Does God Sustain the Universe by Batteries or Power Cords? Or Are Both Notions Shocking Misconceptions?

Over on BioLogos, Jon was kind enough to comment on a discussion I was having with GJDS and several others about Deism, God’s involvement in evolution, etc. He wrote:

Eddie’s caution about the limitations of speaking of God’s “sustaining” everything in being is that we have all seen that word drained of its historical theological content (I suppose in a quasi-scientific way), so that it simply means God keeping objects in existence as they go about their business autonomously and he is passive.

Jon has correctly inferred the basis of my discomfort. It has often seemed to me that some EC writers (often at BioLogos and sometimes elsewhere) speak of God’s “sustaining” in this way. Possibly they mean something more, but whenever (except in one case) I’ve asked particular individuals to explain their remarks along this line, there has never been any further elaboration. It’s almost as if they think that by adding “sustained” to “created” they’ve performed the mandatory requirement to cover themselves against the charge of Deism, and that beyond the endorsement of the mere word “sustained” no further account of God’s involvement is needed. But this is puzzling, because if adding “God sustains” to “God created” is supposed to make a huge difference in the way we conceptualize God’s relationship with natural events – and the EC/TE writers seem to think it does – then one might think that biological accounts of origins would sound a bit different (however subtle the difference might be) under an EC/TE model than under a Deistic model, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

If “sustained” implies the actual personal involvement of God in every molecular and genetic and environmental activity, one would think that a claim that God “sustains” natural events could affect the way the biologist thinks about origins. But in many cases it seems to add nothing but a theological gloss, an optional supplement to be attached after all the science (science understood in NOMA terms) is done. This is perhaps best shown by comparing the apparent positions of various types of scientist (atheistic, deistic, and BioLogos-style EC/TE):

A- science shows that blind chemical and Darwinian searches can create life, species and man, and there is therefore no need to suppose the existence of God, and I’m an atheist;

B- science shows that blind chemical and Darwinian searches can create life, species and man, but I believe someone needed to create the initial laws of nature and ignite the Big Bang (after which the universe ran by itself), and I’m a Deist;

C- science shows that blind chemical and Darwinian searches can create life, species and man, but I believe that someone needed to create the initial laws of nature and ignite the Big Bang (and keep the natural laws going after that, so the universe could keep running itself), and I’m a Christian Theist.

It seems to me that under case C, God’s “sustaining” is the equivalent of plugging the automated machine “universe” into the power source “God” so that the machine “universe” can keep doing what it’s doing; but that doesn’t strike me as a personal involvement of God in the workings of nature (or more specifically in the process of evolution). The only difference between case B and case C is that in case B the universe comes with its own batteries, whereas in case C the universe doesn’t come with batteries and so needs to be near a wall outlet. But a machine works in exactly the same way whether you power it with batteries or by plugging it into the wall. And there’s nothing any more “personal” in current that comes from the wall than in current coming from dry cells (or wet cells, take your pick). Current is just current, having no moral intention, no aims or ends, etc.

In other words, a formally “theistic” acknowledgment that God “sustains” the universe doesn’t stop the overall picture from seeming pretty “deistic.”

I can agree that God “sustains” things, but surely there’s more to be said than that. The question is why so few of the EC/TE writers seem interested in showing the connection between a sustaining God and a personal God who wills, plans, intends, etc. In their personal lives the EC/TE writers engage in prayer, the singing of hymns, weekend retreats for Christian scientists and so on. They surely sincerely believe that God is personal and not just a power source underlying the universe. But when asked about how that God relates to natural events in general or evolutionary outcomes in particular, they strangely seem to have not even any tentative ideas. God is personally involved in evolution, they say; Jeff Schloss even says that God is “mightily hands-on” in evolution. But what a “hands-on and personal” relationship to evolution means, beyond a vague “sustaining”, they don’t seem interested in talking about. Could that be because any “involvement” of God with nature beyond a vague “sustaining” might get in the way of the purely naturalistic account of origins they are determined to provide? Or is there another reason? It’s hard to say, when one can’t induce them to discuss such matters in any detail, for love or money.

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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19 Responses to Does God Sustain the Universe by Batteries or Power Cords? Or Are Both Notions Shocking Misconceptions?

  1. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks Eddie.

    For those willing to do the reading, there’s a good piece in more hi-falutin’ words on the issues between Deism, occasionalism and all points in between here.

    The conclusion is in accord with your argument:

    To avoid such Deistic threats, the notion of bringing about in question must be clarified so that it involves some activity on the part of God that is an immediate, even if only partial, cause of existence… Divine conservation of a sort that can have present effects on the basis of things done in the remote past must be supplemented or replaced with the idea of divine concurrence concerning present effects, a concurrence that implies causal responsibility of a certain sort together with immediacy of activity in producing the present effect.

    In their view, providence as a universal fact in what happens in the world is associated with concurrence as the theological means, at least in general terms, by which there is the possibility of real science (A truly causes B) and yet simultaneously real divine involvement and government of what occurs – “design” in the first case and “outcomes” in the second.

    My recent posts are an attempt to put more flesh on this in terms of the fact that scientific explanations can, by definition, only apply to lawlike, repeatable causes, and not contingent events. I’m thus arguing that there is a specific locus for God’s providential (and concursive) activity, in the very fact of contingency that is not explained by other minds like ours. God’s activity is, in other words, hiding in plain sight.

    As for the people who oppose you (designating you as a witchfinder general in the process) I think there are two distict groups.

    There are undoubtedly TEs who, if not always fully up to speed on the theological/metaphysical issues, still have a conscious commitment to a non-governing God in evolution. And they do include some of the major spokesmen, who have been deeply influenced by the “divine action” discussion and the views of Howard Van Till, John Polikinghorne, and Openness theology… partly prompted by theodicy, of course.

    I believe many of these are fully aware that their views cut across the Evangelical mainstream, and their response is quite deliberate obfuscation, and sometimes hostility to the raising of the matter – which is not conducive to increased understanding generally. Unless we recognise this deep theological division, I think we’re missing the proverbial elephant in the room.

    The other group, though, seems to include most of those with whom you have recently interacted at BioLogos. These seem to have a high view of special providence in personal affairs, which “leaks” to a variable (but laudable) degree into their views on evolution. It seems to me that, for the most part, these lack the conceptual apparatus (as in the article cited above) to integrate such a wholehearted idea of providence into a scientific account.

    As a result, God’s providence, to them, appears somehow in danger of “competing” with natural causes, and so needs to be kept within limits, lest science be denied. That accounts for the fear of ID as anti-science in principle: the more “designer” you put it, the more science you push out, it is feared. (But it must be admitted that since many ID people lack the same conceptual apparatus, the “competition” between science and design appears amongst them too.)

    You aptly quoted Asa Gray over at BioLogos. I’m inclined to think not so much that he had a higher view of God than the majority of workday ECs, but that he had a better grasp of Christian metaphysics, and in particular the nature of divine concurrence in the providential government of “scientific” processes.

    • Noah White says:

      As a result, God’s providence, to them, appears somehow in danger of “competing” with natural causes, and so needs to be kept within limits, lest science be denied.

      I think this is the “kicker”, as it were. It’s been said multiple times by Jon Burke (and others) that we ought to reassess our theology of God’s sovereignty in light of what science now shows about randomness. It bears repeating that this is a brutally false dilemma–the portrait of God we get in scripture is perfectly adequate to handle all this randomness (or, contingency, as you’ve well pointed out).

      For the umpteenth time, the comparison to God’s sovereignty being totally in control along with our will being totally free (as far as our sin nature will allow, of course) is beyond helpful here. The ancient Hebrews, and Jesus, and the apostles, and the Church Fathers, and the Reformers didn’t have to be scientifically literate (or ‘giants of intellect’ to use someone else’s terminology) to see that history itself is full of contingency and randomness, yet they pretty clearly affirm God’s sovereignty.

      I’m bristling at the stubbornness to continue to promote this false dilemma, when doing just a little reasoned thinking on classical theism and what scripture tells would pretty much get the job done.

      Which, to address Eddie more directly, is why I probably disagree with his general desire for EC/TE leaders to give hypotheses of how God interacts with (I am loathe to use that phrasing, but it’ll do) evolution to achieve his ends, though he’s brought up some good points in that thread. For my $0.02 (couldn’t find the Pound Sterling sign Jon, sorry :-)), I think it’s enough to draw the comparison to free will to show those skeptical brothers and sisters how God is in control. But I find any “models” proposed in a scientific sense of how God directs/uses evolution to be suspect (frontloading, tinkering at the quantum level, etc.).

      Good talk, guys.

      • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

        Noah:

        Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post.

        I’d be quite willing to give BioLogos ECs a whole year’s postponement on the explanation of *how* God controls evolutionary outcomes if they would first take a stand (as individuals, I mean) on *whether* God controls those outcomes. But they won’t answer either question, so I have to give it up.

        I will say that Merv and George have given clear answers, and I thank them for that. It is interesting that the clearest answers to theological questions in these debates usually come from those who are aren’t wedded to the neo-Darwinian account of evolution and who aren’t biologists by profession. Something about commitment to the biological profession, and to neo-Darwinism, seems to automatically produce vagueness of theological statement. There’s something to ponder there.

        I don’t take seriously most of what Jonathan Burke says, since all his theological remarks are heavily colored by his Christadelphian orientation. Even though he is on the outs with the Christadelphian community currently, due to his embrace of evolution, he still adheres to most of their tenets, including their rejection of the traditional Christian understanding of “soul” and of the plain meaning of the Gospel stories about demons and exorcism. So when Burke says that we ought to reassess this or that traditional doctrine, we have to remember that he comes from a denomination which has a long history of doubting traditional Christian doctrines. Standing in judgment over centuries of Christian thought and practice comes naturally to Christadelphians (as it does to some other American sects of similarly modern origin). I don’t come from such sectarian quarters; I identify more closely with the mainstream tradition, and I think that it’s on the whole more likely that Jonathan Burke has made an error than that Augustine or Aquinas or Calvin or the Nicene Fathers have made an error.

        Remember that I’m not against “evolutionary creation” in the generic sense. What I’m against is the tying of “evolutionary creation” to a number of theological remarks that have been made over the years by EC/TE leaders, both at BioLogos and elsewhere. I have found myself in disagreement theologically with one or more remarks made by EC leaders such as Ard Louis, Kathryn Applegate, Dennis Venema, Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, Francis Collins, Randy Isaac, Denis Alexander, and many others. And there is nothing wrong with theological disagreement; I don’t condemn someone for disagreeing with me. I could well be wrong on some points of theology. But it’s odd that I so much more often disagree with EC theological statements than theological statements made by ID leaders.

        The question is why EC leaders are so prone to depart from traditional Christian views of God, providence, divine action, etc. in their defense of evolution. As Jon here has many times pointed out, accepting biological evolution *does not require* adopting an unorthodox or un-traditional theology. Burke is just one of many EC supporters who seems to think that some traditional ideas have to be surrendered because of evolutionary science. I disagree.

        To me, the answer to the problem is for EC leaders to educate themselves much better in the theological tradition. Then they would be able to locate evolution within a Christian view of the world *without* disfiguring Christian doctrine as they do it. Jon’s columns here provide a good immersion in many aspects of the theological tradition.

        Many of the EC folks I named above could benefit from reading Jon’s columns. But they take a different approach. They steep themselves mainly in the biology, and declare their notion of (apparently unguided, though they won’t say) evolution to be irrefutable science ranking up there with the discoveries of Newton. Then they go hunting through the evangelical world for Biblical scholars, theologians, etc. who will give them a few sketchy theological notions to allow them to hold on to evolution as Christians. The study of theology is not cultivated by EC leaders for its own sake; they engage in a bit of theology in order to maintain their position on evolution. And that’s a bad motive for studying theology. What’s needed in the EC community is a much higher regard for theology for its own sake. EC won’t be a healthy science/theology position until its leaders find it just as natural to spent 20 hours reading Aquinas or Calvin as to spend 20 hours reading technical articles in Nature Genetics. Jon’s columns here display a much better balance between the science and the theology aspects of evolution than is typically found in American EC writing.

        • Noah White says:

          Thanks for the thorough reply, Eddie!

          You say:
          I’d be quite willing to give BioLogos ECs a whole year’s postponement on the explanation of *how* God controls evolutionary outcomes if they would first take a stand (as individuals, I mean) on *whether* God controls those outcomes. But they won’t answer either question, so I have to give it up.

          Apologies if I missed the part in the Biologos thread where you said that! If that’s what you’re asking for, then I fully understand. I was going off of your initial request for specific models, but if you pivoted to asking for a general affirmation of God’s guidance, then I think you’re just going to hit a wall.

          My thought this morning as I pondered these things (which I probably do far too often–time to get back into a practical faith walk!) was that, ultimately, it’s more likely that someone with maverick theological ideas will accept evolution because they’re more open-minded (I use that neutrally–it can be a good or bad thing). I know that’s a painfully broad generalization. I haven’t had the experience with EC/TE leaders you seem to have had, but I understand their reticence to commit, especially if they’re a biologist.

          But the fact is, as you’ve pointed out, most of them are scientists and not theologians. It’s just where we’ve arrived that scientists were the first to get really vocal about faith and science working together. I know guys like Os Guiness, J.I. Packer, N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Billy Graham and others have affirmed evolution, but it doesn’t seem like any of them have really attempted a ministry based on reconciling the two. If Collins had teamed up with orthodox people from the get-go, perhaps we’d be in a different situation.

          I think their reticence to hold a robust view of God’s sovereignty isn’t a shady thing, I just think that suspicion of authority is the zeitgeist in a post-modern world. You can see it in how much people think Calvin was a cold, heartless person and promotes a borderline-evil theology. Which of course is a far cry from the truth.

          Anyway, I understand your frustration but I do think it’s a really complicated matter that can’t just be written off. All the best!

          • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

            Noah:

            Thanks for your further comments.

            Even when I have asked the question “how” God acts in evolution I’ve never asked “how” in the specific sense that the BioLogos folks are complaining about. They seem to think (in some cases, I would say, pretend to think–so they can accuse me of asking an unreasonable question that the Bible doesn’t answer!) that I’m audaciously demanding the secrets of how God’s divine power works, but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m only asking whether ECs (and I don’t ask for a single group answer for all ECs, merely for individual views) think that God “set up” evolution so that certain outcomes were biologically inevitable or whether they think that the evolutionary process is such (dependent on random events, etc.) that it would be impossible for God to set up outcomes in advance from any initial situation, and therefore God would have to “tinker” or “intervene” at various points later to keep evolution on course. Thus, I’m not asking how God’s supernatural power works, but only very broadly what line of approach God takes.

            Some ECs do give answers. Lamoureux says God front-loaded necessary results; Russell says God tinkered with mutations. Either of those is a logically coherent answer, and either is compatible with traditional notions of divine sovereignty. But it’s typical of the BioLogos regulars (neither Russell nor Lamoureux has much direct involvement with BioLogos) to refuse to give even a broad answer of that type. Whatever they think about how God determines outcomes they keep close to the vest. And as I’ve already said, even *whether* they think God determines outcomes, they keep close to the vest.

            Oord, who is only an occasional guest on BioLogos, at least says outright that God doesn’t and can’t determine outcomes. You know where he stands. But that’s less surprising because he is a philosopher and philosophers are used to offering a thesis rather than ducking one.

            I suspect that Venema would avoid saying “God can’t” but believes that “God doesn’t” determine outcomes, and believes it based on his commitment to his gene-centered, heavily mutationist, non-teleological biology. So he would differ with Lamoureux. Falk’s position is slightly clearer than Venema’s (though still evasively stated): based on statements he made on BioLogos, his position is that “God doesn’t” determine all outcomes but leaves many specific outcomes (though not the outcome of man) to the accidents of mutation etc.

            In other words, Falk and Venema would agree with commenter Chris Falter that there is a lot of “serendipity” in evolution, a lot of stuff that apparently God doesn’t care enough about to control in detail. And this suggests a portrait of nature that largely “runs by itself” — exactly what the ECs are always accusing IDers of doing! Grrrr!

            Our own Merv here who comments on BioLogos has been clear, bless his heart. He says God does determine the outcomes.

            You’re right when you say:

            “If Collins had teamed up with orthodox people from the get-go, perhaps we’d be in a different situation.”

            That’s an excellent point. The people he surrounded himself with at BioLogos tend to have if anything even less theological knowledge than Collins himself had.

            Of course Collins is a *convert*, and in the USA it’s very common for converts to adopt some form of Biblicist or evangelical faith that puts less emphasis on educated theological tradition and more on personal religious experience. And many of the BioLogos folks, whether converts or Christians from birth, come from a small-denomination ethos and go to churches (e.g., the Nazarene) that typically don’t emphasize reading systematic theology or history of Christian doctrine, but lean heavily on the private Bible interpretation of the individual believer. If all you have to lean on to determine whether or not something is orthodox or traditional is your own private Bible reading, plus the “traditions” of a denomination that is at most 100 or 200 years old, then you don’t have a deep base for theologically grounding your thoughts on evolution.

            I agree with you that the motivation is not always “shady.” I think that in many cases the EC leaders who are biologists and other scientists in some cases are keenly aware that their knowledge of theology is secondhand and not reliable, and when challenged feel it is safer not to answer. In other cases, however, I think that they know that their own views do not match those of their own denominations or local churches or the evangelical tradition more broadly, and therefore prefer not to be too explicit. But I suppose those are the cases where I should *never* expect an answer, so in a sense asking such people for one is pointless. (But it has value in that it causes the world to see that these people won’t answer, and then world may then wonder why.)

            It’s hard to sort out which ones have an answer in their heads but don’t want to say it, and which ones feel too theologically uncertain to even venture an answer. Ideally each would identify which group they belong to. So, for example, one might say: “You have a good question and I’m embarrassed not to have even a tentative answer for it, but I’m only a biologist [astronomer, etc.] and I don’t feel I understand systematic theology well enough to say anything very clear “; and another might say: “I don’t accept the traditional Calvinist notion of divine sovereignty, but more than that I don’t want to say because of my personal situation.” Such answers would help me and perhaps some others. But I have to accept that such answers won’t be forthcoming.

            What *can* be said is that if such answers are *not* offered, the ECs of BioLogos cannot claim to have *established* that neo-Darwinian evolution, with its non-teleological view of evolutionary outcomes, is perfectly compatible with traditional views of divine sovereignty and providence. They would like to *believe* that it is perfectly compatible, but if they won’t even discuss the problems I’m trying to raise, then they can’t claim to have demonstrated that compatibility. The vaunted compatibility is merely an assertion.

            In fact, it’s a faith assertion, but not in the sense of an assertion of Christian faith. It’s an assertion of faith in the harmonization of two uncoordinated views, one Christian, and one scientific. It’s a thesis in the area of “theology and science” that needs argument. But they are content with assertion rather than argument. So there the matter stands, unresolved.

            Probably it will remain unresolved within the framework of BioLogos. I don’t think the goal of BioLogos is to resolve outstanding theoretical problems in the relationship of theology and science. I think the goal of BioLogos is to get as many American Bible-oriented Christians as possible to accept biological evolution, without too much concern for questions of intellectual coherence in the theology/science subject area. And that is not surprising, given the professional commitments of the scientists who are the dominant movers and shakers behind BioLogos.

        • Richard_Wright says:

          Hi Eddie,

          As promised my response to your article. (For some reason I can’t seem to be able to reply to the actual blog, but only to responses).

          I liked the post. As usual it was well written and easy to understand and I find the battery/power cord analogy clever and appropriate.

          However, it’s the premise that I simply don’t agree with, and that is that traditional Christian theology demands that God be, “actively” involved evolution. You and Jon Garvey (and apparently Noah White) think that a view of nature that evolves outcomes on its own makes God look, “passive”, “impersonal”, and any number of negative descriptions. I simply disagree with that. This is from Dennis Lamoureux from a recent interview on his new book:

          “From my perspective, our Creator has the unfathomable foresight and strength to create a self-assembling world, culminating with the evolution of men and women who bear the Image of God.”

          Dr. Lamoureux clearly states that God providentially created nature to evolve man to bear his image, through the forces that he endowed the universe with. I have a difficult time seeing that as passive, impersonal or Deistic.

          You stated, “They surely sincerely believe that God is personal and not just a power source underlying the universe. ” I’m sure they do believe that God is personal. Like myself, I’m sure they believe that God had his son sacrificed for them and I’m sure they believe that God works in their lives and answers prayers. That is, they believe in a personal, providential god, like most ECs do.

          We had an agreement on Biologos that evolution must be explained in the context of traditional theology, that is that God intended man through evolution. Our differences our in HOW God did that. You hold that traditional theology demands God being active in the process while I hold that God setting up the universe to evolve man is an acceptable Christian belief.

          [I’ll be responding to yours’ and other responses here in the next couple of days, time willing].

          • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

            Thanks, Richard.

            There are two distinct questions here.

            The first is, does Lamoureux give a clear answer to my question?

            The second is, is his answer theologically acceptable?

            My main complaint about BioLogos TEs is that they tend not to give clear answers. They tend to give muddy answers, or not answer at all.

            Lamoureux does give a clear answer, so he is not guilty of what I’m complaining about.

            As for whether Lamoureux’s answer is theologically acceptable, there is probably some room for debate there. If the outcomes of evolution are inescapable in Lamoureux’s scheme, then God’s sovereignty over events is preserved, and in that sense Lamoureux’s view could be called “traditional.” But Jon has made the point that “front-loaded” schemes sound “deistic” insofar as all God has to do is start them off, and then nature does all the creating itself. Jon sees this as not doing justice to the true doctrine of creation; he insists that God does much more than push the first domino.

            I suspect that if Lamoureux and Jon could talk, they might find some interesting middle ground between a deistic and an interventionist position. We really don’t know his full view just from his university website offerings, and he doesn’t write for BioLogos or interact with questioners there. He may of course give a fuller statement in his books, but I’ve only read one chapter of one of them, so I can’t verify what they contain. For now, I’ll just say that I see Jon’s point, but wouldn’t yet rule out Lamoureux’s view as impossible for an orthodox Christian without hearing more from Lamoureux.

            Possibly the greater difficulty for all front-loaded views is on the scientific front. How plausible is it that God could set up any initial position that could guarantee exact outcomes billions of years later, given what we now know about the vagaries of mutation, development, and environments? And doesn’t it become even more difficult if we throw in possible effects of quantum indeterminism? Isn’t it almost certain that no matter how carefully God set things up, evolution would wander off course?

            As far as I know, Lamoureux accepts the basic genetics that Venema etc. preach, so I don’t see how he can avoid this problem. So one wonders whether, even with the most careful and precise initial setup of life, God wouldn’t have to “intervene” to keep evolution on track. And Lamoureux doesn’t like “intervention” or “guidance” or “tinkering” of any kind. So if he resolutely rejects tinkering, he is left with a biologically improbable model.

            It would be good to talk with him about this point, as well as Jon’s theological objection, at some point in the future. Maybe Jon can invite Lamoureux to write something here. Lamoureux shouldn’t be averse to writing for a site that endorses evolutionary creation, especially since he seems to prefer not being involved with BioLogos at the moment. But anyhow, thanks for your reply, and have a Merry Christmas!

          • Noah White says:

            You hold that traditional theology demands God being active in the process while I hold that God setting up the universe to evolve man is an acceptable Christian belief.

            My problem with this statement is that I don’t see where (scientifically or scripturally or traditionally in the doctrine) this is a necessary belief to hold. It’s fine if you do, but I have to concur with Jon that it seems as though it’s an Enlightenment thought of “nature’s inviolability”. What do we gain by “Nature” unfolding by itself? It just seems contrary to scripture, where God is shown as intimately involved in his creation–and I don’t mean that in an ID/interference/tweaking the laws of physics/God-of-the-gaps sense. I’m just unclear as to what is gained theologically by saying “God set up” the universe.

            To clarify my position: for me it’s not about God being ‘active’, it’s that creation decidedly isn’t just ‘the Big Bang’, it’s creatio continua .

            Jon’s recent series of posts on this blog I almost totally concur with and I just don’t see that how (after reading them) it’s a less desirable picture of creation than nature unfolding independent of God.

            • Richard_Wright says:

              Hi Noah,

              Thanks for your response.

              I’m not stating that it’s necessary to hold my beliefs, only that it’s not against solid, traditional Christian theology to have nature unfold on its own as long as it is also held that man was guaranteed to evolve, and is not merely a happy fluke.

              Jon’s recent series of posts on this blog I almost totally concur with and I just don’t see that how (after reading them) it’s a less desirable picture of creation than nature unfolding independent of God.

              What is a, “desirable picture” is in the eyes of the beholder. For a lot of people, it is more desirable to have nature capable of fulfilling God’s demands on its own. Richard Dawkins says that God would have to have an, “unimaginable intelligence” to do so.” I wholehearteldy agree. My opinion is that it shows God’s beauty and creativity more powerfully than that with tinkering or somehow, “working with creation”.

              This is not an absolute declaration of any scientific truth, but I’ve noticed that generally how believers think that God interacts with nature is greatly affected by how they see evolution. Those who they believe that evolution is a fact are more likely, like myself, to change their views on Genesis 1-3. They may even take science completely out of early Genesis, abandoning concordance, thus allowing them to see nature without the theological constraints that a lot of people have. I did exactly that and it allowed my the see the utter power and beauty of how God seems to have gotten us here. However, if one isn’t 100% sold on evolution (usually those haven’t formally studied it), then they are less likely to consider non-intervention from God.

              A lot of people don’t like my view, it seems them too big a concession to atheists and that to them, “it doesn’t seem that God would work that way”. Well, God often works in ways that are not only counter-intuitive, but are often exactly the opposite of what we would expect, the cross being a prime example. My guess is that Jesus didn’t feel God’s, “personal” touch as he hung on a piece of wood after having been tortured (“My God, why have forsaken me?”) I didn’t feel God’s personal touch going through the tough times that caused me to rethink my life and eventually become a Christian, but in each of above cases, God did was exactly what was needed, and I’m thankful for God loving me enough to allow me to go through those things so I could become one of his children. Would I have come up with his plan? Not in a million years. Similarly, I’ll bet if someone had polled every ancient Hebrew in history, even those who knew the scriptures inside and out, not one would have imagined that God would save the Jews by having his own son sacrificed for their sins. (“‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—” 1 Corinthians 2:9) Point being, God does surprising things.

              It seems to me that my view is opposed many (not all) because, “I don’t like it”, followed by theological and scientific reasons to oppose it. People can believe what they like, I’m not necessarily trying to convert people to my view only to show that is reasonable within traditional Christianity.

              You believe in, “creatio continua”, which is what I believe Jon Garvey endorses. That has its theological problems as well. One being, if it seems that God accomplishes things through natural processes but is working behind the scenes to accomplish his goals, then it that God could be accused of being deceitful.

              I simply don’t’ need to have God, “doing” something in the physical creation to believe that he created it. Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” People should believe in God and his divine nature just from existing is his creation. That holds whether one believes his is, “active” in it or it unfolds on its own.

              All that said, I and most ECs on Biologos believe that God is a personal God who intervened for salvation, works in people’s lives and answers prayers. It’s only that a lot of us also hold that the physical creation unfolded on its own to become a substrate for humans (and other living things) to exist in, struggle in, manipulate for their betterment (science, in the case of humans) and eventually come believers in.

              • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

                Just a few comments on your scheme, Richard, which taken overall is, I agree, not completely incompatible with a Christian view of creation.

                In my view it doesn’t capture the picture of the Creator, especially as Logos, built up in the Bible, but it does have the virtue that Leibniz saw of making a wonderful contrivance if God can pull it off… though he’s under no obligation to do so just because he can.

                But to be honest my problems with it are more with the scientific plausibility. Leibniz’s “perpetual motion” led to, and depended on, the precision clockwork universe of the “mechanical philosophy” and scientific determinism.

                Several things have overturned that view since – and I’ll mention the thological one first. As soon as one allows miracles into the system, as you do for “religious” miracles, all criticism of “interference” becomes invalid – this inconsistency is especially marked in the work of Polkinghorne who, having denigrated the “puppet master” God as a controlling monster, then starts to say how God might influence outcomes… but to be consistent with his morality of non-intereference he would have to follow Oord in denying God’s soverignty even over the initial creation.

                Allow providential answers to prayer, too, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the self-governing world can hold to its pre-ordained course… unless God’s caring responses are also seen as built into the natural working of the universe, which makes God a lot more guilty of deceit that any co-operation with secondary causes (which isn’t deceit at all, actually, since Scripture is upfront about it and makes no claims about the independence of nature).

                The more purely secondary cause changes in science include the fact that nature itself appears to be far less exact that the early moderns thought it to be: apart from quantum indeterminacy and the possibility of that “leaking” into the macro world, chaotic events mean that small variations lead to widely differing outcomes. Even the laws themselves are, in many cases, exact expressions of approximate processes.

                This we know about – what we don’t know is of any major forces tending to iron out such divergences and restore an original “creational trajectory” towards a particular highly focused goal such as the evolution of man. Conway Morris’s “convergence” is one possible examnple, but is ill-devined in theory and imprecise in demonstrated outcomes.

                On the contrary, as far as Darwinian evolution goes, it was the very fact that it did not represent an unfolding towards particular goals that differentiated it from its rivals – that’s why Darwin was slow to adopt Spencer’s term “evolution”, which was all about the unfolding of a plan.

                But the key to Darwinism – as I learned it both at University and in personal study since I was a small child – is its open-endedness. It works without goals, the end-results being arbitrary interactions of essentially infinite variations.

                Etienne Gilson has pointed out the philosophical problems with this view, and the difference from the Christian doctrine of creation (which is all about organising things towards ends). Christians have often failed to notice the difference – though pulled up on it often enough by naturalist biologists.

                But the fact is a self-contained system cannot both be ateological and teleological. If it is teleological, even in the sense of being intended to produce man, then it is directed, and is not the same theory as darwin proposed.

                With concurrence, however, it becomes possible for a system that is, seen from the point of view of nature’s “agency” as open-ended, to be overseen by the teleological purposes of God – just as an open-ended process like generation can providentially lead to individuals intended by God.

                Since this fits science, mainstream theology and philosophy better, it’s why I prefer it!

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks for the response, Jon. I think your remarks help to make sense of the behavior of BioLogos and other EC writers.

      I think the most important point is about the lack of conceptual apparatus. Here part of the problem is that theology is generally treated by most American ECs as something ancillary, something you do after you have done your science. After making sure your arguments for common descent and random mechanisms are scientifically sound, you then canvas a few evangelical Bible scholars and theologians for proof-texts from the Bible and tradition to show that evolution is OK. But that’s not how theology has been traditionally done.

      Luther didn’t write his works with a view to justifying the exploration of the New World (by, say, concentrating on the exegesis of geographical-sounding passages). Wesley didn’t write his remarks on free will with a view to justifying a “free” nature and thus making room for evolutionary creation. Theology shouldn’t be driven by contemporary debates. Theology has to be regarded as important in its own right.

      So when you approach a subject such as divine sovereignty over nature, you have to be interested in general questions about God and divine action and providence and the relationship of creator to creation and God’s apparent plan of even details of future events etc. The primary thing driving you has to be that this subject is important to understand for its own sake. If you approach the subject with, “What can I quarry from these writings to justify Darwinian evolution?” you are doing theology in entirely the wrong spirit.

      This situation is probably a function of the personnel in the American EC movement. The movement grew out of the extracurricular affiliations of Protestant evangelical scientists, so science rather than theology is the subject in which most of the leaders have training. The leaders have developed the habit of relying on selected authorities (mainly Protestant evangelicals like themselves, with their religious predispositions) for their notions of the Bible and theology. They have not developed the habit of reading widely in primary sources, or even in scholarly secondary sources not written by evangelicals. There is thus a kind of inbreeding of theological thought and an insulation from the wider tradition.

      The ECs who operate outside of BioLogos (e.g., Russell, Polkinghorne) have a wider acquaintance with Christian theology and therefore a richer conceptual apparatus in which to couch their thoughts. Ted Davis has tried to enrich BioLogos by reprinting portions of the works of such ECs, and that’s a good thing. But there is still very much a division between the ECs who immerse themselves in Christian thought just as much as they immerse themselves in science, and the ECs who apply isolated bits of Christian thought to baptize current biological theory. I think it’s my repeated criticism of the latter group which has aroused the ire of many commenters over at BioLogos.

  2. GD GD says:

    I think we should accept, and respect, the fact that BioLogos has a policy of inviting a diversity of views. I enjoy vigorous debates, but I prefer to view these within a very broad audience – perhaps a valid general criticism of BioLogos is they seem to select bits of biology they want to promote, and then pick and choose theological opinions that, to my understanding, lack a coherent base, or a historical tradition that has undergone the scrutiny and discussion that is found in major denominations.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      GD – our comment reminds me of a passage from Os Guiness in The Gravedigger File about US Evangelicalism, helpfully online here!

      • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

        Jon: At the moment, that link is not working for me.

        • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

          Sorry – the link’s good here, so maybe it’s a regional issue. It was Guinness’s use of the “Smorgasbord Effect” I was aiming at – the idea of Americans passing down the buffet to find “the church of their choice” and the “principles of their preference.”

          • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

            The link worked tonight, Jon. The book looks good. I’ve ordered a copy for someone for a Christmas present. Thanks for telling us about it.

      • Richard_Wright says:

        Hi Jon,

        This is to your response to me, which has no, “Reply” link.

        You raise some good points and I’d be lying if I said that I had responses to them at this point. Some items I did have objections to but next week work will probably be slow and I’ll have time for responses. You’re forewarned!

  3. Ian Thompson says:

    Similarly from Groucho Marx:
    Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Ian – this time of year we keep Marx quotes away from the children, lest they discover that there ain’t no Sanity Clause in the contract!

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