Intelligent wisdom

I’ve suggested before that inferring design (broadly conceived) in nature might not be scientific, but is nevertheless a basic human faculty that is already used within science, methodological naturalism notwithstanding. Steve Fuller believes that this faculty reflects our creation in the image of God, which is a reasonable hypothesis.
Be that as it may, from a Christian point of view our detection of the hand of God in nature is what one might perhaps call a “natural requirement” of God. Romans 1.20 shows that God expects it of us, and our refusal to perceive his “eternal power and divine nature” is a result of sin. Psalm 19 describes God’s glory, portrayed in the heavens, as speech and knowledge. This is the biblical version of natural theology, and would seem also to inform us of some of its limitations. We can perceive God’s rationality and power when we regard nature, as we can in the more sophisticated understanding of cosmic fine tuning or philosophical deduction, but without special revelation we cannot know him personally, or find salvation from sin.

But I’d like here to take theology-of-nature a little beyond natural-theology, to look at what attitude Christians, who already acknowledge God as Creator, ought to have. I suggest that believers need to perceive God’s wisdom in creation. Many of the scriptural creation texts emphasise the wisdom of God in the works he has made, implying that these should be obvious from the works themselves. For variety’s sake I’ll major on a less-often quoted passage in Jeremiah 10:

“Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”

But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.

I won’t dwell on the hands-on management attributed to God here – that is universal in the Bible. I will, though, just cite Luke 12 as a dominical control. After the passage about each and every sparrow being remembered by God, Jesus adds, as examples of God’s care, the feeding of the ravens and the clothing of the lilies beyond the glory of Solomon. He does not suggest whether the lilies are so clothed purely for aesthetic, or for more functional, reasons. But the direct wisdom and care of God is absolutely implied.

As an aside, that chapter in Jeremiah goes on to say:

I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own;
it is not for man to direct his steps.

And so we see that Calvin’s “repressive doctrine” has even corrupted the major prophet Jeremiah!

Back in our passage, though, we see clearly that God’s wisdom is to be seen in the day-to-day operations of his world. It is this that enables us to know that the “worthless wooden idols” of earlier verses didn’t have any hand in creation, or it too would be “senseless and foolish”. How then do we recognise such wisdom? I would suggest that, like the world’s rationality, we recognise it by the image of himself that God has placed upon us. Just as God’s reason is analogous, though far superior, to ours, so we are able to apprehend his wisdom, if not fully fathom it.

Wisdom in Scripture is the ability to set a goal and find the best means to achieve it. So appointing a blind man to guard a prisoner, however laudable that might be for disability rights, would not be wise. Some time ago, ID blogger  Bilbo posited as compatible with theism the idea that God could have created an infinite multiverse and simply chosen the universe in which mankind appeared in his present form. And possible it certainly is, though it would seem highly unlikely to be the most efficient, aka “wise”, way to get the job done. Though some of the worst theological arguments come from what God “wouldn’t” have done, the difference here is that such arguments are usually out of people’s own heads, whereas God’s wisdom is the teaching of God’s own word.

Similarly, there are currently two main flavours of evolutionary theory on the table, as was briefly discussed in the comments on my last post. Traditional Neodarwinism depends largely on chance mutations, the evidence for which is said to be not merely the lack of predictable causes, but the presence of errors, blind alleys, parasitic genes, neutral mutations and so on. On this view, the genome is full of genuine junk.

The alternative, which since the ENCODE results came out begins to look like a paradigm shift, is that evolution is an incredibly ordered and sophisticated set of mechanisms for change. The more organised cell processes are found to be by Shapiro and his ilk, the more awe-inspiring and wise life appears to be. The trade-off is that it no longer appears so plausible that an intuitively simple process like random variation and natural selection could be responsible for the whole show. Rather, advanced function is seen everywhere, the “errors” and “junk” retreat into an ever-diminishing “Bodge of the Gaps” and a full set of explanations appears further from our reach than ever. That’s not to say that internally consistent natural explanations might not some day be found, in emergence theories or some other new science. Maybe. But it is to recognise that the system as a whole betrays the wisdom of God in a spectacular way. The living world works because it is fearfully and wonderfully made. Just like Jeremiah said.

In the alternative system, a Heath-Robinson world survives by the skin of its teeth, revealing by its inner workings its dependence on luck for its clunky existence. The only real ways of accommodating God’s influence are to replace his wisdom with a concern for creaturely freedom (ie he likes gambling) or to explain what we see in terms of mitigating circumstances (“The suffering of Christ makes up for the cack-handed way the world was made”).

Now given these two alternatives, which ought to be most attractive to the Christian who takes the Bible seriously? You’d expect people to fall over themselves to embrace the new findings in biology, as being truer to the revelation God has made, and to our own intuition that the world is a work of supreme wisdom, not of jerry-building.

The fact that there are many Christians militantly defending RM&MS from the assaults of the new biology seems to my untutored eye to suggest some other agenda is at work than reverent appreciation of God’s handiwork. I’m not sure what it might be, though.

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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