Naturally enough Eddie’s comments discussed Theistic Evolution, especially as represented by BioLogos, in relation to Intelligent Design, broadly in terms of natural theology (that is, what is it possible to know about God from nature).
Coincidentally, I’ve recently been considering Evolutionary Creation’s role from the other end, that is, in terms of theology of nature, that is, what our knowledge about God leads us to expect to find in nature. My thinking was based on the the fact that, whilst ID claims to be a scientific enterprise, BioLogos and Evolutionary Creation do not, and so it follows that they must be essentially theological positions.
The terms used underline that. Francis Collins’ “BioLogos” was originally coined as a position, not an organisation, rebranding theistic evolution as “Bios through Logos” (Language of God p.203), thus ostensibly harmonising “life” as in biology with “logos”, God as the Word. The term never caught on, and theistic evolution (evolution involving God) has tended to become Denis Lamoureux’s “Evolutionary Creation” (creation by means of evolution). You’ll see that all three terms express the role of God in biological evolution – that is, they represent a theology of nature, at least as far as evolution goes.
And that makes it odd that, especially in recent years, BioLogos has been hesitant to make any actual propositional claims about their theology of nature, stressing on the one hand the truth of evolutionary science, and apparently at several removes the Creatorhood of God.
I explored this in a couple of threads there recently. One was not mine, involving the definition of evolution – which to the surprise of nobody I suppose, proved difficult to settle. The second was the first thread I’ve ever started on the BioLogos forum, by which I hoped by a kind of socratic dialogue to get folks to explore just what they mean by “Evolutionary Creation.”
I started by asking people to say what they understood by the word “create.” A surprising number of responses came from atheists, but the believers gave some reasonable answers, most of which had a lot to do with innovation and teleology, the kind of association with artistic or craft enterprise you would expect.
Subsequently, I asked people to say how they’d specifically apply that understanding to evolution, to achieve a clear view of “Evolutionary Creation”. I wrote:
So is it not possible to give a coherent account of Evolutionary Creation, beyond asserting that both “creation” and “evolution” happen somewhere and somehow?
The result was illuminating, first in its sparse responses compared to the first “task,” secondly in that in pretty well all the responses the two were simply held in tension, and thirdly in that one person, who got two “likes”, held that such a synthesis may or may not be possible, but that in any case it is not necessary to live an intellectually and spiritually satisfying life.
To the extent this represents a general trend (and my impression is that it does) this suggests that the theology of nature implied by “Evolutionary Creation” tends to be “We don’t need a theology of nature.”
Independent of this, on the Peaceful Science thread already linked, Daniel Gordon, a graduate physics student, endorsed this impression (in agreeing with Eddie’s piece), but put it down to the narrowly scientific education of people at BioLogos, making them hesitant in areas like philosophy and theology. I agree that there is such a limitation in science education, and that it affects BioLogos to some extent, but that is not the whole answer, because the unwillingness to “do” a theology of nature is only quite recent.
When BioLogos started, it inherited much of its ethos from the ASA discussion boards, which in turn had been influenced by the “Divine Action Project”. In particular, Howard van Till was a regular voice at ASA, promoting an “openness of God” theology which, applied to nature, produced his “Robust Formational Economy Principle”. This strand is evident between the lines in Francis Collins’ The Language of God, the manifesto for BioLogos, and was present overtly in the early years of BioLogos, particularly through co-founder Karl Giberson (an Open Theist), theological adviser Peter Enns and the second President, Darrel Falk.
Now van Till’s scheme is every inch a theology of nature, and one which I found both heterodox and incoherent, leading to my “ideological breach” with BioLogos beginning in 2011. Others in the churches also noticed it – and arguably it lies behind much of the theological critique of BioLogos in the Crossway Tome, behind the Young Earth rhetoric in that book.
Nothing was ever said in public, but it appears that leadership changes at BioLogos were at least in part intended to weaken this theological approach, so that it is not really a large part of the EC picture there now. But for whatever reason, that “free nature” theology has never been replaced with any attempt, or even much attempt at a discussion, of a more orthodox alternative.
My cynical side tells me this is because if you refuse to formulate a position, it can’t be demonstrated to be incoherent. Or perhaps, that realising you can’t make “Evolutionary” and “Creation”, or “Bios” and “Logos”, or “Theistic” and “Evolution” fit together, except as a slogan, you keep mum.
Better still, you make silence a virtue, by cobbling together a doctrine of the “hiddenness of God”, or eschewing the “God of the Gaps” fallacy, or throwing buzzwords like “mystery” and “humility” about to make your critics appear legalistic rather than simply intellectually rigorous. Sometimes, despite BioLogos being a theological, rather than a scientific, project, the reason given is that good science cannot demonstrate truths about God, which may be true, but is irrelevant to the matter of Christians formulating a theology of nature.
This is how I have read the situation for a long time, but I want here particularly to show that the appeal to science, and its need to avoid reference to God, is inadmissible, because the very foundation of science as we know it was the willingness of early modern scientists to propose a theology of nature, on which all scientific efforts since have built.
It’s true that Bacon and Co. began the move away from “natural theology” that, much later, became methodological naturalism. But we must also remember that their basis for so doing was a radical new theology of nature, to replace the mediaeval theology of nature that had underpinned science up till then.
Scholastic metaphysics, particularly in Thomas Aquinas, provided the framework in which the relationship of God to creation, and therefore the structure of creation itself, had been understood. My own most recent pieces on The Hump here and here touch on that, because scholastic metaphysics is far from dead in the age of quantum physics and evolution.
But the early moderns sought to replace the core Aristotelian concepts of potency and actuality – inherent powers within created substances – with the mechanical philosophy. This viewed matter as consisting of inert corpuscles, with no powers of their own, acting in obedience to divinely appointed and governed laws, analogous to the divine Law of Moses in the human sphere. This was done, in large part, to glorify God’s sovereignty and to “disenchant” nature of rivals to him.
In other words, for theological reasons, nature would be viewed under this new model of theological philosophy, rather than in the old way based on mediaeval theological philosophy.
At the same time, the same theology left room for both the special providence and miraculous intervention of God – probably, I think, without needing to rework the detailed understanding of those categories from their scholastic models. In other words, theological concepts such as divine concurrence and the occasional overruling of “laws of nature” were built into the understanding of nature of early scientists, and positively affirmed by them as the basis of their work.
Evolutionary Creation’s refusal to restate a theology of nature is, therefore, a cop-out that undermines both science and theology – and that matters when there is no other way to understand your project than as a synthesis of science (evolution) and theology (creation).
Remember that the original early modern theology of inert, law-goverened nature will no longer do the job adequately, for one very specific reason: in Evolutionary Creation we have introduced the term “creation” into a process being described as “natural science” – and no Boyle or Newton would have confused creation with nature for one moment, for nature was the end result of creation, not the means by which it was held to have occured.
Joshua Swamidass asks in his review of the Crossway Tome whether there is a theory of theistic evolution that can be theologically orthodox. It remains to be seen how successfully orthodox views on God’s sole Creatorship and sovereignty over nature can be integrated with evolutionary science, particularly under the naturalistic metaphysical assumptions of modern science. The truth is, there appear to be some circles to square in describing “orthodox theistic evolution” which, perhaps, some Evolutionary Creationists have seen and done their best to hide under the carpet of fideism (believing in both Christ and evolution, but not establishing a clear relationship between the two).
Already, though, outsiders have been nudging the carpet with their feet and raising some dust. Why should they accept a concept like “Evolutionary Creation” if it has no solid intellectual framework?