BioLogos on the Natural/Supernatural Distinction

Many times on BioLogos, columnists or commenters have deplored the use of the term “supernatural” to describe God’s activity. The usual criticism of this term is that it seems to imply a universe which normally works by itself, with God jumping in every now and then to do “miracles” — understood as violations of the normal causal nexus of “nature”. This would suggest that where nature is acting, God is not acting, and vice versa. Various BioLogos writers and readers have suggested that this would be a “deistic” notion of God rather than a Christian one (the Christian notion affirming that God acts in all things), and many have accused ID (intelligent design) of holding to such a notion. (It doesn’t, but that’s not my concern here.) Also, often the discussion is accompanied by the claim that the notion of “supernatural” activity is not found in the Bible, and that “miracles” in the Bible do not have the Humean sense of violations of the causal nexus, but are merely “signs” or “wonders” wrought by God. All of these points have some truth to them, but there is value in pursuing the question further.

In the discussion entitled, “Creation Full of Miracles?”, Jay Johnson (one of my favorite BioLogos commenters, being one of the least partisan, most independent thinkers there), puts the issue this way:

“In fact, I usually try to avoid using the words “supernatural” and “miracle,” but it’s hard to break a habit without slipping on occasion. The Bible itself never uses the terms. The vocabulary is that of “signs” and “wonders,” and the category of “supernatural” doesn’t even exist in the biblical vernacular. Most of the philosophizing and theologizing about miracles and the supernatural thus start from a faulty premise.”

I think that this is true, so far as it goes, but that leaving the matter there would be misleading. Jay’s comment tells part of the story, but there is another part that needs to be considered, and that part creates some difficulty for some of the formulations that one sees on BioLogos.

It is true that the word “supernatural” is alien to the Bible, but that is because “natural” (the contrasting term) is almost equally alien to the Bible. Putting on my Biblical scholar’s hat, I would point out that there is no word in Biblical Hebrew for “nature” (i.e., no word corresponding in meaning to the Greek word physis) and that even in the New Testament which was written in Greek, the word “nature” is virtually absent, never being found in the Gospels, Acts, or Revelation, but appearing only in a few of the Letters, mostly Romans and Galatians, for a grand total of eleven instances. The point is that the Biblical writers, for the most part, didn’t look at the world as “nature” or at the causes of its everyday activities as “natural”.

Modern scientists and philosophers, on the other hand, have since the 17th century tended to use “world”, “nature”, and “creation” almost synonymously. Many writers have used “nature” in such a way as to indicate that they mean “creation, what God made”, and “world” in common parlance usually refers to the realm of planets, stars, atoms, molecules, light, energy, etc., in which things happen by “natural causes”, not by the caprice of gods or pixies or spirits. Thus, when scientists say they deal only with “natural causes” they mean causes that don’t involve any spirits or demons or special actions of God. (Where by “special action” they would have in mind perhaps Moses parting the Red Sea or the like.)

Here is where BioLogos runs into a problem. It tacitly endorses this modern notion of the world “natural”. It agrees with Eugenie Scott that “natural science should investigate only natural causes”, and it takes it as obvious to all what “natural” means, i.e., that which occurs outside of special divine volitions. Of course, it does not deny (and even affirms) that “natural causes” go back to God, i.e., the law of gravity is an expression of the will of God (a point on which all ID proponents would agree), but it clearly distinguishes between, say, the law of gravity, and Jesus rising from the dead. No BioLogos person known to me has argued that Jesus’s resurrection is “natural” or that it can be explained by “natural causes” as BioLogos understands “natural causes.” There seems to be a concession that the Bible describes events which are explicable only on the hypothesis that God sometimes brings about events outside of the causal nexus that BioLogos scientists would call “nature”. So BioLogos in effect subscribes to a “natural/supernatural” distinction, whether it deplores that distinction or not.

BioLogos could of course avoid this problem by repudiating the typical modern notion of “nature” and “natural causes”. It could say that there is no such thing as “nature” or “natural causes” but only the will of God, governing all things. It could say that “nature” and “natural causes” are merely human conveniences, categories we use to make it possible for us to grasp regularities in the world — that there is no enduring causal nexus, no underlying “nature” to things which is objective, measurable, etc. Intelligent theists have taken this route before, e.g., the Muslim occasionalists. But that is not the route that any BioLogos leader has taken. They all hold fast to the idea of “nature” and “natural causes”. They accept the conventional wisdom, i.e., that God created a “natural” world, a world which has been endowed with certain powers for its own maintenance; e.g., plants have the power to reproduce, animals have the power to move, gravity keeps the planetary system together. They can of course, and do, attribute the origin of these powers of nature to God (as do ID people), but they still see nature as having the ability to carry on “on its own” (albeit “sustained in existence by God” or the like).

Thus, people like Dennis Venema have said that they see all the genetic differences between chimpanzees and men as in principle achievable by wholly natural means, the sort of flips, rotations, jumps, etc. which occur in “natural” reproduction and “natural” mutation, and that they see no reason to suppose that God has “intervened in nature” to turn some primitive pre-chimpanzee primate into chimpanzees and man. They think that “natural causes” are sufficient to explain the transition. And when it is argued that “natural causes” cannot explain the arbitrary nature of the DNA encoding system, they (as Venema recently did) will try to find some small part of the system that may have a non-arbitrary chemical basis, and suggest that maybe with new research the origin of the system itself (and hence the origin of life) will be explained wholly in natural terms, meaning, again, without any special divine action. The natural/supernatural contrast, whether the terms are used or not, are implied by the entire BioLogos project.

This is not surprising, since BioLogos arose as a reaction against Creationism, and the main claim of Creationism is that life and species could not have arisen by wholly natural causes, but required the guiding and active hand of God to perform special, local divine actions. Many if not most of the leaders and past columnists of BioLogos (Venema himself, Giberson, Falk, Swamidass, Kramer, Isaac and others), and many of the active commenters (e.g., Chris Falter) grew up as Creationists and firmly believed that God had to create through wholly supernatural means; but now they say precisely the opposite — that God could have, and did, create through wholly natural means (excepting perhaps the original creation of matter and energy). So their mental framework, given their conservative evangelical background (and here I don’t include Jay, quoted above, because I don’t know his original religious background and don’t wish to generalize to his case), is very much bound up with the natural/supernatural distinction.

So, too, is their opposition to ID. They insist (despite examples to the contrary, e.g., Michael Denton) that ID is all about supernatural intervention into nature — miracles. ID therefore, in their minds, is Creationist in spirit if not by the letter. They constantly claim to have rebutted ID arguments when they have found a “wholly natural” explanation for something — which implies that they think ID requires a supernatural explanation for that thing.

The inability of BioLogos to come up with any definition of “nature” or “natural causes” which does not implicitly accept a natural/supernatural distinction is a major weakness in the epistemology of BioLogos — at least, if BioLogos is going to go around saying that the supernatural/natural distinction is bogus, non-Biblical, etc. If BioLogos wants to be consistently “Biblical” it would drop not only the language of “supernatural” (and of “miracles” as supernatural events), but also the language of “natural”; but that it can’t do, or its protests against both Creationism and ID would fall to the ground.

Without a firm assertion of the reality of nature and natural events, the claim of BioLogos to be more “scientific” than Creationism and ID loses its basis. By “scientific” BioLogos means “making use of only natural causes to explain things, including the origins of life, species, and man”; but if the whole idea of “natural causes” has little or no basis in Biblical thought, then it becomes apparent that the idea of “nature” which BioLogos upholds is the idea of Descartes, Bacon, Newton, Kant, etc. — the idea of a quasi-autonomous world which God has given the created capacity to run “on its own” (albeit with his continued endorsement). God does not “interfere” with the natural world — except in the case of Biblical miracles — and therefore everything from the Big Bang to man is to be conceived of as occurring “naturally”.

I know that exceptions can be cited. At one time, Francis Collins entertained the possibility (I don’t know his current view) that while evolution can be explained by wholly natural causes, the first life may have required a supernatural intervention, to set up biological evolution in the first place. But such views among TE/EC leaders are rare, or if held are kept in the privacy of the TE/EC’s mind; the public statements all tend to a “molecules to man, all by blind natural causes” account of origins. Venema’s strong and visible distaste for Meyer’s argument (a distaste shared by Falk and Ayala, who tag-teamed with Venema to attack Meyer’s first book) that life required intelligent design shows that he would not be sympathetic with Collins’s suggestion. Most BioLogos leaders (and pro-BioLogos commenters on the site) appear to believe that all God had to do was ignite the Big Bang, and the rest would emerge by natural causes (albeit “sustained by God” in some vague way) without God ever exerting himself by any special, local divine action. The natural/supernatural distinction is there, whether acknowledged or not.

The problem goes back to the fact that the BioLogos approach to science-and-theology discourse ultimately serves two masters: traditional Protestant evangelical faith (based on the Biblical description of the world), on the one hand, and the modern constructions of “science” and “nature” (inherited not at all from the Bible, but from Kant, Descartes, Bacon, etc.) on the other. Thus, even if it is entirely true that in the Bible the distinction between natural and supernatural does not exist, in the modern notions of “nature” and “science” that BioLogos firmly defends, “supernatural” is always present in the background as the alternative to “natural” — whether it is explicitly acknowledged or not. BioLogos — indeed most modern TE/EC thought — has not adequately wrestled with this problem. Its entire attack on ID and creationism presupposes the validity of the natural/supernatural distinction, while its rhetoric (that the distinction is not Biblical) is at odds with that.

To get beyond this impasse, BioLogos would have to do some historical thinking. It would have to ask: How was it that all modern men — not just atheists but Christians — came to accept the notion of “nature” and “natural causes” as quasi-autonomous realities, which could be the subject of a demonstrative “natural science”? As we have seen, this notion is not found in the Bible. At best, the Bible indicates that there are rough regularities that we can count on — seasonal changes and so on — because God has for the most part a steady intent. But such a doctrine is as compatible with Islamic occasionalism (in which “nature” is a fictional construct maintained for human use) as with modern Christian notions of “natural science” (in which “nature”, though created, has a real and objective existence).

If we insist on limiting ourselves to “purely Biblical” assertions, then we could never say that ID or Creationism are “unscientific” because they affirm “supernatural causes”; the Bible knows nothing of “nature” or “science” at all. The sin of ID and Creationism, then, must be their refusal to assent to the “closed causal nexus” notion of “nature” held by modern science and modern scientists — whether those scientists be atheists or BioLogos leaders. But that is a sin not against Biblical thinking, but against a certain modern philosophical account of “nature” and of “science”.

For the above reasons, I argue that the claim that “the natural/supernatural distinction is alien to the Bible”, while a true claim, does not solve any of BioLogos’s theoretical problems, either regarding ID and Creationism, or regarding the philosophical basis of the modern notions of “nature” and “natural science.”

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 BioLogos on the Natural/Supernatural Distinction

  1. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for this Eddie

    This subject impacts on the matter of methodolical naturalism too, of course. There’s a current Article in Zygon, Should a Christian Adopt Methodological
    Nanturalism?
    by Andrew B. Torrance. Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall and was sent to me by a friend here, but he makes a very good general effort to show how, in fact, MN is antagonistic to Christian assumptions, and cites BioLogos amongst others in his critique.

    However, for all his good points, he seems simply to take for granted the category of “natural”, without ever defining it – much as BioLogians tend to, simply taking for granted that it’s self-evident. But it isn’t, and the Babylonians practised science without any concept of nature, but only the regular actions of deities.

    As we’ve tried to explore here in the past, “natural” only rationally means “regular”, and could equally cover “regular things happening by inevitable self-constructed laws”, “God when he acts regularly”, and anything in between (I take it your Muslim occasionalism and modern naturalism are intended as extremes of a continuum, rather than a stark dichotomy!).

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that until Christians in science begin to challenge that whole modern concept of “natural causes”, they will unconsciously always be undermining theism in their conversation.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Thank, Jon. Yes, I meant Muslim occasionalism and modern “deistic” naturalism as two extreme positions, not exhaustive of possible positions. Whether there is continuum of positions between them, I don’t know, but I believe that those are not the only two possible positions.

  2. Jay313 says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Eddie. We’ll see if I can live up to the kind words. Obviously, I can’t speak for BioLogos. They probably wouldn’t want me too, anyway. haha. As for my personal view, it goes something like this:

    The biblical picture of reality is a division between the seen and the unseen, or the physical and the spiritual, if you will. As far as causation, the biblical authors had no problem attributing effects to both a spiritual and a physical cause, simultaneously. They certainly understood clouds and weather patterns and rain, being an agricultural society, yet Jesus could say that God causes his rain to fall on the good and evil alike. (I’ll forego other examples for the sake of brevity.) Thus, viewed through a biblical lens, all events may be considered to have simultaneous causes — spiritual and physical, two sides of the same coin that we call “reality”. (Of course, such a view requires one to agree that God controls and governs and sustains all things, which many Arminians and Christians of a philosophical bent are unwilling to do, but that’s another question….)

    Now, I don’t think many folks have actually thought through the implications of such a view, because it renders most of the discussion moot. The evolutionary process was entirely under God’s control, so I can say without reservation or equivocation that God created all life, even (and especially) mankind. Simultaneously, I can explain the evolutionary process purely in terms of physical causes, just as I can explain the rain in Houston by an purely physical description. Both the spiritual and the physical explanation are true.

    This is also why methodological naturalism is perfectly legitimate, in my opinion. I see no reason to insist that every investigation and explanation of a physical process must somehow take into account a spiritual cause. Again, if we believe that all events have God as a cause, then we may simply assume his involvement at every step in the process and concentrate our efforts on understanding the purely physical causes.

    How does the “signs and wonders” discussion impact this? I didn’t really spell it out for people there, since they ought to carry their own water once in a while. But, to be clear, the question “Is Creation Full of Miracles?…” takes on an entirely different cast if we ask “Is Creation Full of Signs and Wonders?…”

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks, Jay.

      Illness prevents a fuller discussion of your points, but I point out that this theologically orthodox statement of yours:

      “The evolutionary process was entirely under God’s control,”

      Is not a statement that has ever been issued by BioLogos, and, based on very specific statements of some BioLogos folks, would not be agreed to by Darrel Falk, Dennis Venema, Chris Falter, etc.

      The closest I’ve seen on BioLogos is a statement that God “ordained” the evolutionary process — but since many of the BioLogos leaders conceive of that process as including “real randomness” and events that God does not or cannot or should not control (e.g., Oord, and the aforementioned folks), it’s very clear that “ordain” is not intended as a synonym for “control”; indeed, the history of ID/TE debate is a steady history of TE leaders refusing to use *any* term — “control” “guide” “steer” “determine” etc. — which would commit them to the view that God wills and enforces *all* the detailed outcomes of evolution. They are determined to leave escape hatches: (e.g., beaglelady) God did not ordain five fingers for humans, it could have been six; and God did not ordain elephants, but only an evolutionary process which *might* have produced elephants (and by the bounces of mutation, on earth it happened to do so); or (e.g., Ken Miller) God did not ordain man, it could have been smarter octopuses.

      But this is all of a piece with with general view of many of them (especially Oord, beaglelady in the extreme, but with strong hints in Falk and Venema) that God’s sovereignty does not and must not extend to all things or God would be a “tyrant” (hence it was fashionable in days of old for BioLogos folks to take shots at Calvin and his tyrant God); but of course, this rejection of God’s control over all things is anything but Biblical; the Bible’s affirmation of God’s absolute sovereignty is utterly clear, all through both Testaments. Sovereignty wasn’t invented by Calvin; it comes from Scripture. And it’s not surprising to me that the sort of liberal Wesleyan, liberal Episcopalian, liberal UCC, etc. who is attracted to a reading of the Bible where God’s sovereignty is denied is also attracted to a God who doesn’t control all the outcomes of evolution. The two are of a piece. A metaphysics of “freedom” is being pitted against a metaphysics of “sovereignty.” But the attempt to make the Bible a book whose fundamental teaching is “freedom” is simply a non-starter. There is room within a Biblical view for freedom within obedience; but obedience, not freedom, is clearly the central Biblical teaching; Calvin may have got some things wrong (I think he did), but I don’t think he got that one wrong.

      In short, if Calvin were alive today and accepted evolution, he would applaud your quoted statement; but many TE/EC leaders would not. Many of them want evolution only loosely tied to God’s apron strings.

      • Jay313 says:

        Sorry to hear of your illness, Eddie. I agree with everything you say here, especially this: A metaphysics of “freedom” is being pitted against a metaphysics of “sovereignty.”

        All the wrangling over “historical Adam” is important to those of us who still take the Bible seriously, but the real battle will come down to the very character of God. If, at the end of the day, the majority of Christians are willing to accept a watered-down version of God in order to accommodate evolution, it doesn’t really matter anymore what they think of Adam or the flood.

  3. Robert Byers says:

    I agree that supernatural is not a accurate term in reality.
    What is true/natural includes Gods actions, whether holding everything together in the universe, or a intervention out of the norm.
    Gods intervention is presented in the bible as a special thing and not a whim.
    the universe is created separate from Gods kingdom. so its separate indeed.
    it has its own laws.
    What is supernatural is claims of evolutionism to turn a fish into a rhino, just add time. THATS supernatural and human fantasy.

  4. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Being late to the party as I so often am, I have the pleasure of ingesting in one large gulp both your good piece here as well as Jon’s followup piece, leaving me with the dilemma of where to post my response since both are now jumbled together in my mind.

    Here I’ll just raise the question: So what would it take (if it is even possible at all) for you to rule out something as “out-of-bounds” for science? I do agree that the Bible does not recognize, much less formally distinguish between “natural” or “supernatural” categories for events. But I do think (as I think Jay gets at too) that they did have categories even if they didn’t use the same labels we do now. Recognizing that clouds bring rain is a form of what we now call science even if that word didn’t exist yet for them. Jay references “seen” and “unseen”. I would go on to press that even among the “seen” they certainly recognized a difference between … “this is commonplace or at least not entirely unexpected” vs. “this is extraordinary!” or else Jesus’ appeal to signs and wonders could not have been effective. I know that “regular” vs. “irregular” fails as any kind of formal distinction since on our human timescales regularity fades gradually into irregularity just over gradually slower frequencies of occurrence. Getting hit by a catastrophic asteroid would qualify as quite the irregularity on our scale of things, but may have clock-work regularity on scales of millions of years. So your points are well-taken. I don’t think I’m disagreeing, but I’m just wondering if there is warrant for scientists, whether at Biologos or Christian or otherwise to want to have discriminating gatekeepers of some kind at the doors. Are you in favor of having any gates at all? And if so, what would you keep out? I’ll continue my thoughts under Jon’s post next.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      Hi, Merv. A reply, as I recover from side-effects of medication:

      “So what would it take (if it is even possible at all) for you to rule out something as “out-of-bounds” for science?”

      The question is odd, for me, since I’m not concerned with trying to fence out “science” from other things. My primary interest in these debates is not to defend the honor of “science”, by rigidly separating it from “non-science”, but to make sure that no possible explanation of *origins* is excluded from the discussion due to some arbitrary methodological rule.

      Take Newton and Boyle and Kepler, who I am sure you will concede were real scientists, not pseudoscientists or quacks. They took it for granted that in order to explain how God’s created world worked, they should adduce natural causes (not interventions by angels and demons, etc.) But it was utterly unthinkable to them that the *origin* of the planetary system was due to “natural causes alone” (where “natural” means “blind laws and chance collisions”). To them it was just obvious that the system of the world was (a) designed and (b) created by an omnipotent God — that “special divine action” was necessary to bring the world into being.

      These men did not lie awake at night, thinking, “I feel terribly guilty. I have been untrue to methodological naturalism. I have failed in my duty as a scientist. I should be trying to find some way in which randomly moving particles, by combinations of chance events plus natural laws, could produce the universe. Instead, I have adopted a “God of the Gaps” view, calling on God to explain what natural laws can’t explain.”

      Can you imagine any of those men thinking those thoughts?

      Yet that’s exactly how Venema, Applegate, Falk, etc. think about origins. They think they have a duty to offer proposals, no matter how far-fetched and lacking in empirical grounding, for how the cosmos, the earth, life, and man began. They would accept a very weak “scientific” explanation over a perfectly rational (and Bible-compatible) theological explanation. They are obsessed with the idea that science can (or one day will be able to) explain *every physical event in the history of the universe* — from the Big Bang to the rise of man. And that’s a bizarre attitude for a *Christian* scientist to take. From an Asimov, a Sagan, etc. one expects that attitude — but not from a Christian.

      It’s true that these modern TEs exempt the Biblical miracles (though as you can see on BioLogos, some commenters would like to get rid of some of them); they admit that God has acted in special ways outside of “nature” in the case of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc. But that leaves them in an odd, inconsistent position. The universe basically operates “Deistically” from the Big Bang to man, and then it operates “Theistically” (with a personal, hands-on God) for a very brief period of earth history in the Ancient Near East, up to the time of Pentecost or a little later; after that (for those who are cessationists, anyway, and I believe that many TEs are), it’s all back to Deism again. God works directly in the world only for the smallest fraction of the world’s existence; outside of that, he works only through natural laws, and therefore we can in principle understand *the entire history of the universe* (except for the Biblical events) without any reference to God at all; “natural laws” are all we need.

      Why should Christian scientists assume such a division between a directly active God in Biblical times and a remote, behind-the-scenes God (concealing himself in impersonal natural laws) for all the rest of the world’s history? What Biblical precedent is there for such a view, that God has a completely different modus operandi regarding the created world at some times than at others? Why do they even find such a view of God *attractive*?

      It may be that God created natural laws in such a way that the universe we know had to emerge. But it may be that Creation contained some “mighty acts of God” which go beyond all natural analysis. I don’t like to rule out intellectual possibilities. The fact that some Christian scientists are so very quick to rule out out intellectual possibilities is something I find alarming. Especially when they claim to be “more Biblical” in their understanding than other Christians. As I read the Bible, God is a hands-on God, lord not only of history but also of nature. As I read many BioLogos supporters, they think God is lord of history (Israel, the Church, etc.) but only indirectly lord of nature, since he doesn’t dare (outside of Biblical miracles) work outside of the “natural laws” (never mentioned in the Bible) which he has ordained. He sets up nature, then leaves it running under its endowed powers. He steps in personally only when there are nations or souls to be saved.

      The inevitable logical consequence of “methodological naturalism” (as understood by BioLogos) is that all questions of origins are surrendered by the field of theology to the field of “science”. But why is theology obligated to make that surrender? Why do the scientists get to define the rules by which theology/science disputes are refereed?

      My question, Merv, is always, “How did this world come to be?” That is different from the question: “Assuming that the world came to be by wholly natural causes, what mechanisms can we dream up?” I take exception to the naturalistic assumption — one shared up until recently only by atheists and liberal mainstream Church folks, but now increasingly shared — if BioLogos is any example — by evangelicals as well.

      So for me it’s not about protecting science from quackery — engineers and physicists and chemists know perfectly well how to prune out bad science from their fields, and don’t need the help of BioLogos to do it. We’re talking here not about routine science, which needs not a scrap of help from evangelical scientists in order to thrive, but about speculations regarding ultimate origins. My view is that modern science overreaches in tacitly assuming that one day a fully naturalistic account will be available. BioLogos stops short of affirming that directly, but it’s very clear from the trajectory of numerous remarks by many BioLogos figures that they have a *preference* for a wholly naturalistic account of origins. But such a preference has its origin not in Christianity or the Bible, but in the rise of modern science and its subsequent developments.

  5. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Eddie wrote:
    Yet that’s exactly how Venema, Applegate, Falk, etc. think about origins. They think they have a duty to offer proposals, no matter how far-fetched and lacking in empirical grounding, for how the cosmos, the earth, life, and man began. They would accept a very weak “scientific” explanation over a perfectly rational (and Bible-compatible) theological explanation.
    [end quote]

    I’m not yet persuaded that many of these ‘Biologians’ would own these distinctions that you impose on them. Many Christians there (myself included) go to great pains to deny that there is any deistic separation of God from his everyday creation. Perhaps you may feel that some TE views ought to necessarily lead that direction were their proponents to follow their own agenda with consistency. But either by their failure of consistency, or by your misreading of them … one way or another they do not own the Deistic approach you ascribe to them (not recently involved ones that I’m more aware of anyway). One of the great TE themes that I still defend is that there is no competition between theological explanations and mechanical ones. One does not displace the other unless those theological claims happen to also be mechanical ones (e.g. a global flood covered everything…). And some are mechanical, no doubt, like resurrections or walking on water. But one-off events like those are not competing with the science of ordinary repeatable regularities where we find that dead people stay dead and denser objects sink through a liquid medium. I.e. Special events caused by God do not intrude or negate any science whatsoever (despite the protestations of some atheists about this.)

    You go on to write: “And that’s a bizarre attitude for a *Christian* scientist to take. From an Asimov, a Sagan, etc. one expects that attitude — but not from a Christian.”

    What about from the very Christian Francis Bacon? Isn’t he more-or-less who modern day [and Christian] proponents of MN might point back to as one of the originators of what we now call MN?

    You write:
    Why should Christian scientists assume such a division between a directly active God in Biblical times and a remote, behind-the-scenes God (concealing himself in impersonal natural laws) for all the rest of the world’s history? What Biblical precedent is there for such a view, that God has a completely different modus operandi regarding the created world at some times than at others?
    [end quote]

    My personal view on this is that cessationists are living in a bit of fantasy land brought on by an understandable mis-perception that Bible times were all “miracle-packed” as the crowds move from one action-packed divine display to another –rarely a dull moment in between. Had real Bible times actually been like that there would have been no doubters left. Yet, fatally to this view, the Bible is full of accounts of skeptics in both testaments. If someone, say, a hundred or few hundred years from now were to look back with a prophetically aided eye and write of how God was active in this time with great works, perhaps a later reader a thousand years hence from now might be forgiven for thinking that the 21st century was at a height of God’s activity in our midst, and how lucky (or unlucky!) we were to be alive for all this theologically important excitement. Great landmarks always look closer together from a distance than they do when you are standing in among them. And our Bible is providing us with laser eyes to see all those landmarks identified up close together. So I’m not convinced that God does have a different modus operandi now — allowing for a significant perturbation on that for when Jesus walked this dusty vale in the flesh, of course! But even there, I think we again imagine more “action-packing” than what should be rationally allowed. Had Jesus been always the Divine performer on demand for Herod & co. and everybody else that asked, then there would have been no unbelievers left in Palestine by the time he was done. Yet we are told this was not so, and the failure of the cessationist view only deepens IMO.

    You wrote:
    The fact that some Christian scientists are so very quick to rule out out intellectual possibilities is something I find alarming. Especially when they claim to be “more Biblical” in their understanding than other Christians. As I read the Bible, God is a hands-on God, lord not only of history but also of nature. [end quote]

    A hearty amen to the latter part of that! Regarding the alarm raised, I might agree there too but with certain qualifiers and allowances. Is there really nothing that would alarm you were it to be widely admitted into, say, “intellectual respectability” of the academy (vague as such a club might be)? You may respond that anybody is welcome to bring any ideas whatsoever into conversation and debate and those ideas should be allowed to stand or fall on their own merits. Such would be the laudable view of the academy generally –which I heartily applaud. I think some self-appointed guardians of science (such as we see at Biologos) are doing is not so much trying to protect science from something, but challenging proponents of this or that agenda to bring something to the scientific conversation that can stand or fall according to modern scientific methods (i.e. hypotheses that lead to predictions and improved explanations over what is established now.) And (rightly or wrongly) they see those agendas failing to produce such results; in other words, failing to stand on their own merits. It isn’t that Billy was denied entrance to the 4th grade outright. Rather he failed the test to qualify that all the current 4th graders had passed. We can chafe that the test was unfair and stacked against Billy; and maybe you would be right to do so. But meanwhile …. if Billy just simply passed the test it wouldn’t even be a necessary conversation, right?

    Your strong conclusion includes this: “My view is that modern science overreaches in tacitly assuming that one day a fully naturalistic account will be available.”

    Thanks for including the qualifying word, “tacitly”, as I’m pretty sure a lot of Christian thinkers would disown that claim too, were they pressed on it. My view would rather be that … Modern science has made amazing strides by looking for cause-and-effect patterns and regularities. And within such a view we are excited to see how much farther we can keep going, even without insisting that all in existence will be completely and finally explained in this way.

    My guess is our world will run out of political will or economic means (or blow ourselves to pieces with our current big weaponry idolatry) before we ever exhaust what there is to know even within a limited MN paradigm, even faulty as it may be.

    • GD GD says:

      “One of the great TE themes that I still defend is that there is no competition between theological explanations and mechanical ones.”

      It is worthwhile to add something of Orthodox theology to show that explanations that remove the transcendence of God, in whatever guise, are erroneous. The involvement of God, as some would state it, is to create by the power of His Word (not to be directly ‘involved’ for want of a better term). Any linking of the material creation with God, for example, via a chain of causality, will go against the doctrine of transcendence – the theological view (which was debated between the West and East traditions of Christianity) dealt with the “energies of God” which, as I would state simplistically, gives creation its form and substance, and ensure all is according to God’s will. God is not personally involved in the material (ie not pantheism), nor is He a mechanical cause (linked to the material).

      Thus science properly deals with things after creation, and cannot deal with a beginning or before a beginning (the one tends to suggest the other). Nor can we speak of laws of nature as something imposed on the creation.

      I will leave it at that.

      • Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

        GD wrote: “God is not personally involved in the material (ie not pantheism), nor is He a mechanical cause (linked to the material).”

        What, then, do you make of Luke 12 where we are reassured that not a sparrow alights apart from God’s loving attention, and that our very hairs are numbered? Far from being pantheistic, I yet see that God is very much involved in material of the most banal kind.

        The useful ‘regularities’ that we hold up as science are not beneath God’s word. They are God’s word, or part of it rather … and no less so for being only part.

        • GD GD says:

          Thanks for mentioning Luke 12. I would say that God created all through His Word as a gift, and the Kingdom is offered to all as an act of Grace, to teach us the great extent of the Father’s love and concern. Luke 12 expounds on this, to show us there is far more than the material:

          “…. Luke 12:1-9 (KJV)
          Lk 1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
          2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.
          3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
          4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
          5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
          6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
          7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
          8 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:
          9 But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God…..”

          I suggest that these passages do not show that God is personally involved in material things or mechanisms, but He has ensured that the entire Creation conforms to His will. Further discussion required theological terms relevant to the Trinity, and how the Energies of God comply with biblical teaching.

          • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

            GD

            It seems to me that the issue regarding sparrows etc is not actually the metaphysical one of how God acts to avoid pantheism or to avoid being one physical cause among many (I’m currently reading the Thomist Chabarek on how those problems are often misstated nowadays, even by Thomists).

            The point of the Luke 12 passage is surely more than that the universe is designed in a gently benevolent way, but that the believer’s life and death is under God’s loving providence, and not (in fact) that of the oppressor. That’s why there’s no need to fear the oppressor.

            It’s no protection from a cruel governess that she was appointed by a loving father – but it might be a mitigation to learn that her harshness is somehow part of the educational purpose of the father you know loves you to distraction.

            So though I may in the event suffer anything from a headshaving to martyrdom, it will be (despite appearances to the contrary) at God’s time and for his purposes, and because of that for my good. And that not because of crude interference with affairs, but because all events – even the assaults of the persecutors – are under the providential (ie designing) control of God.

            The sparrow is held up as an unlikely limiting case not of God being the kind who creates a world in which sparrows as a type generally survive unless they lose the evolutionary struggle and go extinct, but rather of God being the kind who even directs the humble sparrow, by its death, to its individual ultimate good (in the Thomistic sense) at the right time.

            • GD GD says:

              Jon,

              I mentioned Luke 12 to reply to Merv, and also because it is one of my favourite passages that teaches us to have trust in God. Since the entire Creation is subject to God’s will, I cannot find anything to debate within an evolutionary context.

              On God personal involvement, I wanted to make a simple point, but I understand it is often complicated, and that of the Trinity and how we relate through Christ. I am aware of the way some TE/EC/others may (appear) to discuss God as “involved”, and as a “person” so I thought I may make a useful point to this discussion.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      “I’m not yet persuaded that many of these ‘Biologians’ would own these distinctions that you impose on them. Many Christians there (myself included) go to great pains to deny that there is any deistic separation of God from his everyday creation.”

      Merv, I don’t go by formal professions, but by what people actually do, how they argue, what things they accept and reject. Yes, I have read the statements you are talking about on BioLogos, but it doesn’t follow that because someone says: “I am not a deist” that his effective views are not deist. Not very many Christians of any kind, and especially not many Christian *scientists*, are well-trained in the vocabulary and contents of philosophy and theology, and a Christian biologist who rarely reads philosophical books is likely to have only a vague idea of what “deism” means.

      If you (not you personally, but any old “you”) see God as *in effect* doing nothing but “sustaining natural causes” for the vast majority of the history of the universe, then your view — whether you realize it or not — is “deist” in the sense that I’m using the term: God creates the machine, sets it running, gives it the natural tools to maintain itself, etc. He never has to touch it again. He can will it out of existence, of course. He can alter it. But if all he wants is for Saturn to keep circling the Sun, he doesn’t have to perform any special divine action. The laws of gravity will take care of that. And that deistic view is in fact the predominant modern view; most modern people who retain some belief in God have a quasi-deistic view of nature; God creates it, but he doesn’t intervene with particular volitions to make planets move, magnetic fields work, etc. Only if he needs to part the Red Sea or raise Lazarus does he need to to anything out of the ordinary. That is, he “intervenes” with a “miracle.” That’s the common popular view among church and non-church folks alike. And that’s the view I see on BioLogos, even though the BioLogians say they oppose that view. Because their de facto view of how nature works is a better indicator of how they really think than their de jure statements. (I remember distinctly when one leading American TE/EC remarked sarcastically against the view that “angels push the planets around”; the point was that no volition is involved, only natural laws.)

      Do I need to dig out the old passages where Dennis said that in his view evolution could proceed wholly by natural mutational processes, without any special activity of God being involved? Do you personally believe that Dennis believes that God “tinkered” with mutations to get evolution to come out the way it did? I don’t think Dennis believes that. I don’t think Darrel believes that. I don’t think Lamoureux believes that. All of them have steadily refused to use words like “guided”, “tinkered”, “steered” etc. And what can that possibly mean, except that evolution is a “natural process” which needs no “guiding” or “steering” — which needs no will acting in accord with a design?

      So I stick to my guns: the views about God’s interaction or non-interaction with nature most commonly found on BioLogos (there are exceptions) are “deistic” in my sense.

      “One of the great TE themes that I still defend is that there is no competition between theological explanations and mechanical ones.”

      Ahh … that depends. Are you taking the NOMA position: theology over here, science over there, each with its own magisterium and they should stay out of each other’s way? I don’t think that position is defensible, because in fact, historically, the Christian Church (including all Protestant churches) has not allowed that “origins” belong to science whereas “meaning, purpose and value” (to use a BioLogos cliche) belong to theology. It has said that even regarding the physical history of the world, theology has some intellectual authority, even higher than “scientific” authority. The modern movement (a direct product of the Enlightenment) by which the Churches, one by one, surrendered their key positions in order to accommodate science (or not to be ridiculed by science) is a modern aberration, as far as the history of the Church goes. Most Christians (and the BioLogos columnists of the past are just dead wrong on this, historically) did think the earth was only a few thousand years old and did think that God created it by a series of discrete and supernatural actions. Your Mennonite forbears of the 1500s in Europe all believed that, as did my Anglican ancestors. It’s only because you and I have been through 200 years of post-Enlightenment indoctrination that we now entertain alternate views, e.g., the NOMA view. We are desperate to harmonize two mismatched world views; one, a world run by natural necessity; the other, a world run by personal planning and volition.

      But perhaps you aren’t endorsing the NOMA view. Well, if not, then what do you mean by the compatibility of mechanical and theological explanations? Certainly on one level they are compatible. I can design a clock which operates in accord with mechanical laws. But that clock could never have *come into existence* by only mechanical laws. A designer was needed. Similarly, God can, if he wishes, *design* and *create* a world in which the weather works by mechanical means. Is that what you mean? If so, no ID proponent would ever disagree with you. But note that in that case the *design* is real, not a fiction of science-challenged ID theorists. Further, the design is *necessary* to explain why the world with regular weather came into being. It’s not a “values, purpose and meaning” add-on from “the eyes of faith”; it’s crucial to the explanation. No design, no regular weather. But BioLogos leaders — again and again — avoid design language — which no Christian in history ever did before.

      It will do no good to say that they avoid “design” because they want to avoid implications of six-day creationism, etc. All the BioLogos folks who have actually *read* ID literature (and unfortunately some of them have read less than they should) know that ID is not six-day creationism. They know that none of Behe, Denton, Meyer, etc. are young-earthers. They know that ID is not against “natural laws” as BioLogos uses that loose term. So why the reluctance?

      The only answer that I can come up with, after ten years of studying books and articles by pretty nearly all the leading EC writers, is that they don’t believe that design was necessary to produce the world we have. They think that all you need is: (1) hydrogen atoms floating in space; (2) time, and (3) chance. No one has to be designing anything; things will form by happenstance; eventually life will evolve, without any God putting together molecules, etc. That, in my view, is what *most* (not all) of the leading BioLogos writers have said or implied. Of course they tend to be very elusive when it gets down to nitty-gritty about anything, so I may be reading them wrongly.

      Now you will reply: But they affirm God! So how can they deny design? Good question! I think they avoid it by circumlocutions like “God ordained” that evolution should produce many life forms, or the like. But a king can ordain something without lifting a finger to accomplish it; his servants will carry out the details. And the overwhelming impression I have from the writings of the BioLogos crew is that they think God, up there in eternity somewhere, ordained evolution, but left the details to his servants, i.e., natural laws, chance events like meteor strikes, etc. I don’t think there is any point where any of them think that God in fact stepped in and “got his hands dirty” with the actual creative process.

      Yet all of them — unless they are less orthodox evangelicals than they let on — believe that God came down to earth as a man, parted the Red Sea, etc. So they have no problem at all with special divine action — they just want to keep all special divine action outside of the discussion of origins. They *want to believe* in a universe where God creates the world, life, and man, *only through intermediates* — natural laws and random mutations — but where God acts personally, directly, and *immediately* in the life of Israel and the Church. They have two Gods rattling around in their head, and they haven’t succeeded in putting them together intellectually.

      The Bible, by contrast, has no such problem. God is involved personally not just in the history of Israel and the Church but in Creation, in the rise and fall of empires, etc. The Bible has a coherent, unitary view of things. Modern TE/EC most often slips into a dualistic pattern of thinking, half derived from the Enlightenment and modern science, and half derived from the Bible and traditional Protestant piety. It has not integrated these two things well; in fact, it has integrated them poorly. And it won’t ever integrate them well, until it takes to heart some of the objections against the TE/EC theological position. But there seems to be some resistance to theological criticism.

      Re your remark on Francis Bacon: it was not methodological naturalism as such that I was objecting to in the paragraph you alluded to. If you reread it, you will that my objection was not to naturalism as a useful ad hoc procedure, but to an implication that it would eventually be able to uncover all that could be known about nature — including origins. In any case, I certainly would not say that Francis Bacon was “very Christian” — he was in my view at best a lukewarm Christian, and in all probability an atheist or agnostic. I can, and have, defended this view in academic publications. But this is a side-detail.

      I thought I made a good point about Newton, Boyle, etc., and am disappointed that you didn’t respond to it. Do you believe that they were, or should have been, overcome with “methodological guilt” of the type I described?

      One last point:

      “But meanwhile … if Billy just simply passed the test it wouldn’t even be a necessary conversation, right?”

      But the only way Billy could have passed the test would be to deny his own deeply-held principle that regarding origins, design explanations are *every bit as legitimate* as mechanistic explanations. Why should Billy have to bow his head in the house of Rimmon? Should Newton have had to excise the teleological parts of the General Scholium to keep his job at Cambridge? Why can’t biologists be *big* enough — professionally, emotionally, personally — to listen without contempt to non-conventional ideas? Why do they have to insist on conformity? If the conventional ideas are sound, they can defend themselves; there is no need to exclude unconventional ones. Non-viable views will drop out of sight, and viable ones will thrive. The sociological fact — a fact I know from decades of dealing with scientists and their scientistic fan base — is that modern biologists are trained from the get-go (whether they are Christian or not) to reject teleological explanation in biology. That is why ID is so much hated. To say that design might be detectable in nature to a biologist is the equivalent of saying to the Roman Church that the Trinity is a false doctrine with no Biblical support. The sociological reaction is the same. Institutions hate their critics, by a kind of reflex.

  6. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Sorry it’s been crazy as this new school week starts up. I’ll return as soon as I can and remedy your disappointment on my missing response about Newton, Boyle, etc. My heart is here … believe me, but my obligations lie elsewhere at the moment.

  7. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Okay — grabbing a break moment here at school, I want to address your desired points. You wrote:

    Take Newton and Boyle and Kepler, who I am sure you will concede were real scientists, not pseudoscientists or quacks. They took it for granted that in order to explain how God’s created world worked, they should adduce natural causes (not interventions by angels and demons, etc.) But it was utterly unthinkable to them that the *origin* of the planetary system was due to “natural causes alone” (where “natural” means “blind laws and chance collisions”). To them it was just obvious that the system of the world was (a) designed and (b) created by an omnipotent God — that “special divine action” was necessary to bring the world into being.

    These men did not lie awake at night, thinking, “I feel terribly guilty. I have been untrue to methodological naturalism. I have failed in my duty as a scientist. I should be trying to find some way in which randomly moving particles, by combinations of chance events plus natural laws, could produce the universe. Instead, I have adopted a “God of the Gaps” view, calling on God to explain what natural laws can’t explain.”

    Can you imagine any of those men thinking those thoughts?

    [end extended quote]

    I think your assessment here is true enough as far as it goes, and I would certainly agree that none of these men (real scientists as I agree they were) would have worried themselves over any ‘methodological guilt’. But they were never at all worried that they *would* be explaining everything. They were merely trying to explain something. It may be a peculiarly modern conceit that we today are in some sort of “danger” of accidentally explaining everything. And that conceit should not be widely shared among real scientists, and certainly not among Christian ones. So I think you overstep when you say of modern Christian thinkers (including those currently at Biologos) when you accuse them of trying to saying that creation such as we find it is attributable to naturalistic causes alone. It is true, I will concede, that they are trying to explain phenomena in terms of ‘natural’ [i.e. repeatable] causation alone, but that is because if it was the case that something was specifically due to ‘supernatural intervention’, then our ‘explanation’ simply fades back into the universal backdrop explanation already in place for everything anyway: God did it. That is true enough we all here will agree, but is not useful for the needs of science. It would only become a matter of interest (intense interest to be sure!) that it was something outside the scope of science, but it remains outside. The knowledge that God may at one time levitate something for somebody somewhere does not help me build airplanes. Science wants to know about the operations that God does *with regularity*, making them fruitful for investigation and utilization.

    I don’t think earnest Christian scientific thinkers today are too worried that they are in danger of explaining God out of a job, because they don’t see mechanical explanations as being competitors for the job of Deity. Deity reigns in, and through, and around, and sometimes [miracles] in spite of it all anyway. Boyle, Newton, and co. were only beginning to take us in the direction that modern science went and so it seemed very much more natural to them to see God’s “role” more securely ensconced in a great cloud of still remaining mystery. Today we imagine (mostly through misplaced and unwarranted arrogance) that this mystery is now reduced to rapidly disappearing “gaps”, and so it comes much more naturally for scientists to feel that there is little left for any deity to do. But this only comes from those who don’t really know what classical Christianity claims about Deity.

    Not sure if this addresses your questions, and I’ll be happy to continue kicking this around as time allows.

    • Edward Robinson Edward Robinson says:

      I agree with many of your comments, Merv. It is interesting, however, how at one point you shift the discussion to an “applied science” focus, when most of the scientific interest in “origins” isn’t for reasons of practical application at all, but either out of theoretical curiosity, or out of the aesthetic desire to complete a mechanistic system of explanation, leaving no gaps. Father Lemaitre didn’t propose the Big Bang Theory in hopes that it would be applied to make French (or perhaps Belgian) manufacturing techniques more efficient, for example. And Charles Darwin didn’t write On the Origin of Species in hopes that horse-breeders could apply his theory to improve the strength of Percherons or the speed of racehorses. Lemaitre wrote out of pure theoretical curiosity about God’s cosmos; and Darwin wrote out of a systematic metaphysical intention to purge the last traces of teleology from natural science.

      That said, your example is worth pursuing. You say that knowledge that God once levitated something isn’t useful for helping us build airplanes, and imply that scientists are right to ignore the theoretical possibility of such miracles, and behave as if they don’t happen. ID-er Cornelius Hunter would probably agree with that, regarding *building* things based on scientific principles. He was an aeronautical engineer, and he didn’t use Biblical stories of ascent into heaven in his designs. However, if you asked him if that applied to hypotheses about origins, he would protest. It is one thing to say: “Such non-natural events, if they happen, can’t be integrated into natural science anyway, so we can in practice as scientists ignore non-natural hypotheses, though as seekers after truth we must not ignore those hypotheses”; it’s a completely different thing to say, or imply: “There is no need to consider non-natural hypotheses as genuinely rational explanations which a person well-versed in natural science could accept without loss of intellectual integrity.”

      Do you see the subtle difference? E.g., take two ways of talking about the origin of life: (A) “I don’t really have a clue — and no scientist does — whether or not life required a miracle to get started, and as a Christian I’m completely theologically comfortable if it did, and would praise God for a miraculous creation of life as fully as I would praise him for a naturalistic one, but as a scientist the only tools I have for investigating possible origins are naturalistic, so I will approach the question *as if* a naturalistic origin were possible, and see how far I can get with that, always willing to admit when I’ve made very little progress and that in the end I may be pursuing an illusion, because the real explanation may be that life originated by a direct divine imposition of form upon matter by God.” (B) “We see that God (in the everyday operations of nature, except when he is working some special historical purpose), uses only natural causes to run the world, and by extrapolation of his faithful working in nature it seems most likely that in the past he worked in the same way, i.e., that the first life arose without need for design (as thunderclouds form without need for design), requiring only large numbers of hydrogen atoms, natural laws, and the usual mathematics of randomness to eventually generate life; in any case, I don’t think the Christian God is a magical God who poofed life into existence, or a tyrant-God who did not respect the freedom of nature to be co-creator with him, but instead forced atoms and molecules to come together by his arbitrary will.”

      The two statements *feel* immensely different. That’s because they *mean* different things. But TE leaders generally *do not* write with the forceful clarity of either (A) or (B); they write in a bland, vague, “safe” style which could lead one reader to think they mean (A) and another reader to think they mean (B). If the BioLogos leaders wrote clearly in Style A or Style B, one would not have to spend months pulling teeth to find out what view they officially hold. Thus, I’ve had to spend about 10 years now reading probably over a million words of writing by the major TE leaders — their books, their ASA articles, their BioLogos columns, their online debates, etc. — trying to supplement their cautious generic statements with occasional admissions which tip their hands about where they are coming from. It’s been painful and irritating.

      If the TE leaders always expressed themselves in the scientifically and theologically humble Style (A) I would be completely satisfied with TE. But most often they express themselves either in official, intellectually vague “BioLogos” style, or in something closer to Style B (though with a little more cautiousness, with their eyes on what folks in their home churches might think about their statements).

      You think the near-certainty of Venema etc. that life could emerge without design is merely methodological pragmatism. I think that’s the wrong assessment. In my view, Venema etc. think *not only* what you think — that it’s methodologically necessary to focus only on natural causes because that’s all science can do — *but also* that natural causes *are all that there were*, from the Big Bang to man. (God was of course “behind” the natural causes, “ordaining” them or “sustaining” them or the like, but there was no need at all for any *primary* divine causation on his part.) And I would actually respect them more if they would say that outright instead of pussyfooting around about it.

      “I don’t think earnest Christian scientific thinkers today are too worried that they are in danger of explaining God out of a job, because they don’t see mechanical explanations as being competitors for the job of Deity. Deity reigns in, and through, and around, and sometimes [miracles] in spite of it all anyway.”

      I agree with this, in the main, but I would say that “earnest Christian scientific thinkers” covers a very broad range of people, and that BioLogos and ASA members are only a very small part of that group. And the attitudes typical of the ASA and BioLogos sometimes differ from those found in other Christian scientists.

      For example: Do you remember when BioLogos launched an all-out attack on Meyer’s first book? Falk, Venema, and Ayala teamed up to savage it. Now remember that Meyer’s first book *did not argue that evolution had not happened*. It didn’t even argue that *Darwinian* evolution hadn’t happened. It argued only that, even supposing that Darwinian processes could explain everything after the first cell, the origin of life was still a mystery and that abiotic origin of life speculations had so far been notorious unsuccessful. In other words, you might not need an intelligent designer to produce mammals out of reptiles, or man out of primates, but it strongly looked as if you did need an intelligent designer to set up the DNA code in the first place. Now, Falk, Venema, and Ayala were all geneticists — not one of them had contributed even the tiniest part of an article to the peer-reviewed literature on the origin of life. Their comments against Meyer showed that they knew little to nothing about current research on the origin of life — certainly they knew less than Meyer, whose Ph.D. from Cambridge was on current theories of the origin of life. He had read the current technical literature on the subject and they hadn’t. Yet they were determined that Christians should not accept Meyer’s argument that design was necessary for the origin of life. They made it a mission, a crusade, to undermine Meyer. Why? Why would Christian biologists (well, Ayala had by that time long since ceased to be Christian or even theist in any normal sense, but the BioLogos website at that time still classed him as a Christian) object when another Christian, with a Ph.D. on the state of current origin-of-life research, argued that the preponderance of evidence was that life required design?

      Now contrast the attitude and actions of *those* Christian scientists with the view of James Tour, a Christian scientist who was rumored to have been short-listed for the Nobel Prize a few years back. Tour has not endorsed ID; but he is *much* less sanguine about the possibility of chance abiotic origin accounts of life than Venema, Falk, and Ayala are. And guess who has vastly more expertise in what it takes to manipulate and create new molecules? Tour, by a long shot. His career has been inventing molecular machines that never existed before. And he states, over and over again, how incredibly difficult it is to create even the simplest molecular machines (far less complex than a single cell), even when the scientist exerts very complex means of intelligent control over outcomes. The possibility of interfering cross-reactions has to be guarded against, etc. The folks at BioLogos (except Swamidass, who has met with Tour independently, on his own initiative) refuse to discuss Tour or his cautions about abiotic origins of life. They jumped all over Meyer when Meyer pointed out the same sort of difficulties. (But they can’t jump all over Tour — who is simply a more competent and internationally recognized scientist than anyone currently working for BioLogos.)

      My point is that Tour is an “earnest Christian scientific thinker”, who, though not an ID proponent, agrees with the ID people about the difficulty of explaining the origin of life on purely naturalistic assumptions. When I read Tour’s essays on the subject of the origin of life, I immediately feel intellectually at home, and in the hands of a man I can intellectually trust. He is intellectually fair. He doesn’t gloss over difficulties. The BioLogos folks gloss over difficulties. And that’s because of their commitment to a reductionistic, mechanistic biology of origins. They don’t have a clue how to meet Tour’s objections, but being convinced privately that life did originate without need for design all they can do is gloss over the problem with generalities about “God’s faithful working through his ordained natural processes.” They prefer to believe that design wasn’t necessary, and that preference sustains them despite their inability to provide any credible abiotic scenario. I refuse to accept any definition of “science” which allows metaphysical or aesthetic preferences of that kind to prejudice how scientists think.

      • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

        Eddie (all health to you!). Picking up on the question of “origins” in general, I came across an interesting philosophical snippet, worthy of meditation. It’s about epistemology, and says:

        “No science can explain its own origin.”

        Thus psychology can study the mind, but not explain its origin. Cosmology can study the cosmos, but not its creation. Biology can study life, but never account for its origins. And so on.

        How generally it is true is worth pondering – is it perhaps more than coincidental, for example, that Darwin utterly failed to explain the orgin of the species, not least because he had to abolish the concept of species to make the attempt?

        Discuss, using both sides of the paper…

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