BioLogos – free again!

There’s a new piece about oxygen on BioLogos by a geobiologist called Mike Tice. He raises again that elusive TE concept, the freedom of nature, under the banner of “co-creation”. Tice, of course, doesn’t speak for BioLogos, any more than I did in my one article for them, but he does give a rather fuller version of what has remained to me, despite many enquiries in the past to Darrel Falk, etc, a ubiquitous but nebulous idea. So let’s see what it consists of.

Tice actually leads up to his view by contrasting it with others:

For instance, some see the evolutionary history of life and the Earth and give that history meaning by elevating chance and necessity to the level of prime actors in their own modern creation account.

This view he attributes to atheists grafting an external “meaning” on to evolution, though to be truthful the “meaning” atheists usually promote is that there is no meaning. Tice’s second group appears to be the Deists:

Others have preferred to see the regularity of the universe as the action of an orderly God. This is an old approach to natural theology that was popular among many early scientists, and saw God as responsible for doing such things as maintaining the planets in consistent paths around the sun.

So chance and necessity do not account for nature, and neither does the activity of an orderly God. But there’s a third possibility:

Still others look for God in the unexplained. This is a newer approach that sees God as acting primarily in short bursts not explainable by the regular, orderly function of the universe…

He clearly has Creationism in mind here, though quite possibly the usual parody of Intelligent Design as well. I would have thought, from looking at theology historically, that there’s been quite a long-term presence for the idea of bursts of creative activity, maybe over six days, but his main thrust is clearly the idea of the miraculous, which is indeed newer because the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” in that sense is quite recent. But one wonders what modalities are left for God to work with, seeing that Tice seems unhappy to grant him chance (atheism), natural law (Deism), or miracle (Creationism and ID). So what is the Secret Weapon that only theistic evolution can supply?

I prefer to see the same history in the light of a God who desires to share aspects of his nature with his creation, notably including his creativity. Just as he has made humans to be creators (with a little ‘c’), he has given the rest of our world the gift of being instrumental in its own creation through the process of evolution. This surely must have been part of what God saw when he described his creation as good!

Ah! The world creates itself. It’s hard to know where to start in critiquing this, but as presented one can start with the general mechanism: all that’s really left after chance, law and miracle are deemed inadequate is libertarian free will. And creation, being by definition an act of will, implies this. That’s fine for humans (but see below re “creators”, but here it’s also being attributed to “the rest of our world”. Is that meant collectively (the world, as an entity like Gaia, has free-will) or individually (each dog, dinosaur, oxygen-producing algae and maybe each river and storm exercises libertarian choice)? Neither are generally accorded free-will.

Tice uses the word “instrumental”, which would explain things if it had been used carefully, but only by demolishing his core idea. If I am “instrumental” in achieving some goal, I have been used by another as an instrument. I have “created” (heavy quotes!) this post by using a computer instrumentally. It may be a good parallel to the complexities of cells at least. But I’m not going to grant my computer any share in the creative process. More specifically, it would be a strange philosopher who suggested that I’ve given it the “gift” of being instrumental in creating this post. Quite frankly, it would be indifferent to any such suggestion. Because it’s just an instrument.

So, taken literally, Tice is simply saying “God uses secondary means”, but that was known long before evolution: God creates more dogs through the intrumental use of dogs’ procreative abilities. Dogs, it appears, enjoy procreating. And bitches enjoy caring for their offspring, which is a joy to behold. But do they have any conception, let alone appreciation, of being “co-creators”? But let’s forget the dogs – the article is about cyanobacteria. How do they enjoy their “instrumental” role? Does it produce a Fatherly glow of pride in their creativity on God’s part?

I think, though, that Tice has more in mind than secondary causation: this is about God “desiring to share aspects of his nature” with creation: creativity is the gift, not instrumentality. Let’s deal with the human element first: “Just as he has made humans to be creators…” As I said in a reply on the thread, that’s not a biblical teaching at all, but something developed through the humanism of the renaissance – another example of the Prometheus myth ousting the more humiliating story of Adam. Why? Well, in Scripture, “creation” (bara) is the bringing of order out of chaos, and it is God’s exclusive role. Indeed, he is protective of his “ownership” of it, and not surpisingly, because Creation is the first mark of deity, and he is the only God. There are no secondary gods, no demiurges, no co-creators. In Acts 17.24 Paul tells the Athenians that God made the world and everything in it. But Isa 42:5,8 is even stronger:

This is what God the Lord says – he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth and all that comes out of it … “I am Yahweh, that is my name! I will not give my glory to another, or my praise to idols.”

The Biblical view overlaps the classical theist view, of course, which defines creation a little differently, yet truthfully: God creates out of nothing, and sustains all existence by his ongoing power and wisdom. So that’s what humans are sharing? Of course not. Men are his viceroys, his servants, his priests, his worshippers, his imitators, even his skilled workers – but never his “co-creators”. Perhaps the most celebrated artisans in the Bible are the lead craftsmen of the Taberncale, Bazalel and Oholiab. And their qualification? Special creativity? No, being filled with the Spirit of God (Ex 31.3ff).

So what shall we think to be told that “the world” (whatever that means) has been gifted by God to be “instrumental in its own creation”? Now Aquinas addresses this in his metaphysics, but I don’t think one needs to be a philosopher to realise that “creating oneself” is a nonsense concept. Nothing can impart what it does not possess, or as they say up north here, “You don’t get ‘owt for ‘nowt”. Charitably, we might replace “world” with, say, “LUCA”, replace “create” with “procreate” and assume a massive degree of frontloading in the genome. But that isn’t what Tice has in mind, and it isn’t creation, even co-creation. It’s just being a creature. And neither the world nor LUCA has free-will, and if he really means that this creativity is just chance and necessity as current evolutionary theory maintains, then that’s not creation either, but merely a world subjected to chance and necessity – one hopes under God’s wise control, as indeed Scripture affirms it to be.

So are we any nearer having a clear concept of what TEs are talking about by “the world’s co-creativity”, “nature’s limited freedom” and however else it may be phrased,  without a recourse to Barbour’s process theology or Peacocke’s panentheism? I certainly don’t think Tice’s article gives any indication that there even is a such a clear concept at all.

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.
This entry was posted in Creation, Politics and sociology, Prometheus, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to BioLogos – free again!

  1. Bilbo says:

    I don’t think BioLogos is capable of giving a clear idea of what they think the causes of evolution are because they don’t have a clear idea. They think they want to avoid the objection that Leibniz had for Newton’s view that God must intervene in order to fix an imperfect creation (in Newton’s case, God fixing the orbits of the planets). And they think that if we view Nature as “free” (including free from God’s intervention) then this will provide a good theodicy for the problem of Natural evil.

    On the other hand, they want to maintain an orthodox view of God’s providence over Nature. And they don’t see a way of maintaining this other than invoking “mystery.”

    But Leibniz’s objection only has efficacy if we live in a deterministic universe. If the universe is indeterministic, then if God wants to insure that certain events come about, intervention may be necessary. The theodicy “works” though it’s difficult to understand why God shouldn’t be allowed to override the indeterminism of Nature. We certainly see no problem in overriding Nature all the time. I’m doing it this very minute by determining which keys to tap with my fingers. So what exactly is the problem with God doing the same thing, if He so chooses?

  2. GD says:


    I agree with you that BioLogos and TE/ID people do not have a clear idea, and imo they cannot possibly get any clarity in their thinking because they have taken a fallacy and tried to message and ‘fit’ their peculiar view into this fallacy – i.e. that evolutionary theory would be suitable to their project of ‘how God has gone about creating everything’. If one begins with error, one will simply continue with it when one elaborates further.

    I would like this discussion to begin at the beginning. Aquinas, like others, says God created everything out of ‘nothing’. How do we understand this statement? The view of primary cause and secondary causes is a necessary one based on Aristotle’s opinion of substance (let us call it matter) requiring some type of force to ‘move’ it in the sense the Hellenics thought of this (movement being that which animates the creation; nowadays it is more often termed phenomena).

    In my view, it is creation out of nothing that starts the discussion. So what is nothing? It cannot be substance, or some nebulous ‘being-ness’. By contemplating on this notion, we may begin to see that God creating cannot be seen as an initial event, followed by intervention or not intervention, clockworks and so on; we confuse ourselves with terms like Deity, Theism, Instrumentalism, chance, or whatever – all of these terms within the context of this discussion amount to nonsense.

    Your reference to Is 42 is spot on, and again points in the right direction.

    On the oxygen question, I am not sure if anyone has picked up on the central point in my reference, which is that an inorganic substance (non-evolving) is shown to be essential for the planet to have enough oxygen to sustain life. This would surely cause an intelligent person to stop and think.

    I again make the point, that the earth (and the universe) has been created as a setting for human beings to act as agents able to choose and perform acts of their (free) will. This is a remarkable aspect to the creation and also the Creator.

  3. Jon Garvey says:


    Behind all this is a departure from classical theism, a position which I think is demanded by how Scripture everywhere describes God’s work (eg look at 1 Sam 9 as a random example to see just how many factors God had control over to get the right man in the right place at the right time, which is the whole point of the story).

    Classical theism says that God is the first cause of everything, not in a time-past deistic sense but an immediate one. So if the Universe is acting in an orderly fashion, it is because God is moving it in an orderly fashion. If things happen unexpectedly by chance, that’s the way God is moving them. And if there are secondary (non-intelligent) agents, God is directing them by orderly patterns in their natures (laws) or in some other way. Because if he weren’t, there would be nothing happening.

    Darrel Falk talks about God’s sustaining the whole show, but in some merely structural way, as if he were simply the power cord of an independent mains-operated Creation. But “sustaining” actually means “continuing his directive work of creation.”

    In that scenario, “intervening” is a nonsense idea: if I’m playing an instrument, I don’t “interfere” by a chord substitution – I’m just being inventive in how I do the music.

    As you say, there’s absolutely no reason why God should not wish to do some visible work of creation, though conceived in eternity, at any particular “right” time, just as there was a particular time when it was right for the Eternal Son to become incarnate.

    It’s quite possible, of course, for God to use a lawlike process, or even a lawlike process plus “chance” (understood as the unusual interaction of lawlike processes, eg the comet hits us, or his doing things in a non-lawlike way, eg quantum events). God, not “independent nature” would still be the Creator of those things. And nature as “free” or “co-creator” is, as I’ve been saying for ever, theologically incoherent as well as plain unintelligible.

  4. Jon Garvey says:


    On your last point, I omitted from my OP the thought that we should, theologically) not so much be thinking of God “gifting” creation as his making creation as a gift for people, so that we may offer worship in response to it and on its behalf. That doesn’t, of course, deny that he loves it for itself. But it does mean that it is supposed to point to God, not to itself – which is the whole basis of idolatry. If nature created itself, then it’s worthy of worship, isn’t it?

    Maybe your ex nihilo point overlaps with my reply to Bilbo. It’s not just that “things” were formed from “no-things”, but that “purposes” were (and are being) formed out of “meaninglessness” (you may have seen my references to John Walton’s functional interpretation of Genesis 1).

    So to use an existing example, God doesn’t create merely water, but the water cycle. He doesn’t create just organisms, but a functioning ecosphere – maybe even a functioning evolutionary system to get things there. Your inorganic oxygen component is just as much his creative work (as is the fine tuning of oxygen chemistry underlying it). How one, as a Christian, can even conceive of a system independent of his will is a mystery to me.

  5. GD says:


    On nature (the creation) pointing to God – I agree. On meaning found in understanding the creation (and a ‘given purpose from God), again I think we are in agreement.

    What still appears problematic to me is combining the two terms, ‘Theistic’ and ‘evolution’ (we may substitute another term for evolution but the argument remains). Theism as refering to God is comprehensible and we may correct ourselves by referring to the Word of God. On Evolution, we have an error filled concept, wide ranging and nebulous scientifically, and defended in such a way that it obstructs alternate concepts.

    I feel that TE is simply a wrong idea. I think BioLogos is another term that essentially tries to camouflage TE. Perhaps I should ask myself, why are people so committed to TE – is it simply to counter YEC? I cannot believe Christians would willingly amalgamate doctrine that has been considered and debated for 2,000 years on the attributes of God, with an error prone notion that scientists openly doubt. Perhaps you can see something I am missing here.

  6. penman says:

    Hi Jon

    The only meaning I can read into “freedom” & “creativity” in the non-intellectual sphere (i.e. devoid of human or angelic will) is that God has created some innate power of sheer spontaneity into the cosmos, so that without any planning by Him, it can develop new patterns of being. Presumably God watches with wondering approval.

    This is surely incompatible with the traditional (& biblical!) doctrine of creation & providence. E.g. how could the psalmist say “I am fearfully & wonderfully made” as doxology, unless (on this view) he was actually praising the spontaneity of the cosmos rather than the Creator?

    As you know, I’m perfectly happy to call myself an Evolutionary Creationist, which is what others mean by a Theistic Evolutionist, but THIS BioLogian kind of TE/ECism is so allied to Open Theism / Process Theology that it’s necessarily unacceptable to a traditional, orthodox “classical” Christian theism, especially within my Reformed camp.

    At the moment, my own theological position on the issue under consideration is that God sovereignly plans everything, but that in various specific areas I’m agnostic about the created mechanisms (second causes) whereby His plan is effected. But I’m happy to ponder what those mechanisms might be, & in the case of the emergence of “homo divinus” humanity, I definitely postulate a new burst of primary creative power to produce the divine image.

  7. Jon Garvey says:


    At one level, “theistic evolution” as a term is an ad hoc solution for a complex sociological situation. So for my part, I take the evidence for an old earth, and for descent with modification, to be strong enough to give the nod to “evolution” in that general sense.

    The advantage of buying into it is to avoid what I take to be relatively simplistic and anti-scientific YEC interpretations of Scripture (and science, come to that), for the sake of my own intellectual integrity, the glory of God and for apologetics, particularly to those from a scientific background. It’s certainly true that many people’s faith, in the US, is threatened by doctrinaire YEC, so BioLogos has identified a real problem, if not the right solution.

    It is quite possible to maintain evolution as a working hypothesis whilst being theologically sound – and the work to reconcile the evidence can be constructive to theology, science – and philosophy too. It does require distancing oneself from the metaphysical commitment to “unplanned and undirected”, which seems to warrant the addition of “theistic” to “evolution”; just as one might conceivably, perhaps, use aterm like “theistic procreation” to counter a claim that the naturalistic understanding of reproduction denies individuals to be created.

    However, my own position regarding the science of macroevolution is not that far from agnosticism: the classical mechanisms of Neodarwinism are woefully incomplete, the stories built on them pure science fiction, and their replacements far from worked through to any kind of theoretical comprehensiveness, if indeed they can ever be. In that situation, I’m sympathetic to those who even doubt the reliability of common descent, but yet it seems more parsimonious to me. If God directly oversaw modifications to existing organisms in some way, that could still count as a form of theistic evolution, if unattractive to scientists. However, truth is more important than the pride of science.

    All of that, though, does not make the generally shaky orthodoxy of theistic evolution justifiable. Ted Davis’ last article gives a good historical account of why that is – and it takes little additional thought to work out that exactly the same forces have led to BioLogos’ own pattern of heterodoxy. We need Warfield and Gray back to reclaim TE for the truth.

  8. Jon Garvey says:

    Hi penman

    some innate power of sheer spontaneity into the cosmos, so that without any planning by Him…

    That’s really the divine equivalent of the jailer forcing the prisoners to play Russian roulette, isn’t it? Nobody’s being creative, and the only fun is still being alive.

  9. James says:


    Most scientists don’t doubt evolution. The TEs are just falling in with majority science in accepting it. That doesn’t make evolution real, of course. But it’s not on the “science” part that the TEs are out of step with the majority. The majority that the TEs are out of step with, in historical perspective, is the majority of Christians, who have held to the various traditional versions of Christian theology (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) rather than the philosophy of “freedom and creativity” that the TEs embrace.

    As for countering YEC, a little research reveals that several of the leading TEs — Isaac, Falk, Giberson, Lamoureux, Venema — and many of the TE rank and file — are former creationists, mostly YECs. And it seems to be almost a psychological law (if there is such a thing) that people react very aggressively against those who still believe what they used to believe, and feel the urge to convert such people to their new position. So you see that a huge part of the effort of BioLogos is invested in arguments tailored to YECs.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that both TE and YEC are all tied up in knots about “the problem of evil” — evil in nature — pain and predation — need an explanation for them. OEC and ID people don’t have the same problem with the existence of natural evil. They can imagine that natural evil could be part of God’s providence, and built into even a good creation, before the Fall. So it is as if YEC and TE are competing for bragging rights to see who can best explain natural evil, YEC explaining it as a result of the Fall, and TE explaining it as a result of the evolutionary process (thus keeping God’s hands “clean” by putting him at one remove from the dirty work of random mutations, predation, extinction, etc.).

    Accepting common descent is not what is un-Christian about TE. Common descent is compatible with the most hardline Calvinism or Roman Catholicism, if formulated rightly. The problem with TE is that its leaders will not take a clear stand on the Enlightenment. For all their occasional swipes at Hume, a good number of TE leaders have the same skepticism about many Biblical miracles that Hume did; for all their swipes at Deism, most of them have a wholly naturalistic picture of how nature operates; for all of their claim to accept the Bible as the inspired word of God, they accept the basic principles of modern Biblical scholarship, principles which are derived from the unbeliever Spinoza; and their notion of the Christian Church is not that of Augustine, or Luther, or Calvin, but the “progressive” notion of Lessing. They call themselves evangelicals; yet the evangelical tradition springs from magisterial Reformation roots that the Enlightenment directly challenged, and the TEs’ various theologies, and even their religious emotions, are deeply shaped by the changes that came with the Enlightenment.

    TE is a position of deep inner conflict, not because it holds together evolution and Christianity — that’s a piece of cake. It’s a position of deep inner conflict because it holds in tension two logically and existentially irreconcilable visions of Christianity, one pre-modern and one modern.

  10. penman says:

    Hi James

    Yes, I remember we had this discussion in the Good Old Days on BioLogos. I don’t know why so many TE/ECs are shy about miracles. Shame on them. Just for the record, I accept all the recorded miracles of scripture, & my beliefs about the emergence of “homo divinus” humanity involve a miracle, if that’s the word for the immediate divine bestowal of the divine image by creative fiat, not evolutionary development.

  11. Jon Garvey says:

    … it holds in tension two logically and existentially irreconcilable visions of Christianity, one pre-modern and one modern.

    And if you include Peter Enns, postmodern as well!

  12. GD says:

    My post seems to have been gobbled up by some spam thing.

  13. GD says:

    “Most scientists don’t doubt evolution.” I am afraid that I (and other scientists I know) tend to doubt just about everything in science (except for things like constants and other matters that have been measured with great accurace, e.g. periodic Table of elements). Nontheless each scientist must determine his/her own outlook. Within my context, evolution is so doubtful that the claims made by some is laughable.

    There is a difference between scientists discussion a theory, and declaring it a fact. The pity is there is insufficient doubt to lead to the more capable biologists search for a better theory.

    On theology, these discussions have emphasised the brilliant accomplishments during the Orthodox era of Christianity. Freedom, God’s will regarding the creation, good and evil, etc. (I have found) can be dealt with far better than TE, YEC, OEC, NT and the like.

  14. Jon Garvey says:


    I must be importing bugs from the BioLogos editor! The only glitch I usually find here is timing out: normally corrected by refreshing and reposting. Sorry that you lost your post.

    On your last para, my only reply is that we’re in the age we’re in, and science is the agenda we’ve been given to bring into the faith. Aquinas had rapacious kings and Cathars! I’ll quote again (sorry if you’ve read it) my Christian musician friend who said, when I told him I was working on science-faith issues, “It’s the sort of thing I’m glad somebody else is doing.”

  15. GD says:


    “Right on man!”

    Your remark reminds me of the response from an agnostic/atheist colleague who read my (unfinished) poem – his comment seemed more perceptive than most remarks religious people made (they were all good remarks so I am pleased with all sides of the religious/non-religious spectrum)

  16. James says:

    Hi, GD

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t saying that you or anyone else shouldn’t doubt evolution, if that’s where reason leads you. My point was a smaller one. You had called evolution “an error prone notion that scientists openly doubt.” But “scientists” there, without qualification, would be most naturally taken to mean either “all scientists” or “most scientists.” I was merely pointing that “scientists” as a group don’t doubt evolution, but embrace it. But of course there are scientists, including some good ones, who have intelligent doubts.

    I think the reason that scientists don’t try to search for a better theory is that, if you restrict yourself to origins explanations that rely only upon chance and necessity, and rule out intelligence, then you don’t have many options. You are going to come up with some version of complex things emerging from simple things via some sort of unguided process. And since spontaneous emergence of species out of the mud, or even major leaps, e.g., monkeys being born to birds, are not observed, then the emergence will be through a more gradual process, i.e., an evolutionary one. So the only thing scientists who accept the basic materialistic/mechanistic premise can argue about is detailed mechanisms: random mutation, natural selection, influence of environment on organism/genome, etc.

    So even major critics of Darwinism like Shapiro and Newman are all evolutionists. To get an alternative to evolutionism, science would have to allow discontinuities in nature, massive new inputs of information from outside of nature, interventions, miracles, etc. And that won’t happen as long as scientists stick to the ground rules they’ve used for a very long time now.

    What does NT stand for? (I know it can stand for New Testament, but on your list above, it follows TE, YEC, OEC, so it must be some position on origins, but I don’t recognize the initials.)

  17. GD says:

    Hi James,

    I use NT sometimes instead of Natural Theology. Your comments on the overall outlook that evolution is often used is a reasonable statement. However I, and I may add, other scientists who, over a cup of coffee, may mention evolution in passing, refer to this as a belief, and not a scientific theory. Each to their own; we rarely mention evolution in any otehr context, so my remarks should be taken in that context, and related more to theological issues.

    Nonetheless, scientific approaches are not so set; I can envisage an approach that commences with the present system, which is the planet. I cannot see why the bio- and geo-disciplines would not start with something that is measureable and observable, and build from this an entire model showing how life is interconnected and part of the large cycles in nature (C cycle, N cycle, oxygen, and so on0. Is it not odd to some that life should be carbon based? Just how does C and H come about to form organic compounds – the initial earth, as we understand it, does not automatically support the chemistry between carbon and hydrogen. There ar emanya reas like this; scientifically, with so many hard questions, it makes sense to start from anywhere except where Darwin started.

    I lost the last lengthy post so I am stopping here – I know there will be many typo errors as I am a two finger typist.

  18. Alan Fox says:

    Just how does C and H come about to form organic compounds

    That’s how things emerged when the universe was created. No other element has the same properties of carbon in forming carbon-carbon bonds to build up complex molecules. Clever creator! Did the creator constrain himself when he set those properties for this universe? Can he suspend his own laws or for the life of this universe is he limited to the laws and properties of matter and energy that he created?

    …scientifically, with so many hard questions, it makes sense to start from anywhere except where Darwin started.

    Science did not start or stop with Darwin. He made a very interesting observation that extinct and extant life could be fitted quite well into a nested hierarchy that suggested a common origin. Why should not the creator have set things out this way?

  19. GD says:

    Asking questions is fine – why should things be the way we observe them? My point is that we should question, and this includes questioning Darwin’s proposal. I have not pointed out the properties of carbon, nor the hypothesis regarding formation of elements, for discussions on an even broader view on ‘evolution’. Insyead I am pointing out another (of a number of areas) of which we know very very little, i.e. the endothermic chemistry involving an element H2, which is found in very small amounts in the free state, with carbon, to commence the formation of hydrocarbons. We can easily ask other questions, to point out not only that we may not understand matters, but also illustrate how our present scientific knowledge makes some hypothesis of presumed past events dubious.

    The distinction I am making is between recognising the need to doubt, to show our lack of understanding, instead of assuming that there may be little doubt with evolutionary thinking. You can easily ask me (or any other scientist) for a better explanation, and I (and probably otthers) would agree that we need one, but we may not provide you with such.

    It is an entirely different proposition to discuss ‘how clever God may be’. Those who believe in God (as I do) are not able to show ‘how clever He is’, not do we think in this way; instead we rely on the teachings of the Christian faith for an understanding of God’s attributes.

  20. Alan Fox says:

    You can easily ask me (or any other scientist) for a better explanation, and I (and probably otthers) would agree that we need one, but we may not provide you with such.


    In fact, I have often contacted particular scientists on odd occasions with the odd query and have found them, almost without exception, generous with their time and knowledge. What is your area of expertise?

    Insyead I am pointing out another (of a number of areas) of which we know very very little, i.e. the endothermic chemistry involving an element H2, which is found in very small amounts in the free state, with carbon, to commence the formation of hydrocarbons.

    There are theories. The abiogenic theory seems to have fallen from favour. Finding chlorophyll-like molecules in samples from oil supports an organic origin. Links in the postulated chain of events can be modeled. Do you not find organic origin persuasive?

    We can easily ask other questions, to point out not only that we may not understand matters, but also illustrate how our present scientific knowledge makes some hypothesis of presumed past events dubious.

    Like the abiogenic theory of the origin of oil, perhaps.

  21. GD says:

    I again lost this post, but got the following message “Your client has failed to compute the special javascript code required to comment on this blog.” Will try again.

  22. GD says:

    I am hesitant in discussing my expertise (or that of anyone else for that matter, in discussions such as these, as expertise in science may be used to add weight in other areas, and this is inappropriate) – in a general sense, for the past decade or two, I have used quantum mechanics to model catalytic chemistry involving coal (amongst other related research activities).

    It is interesting to note that the formation of coal has been discussed over many years. I am not aware of anyone having a firm and certain idea of how it formed, and various outlooks have come and gone (e.g. black coal was thought to result from high pressures and temperatures, but other factors are now thought to play an important role, low-rank coals may be derived mainly from degradation reactions, although buried in swamps and anaerobic conditions is an important component).

    My point however, has not been to critique current thinking, but instead to show that thinking related to geological time scales, in many areas, has undergone change. I add notions on the formation of hydrocarbons to illustrate a point related to our uncertainty, in the light of our ‘best’ thinking. A better example is the formation of optical isomsers; in this case, any and every condition we may imagine in nature would produce a mixture of optical isomers. It seems impossible to argue for optically pure amino acids (or any other relevant molecule) in any bio-evolutionary processes. Yet these things are blithely ignored as evolution is considered ‘certain’ by it proponents.

    Since the present discussion(s) are more on theological understanding, and particular outlooks that are faith related, I come back to my theme, in that amalgamating scientific outlooks that undergo considerable change, is not a good idea within the context of faith. Science has provided understanding that is (to our best abilities) certain, and it is here that theologians should look when discussing Faith and science. The central aspect is exercising reason in such an undertaking.

  23. GD says:

    I need to correct an statement I made regarding reactions between carbon and hydrogen. The chemsitry is exothermic (and not endothermic) – the rest of my comment is correct, as the chemistry requires conditions for hydrocabon formation that are unlikely, including competiton by C with other more reactive elements/compounds. Just to make sure the information is correct, these are the values for the reaction for Delta (H kJ/mol) at 800K 1000K 1200K

    C + 2H2 => CH4 -87.5 -89.9 -91.5

  24. James says:


    I have a disagreement with this:

    “Those who believe in God (as I do) are not able to show ‘how clever He is’, not do we think in this way; instead we rely on the teachings of the Christian faith for an understanding of God’s attributes.”

    One has to be careful in speaking of “Those who believe in God” as if they form a unified group with one, monolithic doctrine of God. Similarly, to say “we rely on,” without specifying which sub-group of believers in God “we” refers to, is to paint with too broad a brush. For example, not all believers in God are Christians, so if “we” rely on the Christian faith, then “we” are not the entire body of believers in God.

    Historically speaking, many believers in God, including many Christians — probably more Christians than others — have believed that we can know *some* things about God outside of special revelation. Such knowledge of God (and the activity that leads to it) is referred to as “natural theology.”

    If you reject natural theology, that is your right; but the use of the word “we” is misleading, because rejection of natural theology is not a required position for Christians; it is the choice of one party of Christians.

    Newton, in his General Scholium, appears to assert that we can know something of the mind of the creator through his works. Paley would appear to share this view.

    Of course, no proponent of natural theology has ever suggested that it included knowledge necessary for salvation. But that it could say something about “how clever God is” is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

  25. GD says:


    We all must choose and decide on what we believe – this we is a genral way of speaking. I agree that: (1) the creation points to the Creator, (2) the creation attests to the Glory of God, (3) the creation is our habitat provided by God for a good purpose, (4) understanding and knowing nature is a task given to us by God, (5) we are endowed with intelligence which requires free choice and moral agency, and this is also from God, and this includes our knowledge and belief concerning nature.

    I guess I can go on, and I think Boyle, Newton, Milton, etc., would all say similar things.

    BUT, our thoughts are NOT God’s thoughts, nor do we know the mind of God, and so on. By we, I mean ALL of humanity, whoever WE may consider ourselves to be, and whatever WE think of ourselves.

    So if Natural Theology (as the term indicates) claims to know the attributes and thoughts of God, than yes, I reject it completely.

    I hope this clearly shows my position.

  26. James says:

    Hello, GD.

    I don’t know of any natural theologian of any significance who argued that we could learn all, or even most, of the attributes of God from reason alone.

    I also don’t think that any natural theologian argued that we could know the thoughts of God literally, i.e., get inside God’s head, or duplicate his exact thought processes. But one could discern *the kind of things that God thought about* by looking at what God did. So, when we look at the exquisite adjustment of means to ends in living organisms, we can infer that some mind greater than ours did some thinking about those means and ends. We cannot duplicate the divine thinking in human language, of course; but the divine thinking is not entirely strange to us, either, for it contemplated the same things, albeit in a vastly superior way.

    If there were natural theologians who thought that we could work out God’s nature in great detail solely by reasoning from nature, or read God’s mind, I think those natural theologians were silly.

    But the pendulum against natural theology swung too far in men like Barth. Pure revelationism, while appropriate when the subject is Jesus Christ, is not appropriate for *everything* to do with God. This is a point Benedict made indirectly in his Regensburg speech. If God is sheer arbitrariness, if there is nothing of universal reason in his nature, then intra-religious dialogue is impossible; man is given a choice between arbitrary private or cultural revelations, and choosing one is a leap into an abyss. But if there are certain truths, available to man as man, which reason can know, then we have a guard against purported religious revelations that are fanatical: God may be above reason, but he is not against reason. God may be concerned with more than human conceptions of justice and love, but he is not unconcerned with justice and love. Natural theology, if properly limited, is an ally of true religion, not a replacement for it. But the Barthians and their ilk have nothing but scorn for it.

    I do not say that all Christians need to engage in natural theology; for most Christians, revealed theology is sufficient. Aquinas said so at the beginning of his Summa. But Aquinas also said in the same place that rational knowledge of God, for those who can benefit from it, is available. And that is my only contention here, that we should not sneer at rational theology.

    Many of the TEs, especially the fideists at BioLogos, have sneered at natural theology. It is no accident that many of the BioLogos TEs are the most philosophically inept theologians on the face of the planet, and that their religion is a shallow Jesus-pietism with very weak intellectual content. When one spurns the role of reason in theology, one is bound to end up with something shallow. It is interesting that two of the most rigorous theologians, Calvin and Aquinas, allowed for a limited natural theology; both of them are virtually ignored by BioLogos.

    As for the word “we,” I just wanted to make sure that your words did not mean: “We Christians oppose natural theology.” For it is not true that all Christians oppose natural theology.

    And it did sound also, from the way your last two clauses flowed into each other:

    “Those who believe in God … not do we think in this way; instead we rely on the teachings of the Christian faith …”

    as if you were equating “those who believe in God” with “Christians,” which is of course a false equation.

  27. Jon Garvey says:

    Gentlemen, we must not get bogged down in the definitions of words – it’s clear that “Christian” has a range of contextual meanings, and “natural theology” too.

    Before I looked at Aquinas a week or two ago, I thought “Paley” when I thought of TN – “Look at a worm and you’ll see the wisdom, love and other Scriptural attributes of God.”

    That’s clearly a different ball game from the scholastics’ “Rigorous philosophical reasoning will lead to some logically necessary conclusions about God’s essence.”

    Both have significant limitations – but I’d also say, in the right context both have some value. For the believer (see, I’ve failed to define that!) , Paley can be inspirational reading. As apologetics, it probably stinks.

  28. GD says:


    I gave 5 points which, if consdiered at length, probably conform to your spirited defence of your take on Natural Theology. I am thinking more of those (I think Davies is one example) where they use slogans such as ‘The Mind of God’ to discuss their understanding of physics, and perhaps Collins (I have not read his book so I add a perhaps) ‘langiuage of God’. I have constantly stated that Faith and Science are not in conflict, and that Reason shows this to be so. Jon is right on thus -we can get bogged down on definitions and words.

    However, I feel that I should add this; Barth in his discussions on God and freedom, has gone so far in the right direction that any criticism of him mearly emphasises that he too (like all of us) has human limitations.

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