I’ve not really had much to do with the writing of leading theistic evolutionist Karl Giberson, except for noting his occasional public outbursts against Evangelicalism’s failure to embrace his ideas fully. But I probably should have done, because he was Executive Vice President of BioLogos from 2009, and since his departure from them has written a book with its founder, Francis Collins. And, I discover, he has much shown more forthrightness in his writing about the “Free creation” than the curious coyness of BioLogos (to the point of temporarily shutting down comments rather than addressing my questions about it not long ago).
I came across a 2009 post on his blog from his BioLogos period, defending Darrel Falk (then the President) and his espousal of “free creation” against a criticism by William Dembski. Dembski complained that blaming natural evil on an evolutionary process beyond God’s control to “get God off the hook” does no such thing since he created the process.
“Naive,” returns Giberson:
Falk makes the highly significant point that we must not ascribe the origin of these sinister features of the natural world to God. The God of the Judeo-Christian Christian [sic] would not play such a cruel joke on mice as to design cats to torture them. Nor would this God give the bacterium that causes Bubonic plague its remarkably well-designed power to kill some 200 million people over the past two millennia.
So where did these sinister designs originate? Some might respond too quickly that they come from Satan, but are we really to suppose that Satan is a “co-creator” of the world with God? This, suggests Falk with diplomatic restraint, “borders on heretical.” Satan, however construed, is a creature not a creator. To suggest otherwise is to embrace a famous heresy known as Manichaeism that St. Augustine flirted with as a young man…
…The contribution evolution makes to this discussion – the point of Falk’s blog – is the remarkable discovery that nature has built-in creative powers. As Christians we affirm that these powers–which include the power to create both wonderful and terrible things–come from God, but they are wielded by nature. This is a traditional theological concept that understands that God works through secondary as well as primary causes.”
Note the confident claim here to know the mind of the Judaeo-Christian God, despite the fact that both Old and New Testaments, and traditional theology, attribute plagues, predation and other such things directly to him, God’s word itself doing so in the First Person. Giberson’s might be a “nice” God, but seems to be a newcomer on the Judaeo-Christian scene.
There is another odd argument here, of a piece with the usual shaky BioLogos logic: it would, apparently, be heresy to suggest that Satan has creative powers because he is a mere creature, ie created – but “nature has built-in creative powers, autonomous of God.” And is not nature, just like Satan, created? Is a mindless Demiurge somehow less blasphemous than an angelic one? Secondary causation is indeed a well established theological principle – but never, in classical theology, does it entail independence from God, but rather concurrence with his primary causation.
As far as Scripture is concerned even Satan is a “secondary cause”, acting only under God’s permissive oversight and not autonomously, though with evil motive only because he has rational free will (cf Job chs 1-2). Commenting on Dembski’s analogy that a mugger is equally blameworthy for allowing his dog to assault someone as if he did it himself, Giberson argues:
This analogy completely misses the central point of Falk’s argument: freedom. When God grants freedom to creatures this means, in ways often difficult to understand, that those creatures can act independently of God, to not be robotic automatons or trained attack dogs. In the case of the holocaust, we always do exactly what Dembski says we never do: we shift the responsibility from God to the Nazis.
So note here that “freedom” is opposed to being a “robotic automaton” or a “trained attack dog”.
Atheist apologist John Loftus suggests in his review of Giberson and Collins’ book that what he is promoting is John Polkinghorne’s “free process defence”, which Polkinghorne indeed presents in similar “freedom” language – that creating a world with chaotic features entails the necessity of evils unforeseen by God. In later writings Giberson concurs with that association. But Loftus points out what should be obvious to all:
Look, the unpredictability in nature we see in Chaos theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Quantum Mechanics and Brownian Motion is not freedom. The choice is between Chance and Necessity as Jacques Monod argued. Using the word “freedom” to describe the natural processes betrays a language game that no intelligent person should adopt.
To this charge, Giberson has replied that critics have pushed the “freedom” analogy too far: it does not mean “choice”, but “autonomy apart from God.” But does that claim hold water, or is it not the way TEs always use the analogy that is to blame? Let me quote just a few instances of the language associated with this “freedom” analogy by leading TEs:
Howard Van Till:
God does not act “coercively” to “exercise unilateral power over nature,” that “supercedes natural action”.
Now “coercion” applies exclusively to persons, and “unilateral power” implies unjustly overriding someone’s rights. One does not coerce ones pen to write, nor exert unilateral power over ones car.
The process is God’s process, but God is not manipulating the details just as I as a father have not manipulated each event of my own daughters’ lives.
Again a direct human comparison. If he were a dog breeder, or a computer programmer, would not the situation be completely non-comparable? There every detail of the dog’s life is constrained by the breeder’s aims, as is every line of computer code.
In just one paragraph Polkinghorne contrasts “puppet theatre,” “everything dances to God’s tune,” “Cosmic Tyrant,” “unrelenting grip,” “holds on tightly,” “enslaved world” and “not the creation of a loving God” with “allowed to be itself,” “make itself,” “in its own time and in its own way” and “liberty.”
An infinite love, if we think about it seriously, would manifest itself in the creation of a universe free of any rigid determinism (either natural or divine) that would keep it from arriving at its own independence, autonomy and self-coherence.”
Here love is the defining issue. On this understanding for me to determine, for example, that a blank CD should become an hour of sublime music would be the epitome of tyranny. Is Haught not “pushing the analogy too far?” Not only that – he’s basing his entire theology of creation on that over-extension.
Giberson brings us back to “reality” by saying the analogy does not represent “choice”, but “autonomy apart from God.” But in so doing he simply replaces one analogy with another, and it is just as invalid. Let’s remind ourselves of a few dictionary definitions of the words he uses.
automaton: “Thing endowed with spontaneous motion; living being viewed materially; living being whose actions are involuntary or without active intelligence.”
So the fundamentals are intelligence and will – using this as an analogy in his article is pushing it too far, for nature has no intelligence and no will
robot: “An apparently human automaton, an intelligent and obedient but impersonal machine.”
So the fundamentals here are intelligence and obedience (and comparability to humans!): Giberson denies the first to nature as self-evidencing, and the second on the grounds of its “freedom”.
He replaces terms like these with what, he says, they in reality represent:
autonomy: “right of self government; personal freedom; freedom of the will (in Kantian doctrine) derivation: ‘self law’.”
So the fundamentals here are “person”, “self” and “will”, none of which nature, or anything in it other than mankind, possess. So this “autonomy apart from God” turns out to be in reality a metaphor for no more than “subject to accidents which God does not control.”
One may ask, since the “freedom” analogy is so apt to mislead, why one should use a metaphor at all when a perfectly good vernacular word exists which covers the kind of thing meant by quantum indeterminacy (have you ever heard physicists talk of “quantum freedom”, by the way? I haven’t). That word is chance, and it is only another way of saying that the cause is not known, though it’s often misused to say there is no cause, which is simply impossible.
The only analogy required here is to extend the domain of “chance” to God himself, against the flow of Judaeo-Christian teaching on providence. “Chance” then becomes “causation of which even God is ignorant”, so it is a power above God’s omnipotence and omniscience (as even the atheist Loftus recognises). So, stripped of the misleading “freedom” analogy, our innovative BioLogos theology of creation would become more like this:
“When God created the heavens and the earth, he unilaterally subjected all creatures within it to accidents having no cause within his, or any other, will. He did it in the hope that these accidents might (by his loading the initial conditions) eventually give rise to some race possessing intelligence, free will and the capacity to love him. He also did it knowing that these accidents would cause all kinds of events that many of these intelligent agents would regard as ‘evil’. His motive for doing it this way was, perhaps, that he pushed analogy too far, over-personified his creation and thought he was showing it love by leaving it carelessly undirected. Unfortunately, the rational children of chance (‘humans’) were wiser than he, and saw that, instead, natural entities had been coerced into submitting to ‘the Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,’ being endowed with absolutely no capacity to ‘take Arms against a Sea of troubles.’ (Hamlet)”
Any takers? It’s a lot less warm and fuzzy than “freedom” talk – which is perhaps the very reason the analogy is always pushed so hard in TE literature. Or does it only even appear to make sense when the analogy is pushed too far? Remember, in Karl Giberson we have BioLogos theology expounded by its founding executive vice-president: it’s as good an expression of it as you’re likely to find. It is, at least, internally consistent, unlike what seems to be the main BioLogos line of tossing the “freedom” analogy, “chance” and “providence” into a salad together without letting the diner get too close a view of their incompatibility.
Me, I’d rather wrestle with the lesser problems of another line from Hamlet: “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” I’ll be looking at Jesus’s own approach to natural-evil theodicy in another post.