I have friends!

Mike Gene has noticed my recent post and, I’m glad to say, was happy with how I developed his idea. It’s always nice when people agree with you.
What was more of a thrill for me was the agreement of a couple of responders, The Deuce and G. Rodriguez, who pointed out in response to Mike’s first post that his view (and hence mine) is actually mainstream Christian theology. Another poster suggested that Mike must be a Calvinist (now where have I heard that before?) but the Deuce pointed out the selfsame teaching in the Catholic Encyclopedia!

This is just where I came into theistic evolution several years ago, but found scant regard for such notions amongst the TEs at BioLogos except in the person of our own penman. To find three more people at once who hold the same views is amazing – it’s enough people for a movement!

That might be more than mere frivolity, actually, because further down the thread Nick Matzke arrives to comment thus:

This seems reasonably coherent to me. But it seems to me that similar logic can be applied to say that even if standard mainstream evolutionary theory by natural processes is true, there is no theological problem. Yet lots of people seem to have theological problems with evolution. Partially this is due to atheists trying to use evolution against religion, partially this is due to Paley’s design argument, partially this is due to Biblical literalism, I guess, but still, it seems like if the above were widely accepted by Christian leaders, evolution wouldn’t be such a theological issue.

Or am I missing something – does a theological problem with evolution still remain after the above standard Christian theology is accepted?

As Crude (so that’s where he got to!) replies, the hostility of atheist evolutionists is not to be disregarded. Neither, of course, is the strength of Biblical literalism and, I would add, unbiblical liberalism. But were there not such ignorance of and hostility to classical theology amongst Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists and Intelligent Designists all, evolution and Christianity might sit very well together – at least in general terms, for there would still be plenty to argue about on the mechanisms of evolution and the details of theology. But I think it would be serious conservative Christians and scientists of goodwill who would be engaged in the arguing, which has to be better than the currently available hotbeds of heterodoxy and naturalism.

It’s odd though, and maybe significant, that this is amongst the least frequented theological territory in the whole debate.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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8 Responses to I have friends!

  1. Gregory says:

    Glad to see you with new friends, Jon! Perhaps some will join in the conversation here too. I’ve dialogued with Michael and The Deuce and Crude (yes, I guess many people these days have blog lairs) in the past also.

    The hardest thing when speaking about ‘mainstream Christian theology’ is what counts as ‘the mainstream’ and who defines it. Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic are still the three main branches of Christendom, each of which has a different perception of ‘the mainstream.’

    You wrote: “this is amongst the least frequented theological territory in the whole debate.”

    Could you please clarify what the ‘this’ that is ‘amongst the least frequented theological territory’ signifies?

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    “The hardest thing when speaking about ‘mainstream Christian theology’ is what counts as ‘the mainstream’ and who defines it.”

    Yes, so it’s probably left loosely defined according to context. In this case it comes under the umbrella of that large body of theology that was never disputed at the Reformation, so can be broadly called “catholic” (small “c”). Probably it applies to the Eastern Church too, but I couldn’t be sure without research. In other words, stuff agreed from ancient times as represented by various Church Councils, confessions of faith etc.

    Even the RC v Reformed disputes about free will don’t really impinge on it, nor early Arminianism. I grant you things have become more anarchic over the last couple of centuries though, with maybe several roots:
    (a) The tendency of Protestants to form sects rather than hammer out consensus (lose tyranny and disicipline often goes as well).
    (b) Religous tolerance means even gross heresy is now unchecked, especially in the US.
    (c) The rise of liberalism overthrew all existing sources of authority: it’s uncool to study them at seminary when there’s Tillich and Moltmann.
    (d) Sheer ignorance due to poor teaching in churches.

    In the present discussion I’m content to to use “mainstream” to mean “historically prevalent and orthodox”. My “least frequented territory” refers to the constellation of ideas Mike et al refer to in these few posts: although they arise from “mainstream” theology, and resolve most of the metaphysical (if not the biblical in themselves) objections to evolution, they’re not commonly discussed views. This correlates with the eclipse of Warfield’s approach which, as you know, I’ve observed before: it is the way he would have been thinking.

    Why? Maybe these views are considered “Calvinist”. Notice Bilbo’s (and others’) unnecessary qualms about the contemporary bogeyman of loss of free will. More likely they’re just been forgotten – see how Mike G expresses surprise more than once that what he’d worked out for himself is actually established theology. Most TE’s are too busy trying to fit Peacocke and Van Till’s process theology to a non-matching orthodoxy – note Ted Davis’s talk about the abandonment of the “sovereign God believed since New Testament times” on the Fuller thread. Most IDers are Creationists too offended by naturalism to separate it from Darwinism (and they may be right sociogically and historically).

  3. James says:

    Hi, Jon!

    I guess I’m the odd man out here, but I’m not 100% onside with you and Mike Gene here. I’ve followed Mike Gene’s presentation of his “because of us” idea on various sites over the past few years, and I’ve never been 100% convinced by it.

    Let me say right away that Mike Gene is a nice guy and a gentleman in debate, and also that he seems to know a lot about biology and that I’ve got no biological objections to his idea of “front-loading” — I’m neutral with respect to that.

    However, whenever I’ve seen him discussing his “because of us” idea, I have the very strong impression that his theologizing comes from “general metaphysical reasoning” rather than any historical study. I’ve never seen him discuss, or even mention, Augustine, Boethius, etc., — any of the classical Christian theologians — and attempt to locate his discussion in their writings. Nor have I ever seen him connect his view with any Biblical passages in any coherent way. And when observers have asked him to connect his general reasonings with the historical tradition, he has always declined to do so.

    It may be that he doesn’t feel comfortable doing so — maybe he is a biologist or biochemist who has never taken a single course in theology or the history of Christian thought, and doesn’t feel equipped for the task, and doesn’t want to pretentiously talk about texts and authors he doesn’t know. I can appreciate that intellectual modesty. At the same time, if he is offering a reconciliation between (apparently ) naturalistic evolution and Christian faith, I think he bears some responsibility to make sure that the notions of God and divine action that he is calling upon are in fact Christian notions — and he can’t do that without showing that these notions are found in the classical texts.

    I think it is important, Jon, to remember that Mike has in the past argued that even if there are “truly random” events in the universe — quantum blips, if you will — events which are not conditioned by any previous sequence of events and therefore cosmically arbitrary (and which therefore could not be factored in to guarantee any result from any initial condition of the universe) — that doesn’t affect Christian theology at all. Christians could still believe that God simply chose *this* universe with *this* particular set of arbitrary blips that happened to produce us.

    Now in the past, Jon, you have, in agreement with me, argued that “truly random” events, translated into a neo-Darwinian framework as “truly random mutations,” are incompatible with divine governance, etc. As far as I understand Mike Gene, he does not believe that. As far as I understand him, he believes that even if evolution worked *exactly* as the neo-Darwinians say (and he doesn’t believe it does, for biological reasons, but that’s another matter), that would *still* be entirely compatible with traditional, orthodox Christian understandings of God’s governance, omnipotence, providence, etc. And unless I’ve greatly misunderstood you, that has *not* been your position.

    I’m still of the view that God cannot guarantee any result of the evolutionary process unless he either (a) sets up initial conditions so that those results are inevitable, or (b) from time to time intervenes in the process. I think that Mike Gene disagrees with this. I think that he believes that God could guarantee precise results of the evolutionary process even if God did not fix initial conditions and even if there were “truly random” mutations which could not be guaranteed or predicted from initial conditions, and even if God never intervened. I think that Mike believes that all God has to do is select the right imagined universe — the one that includes us. I disagree with this; I think it’s too facile, and that by invoking the eternal Boethean God who is above the realm of time and physical causation, it avoids dealing with the Biblical Creator-God who is intimately involved with the realm of time and physical causation.

    Part of the problem is that it is not clear to me where Mike Gene stands on naturalistic causes. I have the strong impression that, while he does not dogmatize on the issue, he would much, much, rather see a universe in which evolution proceeds wholly by natural causes than one in which God intervenes. There isn’t a hint of interventionism in his discussions of evolution, not even the origin of life. And his idea of “front-loading” — insofar as I understand it, seems wholly naturalistic. It would be useful if he could state whether he *assumes* naturalistic causes only in his account of evolution; and if so, what justifies that assumption. Or if he would say something like: “I think God created the first cell by a ruddy miracle, but gave it the right set of structures — designed structures — so that it could afterward evolve, by purely natural processes, to become man.” Or if he would say anything else of this sort.

    So I’m overall unsatisfied with Mike’s account of God and evolution. It appears that he wants an account which is naturalistic and evolutionary, with no miracles or interventions, and yet, despite that naturalism, he doesn’t really care (as all other naturalists do!) whether or not there is a connected causal explanation, on the spatiotemporal level, from the Big Bang to man! It doesn’t bother him if there is no way of guaranteeing the passage from bacterium to man by any conceivable arrangement of the first cell — what with a thousand quantum blips yawning like the Grand Canyon in between, and God refusing to intervene to jump the chasms. It will all be taken care of, simply “because of us” — because God willed us rather than something else; as if God could will the end without also having to will the means to the end.

    The scholar in me, the trained theologian in me, revolts at a position which implies that tens of thousands of pages of theology written over two millennia by the most learned men, wrestling with extremely difficult relationships between time and eternity, cause and effect, etc., have all been a waste of time, because the answer is so simple that a theologically untrained biologist, flying by the seat of his pants, can come up with it in an inspired moment. The true test for Mike Gene’s thesis — that “because of us” is a wholly adequate resolution of all the causal problems in reconciling God with randomness — would be for him to air it, not on blog sites to be examined by people with names like “Deuce” and “crude” and “Timaeus” and “Arago,” but in theological journals, which are read, and refereed, by people with names like Feser, Plantinga, Gilkey, Ott, Rahner, Brunner, etc. If he is offering the idea as a serious theological thesis, rather than as the kind of clever idea that one floats in the pub over a beer with one’s buddies — that is where he should be presenting it.

  4. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Give the guy a chance, James – theological journals are no more going to publish an article by a biologist any more than “Nature” will carry one of yours. He’s not speculating any more than do most of the weirdos at UD or BL, and is at least thinking through some of issues.which is more than many scientists we know.

    That said, I take on board your criticism – Mike’s is by no means a complete account. The virtual multiverse idea is unparsimonious, as I suggested in my OP. What I do think merits careful consideration as an approach to creation and general providence is this concept of teleological creation in eternity: the end is determined and the means conform to it, rather than the initial conditions and laws being set and the clock set ticking. That is consistent with the Genesis creation account – God says “Let there be a result” rather than “Let’s set up a mechanism.”

    Some thinking needs doing to see how that interacts with design and low-probability events like OoL. The design inference is unchanged – it makes no difference at what stage God’s mind forms the conception of a creature, the design still shows up. Cause and effect (as I said on Mike’s blog) are the correspondence in space-time of the teleological creation, in the same way as my executing a purpose I have conceived follows, but is not finally explained by, cause and effect.

    But what if the cause seems insufficient to the effect? What if the sums of evolution don’t add up? One could regard it, in the “Gene scheme”, as God’s commanding of an end simply necessitating some high contingencies. Or in time, one could look at it as God’s direct action on cause and effect. They might be seen as two sides of the same coin.

    But I’ve been thinking today about special providence in the Gene scheme, and here I agree a fully-worked out once-and-for-all teleological universe seems insufficient on its own, and also somewhat artificial.

    Insufficient because God is relational, at least to mankind and also, in some sense, to the rest of creation. There’s something odd about praying for something unlikely and its coming true because the universe was designed that way – too much like the liberal idea of God’s acts being purely how we see ordinary events subjectively. Surely God reaches from eternity into time as he interacts with us. And Scripture describes something analogous for the beasts, the weather and so on. We must preserve the truth of Yahweh who acts.

    Artificial because, although it actually describes a creation occurring throughout time (NOT just at the beginning) it appears to be a static rather than a dynamic concept, like the Seistic universe. Why would God only wish to show his mighty acts not just at the beginning, and not throughout time, since it is all equally visible to him? And might the limitations of the natural laws he has established not require such mighty acts?

    Yet that impression of stasis is actually an illusion from continuing to think temporally rather than eternally. The classic view of God sees him as free of passions as he exists in eternity, but as acting in displeasure or mercy to us in experience. Why should his perfect, unchanging plan for the universe not involve analogous changes-within-time, perhaps by direct divine action?

    In short, although Scripture does not explicitly describe God’s acting in eternity, the widely accepted Augustinian view of eternity requires that he must, and something like Mike’s approach can help to harmonise the two viewpoints (in my view).

  5. James says:

    OK, Jon, I see your point. It’s true that Mike Gene has as much right to speculate as anyone else on the internet, and it’s true that he has done better thinking than a good number of bloggers – and BioLogos folks.

    It’s also true that I wouldn’t get an article published in *Nature*, but let me make my point clear with a comparison. Suppose I tell you that I envision an atom as a little solar system, with the electrons orbiting the nucleus as planets orbit the sun. And suppose you tell me: “Silly goose! That is the Bohr model, which has been discredited for years! Charged particles could not maintain an orbit of that type! The proper way to think of things is to imagine the location of the electrons as somewhere in a “cloud of probability” about the nucleus.” And suppose I come back to you, and say: “Well, I find this way of thinking helps me to remember things – valences and so on — and do chemical problems.” And suppose you retort: “It’s not good to get into the habit of using false models, even if they work pragmatically.” And finally, after some back and forth, I shrug and say “Oh, well, it works for me!” and walk away. You might then mutter to yourself: “He’s an OK guy, but not much of a theoretician!”

    Now, if I am just some lonely guy who like speculating about atoms, and am not concerned to evangelize the world with my conception, and maintain it mainly because it is pragmatically helpful, or strikes me as beautiful, or whatever — I’m doing no harm. But if I submit my model of the atom to *Nature*, my article is going to be rejected — and rightly so. The editors and readers have much more theoretical knowledge than I do, and they have a duty not to allow bad speculations to spread via their magazine.

    So when I think of Mike Gene’s theology of creation and his harmonization of randomness etc. with evolution, I can regard it in two ways. He could be saying: “Look, I’m no theologian, but this is a model that works for a layperson like me. I don’t have time to check it out by studying the history of Christian thought, and it doesn’t matter to me all that much whether it matches what the experts say, because really for me faith is a highly personal matter anyway.” Or he could be saying: “I think I’ve solved the chance/providence conflict that Russell, Polkinghorne, Plantinga, Augustine, and others haven’t been able to solve, and I think other people in the faith/science discussions should adopt my solution.” If he’s saying the former, no harm done; if he’s saying the latter, then yes, I think he *is* obliged to publish a fuller argument in a theological journal, just as I should be required to publish a fuller argument for the Bohr atom in a physics journal if I really mean the world to understand that I have the correct model.

    Now Mike’s not a boastful guy, and he’d never swagger about any theological idea he had, but nonetheless, if he is offering his idea as a genuine theoretical solution, then he should be developing it, not just letting it sit. He first advanced the idea at least two years ago, maybe more, and I haven’t seen even a smidgin of historical or theoretical expansion of the idea since. He’s repeated the idea in many contexts, but it’s not more strongly defended with each repetition, just restated. I’m just asking for him to invest some time in reading some historical theology and try to formulate his idea with some theoretical discipline — if he really thinks he has the problem licked. Even if I’m not convinced by his idea, it is one of the more interesting suggestions I’ve heard, so if he has the time and ability, it would be a shame for him not to go further with it. If it turned out that, properly formulated, the idea could win support from some of the leading theologians today, that would make his effort worthwhile.

    As for the rest of your remarks, I have no dispute. You aren’t dogmatizing in any way, you’re just trying to weigh and balance what I’ve said and what Mike Gene has said, and that’s creditable.

  6. Avatar photo penman says:

    Gregory says:

    “The hardest thing when speaking about ‘mainstream Christian theology’ is what counts as ‘the mainstream’ and who defines it. Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic are still the three main branches of Christendom, each of which has a different perception of ‘the mainstream.’”

    Yes, problematic. I try to solve it (at least in part) by giving our ancestors a vote. Mainstream needs to be mainstream across the ages, since every particular age will have its own deviant nostrums that will not survive the test of time.

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