My Problem with John Walton’s Apologia for TE/EC

I have mixed feelings about the work of John Walton. While I don’t object to much of what he writes about how to interpret Genesis, I don’t like the way he applies his knowledge to defend the project of TE/EC.

Take his latest column on BioLogos, “Natural” and “Supernatural” are Modern Categories, Not Biblical Ones. I would ask the reader here to read that column first, before reading what I write below.

Being myself a scholar of Hebrew Bible by training. I take Walton’s point that the language of “natural” versus “supernatural” is not Biblical — for the very simple reason that there is no word for “nature” in most of the Bible — neither in the Old Testament nor the greater part of the New Testament. However, it would be unwise to make too much of that.

Many times either the Biblical narrator or a Biblical speaker makes it clear that certain deeds or events are so extraordinary that they are signs of special divine activity.  Thus, while the Bible doesn’t say, “This couldn’t have occurred through natural causes, but must have been done by supernatural power,” it surely indicates that God sometimes acts in special ways which go beyond the normal order of things.

We would not expect, given the orderly presentation of the cosmos in Genesis 1 (reaffirmed in Genesis 9), with its regular signs and seasons and harvests and seedtimes, etc., that an event such as the parting of the Red Sea would occur. That is an extraordinary event, and one which suggests a special activity of God above and beyond God’s normal activity in making the sun rise and set, making rain fall, etc. Indeed, the whole lead-up to the Red Sea, the Ten Plagues and so on, is concerned with extraordinary events.  In saying this I am not imputing to the Bible — as Walton fears that people do — a “Deistic” notion of the relationship between God and nature.  (Disappointing that Walton would resort to the crude “Deism” shibboleth of his BioLogos colleagues, but let’s move on.)  I am not saying that the Bible teaches that normally God lets nature run like a machine and ignores it but once in a while jumps in to break some laws “supernaturally.”  I grant that the Biblical writers understood God’s hand to be found in even in habitual actions such as seasonal rainfall and plant growth.  But this concession must not allow us to be blinded to the startling character of certain of God’s actions.

The point is that ancient people (and ancient writers!) thought they could tell the difference between a routine event and a darned unusual one, and when that darned unusual one resulted in the saving of Israel from certain death (either from thirst in the desert or at the hands of Pharaoh’s troops) they were inclined to see in that deed or event the special action of God.  There is a big difference between rain in the desert and manna in the desert, and there is a big difference between Pharaoh’s chariots getting bogged down by mud caused by rain, and Pharaoh’s chariots being destroyed by an event in which the waters of a sea behaved as they never had before and never have since.  The Biblical writers did not see these things as wonders merely because of the timing of the events, which of course was to the benefit of Israel; they saw them as wonders also because of their character — because what was done was far out of the ordinary “way” of things.  (And while there isn’t a Hebrew word for nature, there is one for “way.”)  In their mind was the thought: “Only God, the Creator of the world, could have engineered this action, since the things which he created do not have the power to do such a thing.”

Walton is worried about modern categories of thought being back-read into the Bible.  Well, so am I.  But if we are going to speak of modern attitudes that are being back-read into the Bible (and into contemporary evangelical Christian theology generally), I would speak of the modern prejudice that would have God act (in the case of origins) always through natural causes.

We know from the historical record that the great early modern scientists such as Newton, Boyle, and Kepler did not endorse a thoroughgoing naturalism about origins; that thoroughgoing insistence on naturalism in origins was inspired by later developments — and not developments in Biblical exegesis, either, but in philosophy, theology, and methodology in natural science. Slowly cosmology (Kant), geology (Lyell) and finally biology (Darwin) adopted naturalistic origins accounts — accounts which no Christian theological tradition had previously demanded and which were required by no Creed or Council decision. And only later — once it looked to many people as if naturalistic origins accounts were irrefutable — did Christians suddenly become interested in arguing that the Bible depicts God as creating the world wholly through natural means, or at least that the Bible is neutral on the question whether or not God employed supernatural means.

We see such creative historical rewriting in the case of modern admirers of Aquinas who are also evolutionary creationists. Thomist theologians on BioLogos and elsewhere have tried to make a case that Thomism implies a naturalistic account of origins, but in fact, as Vincent Torley has proved by exhaustive analysis of passages, Aquinas did not believe in a naturalistic account of origins, but believed that man and even the higher animals were directly created by special actions of God, not the lawlike working of purely natural causes. And it is not just Aquinas’s belief but his reasoning that is significant: Aquinas says that special actions of God show his glory in even greater measure than do his general actions. So modern “Thomists” who say the opposite — who say there is nothing special about God’s miraculous deeds above nature in comparison with his ordinary deeds through nature — are not in line with the teaching of their own master.

From time to time BioLogos and other TE/EC writers have tried to imply, by the use of a few (very few) passages from famous Christian authors (notably Augustine and Calvin, and it’s the same two passages every time, suggesting one could deeply embarrass a TE/EC by asking him for a third example), that the great historical theologians endorsed naturalistic origins accounts; but this is the same “eisegetical” procedure employed in the case of modern Thomist readings of Aquinas.  The modern Thomists really respect Aquinas and don’t want him associated with “creationism” which they find socially embarrassing, and the BioLogos people, with their Pauline-Augustinian-Calvinistic evangelical roots, respect Augustine and Calvin and don’t want them associated with “creationism” either; but this sort of partisan concern is illegitimate to bring to the scholarly study of past texts.  As scholars we are to determine what Calvin, Augustine, Paul, Exodus, etc. intended; it not our duty to read them in such a way that their views will not clash with our preferred modern harmonizations of theology and science.

So I would submit that the prejudice in favor of wholly naturalistic origins accounts is very modern; I would also submit that this prejudice is much more distortive — in its effects on Biblical interpretation — than the language of “supernatural” versus “natural”. Whereas the supernatural/natural division is a technically incorrect characterization of Biblical thinking, it does not take one far from the spirit of the Biblical stories; but the constant desire to show that what might seem like a special action of God is really only a case of application of general natural laws is an Enlightenment prejudice from the get-go.

Contrary to what Dr. Walton might charge if he reads this, I am not “using the Bible to rule out scientifically describable processes” regarding origins. Nor am I saying that the Bible is incompatible with certain natural explanations, or that Genesis 1 should be read as a photo-chronicle of ancient events.  I am theologically indifferent to God’s use of special actions or gradual natural processes. But I think that railing against the natural vs. supernatural distinction, out of a putative interest in getting Biblical thought straight, is counterproductive if it ends up leading to what I might (throwing Walton’s charge back at him) call the BioLogos version of “Deism”: the view that God has limited himself, in the creation of the world, to natural processes, and that the universe, because of its original properties, needed no special divine action in order to produce life and man.  I do not think that such a view of origins comes anywhere near the “feel” of the Old Testament accounts of creation.  One feels in every case — whether in Genesis 1, or Genesis 2, or the Psalms, or Isaiah, or Job — that God is very “hands-on” in creation, and that special divine action, not just action delegated to natural laws and properties of matter, is involved.

Thus, in attacking a conceptual error — the error of thinking that the Bible employs the technical distinction between natural and supernatural — Walton lends his prestige as an Old Testament scholar to a worse error — i.e., that the Bible not only makes permissible, but even perhaps tacitly supports, a wholly naturalistic account of origins in which God is present in creation, not as a special actor, but only insofar as he creates and sustains the natural laws.  I don’t think that’s the Biblical teaching of origins at all.  I therefore think that the traditional natural/supernatural language is less distortive than the attempt to bring the Bible close to modern Enlightenment and naturalistic thinking.

One distinguishing characteristic of American “evangelical” Christians used to be that they were skeptical of certain naturalistic explanations of origins, and highly inclined to read the Bible to support a “supernatural” notion of origins. It is only in very recent decades that it has become fashionable in some evangelical circles to take up the cause of wholly naturalistic origins.  I myself have nothing against a doctrine of evolutionary creation, in general terms, and I adopt no reading of Genesis that would make evolution impossible; nonetheless, it is very plain that these “updated” evangelicals are operating under cultural pressure and cultural influence when they push hard for naturalistic origins accounts in their science and strain in their Biblical exegesis to remove any sense of special divine action in creation (while allowing without a blink, as Walton does, special divine action in the case of many Gospel miracles).  The vast majority of past Christians would have seen a strong parallel between the “creation out of nothing” involved in making water into wine and the creation of matter, or life, or even man, out of nothing (or out of crude matter which by its own powers would never have produced anything so refined).  The history of ideas makes this plain: it’s all quite visible in the texts from Patristic times to the present. The current prejudice in favor of naturalistic origins was almost nonexistent in evangelical circles until after WW II, and almost nonexistent in Christian theology generally until the era of the Enlightenment.

In trying as hard as he does to clear the Biblical way for wholly naturalistic accounts of origins, Walton is serving a modern agenda.  I don’t of course mean that all or even most of what he says about the interpretation of Genesis is wrong, but when he moves out of his field of excellence (which is Biblical exegesis) into the broader area of science and Christian theology, he seems to me to be toeing the TE/EC party line.  Walton the Genesis scholar I admire; Walton the apologist for TE/EC, not so much.

Edward Robinson

About Edward Robinson

Edward Robinson (Eddie) started his university career on a science scholarship, but ended up as a philosopher/theologian researching the relationship between religion and natural science. He has published several books and articles on religion/science topics in both mainstream academic outlets and denominational and popular periodicals. He has also taught courses in various departments in several universities.
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8 Responses to My Problem with John Walton’s Apologia for TE/EC

  1. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Eddie

    I read Walton’s column less negatively than you, for I’m reading his new book currently and feel that he is completely aware of the direct action of God in miracle and in creation ex nihilo. One has to factor in, though, his core position on the Genesis understanding of creation as primarily a designation of function, its attention simply not being directed to material origins (which, however, Walton concurs to be affirmed elsewhere in Scripture).

    Accordingly, I read his article as saying that the events of both Genesis 1 and 2-3 should not be read in terms of natural v supernatural, but simply in terms of outcomes under God’s direction. His exegesis of the creation of Adam in the new book, for example, shows how a historical Adam (in which he strongly believes) could be naturally born from other humans and still be true to the inspired text, and that indeed the ANE parallels make that more plausible.

    His own position, then, is I think that what we call “natural” processes (by which, to follow your reference to Aquinas, we could take to mean all the causes that Aquinas distinguishes from “miracle”) are no less compatible with Scripture and with divine guidance than miraculous ones for bringing the physical world to its current state. At several points in his book, he is at pains to say that this neither affirms nor denies any particular scientific theory.

    If I have a problem with Walton in this particular science-faith area, it’s that his understandable emphasis (as an ANE/OT scholar) on the Hebrew use of “create” as opposed to Aquinas’s theological/metaphysical ex nihilo conception of “creation” can tend to leave the business of evolution entirely within the scientific (though providentially guided, in his view) area by neglect: whereas there may indeed be aspects of material creation in which God does act supernaturally (for example, by inputting new information).

    And so if Creationists need to be careful with the “supernatural” category, equally TEs should avoid the “natural” category: if Walton is right, the world is directed to its ends by God, regardless of how he does it.

    My bigger problem, as the response to my comment there shows, is not with Walton, but with the placement of his views within the mission of BioLogos. As I read him, he takes a providentially strong view of evolution, and in his last paragraph asserts quite clearly that this “active theism” is integral to the BioLogos evolutionary creation approach. Which is obvious, if his article speaks truth – there is no room for any activity in the biblical world that is not subject to God’s supervision.

    But when I suggested that this is incompatible with the “autonomy of nature” view often seen at BioLogos hitherto, Jim Stump in his reply implied that both are valid approaches within the BioLogos tent. But if Walton’s arguments in the article about the central teachings of Scripture on divine action are right, then a view that creation is autonomous must contradict Scripture.

    Personally, I would suggest that the positions are so different (one semi-Deistic, one Theistic) that they make the distinctives of BioLogos too broad to be seen as a single “position” at all. That, of course is their own business, but in my view it ought to be made clearer to their readers that there are quite polarised differences of core theology within EC.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Jon:

      You are right; I’m basing my perception of Walton on his BioLogos columns, as I haven’t read his books. If he says things in his books that could be taken as cautionary regarding some claims made by BioLogos scientists about God’s natural-cause activity in the world, I say, more power to Walton; but I wish more such statements would appear in Walton’s BioLogos writing. After all, most BioLogos readers (like most blog readers in general), make their extrapolations from blog posts without following up their blog post reading with a read of several carefully written books. So if Walton doesn’t guard on BioLogos against certain possible misinterpretations of his work, with a few strategically placed caveats, then his thought on Genesis (see my reply to Merv below) is likely to be understood as simply another apologia for the de facto BioLogos approach, which is to explain all origins in purely naturalistic terms.

      I agree with you entirely about Jim Stump’s comment. There seems to be an ongoing unwillingness at BioLogos to sit down and do Christian theology rigorously and properly. “We are a big tent which tolerates a diversity of Christian views on divine action and evolution” is hardly satisfactory for an organization which repeatedly claims to be in tune with the historical Christian tradition. How can you know if you are in tune with the historical Christian tradition when you won’t even discuss that tradition when someone brings it up? This “Big Tent Maneuver” is a way of making sure that BioLogos never has to take theological ownership of the views that BioLogos regularly chooses to publish (and therefore tacitly endorses). It’s also patently insincere, since Michael Behe, who like BioLogos accepts evolution, is considered persona non grata and will never be invited to write a column there. The “big tent” very carefully makes sure it isn’t big enough to include certain people whose views aren’t congenial, even if those people are both practicing Christians and evolutionists. So this latest tactic by BioLogos — the shift from the “I’d like to give you an answer how real randomness can go with providence, but God’s action in evolution is too mysterious for us to understand” to “Don’t try to pin us down on God’s action in evolution, because we all have different positions, being the theologically tolerant lot that we are,” is pretty desperate.

      And while we are speaking of desperate moves by BioLogos, how about Deb Haarsma’s pathetic attempt to convince herself (nominally to convince Meyer, but he wasn’t fooled) that Darrel Falk wasn’t really disagreeing with the other BioLogos columnists about Meyer’s book and the problem of the Cambrian explosion? Either Deb has a serious problem understanding the biology involved (which would be understandable, as her field is astronomy), or she was doing damage control.

      Actually, my hat is off to Darrel on that one. He really rose above his past self, trying to be fair to Meyer in a way he never was was when he was the top man at BioLogos. It looks as if current BioLogos leaders must toe the party line, creating a false impression of absolute solidarity among TEs/ECs rather than concede even an inch to an ID proponent, whereas ex-BioLogos leaders have more freedom to judge a book on its merits and thus meet ID people somwhere in the middle. Falk went way up in my estimation when he dared to side with Meyer on some points against his fellow BioLogos columnists. Haarsma went way down in my estimation when she tried to cover up the intra-EC disagreement.

  2. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Thanks for this, Eddie. I consider myself something of a Walton enthusiast, and so have followed his columns with interest and benefit. So that makes your cautionary appraisal here that much more important to me. I do agree with your point that while the categories of “natural” and “supernatural” may be absent from the culture and text, that we should nevertheless not think they made no distinction between special actions by God and the ordinary workings also from God’s hand.

    I see both you and Walton as addressing certain audiences who stand accused by each of you respectively of limiting God’s action by insisting too strongly on their particular readings of biblical accounts. Walton sees modern Christian thinkers using a strong binary category that seems to exclude God from ordinary workings of nature, and you see modern EC/TE enthusiasts using a strong monolithic category that seems to push too hard against any notion of special actions of God as described in the text (though with the charge, or concession, that EC thinkers can be, as you see it, inconsistent about this when they allow for special events described in the New Testament.) Is that a fair reading?

    If so, I don’t see you disagreeing with Walton so much, except in the extent of the zeal that you either rightly or wrongly attribute to him. He may view himself as providing a much needed corrective to faulty modern and fundamentalist impositions on Scripture, while you view yourself as providing a needed corrective against rampant EC/TE use of naturalism wielded like a club against any admission of God’s special action on origins questions (including but perhaps not limited to ID). Is it possible that both of your correctives are necessary to their respective audiences?

    It seems to me that immersion in the text, even by us who don’t know Hebrew or Greek, still turns up troubling hints for anybody who wants too only bang on one of these gongs while stopping up their ears against the other view (which I do not think you do, Eddie, –I’m now responding more generally to any audience.) For those who want all apparent claims of the text to read as only “the miraculous sort” that would razzle dazzle audience of a modern day magic show, we still find troubling hints in Scripture itself even in the central example of the Exodus. You point to the obvious example of the parting of the sea — a mechanically spectacular event according to nearly all the details we’re given. Yet even here, we are told the wind blew all night on this sea of reeds, causing it to dry for them to cross. What is that about? Or we’re told about east winds bringing Locusts in one of the earlier plagues. Couldn’t God have just made the locusts appear on the spot in a more spectacular way like turning Moses’ staff into a snake? There seems to be plenty of material in the Exodus events to prevent either exclusionary extreme from resting easy with these accounts. And as a puzzler for all of us, we have the Egyptian magicians using their “secret arts” to apparently duplicate some of the plagues. Apparently (and I think this supports the thrust of your column here, Eddie) they were no strangers to the categories of “ordinary” and “Spectacular”.

    Other passages too tease us with ancient native skepticisms far predating our alleged monopoly on modern scientific thought. Gideon demands and is granted several permutations of an overnight fleece being dampened or alternately not dampened, more than hinting that he didn’t view just one of these occurrences as being spectacular enough to be taken as a definitive answer. Or the tribes sending the ark back to Israel, we are told, were keen to observe how the unguided oxen would proceed so that they could then distinguish between God’s hand and mere chance. But the accounts we are given of such examples are few and far between. There are many more of the more flashy style, such as fiery chariots swinging down or axe heads floating that will not be explained away if the text is to be read as giving an historical account.

    So it seems to me that every “gong-banger” of either side gets to have a few burrs in their saddle if they read the Scriptures carefully.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks, Merv, for a thoughtful and balanced response.

      Yes, you have interpreted my position rightly. I don’t really object to Walton’s reading of Genesis in itself, nor even to his point that the Bible doesn’t use the natural/supernatural framework that we are accustomed to using since at least the time of Hume. I’m really more concerned about how Walton is being used (or allows himself to be used) by TE/EC generally.

      It would be nice if Walton pointed out that while the Bible does not employ the natural/supernatural division, it certainly portrays God as in control of outcomes, and that any nebulousness about whether God plans and determines the outcomes of evolution cannot be justified on Biblical grounds.

      I suspect you are right to say that Walton and I have different targets for our corrections. Walton, as an evangelical teaching at Wheaton, does his scholarship and teaching almost wholly within the evangelical world, and in that context the problem for him is “conservative” evangelicals who outright reject evolution and insist on a historical reading of Genesis 1 in terms of a string of violations of laws of nature. I am much more interested in introducing Christian teaching about creation to the kind of people I deal with every day, i.e., the great mass of secular humanists who mock the idea that God exists, or else say that if God exists, his only job is to establish and enforce the laws of nature, which alone, without any need for design or planning, can explain the origin of everything.

      So whereas Walton is trying to overcome a view in which God is involved too much in miraculously micromanaging every stage in the development of nature, I’m trying to overcome a view in which the very idea of God is redundant (by Ockham’s Razor) because nature can produce everything without God’s involvement. And the kind of people I am trying to reach are much more likely to respond to a Michael Behe or a Michael Denton than a Jeff Schloss or a Dennis Venema or a Kathryn Applegate. My target audience tends to find evangelical religion cloying and “churchy” and wants to maintain a distance from it. They will, however, be open to evidence (supplied in a way that demands no religious commitment) that design is necessary to explain what we observe in nature; and they could in principle be persuaded that a designer-God exists. And that will be for many of them a necessary first step, because they are not going to consider the possibility that God could become Man, or that God could reveal himself in the Bible, if they don’t believe any God exists. It makes no sense to say “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God” if you don’t know what you mean by “God,” i.e., if you don’t mean for starters the designer, planner, and creator of the natural world.

      Another way of putting it is this. I don’t think the main goal of BioLogos is evangelism for Christianity to the unchurched world. I think the main goal of BioLogos is evangelism for Darwinian evolution to conservative Protestant evangelicals. BioLogos wants people who already believe that God exists and that Jesus Christ is Savior to also believe that evolution by random mutations and natural selection is the means by which God created man. The main goal of ID, on the other hand, is quite different. It is to convince non-Christians, non-theists, and various types of atheists and reductionists (and religious people who have deep religious doubts because of the challenge of atheism, materialism, and reductionism) that the existence of God has, the Shermers and Coynes notwithstanding, not been disproved by science; and that, quite the opposite, science every day provides more and more evidence of the existence of some sort of designing mind. ID argues that reductionist, materialist views cannot adequately explain cosmic or biological origins, because they leave out design, which must have played a genuine causal role in those origins.

      Yet every time ID tries to make this pitch, to wean university-educated, well-off, middle-class, comfortably urban or suburban accountants, professors, teachers, lawyers, accountants, engineers, journalists, judges, etc. away from atheism, materialism, and reductionism, and thus create for them an anteroom potentially leading to Christian faith, TE/EC folks get in the way of the conversation, loudly proclaiming in the hearing of the atheist/materialist that the ID approach is bad theology and bad science. But why is it their business? I don’t interfere when Karl Giberson tries to convince the followers of Ken Ham that evolution happened. I couldn’t care less what Giberson and Ham talk about when they do lunch together (supposing they did lunch together). So why do Giberson, Collins, etc. keep interfering when Behe or Meyer tries to convince a follower of Dawkins that there is a designer after all? If Giberson can convince Ken Ham not to read Genesis 1 as history, I say, more power to him; but if Behe convinces Antony Flew that a designer exists, Giberson etc. put on a sour face, as if to say that Flew never should have been persuaded by such arguments.

      Of course, I’m not blaming Walton for all the faults of TE/EC and BioLogos. But I do worry that his assurance that “supernatural” is not a Biblical concept will be taken by many BioLogos readers to mean: “Dennis Venema’s wholly naturalistic account of origins [in terms of random mutations and natural selection, with no design required], is perfectly compatible with the Bible’s account of origins.” And I find that Venema’s account is un-Biblical — not because it employs naturalistic means (which I grant could be compatible with Biblical statements), but because in it God is brought in only as the pious gloss expected of an evangelical; God’s alleged role in origins has in the end no explanatory value.

      By Ockham’s Razor, the unbeliever, after reading Venema, is going to conclude exactly what he would conclude after reading Jerry Coyne, i.e., that we should reduce unnecessary theoretical entities by keeping “nature” and dumping “God.” (Which is what Lou concludes, i.e., that Venema is being inconsistent by not dumping the theoretically unnecessary postulate.) But the Biblical writers thought that God was a theoretically necessary entity to explain what we see in the world, both in the experience of Israel, and in the construction of the cosmos. I don’t think that Walton’s writing — at least, his writing on BioLogos — I haven’t read his books — makes that clear enough.

  3. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Eddie, Merv

    More on Walton, particularly. It’s key to understanding his position, and his strengths and weaknesses, that he an OT scholar (married to a scientist). Academically he tries not even to encroach on theology, let alone science, too much. So I think he wants to avoid barging in too strongly on “scientific origins”, though his stuff is clearly relevant mainly by showing the Bible doesn’t barge in on it.

    Be that as it may, his new book has a strand of thinking that could encourage over-naturalistic thinking in world history, and it’s worth exploring both positively and negatively here.

    As you know, his central thesis on Gen 1 is that it describes God’s organisation of things into sacred space, orientated towards man and his relationship with God. Creation, therefore, is the bringing of that kind of order.

    He brings it from unorder (tohu wabohu), and elements of that still remain in creation. So darkness is tamed to become useful night, but “night” remains a symbol of absence of God throughout Scripture. Likewise the chaotic waters are tamed to become parts of the good creation, yet remain a symbol of wildness (eg storms in Jonah and the gospels, the absence of sea in Revelation etc). And so on – wildernesses of screech owls are tohu as well, echoing the primaeval chaos.

    Man in God’s image was given a role as vice-regent, one assumes to extend God’s order to the rest of creation – Eden was to extend through the world. Sin interrupted that, so that now it is only in Christ the completion of cosmic order is achieved. Meanwhile sin brings a third category – disorder, or evil, which is actively against God.

    This described, it’s possible to see some “not good” events in the world as reflections of “unorder”, not evil in themselves but awaiting proper ordering as they “groan in longing”. Walton mentions events like tsunamis etc. Others (not explicitly Walton, from my reading), could therefore, one suspects, place the whole evolutionary process in that “unordered” category and trot out wisdom teeth and parasites as part of primaeval chaos, God’s initial ex nihilo work, and not of the creation proper.

    The question is, would this be valid? It’s a whole field to explore, but I would say that last step creates the same false dichotomy between “God’s/good” and “not God’s/not good” that the “automomous creation” theology does. You praise God for the shape of your beloved’s chin and hips, but curse evolution for wisdom teeth and difficult labour. An ingenious disease-resisting mechanism in the brain is cause for worship, but clever little viruses are not.

    Equally, since in order for God to order the plant and animal realms for man’s benefit, their material nature is clearly moulded by him too, you can’t simply allow a kind of homogenous dualism in nature, where horses are God’s creation and mosquitoes not (or just the mouthparts of mosquitoes aren’t!) – especially as God commands them, as he does storms and floods, in Scripture.

    As I said, Walton doesn’t hint at this, buit I think we should explore it, bacause it can be a good excuse for divorcing evolution and other things from God’s providence. The idea of unorder/order/disorder seems to me a useful theological and biblical idea – but it needs some careful mapping to the physical world. I don’t think Scripture is intending us, overall, to leave any part of the world outside God’s wisdom and goodness towards us.

  4. pngarrison says:

    For what it’s worth, I think Walton is entirely right to point out that not just the Hebrew prophets, but essentially everyone in the world at that time made no distinction between supernatural and natural. No one had had the idea of anything in nature fitting a mathematical function, beyond applying rudimentary arithmetic and geometry in a static way. They knew there was a regular mode of things that you could rely on, but they saw spirits and gods just under the surface of everything, ordinary or extraordinary, and felt an almost direct interaction with this “mana.” (Read Barfield or the anthropologists that he relied on.)

    Not only is Walton right to point it out. The ancient people were right to believe it.
    There was a bunch of math and observation and measurement and experiment to be added to understand the normal mode of things, but they were right about the essentials.

    Oh, and Eddie, the last time I looked at ENV or UD, my overwhelming impression was not that ID was about pre-evangelism, but that it is about somehow holding evolution at bay. The DI does nothing resembling evangelism that I have ever seen (although I admit I haven’t looked lately.) RTB does, Colson’s operation does, Probe does, but the DI does culture war. That’s why they employ all those lawyers. It’s no accident that the whole thing was set in motion by a lawyer. I wish he had employed his experience figuring out how to reverse the insane “constitutional” decisions that legalized hard core pornography in the U.S. He might have accomplished something useful if he had.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hello, Preston.

      I’m not sure I disagree with anything in your first paragraph. My point in the main article above was that while the ancient Israelites wouldn’t have said, “This violates the laws of nature, and therefore must have a supernatural cause,” they were quite capable of saying: “This is an extraordinary departure from the normal way of things; only God (or YHWH) could have done this.” And indeed, quite often in the OT either God himself, or the narrator, says something to this effect, e.g., “I have done this that you many know that the Lord of Israel is a mighty God” (I’m paraphrasing). So while the language of “supernatural” or “breaking the laws of nature” or “violating the causal nexus” etc. is modern and Humean in flavor, the idea that extraordinary events require extraordinary causes, and the most extraordinary events of all can be done only by God, seems to me to be pretty plain in the text.

      Sure, the Pharaoh’s magicians can turn a stick into a snake, but in a world which believed in the spontaneous generation of simple forms of life, that is marvelous, but not proof of divine power; whereas parting the Red Sea, manna from heaven, rising from the dead, calming the storm — these things indicate that divine power — I mean here the power of the Creator — is operating.

      I’m not sure the idea in your second paragraph is complete. Do you mean to say that the ancient people were right to look at the world in the way they did, but that we modern people would be wrong to do so? I am guessing that you, as a research biochemist, would not endorse the ancient view of the world as the correct one! So when, in your view, did it become proper for us to the view the world as bound my mathematical laws? In Greek times? Medieval times? In the 17th century? In the 19th? And what had changed, in your view, that made it wrong for people to view the world in the old way? And if there are still tribes in the Amazon or New Guinea that look at the world in the old way, is it our duty — or even our right — to try to change their way of thinking? If not, then missionaries should stop bringing Western science and culture along with them, and teach only the Bible, leaving the natives with their “primitive” or “pagan” view of nature.

      (This is interesting, actually, because I’m told — I have no firsthand knowledge — that Christianity in Africa is quite different than in the West, precisely because the pre-modern view of the world is still very much alive there, and Biblical stories which in American and European urban culture are de-emphasized or even repudiated by up-to-date Christians — stories involving miracles, genuine demonic attacks, divine possession of a prophet by God, etc. — are the stories which resonate the most with Africans.)

      On your third paragraph, I’m not sure what to say, except that you don’t seem to have read very many of the columns at UD, which are very frequently direct attacks on the New Atheists and defenses of traditional religious and ethical positions against the corrosions of modern unbelief). Indeed, I’ve seen much more criticism of the New Atheists and of modern immorality on UD than on BioLogos.

      As for hard-core pornography, and more generally, distaste for modernizing legal decisions by courts regarding moral and social matters, again, you will find a greater number of visibly conservative or visibly reactionary people in the ID than in the TE/EC movement. Indeed, at least the public face that TE/EC leaders present is one of political/social indifference, of being concerned mainly about doing good science in the lab, and good worship of God on Sundays and at Christian scientists’ retreats. One rarely gets a sense, from TE/EC leaders, where they might stand on liberal/conservative questions in the social/political realm.

      And of course, when ID people do make public statements in favor of conservative stances on things like pornography, they are savaged by the atheist bloggers and commenters, and charged with wishing to turn America into a “theocracy” and violate the civil liberties of Americans by imposing a religion-based morality on them; and I haven’t often noticed TE/EC writers rushing to the defense the ID folks against the atheists and libertines. Yours is one of the very few comments I’ve seen on the internet from a TE/EC person indicating a degree of social/moral conservatism.

      But in any case, wouldn’t taking a strong stance against hard-core pornography be taking a side in a “culture war” — a war in which the liberal, big-city, East and West coast, university-educated folks scream “no censorship” and “religious values have no place in social legislation” and where the small-town, mid-Western and Southern folks scream “America is going down the tubes due to moral laxness, and pornography must be stopped”? You seem to be on one hand belittling of the idea of a culture war, while in the case of pornography, almost calling for one.

      By the way, Preston, a few weeks back, I asked you a biological question here, but you didn’t respond. Did you see it?

  5. pngarrison says:

    By the way, speaking of clever little viruses, this appeared in PNAS this week. Entertainment will ensue when the European purveyors of superstition hear about this. Seems that the same bug used to make GMO crops, got busy helping with some transgenic assistance to the domestication of sweet potatoes long before geneticists of the human variety were invented. Maybe there were aliens involved. 🙂

    The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes: An example of a naturally transgenic food crop.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/112/18/5844.abstract

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