to run an entire apologetic for Reformed doctrine here. Your best recourse would be to read some, and then you’ll know where they’re coming from. A good place to start is John Calvin’s Institutes. You never understand a movement until you read its sources – there’s no substitute. You can only get eddicated by eddication. It’s like you can only understand what the Bible teaches by studying it a lot – I’m still a a beginner, having started only 48 years ago!

      Your last paragraph is a good case in point, and dear to my heart as it’s the subject of something I’ve written but can’t post yet as it’s not published. But like Charles Kingsley (http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2013/05/03/a-design-history-of-theistic-evolution-2-of-6/) I found when I looked carefully at the actual biblical teaching on the fall that it did not endorse a picture of a fallen natural world at all. Even more to my surprise, I found that the consistent teaching of nearly all the great teachers of the Church denied that animal and plant death were a result of the fall. The idea only began to grow up in the sixteenth century under the influence of pagan mythology.

      Try, for example, this from “the angelic doctor” (Aquinas):
      In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state [before the fall], have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede’s gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals.

      But people are fuzzy on the history of their faith nowadays, which is how people get away with liberties.


  7. seenoevo says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with your last line: “But people are fuzzy on the history of their faith nowadays, which is how people get away with liberties.”

    I hope I, and others, will always be able to distinguish between undue “liberties” and orthodox teaching in regards the Bible.

    You quote Aquinas with “Nor does Bede’s gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to SOME. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals.”

    My Bible’s Genesis 1:30 reads “And to EVERY beast of the earth, and to EVERY bird of the air, and to EVERYTHING that creeps on the earth, EVERYTHING that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.”

    If your quote was accurate, I guess I have an issue with St. Augustine. But since he can’t answer me, maybe you could.

    Do you have any other quotes of actual biblical teaching on the fall by great teachers of the Church which did not endorse a picture of a fallen natural world and which denied that animal and plant death were a result of the fall?

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      I don’t know why Aquinas cited Bede – possibly his recognised wisdom and his antiquity (7th century), but since the work appears unavailable in English I’ve not read it.

      “Do you have any other quotes of actual biblical teaching on the fall by great teachers of the Church…”

      Well, yes, but there’s not room here for 13 pages of pre-reformation stuff (and a few more post-reformation). As I said, the work isn’t published yet. Aquinas, however, is typical and sums up the previous 1000 years well.

      This link ( http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2011/07/19/augustine-denies-natural-word-corrupted-official/ ) is to a piece quoting Augustine, followed by a whole series on the biblical material as I’ve understood it, and tailed with a quote by Athanasisus – all done before I started researching seriously not not the best examples, though authoritative enough as sources.

      Penman’s job is Church History, and he later helped me assemble the Patristic, Mediaeval and Reformation materials.

  8. seenoevo says:

    You try here to make the case that the early Church was not much, if at all, concerned with whether nature was affected by the Fall, and made little if any proclamations about this.

    You also here seem to lean quite a bit on Aquinas. Aquinas, of course, was a Roman Catholic.

    Considering these things, I looked for a Roman Catholic website that might address your case. I haven’t read this entire article, but here’s part of it:

    – begin quote –
    – that God created the different kinds of living things INSTANTLY AND IMMEDIATELY
    – That Adam was created from the dust of the earth and Eve from his side
    – that God ceased to create new kinds of creatures after the creation of Adam
    – that the Original Sin of Adam shattered the perfect harmony of the first-created world and brought human death, deformity, and disease into the world.

    This patristic teaching on creation was implicit in the words of the Nicene Creed, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” NOT UNTIL until the Middle Ages when the ALBIGENSIAN HERESY denied the divine creation of the material universe did an Ecumenical Council elaborate on the first article of the creed in the following words:
    God…creator of all visible and invisible things of the spiritual and of the corporal who by his own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal namely angelic and mundane and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body.

    For 600 years, according to the foremost Catholic Doctors and commentators on this dogmatic decree, the words “at once from the beginning” signified that God created all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures and angels “simul” (“at once”). This could be reconciled with the six days of creation (the view of the overwhelming majority of the Fathers) or with the instantaneous creation envisioned by St. Augustine–but it could not be reconciled with a longer creation period. Among the commentators who taught that Lateran IV had defined the relative simultaneity of the creation of all things, perhaps the most authoritative was St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619), Doctor of the Church.”


    – end quote –

    This indicates that the early Church held to immediate creation of ALL things and to the Fall damaging the perfect harmony of the initial creation.

    What do you think about this?

    You wrote “Some time ago, I was struck by how little (ACTUALLY NONE) of this doctrine of a fallen natural world is actually PRESENT IN Scripture.”

    What about Romans 8:22-23?
    “We know that the WHOLE CREATION has been GROANING IN TRAVAIL together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

    • Avatar photo GD says:

      Concerning the understanding of the creation found in the Patristic writings, one of the most detailed is found in the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by John of Damascus – this document presents the current understanding of the creation, the heavens, angels, the earth and man. This document shows that many matters were understood within the scientific/ philosophical understanding of that age, e.g. he writes, “Fire is one of the four elements, light and with a greater tendency to ascend than the others. It has the power of burning and also of giving light, and it was made by the Creator on the first day. …”

      These remarks are not directed to any Orthodox doctrine, and instead illustrate the way many Christians have considered matters related to nature and our understanding of it.

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Thanks GD. Seenoevo:

        I don’t rely on Aquinas particularly – his was just suitable summary for your question. I’m not a Catholic, so don’t feel bound by RC teaching, or even by Patristic interpretations but (a) official Catholic pronouncements tend to be cautious and weigh Scripture carefully and (b) the Fathers were no fools, and good biblical scholars, too. My understanding of official dogma, though, differs from that on your Catholic creationist site so I’d advise some wider reading: there seems a good article in the Catholic Encyclopaedia on “Creation”. There was always a range of interpration on matters of literal interpretation: that’s just a fact, which is why Catholic teaching has had less problems with deep time and evolution than the American evangelical churches. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution.

        Specifically, insofar as anybody summarises the early theological witness in a literal way, I’d simply say I prefer the words of the writers themselves on the issue of death before the fall, which is the one I’m addressing with you. There’s no room to quote, but I could cite Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Athanasisus, Cyril, Basil, Gregory Nyzianzus, Chrysostom, Augustine, John of Damascus, Anselm, and a Kempis before the Reformation.

        Romans 8 I covered in the links I gave you – plenty of detail to read. Specifically at: http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2011/07/21/a-good-creation-reduced-to-vanity-but-not-evil/ and associated links to essays.

  9. Avatar photo GD says:

    I think that during the first few centuries, most Christians would have considered the wording of Genesis uncontroversial, on the creation and the fall – the controversy arose from what people understood by “God created”, and if this meant that Christ was also a ‘created’ being.

    The notion of creation and when it had occurred permeated the discussions and controversies that resulted in the doctrinal wording of the Trinity. The works of Athanasius discuss this in great detail and would help us understand why removing the Arian controversy was so important to Orthodoxy. For example,” at the time of the creation of all things, their creation consisted in a fiat, such as ‘let [the earth] bring forth,’ ‘let there be’ (Gen. 1: 3, 11), but at the restoration it was fitting that all things should be ‘delivered’ to Him,” … “Gregor. Naz. observes that God creates with a word, which evidently transcends human creations.”

    I have found little on what we may understand by the notion of time with creation, but this quote may help, “Theodoret sums up what has been said thus: ‘Age is not any subsisting substance, but is an interval indicative of time, now infinite, when God is spoken of, now commensurate with creation, now with human life.”

    This quote from Athanasius sums the situation nicely: “For still ye pronounce Him to be one of the creatures; and whatever a man might say of the other creatures, such ye hold concerning the Son, ye truly ‘fools and blind.’ For is any one of the creatures just what another is, that ye should predicate this of the Son as some prerogative? And all the visible creation was made in six days:—in the first, the light which He called day; in the second the firmament;…”

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      GD, you’re right in saying that the early catholic Christian priority was theological truth more than historical literalness, as is also the present official Roman policy. That’s not to say the Fathers didn’t dispute the historicity of the Bible accounts over against the pagan – yet they felt pretty free to differ from each other on interpretation without criticising each other, the key things being the spiritual nature of God, Christ and humanity.

      Regarding the “good creation” issue we’re discussing, the theological opponents were (a) the pagans, for whom nature was a dreadful and threatening thing, against which the Fathers opposed God’s sovereign goodness (and as I’ve said, often used the “red in tooth and claw” examples as evidence, several literally focusing on such armamament as God’s provision for them in creation). And (b) the heretical gnostics, whom Irenaeus particularly opposed, for whom matter was intrinsically the evil creation of the Demiurge – an idea they picked up from the Greek phislophical denigration of matter.

  10. seenoevo says:


    The Wikipedia link you provided contains these words:

    “Among the early Church Fathers there was debate over whether God created the world in six days, as Clement of Alexandria taught, or in a single moment as held by Augustine, and a literal interpretation of Genesis was normally taken for granted in the Middle Ages and later…”
    “The Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a decree ratified by Pope Pius X on June 30, 1909 that stated that the literal historical meaning of the first chapters of Genesis could not be doubted in regard to “the creation of ALL things by God at the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man; the unity of the human race….”.

    The above words are consistent with the Kolbe Center quotes I provided earlier which I thought indicated that the EARLY Church held to immediate creation of ALL things and to the Fall damaging the perfect harmony of the initial creation.

    But you say you have found that “the consistent teaching of nearly all the great teachers of the Church denied that animal and plant death were a result of the fall” and also that you’d prefer to avoid other people’s summaries of the great teachers and instead use the words of these great teachers themselves (you give a partial list of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, Athanasisus, Cyril, Basil, Gregory Nyzianzus, Chrysostom, Augustine, John of Damascus, Anselm, a Kempis).

    I’m not asking for 13 pages of quotes. Can you provide two or three quotes from this group which support what you claim?

    Otherwise, you’d be like a lawyer telling the jury “Decide in my favor. I have much evidence supporting my position but it’s too voluminous to present now. You can see it for yourselves later after the trial’s over. Trust me.”

    Regarding Romans 8:22-23, thanks for the links to another essay of yours and one of Dan Leiphart. But I’m not particularly interested in your view or Dan’s (and I noticed Dan’s doesn’t even speak to Rom 8:22-23.). I’d like to see the quotes which you found so compelling of the early Church fathers.

  11. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


    Apologies – I linjked to the wrong commentary of Dan’s in my article (though the one I cited is still useful). The link should be http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=dan%20romans_8_18-25_commentary&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDUQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fthestonescryout.com%2Fyahoo_site_admin%2Fassets%2Fdocs%2FRomans_8_18-25_Commentary.pdf&ei=RHKkUc3FBIWm0QXE9IH4Aw&usg=AFQjCNHb2qd73dKhttSr3yvwpsXkzm9Rzw&cad=rja

    As for the other quotes, I’ve already said that my evidence is pending publication, so I feel no obligation to present a half-argument to you in advance of that. I was simply showing you that it isn’t new doctrine – and the Aquinas quote is quite sufficient for that as he wrote in the thirteenth century. If you choose to think I’d lie about the rest, then it’s really your problem, not mine: I’m not actually a counsel arguing in court, and you’re not a jury but a visitor to my blog.

  12. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    …I can, however, help you with some research on Romans 8, quotations about which are not so directly relevant to the question of suffering nature. St Augustine bases his interpretation on v22 “the whole creation (or ‘creature’)” meaning “the whole human creature”, ie body, mind and spirit, rather than “every creature” in totality, justifying it on particular linguistic issues. His writing on this isn’t, AFAIK, available in translation but is found in Exp.prop.Rom. 53 and De diu.quaest. 67.

  13. seenoevo says:


    From the second Leiphart article, I can see how Romans 8:22-23 could be interpreted to be referring to humans only, and not to animals. So these verses neither support nor deny any idea of The Fall’s effect on animal life/death.

    However, the Aquinas quote, or rather the St. Bede position on Genesis 1:30 as quoted by Aquinas, I cannot take seriously. As I said earlier, how can Bede/Aquinas/You say that the verses’ “every” means “some”?

    Yet this appears to be the only quote you’re willing to supply now to support your case. Disclosure of the rest of your evidence will have to wait, time to be determined by the publisher.

    So, the court’s in recess, and the jury is still out.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      “Disclosure of the rest of your evidence will have to wait,..”

      Looks like it – watch this space. I should point out that Aquinas wasn’t simply rehashing one old writer: the section is on man’s domination of the animals, and according to his custom Thomas first raises apparent objections to his views, one of which was a passage from Bede.

      So his conclusion that the animals were not changed in the fall (except in man’s loss of control over them, incidentally) is his own conclusion both from Scripture and, I suggest, from the majority theological view. He mentions Bede to show that even he (the “objector”) agrees.

      What’s interesting to me is who he means by the “some” who disagree, since the only ancient source I’ve been able to find, and the only one mentioned in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, is Theophilus of Antioch, whose odd position is rather different from the modern view anyway.

      • seenoevo says:


        You wrote “What’s interesting to me is who he [Aquinas] means by the “some” who disagree…”

        What’s more interesting to me is the second “some”: “Nor does Bede’s gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to SOME”.

        How anyone can get “some” out of “every”/”everything” in Gen 1:30 is beyond me.

  14. Gregory says:


    greetings! we’ve crossed paths before.

    your talk of “immediate creation of ALL things” and focus on the Fall makes me want to ask just a quick question about your seriousness regarding knowledge, scholarship and natural scientific evidence: do you consider yourself a ‘young earth creationist’?

    would it be fair to say that, like Jon, “[your] own agenda is primarily theological” too?


  15. seenoevo says:


    You asked about my “seriousness regarding knowledge, scholarship and natural scientific evidence”.

    I’m quite serious. Perhaps even more serious than you.

    Do you know that not a single person at BioLogos (other than the deridingly dismissive melanogaster) responded to my questions on the soft, gooey (i.e. “unfossilized”) innards of the allegedly 190 million year-old dinosaur egg?

    (Maybe you would have responded, but it looks like you were banned too!)

    Am I a YEC? Yes. Why not? I have yet to encounter any so-called evidence for the millions/billions of years that’s ‘true beyond any reasonable doubt’.

    Regarding agendas, I think everyone’s agenda is “theological”, in the sense that everyone argues from his own world-view, particularly about the “big questions” (e.g. origins, meaning of life, ultimate truths).

  16. seenoevo says:


    Before being banned on BioLogos, I made some comments on http://biologos.org/blog/evolution-basics-artificial-selection-and-the-origins-of-the-domestic-dog/P20 to which you responded.

    Here’s part of what I wrote:

    – Begin quotes –
    “I think the biblical, Judeo-Christian view is that God created the universe and made man as the pinnacle of his created order…. Creation gives glory to God, but this glory is consciously given only by God and by men created in his image. A flower may reflect God’s glory but the flower itself can’t consciously give glory to God. Nor can the bee which pollinates it. Only man can reflect on and appreciate these things …
    “I think the biblical, Judeo-Christian view is that the ONLY reason for created existence, specifically, for man’s existence, is eternal communion with his creator….
    “So, if the WHOLE point of creation is MAN-centered, that is, divinely oriented for man’s communion with God, then why would God fiddle around with created things (directly or indirectly or “unknowingly”) which could not know him or even consciously acknowledge him, for allegedly billions of years, before finally getting around to “bringing about” the only thing creation was meant for to begin with, namely, man?”
    – End quotes –

    Investigating other Catholic sources, I found this from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which seems to be in synch with what I wrote:

    – begin quote –
    “299 Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: “You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight.”151 The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the “image of the invisible God”, is DESTINED FOR AND ADDRESSED TO MAN, himself created in the “image of God” and called to a personal relationship with God.152 Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD TELLS US BY MEANS OF HIS CREATION, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work.153 Because creation comes forth from God’s goodness, it shares in that goodness – “And God saw that it was good. . . very good”154- for God willed CREATION AS A GIFT ADDRESSED TO MAN, an inheritance destined for and entrusted to him. On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world.155”
    – end quote –

    Creation “ex nihilo” is Christian doctrine, as far as I know. Creation “ex nihilo” is by definition instantaneous. Creation, as characterized above by me, and apparently by the Catholic Church, is for man and is for man to give glory to God. So again, as I asked on BioLogos,

    “it’s reasonable, and I think Godly, to ask: Why would God “mind his time” for billions of years on created things which can’t serve the very purpose of creation (i.e. man and his relationship with the creator)?”

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      I see I answered your BioLogos post pretty fully @ #78791.

      I don’t disagree with anything in the quote from the Catechism, but whilst I’ve neither the knowledge nor the concern to look for other authoritative RC sources I know that the above is compatible with that Church’s broader official views on creation and providence, which have kept open the issue of gradual processes like evolution, whilst standing firm on several central truths, which as a Protestant I also hold. A non-official page on that is here: http://www.catholic.com/tracts/adam-eve-and-evolution, but I see they too quote from the CCC to say:

      “The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers” (CCC 283).

  17. seenoevo says:


    You asked about my “seriousness regarding knowledge, scholarship and natural scientific evidence”.

    I’m quite serious. Perhaps even more serious than you.

    Do you know that not a single person at BioLogos (other than the deridingly dismissive melanogaster) responded to my questions on the soft, gooey (i.e. “unfossilized”) innards of the allegedly 190 million year-old dinosaur egg? http://biologos.org/blog/multiple-lines-of-evidence-for-an-old-universe
    (Maybe you would have responded, but it looks like you were banned too!)

    Am I a YEC? Yes. Why not? I have yet to encounter any so-called evidence for the millions/billions of years that’s ‘true beyond any reasonable doubt’.

    Regarding agendas, I think everyone’s agenda is “theological”, in the sense that everyone argues from his own world-view, particularly about the “big questions” (e.g. origins, meaning of life, ultimate truths).

    • Gregory says:

      Hello seenoevo,

      Thanks for your direct answer, i.e. confirming your YECist ideology. I say ideology because all forms of ‘creationism’ are an ideology. And ‘young earth creationism’ is obviously just that. And you should know that outside of hyper-literalist USA, the vast majority of Christians I’ve met (not ‘compromisers’) openly accept an ‘old’ Earth, with no threat to their worldview. YEC’s in this view are as ‘wise’ as geocentrists; the scientific evidence carries the same message.

      As for me, I believe in Creation and in creativity, but not in the ideology of ‘creationism.’

      I wouldn’t have responded at BioLogos to your ‘soft, gooey’ claims because YECs are not usually receptive to learning, from my experiences over the past decade. They use their theology (proudly, much like gay PRIDE) as a weapon against science and philosophy, displaying that they are quite a biased group. Note, however, that others are similarly quite worldview-biased also, e.g. ‘new atheists’, so it’s not like YECists are special in their imbalanced position.

      ‘Theistic evolution’ or ‘evolutionary creation’ is a position that is much more balanced in the triadic discourse of science, philosophy theology/worldview than either YECism or new atheism. As I understand it, Jon Garvey is a TE, so is penman, so is cal, and so is GD on this blog, with some leeway in each their various meanings. GD is more ‘Orthodox’ and seems to challenge ‘evolutionism,’ though in a way different from YECists. No one here who has thought long and hard and prayed about the matter is a YECist.

      If you are actually ‘serious regarding knowledge, scholarship and natural scientific evidence,’ seenoevo, I wonder why you haven’t/if you have embraced the notion of ‘Intelligent Design Theory’? Their ‘science’ (in so far as some of it counts as science) far exceeds the narrow bounds of YECism, even though it doesn’t focus specifically on age of the earth. It seems that YECists feel generally at home under the shelter of IDism, unless they feel it is their personal mission to be an activist for YECism in other venues. Do you consider yourself an activist for YECism?

      No, not everyone’s agenda is ‘theological’ because not everyone is a ‘theist.’

      Can I ask, since you say you are ‘serious regarding knowledge, scholarship and natural scientific evidence,’ is this what you do professionally, i.e. is it part of your job/career, what you get paid to do ‘for a living’ or is just a hobby that you dedicate after-work free time to and chat with people on the internet about?

      The “perhaps even more serious than you” gambit is playful, but a bit too presumptuous for my taste here at Potiphar. This is not a competition. If wisdom is to be sought, she must be respected and desired. And knowledge regarding history and philosophy of science should not be considered as sacred manna that can be waved around by evangelical American Christian pastors (and ‘educators’) in front of their congregations as a test of loyalty to their local views, though it is wholly detached from Christian Rome, Mt. Athos, Moscow and Beijing’s HPS knowledge in the Orthodox/Catholic Christian tradition. Some people have actually trained in HPS more than others and their knowledge should not be ignored or undermined by literalistic-YECist (or hyper-open TEist) propaganda.

  18. seenoevo says:


    You say “all forms of ‘creationism’ are an ideology”.

    Is “ideology” a bad thing? Are not OEC, ID, TE ideologies?

    You say you wouldn’t have responded to my “‘soft, gooey’ claims” about the dinosaur egg. They’re not just my claims. They’re objective, verifiable observations. I’m receptive to learning if you have the scientific answer for this phenomenon.

    “No one here who has thought long and hard and prayed about the matter is a YECist.” Except for me.

    “I wonder why you haven’t/if you have embraced the notion of ‘Intelligent Design Theory’?”

    But I do. All YEC are ID, but not all ID are YEC.

    “Do you consider yourself an activist for YECism?” Yes. I’m an activist for truth, and I believe YEC is true.

    Are you an activist for TE or for anything? Is “activism” a bad thing?

    “No, not everyone’s agenda is ‘theological’ because not everyone is a ‘theist.’”
    I disagree. I deliberately put “theological” in quotes to denote I was not using the term in its most common understanding but rather as a synonym for “world-view”. Everyone has a world-view. And regarding the most common understanding, “theism” just involves belief in a god or gods. Deists have a theism. So do pantheists. And so would atheists. Atheists argue from a theological position which denies belief in God. Similarly, I think it’s true to say everyone has a political agenda. Some are conservative, some are liberal, some say they’re a-political. But even the latter is a position regarding politics.

    “The “perhaps even more serious than you” gambit is playful, but a bit too presumptuous for my taste here at Potiphar.”
    To my mind, I would have been presumptuous if I stated I WAS more serious than you. But I didn’t state that. (I do hope I won’t be banned here as well.)

    “This is not a competition.”
    I get the impression that you’re not fond of competition. I am. This may not be a competition in some formal, official sense. But I think this and every blog sees contrasting opinions and views, and subsequent rationales and arguments supporting them. This particular blog, I think, is ultimately concerned with truth, not taste. If one’s “truth” can’t stand up to criticism, it probably wasn’t true to begin with. The truth cannot be proven false. The truth has nothing to fear. ‘May the best man win.’

    Regarding my profession or job or education or hobbies, I’d just prefer others to consider my words, and not my resume.

  19. Gregory says:

    Is this ‘hands-on’ enough for you, Jon, even coming from a BioLogos rep.?


    “No matter how you think the process of the emergence of life occurred, if you’re a Christian you believe that God is mightily Hands-on.” – Jeffrey Schloss

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Gregory –

      Well, yes, as far as it goes, which is only about a sentence beyond what you quote, in the video. I’m aware that there are likely to be people associated with BioLogos who take an orthodox view of providence – it’s the preponderance of those who don’t, or who won’t say, that has come to concern me.

      Factually speaking it would seem Schloss is inaccurate to say “Christian = mightily hands on.” Francisco Ayala certainly doesn’t think God is hands on with creation, and neither does Ken Miller, and neither does beaglelady (as an example of a footsoldier willing, to a slight extent, to share her views), and Howard van Till, and John Polkinghorne seems to be hands-off on theological grounds, but make some theoretical room within science in case. So it would seem to be a case of needing the detail fleshed out a bit… or a lot, actually.

    • James says:

      Schloss’s isolated comment, part of a 30-second video, is a mere sound bite, not an articulate position. There’s no reason to think that there is any real meat behind “mightily hands-on.” Schloss goes on to say that God “embeds these marvels in a historical process” — a historical process which, Venema and Falk have assured us, does not require any intervention, but merely the unguided working-out of natural laws and “randomness.” Nature is “free” (sc. of God’s intervention). So Schloss’s “mightily hands-on” is in all probability just the same-old, same-old from BioLogos — a pious cliche to give TE the flavor of the old-time evangelical notion of God’s action, while the substance of God’s action is denied. For BioLogos, God remains a spectator who watches the results of the natural laws he established. (Statistical deism, in Russell’s brilliant phrase.)

      I’ll take Schloss’s sound bite seriously when the “Senior Scholar” at BioLogos says something about what exactly God *does* in the evolutionary process. But I’m not holding my breath. He had 4 years as an outsider to criticize BioLogos and to argue publically in the evangelical world for a more activist conception of God than BioLogos stood for. He didn’t utter a peep. So there’s no reason to think his views are substantially different from those of Falk, Venema, Applegate, etc.

  20. Gregory says:

    Leave aside Ayala and van Til. You just mimic the IDist fetish for them when you do. Thse 2 persons are neither representative of BioLogos, especially since the new management, but even before that during 2 summers ago changes to the site. You can continue to believe otherwise in your anti-BioLogos fantasy if you wish, but you are not speaking truth by naming them re: BioLogos’ ‘orthodoxy’ or lack thereof as an ‘evangelical/reformed’ critic.

    What’s funny is that I was banned from BioLogos (and treated quite badly by one of BioLogos’ ‘senior’ members on another site) and I seem to have more respect for them than you, Jon! What’s with that? And you call yourself a ‘theistic evolutionist’!! It’s likely strange for most readers here to behold.

    Ken Miller’s Catholic faith believes in a ‘Hands-on’ God. John Polkinghorne’s (and also ‘beaglelady,’ who isn’t on my radar in the least!) Anglicanist faith believes in a ‘Hands-on’ God. Whatever (over-)theologising of individuals’ views you choose to do on your blog won’t change this.

    Like I said, Jon, there’s a whole bunch of credible, highly intelligent and integrative thinkers (scientists, philosophers and theologians) out there who you are (perhaps unintentionally) missing, by having bought into the rhetoric of a few IDists and American ‘science & religion’ (predominantly ‘evangelical’) figures.

    You recently said you hadn’t read Owen Gingerich. Why not give it a try? R.J. Russell? John Zahm, S.J. (d.), P. Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (d.)? T. Dobzhansky (d.)? Keith Ward? Rev. Michal Heller? George Ellis? Fr. George Coyne? Guy J. Consolmagno, S.J.? Stephen Barr? Edward Feser?

    Btw, have you read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_and_Dogma?

    Otherwise, WHO WOULD YOU SUGGEST AS YOUR PREFERRED ROLE MODEL ALIVE TODAY, that is better than all whom you openly and repetitively criticise here at the Hump, Jon Garvey?

    Please don’t say Stephen C. Meyer, William B. Dembski or Michael Behe. Or are you just a critic with no light to shine on higher voices in the conversation, no recommendations to make…or just not yet, not as a columnist who happens to echo IDist ‘design in nature’ and ‘design inference’ language?

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