The Crossway Theistic Evolution Book: A Response to Joshua Swamidass

Joshua Swamidass has recently reviewed the massive book, Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, and Philosophical Critique (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2017). I want to respond to his review, and hopefully will do so in the same peaceful tone that he employs.

As just stated, this is a response to Joshua’s review, not an independent review of my own, so I won’t be summarizing the chapters of the book. Those who want to properly assess the book will need read the book for themselves.

I.  First, a point of clarification about the responsibility for the book. Joshua starts out his discussion with:

“This book is a product of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, centered at the Discovery Institute.”

While both parts of this sentence contain correct information, the overall effect of the sentence might well be misleading to readers. Yes, the book is the product of ID thinkers (and some of their non-ID but respectful-of-ID intellectual conversation partners), and yes, the ID movement is centered at the Discovery Institute, but the book is not a product of the Discovery Institute and was not published by it. The book is published by Crossway, a Christian publisher in Illinois whose existence long predates that of the Discovery Institute.

Further, and more important, while the book is predominantly a pro-ID book, it does not represent the full spectrum of ID views and therefore cannot be taken as a full and perfect representation of ID thought. I will explain this.

ID is a “big tent” movement, comprising three groups: young earth creationists (YECs), old earth creationists (OECs), and evolutionists. An example of a YEC-ID proponent is Paul Nelson; and example of an OEC-ID proponent is Stephen Meyer; an example of an evolutionist ID proponent is Michael Behe. If one examines the list of essayists in the Crossway volume, one will find that there is not one essay by an explicitly evolutionist ID proponent. There is no essay by Behe, and no essay by Richard Sternberg (whose current view on evolution is not known, but whose last public statements seemed to endorse it), and no essay by Michael Denton. All the essays in the book, insofar as the position of the authors has been publicly stated (John West’s personal position on evolution has to the best of my knowledge not been publicly stated), are by people who have identified themselves, or can be identified, as OECs or YECs. A borderline case is that of Ann Gauger, who has not rejected evolution in the sense of common descent, but has expressed some doubts about it, and at least currently seems to lean to an OEC-ID position. Gauger is also, it seems, the only Roman Catholic writer among the group. So the authorship of the book overall is OEC, YEC, and Protestant, and hence represents only part of the ID movement, a movement which in full dress contains evolutionists (as mentioned above), and many Catholics (Gage, O’Leary, Richards, Behe, Sternberg, Gauger, Chapman), as well as some Jews (both agnostic and Orthodox).

My point then, is that this book, while giving good coverage of part of the ID movement, does not represent all of ID, and does not represent the official position of the Discovery Institute, which is non-committal on the question of evolution, i.e., descent with modification of all living forms from earlier forms. I don’t think that Joshua will object to my qualification, and so this isn’t a point of dispute between us (I hope!), but is offered merely as something that readers of Joshua’s review (and of the Crossway book) need to know.

II.  As Joshua points out, the target of the Theistic Evolution book is (he quotes from page 67 of the work) the view that “God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes.” Joshua then goes on to state: “A non-intervention understanding of evolution, however, is a minority position among Christians that affirm evolutionary science.” This claim requires some discussion.

When the Crossway writers speak of “theistic evolution” (which is also called “evolutionary creation”, especially at BioLogos), they have in mind the version of theistic evolution most commonly espoused by the well-published leaders of theistic evolution, especially those who publish in Protestant evangelical venues such as BioLogos and the ASA (American Scientific Affiliation). In this sense, the Crossway writers are using a broad brush, because not all theistic evolutionists belong to either BioLogos or the ASA, and indeed, many TE leaders operate outside of the American evangelical ethos of both organizations, and have different theological orientations from those of many evangelicals. For example, Robert Russell, Owen Gingerich, John Polkinghorne and many others are “theistic evolutionists”, and in at least some cases (e.g., Robert Russell), do not hold the view that God did not guide or intervene or act directly in the evolutionary process.

Further, if one consulted not the leaders of theistic evolution, but the average followers of TE found in the churches, I strongly suspect that the majority envisage God as “guiding” or “steering” the evolutionary process, to cause it to produce certain divinely desired outcomes. The “hands-off” picture of God, is, I submit, far more characteristic of the TE officers than of the TE troops.

So Joshua’s remark is partly justified. Yet his remark could easily leave the impression that non-intervention is not even the majority view among the leaders of TE/EC, and I would argue that this perception is incorrect. Joshua writes:

“The non-intervention definition applies to Ken Miller, Thomas Oord, and possibly to John Polkinghorne and Karl Giberson. However, it is not accurately applied to Francis Collins, or the vast majority of Christians in science, or the vast majority of Christians I met when I worked with BioLogos. Most allow for God’s action in origins, while doubting science’s ability to elucidate the details. The official response to this volume by BioLogos says the same.”

Joshua is right about the four people named. About Collins, however, there is room for doubt. While Collins, unlike most TE leaders, has suggested that probably for the origin of life some divine intervention was needed, there is no suggestion in his writings (that I have seen) that he thinks that evolution needed any intervention once life got going. If Joshua can provide passages where Collins says this or even implies it, I would be interested in reading them. And in any case, if we move from Collins to the other BioLogos biologists — Falk, Venema, Applegate — while all of them assent to the official BioLogos position that God could have intervened at points in the evolutionary process to move it along, they have also indicated (Venema and Falk sometimes quite explicitly) that they see no reason to conclude that God has in fact done so; they make it clear that in their view processes such as random mutation and natural selection are sufficient to explain the history of organic change, without the need for special divine interventions. So, while not de jure ruling out divine intervention, they de facto treat divine intervention as something that did not need to occur and in fact has not occurred.

And this has been the predominant position among the BioLogos and ASA evangelical scientists, i.e., that while God has the power and the right to intervene in or manipulate the evolutionary process, there is no strong evidence that he has done so. Further, many if not most of them have indicated a theological preference for a God who does not intervene; they have many times spoken of a God who “tinkers” with derision; they have many times suggested that a God who sometimes intervenes in the evolutionary process must be an incompetent God, who wasn’t wise enough to set up the process to carry on correctly by itself, like a bad clockmaker who has to keep coming back to set his clock back to the proper time. (Of course, Leibniz argued similarly against the Newtonians centuries earlier, and this is not the only way in which modern TE reflects the leanings of early modern rationalist philosophy.)

If Joshua were to make a list of the public statements of TE/EC scientists such as Deb Haarsma, Loren Haarsma, Dennis Venema, Darrel Falk, Terry Gray, Preston Garrison, George Murphy, Ard Louis, Kathryn Applegate, Denis Alexander (who works for a British analogue of BioLogos), and Denis Lamoureux, he would be hard-pressed to find even one of them who explicitly avows that God has “intervened in” or “guided” or “steered” the evolutionary process; he would find that whenever that suggestion has been posed to them, they have either rebuked it, or taken the typical line that God may have intervened, but there is no evidence that he has done so or needed to do so, since known evolutionary mechanisms are (in their view) more than adequate to explain evolutionary outcomes without resort to intervention.

Note that I have said “public statements”. I cannot speak of any private statements those scientists may have made to Joshua or others. I can only judge the TEs, and the world can only judge the TEs, by what they say in public, not what they whisper to each other in private conversations or e-mails. As far as I and the world can tell, most of the leaders of the TE movement, both in the USA and in Britain, do not conceive of God as “intervening in” or “guiding” evolution in the normal sense of those phrases, and when the suggestion is made tend to strongly or mildly rebuke it.

An exception among the TEs is Ted Davis. Recently, in a BioLogos discussion, he indicated his view that God subtly intervenes or interacts with the evolutionary process (i.e., the view of Robert Russell). Interestingly enough, the two senior BioLogos moderators, Jim Stump and Brad Kramer, in Ted’s presence expressed disagreement with this view — which further confirms my overall judgment about the general trend of thought at BioLogos. (In the case of Stump and Kramer, however, the disagreement seems to be less along the lines of Venema and Falk, i.e., less rooted in biology, and more for theological reasons: Stump and Kramer don’t appear to like the kind of God who would intervene in natural processes. In this respect, they appear to be shaped by early modern rationalistic thought, which deplored the idea of an active, hands-on God who sometimes bypassed secondary causes and acted on the world directly.)

To summarize this part of my response: Joshua is correct to say that not all TEs hold the position that the Crossway book is attacking, and in that respect it is fair to say that the Crossway book broad-brushes too much. I think that if a survey were taken of all TEs, not just the leaders but the rank and file folks in the churches, the majority view would be that God sometimes intervenes directly to guide or steer the evolutionary process. I further think that it is unfair to group all TEs, including people like Robert Russell, with the cluster of ASA/BioLogos people who seem to have declared themselves the official spokespersons for evolutionary creation. So again, the Crossway book is a little too sweeping. On the other hand, a movement is usually judged by its vocal leaders, not by the silent majority we don’t hear from, and the majority of vocal leaders of American TE/EC, in the ASA, and on BioLogos, and including also Ken Miller and Francis Collins, give the strong impression that they think God set the evolutionary process in motion and then left it alone. So the Crossway book is not, I believe, unfair in its assessment of the main drift of American theistic evolution, as commonly expressed by its leaders. If the leaders don’t believe what the Crossway book says they believe, they have had every opportunity, for years now, to set the record straight by indicating that they (or at least some of them) personally believe that God has intervened in the evolutionary process — but not one of them has clearly said that (until Ted Davis recently did) in a public context, whatever they might have said among themselves privately.

III.  Now, on the question of the detectability of design, Joshua objects to what he sees as an ID insistence that God’s action be detectable:

“The theological assumption that God’s action is “detectable” by human inquiry defines most of this section.”

I did not read the book in the same way that Joshua did. Aside from the fact that Meyer, on the very page Joshua cites (p. 47), grants that it is a logical possibility that God could completely hide himself so that his design cannot be inferred, I do not see the ID people as assuming that God’s action in nature is detectable; rather I see them as rejecting the assumption (made by the overwhelming number of TE leaders) that God’s action in nature is in principle not detectable. TE writing is rife with statements such as “God hides himself” (the emphasis of George Murphy), and with objections to any form of natural theology. And that would be fine, if the TE writers were content to indicate that they were giving only their personal view. But many have written as if it is intrinsically bad theology to suggest that God might make his action in nature inferrable, and the ID writers are rebuking that charge.

It’s important to understand the point the ID folks are making here. It is one thing to argue, against particular ID writers, that a particular arrangement of nature is not sufficient evidence to establish intelligent design. That is fair game. The ID folks have to be willing to meet such arguments. It is another thing entirely to rule out a priori, on theological grounds, that God’s creative action could ever be detectable. And that’s what many TE writers have been saying or suggesting. So it’s the TE writers, not the ID writers, who are making a theological assumption. They are assuming that the Christian God would never make his actions in creation such that human beings could infer his existence from them. But what gives the TEs the right to assume that? Where do they get this assumption? It’s certainly not from from any plain reading of the Bible, which many times affirms that God is knowable by features of nature accessible to all human beings, not just Jews or Christians. (In fact, Meyer indicates that particular passages of the Bible have informed his understanding on this point — see page 49.) And the assumption is certainly not part of the mainstream learned theological traditions, either. It’s an assumption springing from a particular form of Christian piety, and not a form that all Christians share. So it’s presumptuous.

Of course, to be fair to Joshua, I must not blame him for the situation I’m complaining about. He’s not responsible for the excessive, unbalanced TE hostility to natural theology and to the possibility that God’s designs might be inferred. I’m merely trying to justify the push-back that ID people give when TE folks try to dictate to them the dogma that God would not allow his designing activity to be detectable. To me, the correct theological position, based on Scripture and mainstream tradition, is that we cannot know the mind of God in advance of observing what he has done; we cannot know by a priori reasoning whether he would have, or wouldn’t have, made his designing of nature accessible to unaided human reason. Therefore, we cannot say in advance of investigation that the ID program of looking for possible design in nature is illegitimate. There is no Biblical or systematic theological principle which would warrant such an a priori judgment.

So the proper attitude is not (like that of so many ASA and BioLogos TEs) to invoke the trinity of Barth, Pascal and Newman to condemn all natural theology and condemn the ID project; the proper thing to do is study nature and see whether or not evidence of a designing mind appears to us. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, since we still have the assurance of revelation that design is real; but if it does, why would we spurn confirmation from human reason that there is a mind behind nature? There is nothing to be lost if the ID project fails, but much to be gained (at least from an apologetic point of view) if it succeeds. If it succeeds, the arguments of Dawkins, Coyne, etc. that have persuaded so many people that there is no God all fall to the ground. And sure, the God derivable from nature is not specifically the Christian God, but that makes no difference at all from the point of view of refuting the New Atheists. If any God exists, then atheism is false, and that’s not a finding that is worthless for Christian apologetics. All the Church Fathers (except maybe Tertullian) knew this. In fact, a good number of them regarded Greek philosophy, which sometimes reasoned to God from nature, as the propaedeutic to Christian faith, the vestibule through which many pagans passed en route to Christianity.

IV.  Joshua’s final paragraph contains this:

“Still, this book leaves me with a burning question. As a scientist in the church and a Christian in science, I see firsthand the strength of evolutionary science. What version of theistic evolution could be theologically sound?”

Writing as someone who does not agree with some of the theology advocated in the “theological” section of the Crossway book, my answer is that many versions of theistic evolution might be theologically sound. Michael Behe is, for all practical purposes, a theistic evolutionist (though not of the BioLogos type), since he affirms evolution and affirms God as Creator.  And though he doesn’t speak much about theology, preferring to concentrate on the evidence for design in nature, such scattered comments as he has made about Christian theology don’t seem to me to be out of step with mainstream Catholic and Protestant thought of the pre-Enlightenment period.

But for a more explicit treatment, there is the work of Jon Garvey, here on Hump of the Camel. I think Jon has shown that there is a better way to do theistic evolution than the way it is usually done at BioLogos or in the ASA or in the British analogues of BioLogos. Jon grounds his synthesis of evolutionary thinking and theology firmly in both the Bible and the learned Christian traditions (Patristic, Orthodox, Catholic, Reformed, etc.) — something that is hardly ever done consistently by those other groups. He doesn’t flirt with Open Theism, he doesn’t question God’s sovereignty over nature, he isn’t evasive about whether God had anything to do with evolution, he affirms a real Adam and Eve and a real historical Fall (which many American TE leaders have denied or subtly undermined), he doesn’t pick and choose which Biblical books are true and which contain “errors” (moral, scientific, historical, etc.), he doesn’t make declarations based on theological speculation about whether or not God would make his design detectable, and most of all, he reads extensively and in the primary sources in the pre-modern Christian tradition, which is something almost never done by the TE/EC leaders at BioLogos and in the ASA. He respects theological tradition, whereas most of the ASA and BioLogos leaders, in typical American do-it-yourself fashion, make up their own Christian theologies as they go along, based on their private interpretations of the Bible (often uninformed by Greek or Hebrew), on a smattering of theological reading in secondary and tertiary sources (mostly very recent), and on a set of moral and political sensibilities (often liberal and left-leaning) heavily informed by modern philosophy and modern social values. For the most part, BioLogos treats the writings of Luther, Calvin, Aquinas, Augustine, etc. as if they are not very important, and can lightly be set aside if they don’t agree with modern TEs’ personal readings of the Bible.

In my view (I don’t want to pretend to speak for Jon), the “Me and my Bible are all I need to become an expert on Christian theology” attitude is not going to produce a deep and persuasive synthesis of evolution with Christian truth. We have to get away from the American autodidactic, individualistic model of theology, and back to the older, European model of a learned theological tradition sustained over centuries of progressive reflection. When American Calvinists start becoming ashamed that they’ve read almost no Calvin, when American Lutherans start becoming ashamed that they’ve read little of Luther and nothing at all of Melanchthon, when American Episcopalians start becoming ashamed that they’ve never read a line of Cranmer or Hooker, when American Presbyterians feel the same way about their ignorance of the writings of Knox and American Methodists about their ignorance of the writings of Wesley, and when all of them are embarrassed that they’ve never read Augustine’s City of God or any of the Greek Fathers, then there might be some theological progress toward a healthy synthesis of Christianity and evolution.

But as it is now, most American TE leaders just pick and choose isolated sentences out of the Bible, Calvin, Newman, Barth, Augustine, etc. — whatever serves their apologetic purposes to justify endorsing the neo-Darwinism they’ve already accepted for professional reasons. The idea of studying theology for its own sake, and of mastering it, is alien to most of them. They’re mostly theological dilettantes, and that’s why their accounts of evolution and theology are so shallow and self-contradictory. Things won’t improve until the old guard of TE leaders — Collins, Falk, Giberson, Venema, Applegate, Ard Louis, Ken Miller, Haarsma, etc. give way to a new group of Christian scientists who have much more respect for, and much more firsthand knowledge of, centuries of Christian theological reflection, based on deep engagement with primary sources.

Up to this point, American TE has largely been led by bench scientists who just happen to be also Christian evangelicals; the next step will require TE leaders who have extensive qualifications in theology as well as in natural science. So far, the few American TEs who meet that stringent qualification — such as Robert Russell — have mostly operated outside the orbit of BioLogos and the ASA. But we can hope that a new generation of theologian-scientists, with serious academic training in both areas, will spring up, and it’s from that generation that a better harmonization of science and theology will come.


Avatar photo

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.
This entry was posted in Creation, Edward Robinson, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to The Crossway Theistic Evolution Book: A Response to Joshua Swamidass

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for this piece, Eddie, and for the puff!

    Just one minor quibble, which doesn’t harm your case at all. In a piece this January, I found several passages from Tertullian in support of natural theology. Perhaps the clearest is this one:

    Which God has the greater right to be angry? He, as I suppose, who from the beginning of all things has given to man, as primary witnesses for the knowledge of himself, nature in her [manifold] works, kindly providences, plagues, and indications [of his divinity], but who in spite of all this evidence has not been acknowledged. (Against Marcion V.XVI:)

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks for this good piece of news about Tertullian! I wasn’t sure what his views were on natural theology, but given his “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” routine, I thought maybe he would be against it, as smelling too much of merely human philosophy. So your information comes as welcome news. If even Tertullian had no objections to a modest natural theology, it’s likely that most of the other Church Fathers also had no problems with it. Anyhow, I haven’t yet read a Father who wrote against it. (Though if you know of any, I’d be glad to have my picture of Patristic thought modified; I don’t want to misrepresent the Fathers.)

      But supposing the Fathers were all onside, who was the first major Christian thinker to reject natural theology? It would be interesting, for example if a pattern emerged similar to the one you discovered regarding “fallen nature”. You discovered that despite popular accounts, the idea that all of nature had fallen was actually quite a late idea, more characteristic of recent than classical Christian theology; could it be the same with hostility toward natural theology, that it arose quite late in the tradition?

      Often the anti-ID folks cite Pascal as an opponent of natural theology; I don’t know for sure that he actually was, though clearly he wouldn’t have thought it very important knowledge to possess, as he craved not the God of the philosophers, but the God of Abraham etc. But the fact that he thought natural theology wasn’t very important knowledge wouldn’t in itself have meant that he thought it knowledge impossible to attain. His view might have been more that it was a waste of time to try to deduce God from nature when we have knowledge of God, and a fuller and more useful knowledge, directly from the Bible, with much less intellectual effort. Do you know, offhand, whether he denied the possibility of any natural knowledge of God?

      • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

        Pascal, Luther and Karl Barth seem to be the guys quoted most. I’m certain that Luther was less Lutheran on the matter than his modern interpreters, as the quotes in the same article I linked show.

        Pascal I’m not that sure about, though since I’ve read most of his “remains” I suppose it’s in my brain somewhere. But I’d be willing to bet he wasn’t on the same page as those who use his name. One for more research.

        I think you’re right about the near-unanimity of the Fathers, though. The standard route for apologetics to pagans was through natural theology to God, and to Christ from there. Nice quotes to that effect keep turning up in Nick Needham’s reader of the Fathers.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          Here’s an article by Douglas Groothuis, examining and critiquing at least a part of Pascal’s argument against natural theology.

          • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

            Thanks, Jon. The article does a good job on its limited task, i.e., to refute the “argument by omission”: the argument that since the Bible does not advocate or give examples of natural theology, the Bible must be opposed to natural theology.

            Groothuis’s refutation puts the onus on Pascal (and others) to show that other Biblical teachings (e.g., about the effect of the Fall on human knowledge, or about the nature of God) logically preclude any natural theology.

            One of his points seems to me to be quite pertinent, i.e., that in Biblical times the question was most often not whether any God exists, but which God exists; the Bible addressed a polytheistic environment. But we live in an era when, for many of the leading thinkers and even for a good portion of the masses, it is now a matter of doubt whether any God exists. The modern Christian (or other theist) is not now addressing the followers of Baal or of the Egyptian or Babylonian pantheons; the modern Christian is now addressing those influenced by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Provine, Atkins, Krauss, Hawking, Coyne, Sagan, etc. We are thus in a situation like that of the Greek and Roman thinkers who felt the need to respond to the ancient materialists such as Lucretius. So even if the Bible does not promote natural theology (which was usually not necessary in its cultural context), if it does not forbid natural theology, there is no reason why Christians may not resort to it, in a different cultural context where it is useful.

            • Jay313 says:

              The article was interesting, but Groothuis loses sight of the fact that Pensees was a series of notes for a planned book. Some of the notes rise to the level of detailed arguments, but some are aphorisms, and many more are simply observations that aren’t developed. Pascal’s “argument from omission” falls into the latter group. Groothuis turns it into a logical argument, but Pascal apparently didn’t think the thought was important enough to develop it further, or even refer to it again in later notes, as was his habit.

              You hit the nail on the head when you noted that Pascal craved the God of Abraham, not the god of the philosophers. Pascal did not despise natural theology; he simply thought it insufficient to bring men to saving faith in Christ. You also have to remember whom Pascal was arguing against — Descartes, Voltaire, Montaigne, skeptics, and Jesuits. Quite a rogue’s gallery! Here is Pascal’s view in his own words (note 282):

              We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The sceptics, who have only this for their object, labour to no purpose. We know that we do not dream, and however impossible it is for us to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our knowledge. For the knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as sure as any of those which we get from reasoning. And reason must trust these intuitions of the heart, and must base them on every argument. (We have intuitive knowledge of the tri-dimensional nature of space, and of the infinity of number, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other. Principles are intuited, propositions are inferred, all with certainty, though in different ways.) And it is as useless and absurd for reason to demand from the heart proofs of her first principles, before admitting them, as it would be for the heart to demand from reason an intuition of all demonstrated propositions before accepting them.

              This inability ought, then, to serve only to humble reason, which would judge all, but not to impugn our certainty, as if only reason were capable of instructing us. Would to God, on the contrary, that we had never need of it, and that we knew everything by instinct and intuition! But nature has refused us this boon. On the contrary, she has given us but very little knowledge of this kind; and all the rest can be acquired only by reasoning.

              Therefore, those to whom God has imparted religion by intuition are very fortunate, and justly convinced. But to those who do not have it, we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for God to give them spiritual insight, without which faith is only human, and useless for salvation.

              • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

                Thanks for this passage from Pascal, Jay. I don’t think I disagree with it, as far as it goes. But in these culture-war debates, a much less nuanced understanding of Pascal is employed by TE people against ID folks.

                I can’t think of a single ID proponent who would argue that “saving faith” could come from the study of natural theology. So it’s a bit mysterious to me why ID folks are so often charged with holding such a view.

                I understand, of course, why it’s convenient for a Darwinian biologist to pretend that it is for good Christian theological reasons rather than because of dogmatic Darwinian commitments that he opposes the idea of detectable design in nature; but I don’t understand how these people think they can make the charge — that ID people believe that design arguments can replace faith in Christ — stick. Are they really that illiterate concerning what ID people have written about the relationship between design arguments and the existence of God?

                Anyhow, it is good to hear from you, an admirer of Pascal, that Pascal didn’t actually reject natural theology, but merely thought is was useless for the specifically Christian parts of Christian faith. I would agree with that: natural theology has nothing to do with Biblical revelation or theological doctrines derived uniquely from the Bible. But that doesn’t make natural theology worthless for general theistic apologetics, or dangerous for Christians, which is what many TE commenters have said or implied.

                So if we scratch Pascal, and if even George Murphy concedes that statements can be found in Luther accepting some natural theology, that leaves only Newman and Barth among the “big guns” used to bash ID on the subject of natural theology.

                On the subject of natural theology, Newman is definitely an outlier within the two traditions he represented during his lifetime (Anglicanism and Catholicism), so his remarks must be taken as purely his individual theological opinion, not the predominant view of either Canterbury or Rome. And in any case, most of the TE leaders are firm Protestant evangelicals who have in general very little use for the theological opinions of high Roman prelates, so it looks like desperate quarrying when they latch onto Newman for an isolated theological opinion — they wouldn’t normally crack open a book by Newman for any other reason.

                So that leaves the Protestant Barth as the only person the TEs can appeal to in a principled way, and Barth represents an extreme fideism: man’s reason must be shown to be nothing in order that God’s revelation may be exalted. But that was never the position of the majority of the great theologians of the church; it’s a position which has only become popular in modern times, in certain Protestant circles.

                If any TE wants to be Barthian, he’s entitled to it; but trying to settle the rational and empirical question whether there is evidence in nature that points to design by a pre-emptive theological strike, based on the arbitrary dictum of Barth, who is certainly not the final authority on Christian theology (even for most Protestants), is to me way out of line.

                If the TEs want to argue that ID arguments for design in nature fail, on rational and empirical grounds, that is fine with me. But to me it’s a cheap debating tactic to try to bring ID into theological and religious disrepute by citing Pascal, Luther, Newman and Barth, as if they are the only theologians in the Christian tradition that matter — especially when at least Pascal and Luther don’t say what the TEs think they say!

              • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:


                Thanks for this insight, which confirms my own impression that Pascal was targeting more “the God of the philosophers”, particularly of his own time, than “the God of nature”.

                He’s difficult to check up on, though, at least as far as the Pensées is concerned, the arguments being so scattered. I have a “reconstructed” version of how Pascal might have assembled them into order, but it’s in French, and my attempt to cut and paste the English translation into the same order ran out of steam somewhere in the ’90s!

              • Jay313 says:

                The column is too skinny to reply under you guys, so I’m posting it back on the “wide side” of the street. You may have to hunt for it. Sorry.

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    You got a like from Joshua, by the way. Maybe he’ll add a comment here.

  3. swamidass says:

    Eddie, I have to say that this is among your best contributions I’ve read. Thank you. Would you like a detailed response from me? I’m happy to provide it. Two requests regardless:

    1. You talk about a new generation of TE leaders. Please consider acknowledging Peaceful Science a place this new generation is gathering.

    2. Please spread far and wide in your ID networks our invitation to dialogue on the Crossway book: (not forgetting to reading the full thread).

    Let the conversation continue. Peace.

    • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Joshua.

      No, I don’t need a detailed response, but you are welcome at any time to put in comments on specific points I’ve made, if you are moved to do so.

      Regarding your two numbered points:

      1. If Peaceful Science becomes a place where a more intellectually sophisticated treatment of Christian theology and natural science takes place, then more power to it! I won’t stand in the way. BioLogos is clearly tired now, and the leadership on these topics will have to pass to new groups of people.

      2. The ID people have already discovered your review of the Crossway book. I think that at least some of them saw your review as more polemical and negative than I did. But I think some of them will be impressed that you hosted Winston Ewert’s discussion, and that should bring some over to Peaceful Science to see what goes on there.

  4. swamidass says:

    Jon Garvey, DOI request on this one too.

  5. swamidass says:


    I’m requesting engage with them on that article. If I got something wrong, I’d like to know. As far as polemic, I’m not sure. Maybe I am merely a qualified scientist with a position that differs from them. I certainly had criticism for TE alongside them. I’d rather describe it as my honest response to the questions that arose in the volume; and also several genuine questions and a genuine invitation to them to dialogue.

    I’m glad our interaction with Ewert was received well. He did a great job. We are looking forward to the next exchange. We can talk about science, but the theology and philosophy is important too. Come reason with us.

    Peaceful Science is becoming a place for deeper dialogue. We are not coming with preset answers. We want to engage the grand questions.

  6. Jay313 says:

    Continuing with Pascal …

    Hi, Jon. I think the best “reconstructed” version is Thomas Morris’ book Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life.

    Eddie said: “Pascal didn’t actually reject natural theology, but merely thought is was useless for the specifically Christian parts of Christian faith.”
    That’s a good summary. The main thing that Pascal shares with Barth is their radical Christocentrism. To my mind, Pascal is at his best discussing the problem of the hiddenness of God and the ambiguity of nature. Another sample:

    The Christian religion, then, teaches men these two truths: that there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him. It is equally important to men to know both these points; and it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it…. We can then have an excellent knowledge of God without that of our own wretchedness, and of our own wretchedness without that of God. But we cannot know Jesus Christ without knowing at the same time both God and our own wretchedness.

    Therefore I shall not undertake here to prove by natural reasons either the existence of God, or the Trinity, or the immortality of the soul, or anything of that nature; not only because I should not feel myself sufficiently able to find in nature arguments to convince hardened atheists, but also because such knowledge without Jesus Christ is useless and barren. Though a man should be convinced that numerical proportions are immaterial truths, eternal and dependent on a first truth, in which they subsist, and which is called God, I should not think him far advanced towards his own salvation…. All who seek God without Jesus Christ, and who rest in nature, either find no light to satisfy them, or come to form for themselves a means of knowing God and serving Him without a mediator. Thereby they fall either into atheism or into deism, two things which the Christian religion abhors almost equally….

    If the world existed to instruct man of God, His divinity would shine through every part in it in an indisputable manner; but as it exists only by Jesus Christ, and for Jesus Christ, and to teach men both their corruption and their redemption, all displays the proofs of these two truths. All appearance indicates neither a total exclusion nor a manifest presence of divinity, but the presence of a God who hides Himself. Everything bears this character.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      I agree with all of that, except his last paragraph (though at one time I would have taken it for granted).

      The old theologians saw creation as the (limited, no disagreement there) revelation of the invisible God by his visible works, causing men to seek after him and maybe find him (Acts 17.27). God, therefore, is hidden not by intent, but because of what he is (as the old hymn says, “Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.”)

      In that formulation, Christ as the Son simply is the visible revelation of God himself – but also the Word by whom the visible creation was made, and the Image after whose image we ourselves are made. The story then becomes one of progressively great revelation of God in Christ, rather than of hiddenness. God reveals his invisible nature and deity in creation; then reveals himself to nature by the creation of man; then reveals himself to man through Christ, that itself in the progressive way of the biblical salvation history.

      There is, of course, another story to be told of the hiddenness of God because of sin, but in terms of creation that is secondary and, as Eddie points out, Pascal’s particular approach to hiddenness is not mainstream – though the first paragraph you quote from him is one of the two I cite most often from Pensées.

      Thanks for the heads up on Morris.

      • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:

        Jay and Jon:

        I agree with Jon’s comment above. Pascal’s statement is mostly acceptable to me, but the last paragraph differs from my own position, and the difference is along the lines Jon suggests (though Jon has developed those lines in much more detail than I have).

        I certainly agree that nature by itself doesn’t testify to Christ. If that were the case, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Hindu and Buddhist sages would have arrived at the idea of an incarnate God from their study of the cosmos. But I do think that the world, upon reflection, points beyond itself to an intelligence, and I’ve always assumed that this is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1. (Of course, Paul goes on to complain about the refusal of mankind to respond properly to its perception of the mind behind nature, but still, he acknowledges that God can be perceived there, even by a pagan if the pagan is intellectually honest.)

        If I’ve sounded hard on Pascal in the past, it’s mainly because of the polemical and out-of-context use of his statements to bash ID writers. It’s one thing to point out that natural knowledge of God can only take us so far, and that we need revelation; it’s another thing to try to settle a dispute over the existence of design by saying: “We musn’t look for signs of design in nature because that would be bad Christian theology. We can know in advance of studying Behe’s arguments and evidence that his design inference must be flawed, since God would never allow human reason to have such inferential power.”

        As I read the statements you’ve quoted from Pascal, Pascal is actually saying something different from what the ASA and BioLogos apologists are saying. He is saying that even if Behe’s design inferences could be shown to work, the furthest they could take us, from a religious point of view, is Deism, and Deism is religiously insufficient to produce human fulfillment. And I agree with that; but so would Behe! He says in debate with Barr that his goal is not to advance Christian faith or even to prove the existence of God, but to understand nature better; he believes that recognizing nature as designed is an improvement on our understanding of nature even from a scientific point of view. But he is under no illusion that the insight that nature is designed will grant human beings eternal salvation. Nor is any other ID proponent.

        All the ID folks I know — at least the Christian ones, who are the majority of ID proponents — are very big on revelation, and think it is absolutely necessary for salvation. In fact, on the whole, they are far less likely to drop hints that there are flaws in the Bible (scientific, historical, ethical, theological) than are many TE/EC folks, and they tend to belong to more conservative branches of Catholicism, Anglicanism, Calvinism, Methodism, etc. than TE/EC folks. So the intimation that ID Christians put too much trust in the ability of human reason to understand God, and not enough emphasis on the need for Biblical revelation, is absurd.

        To me, the answer to the question: “Does the universe look to you like the product of random bounces, or of an intelligence of some kind?” is almost a no-brainer, and ID really came into existence to document this, i.e., to oppose atheism (whether in the obvious form of the New Atheist writers, or in more subtle form in statements used in school science textbooks about “unguided” natural processes or about how scientists have “not yet” shown how the first life arose by chance). It didn’t set out to persuade the world that natural theology is all one needs for salvation. That’s not even a logical-but-unintended by-product of ID activity. To read ID in that way is to willfully misread it. So when Luther, Pascal, Barth, etc. are called in to support a such a willful misreading, I react, and in my reaction may have been a bit unfair to Pascal.

        But of course all of this goes back to the fact that most of the TE/EC leaders don’t read the great theologians carefully or for the sake of really getting a deep understanding of theology. They read only snippets of the theologians, quarrying them for polemical, culture-war purposes. Here on the Hump, we can have an intelligent discussion of what Pascal really meant, without reference to ID or current culture-war debates, but in TE-land, it seems that just about the only time Pascal, Luther or Barth are mentioned is when they are invoked as weapons. That’s a really, really poor way of conducting a serious inquiry into the relationship of science to theology!

        • Jay313 says:

          Eddie said, “(Pascal) is saying that even if Behe’s design inferences could be shown to work, the furthest they could take us, from a religious point of view, is Deism, and Deism is religiously insufficient to produce human fulfillment. And I agree with that; but so would Behe!”

          Then we all agree! Essentially, Pascal just says what almost all Christians believe: That reason alone is insufficient, but true faith requires “spiritual insight,” which is a gift of God’s grace. (My sheep hear my voice.)

          Eddie said, “Does the universe look to you like the product of random bounces, or of an intelligence of some kind?” is almost a no-brainer, and ID really came into existence to document this, i.e., to oppose atheism…”

          I agree. I have no problem with ID as a philosophical or scientific inquiry. And, if Discovery hadn’t involved itself in public school science curricula, I think most people would feel the same way. That particular strategy backfired and tarred everyone with a culture war brush, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

      • Jay313 says:

        I’ll have to reply to you two individually. Jon said, “The old theologians saw creation as the (limited, no disagreement there) revelation of the invisible God by his visible works, causing men to seek after him and maybe find him (Acts 17.27). God, therefore, is hidden not by intent, but because of what he is (as the old hymn says, “Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.”)”

        I don’t think your “therefore” is a valid syllogism. Everything God does is because of who he is, and everything he does is by intent, since it is impossible to conceive an unintentional act of God. In any case, the mere mention of the fact that men must actively seek God to find him speaks of his hiddenness. One doesn’t seek water in the ocean or sand in the desert.

        Jon said, “The story then becomes one of progressively great revelation of God in Christ, rather than of hiddenness. God reveals his invisible nature and deity in creation; then reveals himself to nature by the creation of man; then reveals himself to man through Christ, that itself in the progressive way of the biblical salvation history.”

        Even the language of “revelation” implies hiddenness. We already agree that God’s revelation of himself in the creation of the material and animal world is limited. Mankind, as the imago Dei, certainly was intended to represent God on Earth, so that reveals more of God’s character and attributes. I would add the revelation of himself in the Hebrew Bible to your list, and Jesus, of course, is the ultimate revelation of God, but even now our vision is limited, for we do not “see him as he is” — the glorified Christ seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. But, again, in order to be “revealed,” progressively or all at once, something first must be hidden from view.

        What I think is remarkable about the problem of God’s hiddenness is the fine balance of the evidence “for” and “against.” Sy Garte has remarked on this several times himself.

        • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


          Regarding the phrase “not by intent”, Jon will have to clarify what he meant, but for what it is worth, here is how I read Jon’s words:

          It is not as if God said to himself, “I am going to conceal not only myself, i.e., my own ultimate nature, from human beings, but am also going to cover all tracks of my existence, so that no one will be able to infer that there is any designing mind behind my creation. They will not be able to find the slightest difference between something intelligently designed, and something produced by a tornado in a junkyard, in my creation, and therefore for knowledge of me, they will have to turn to the Bible that I am going to inspire.”

          That, it seems to me, is how some “Barthian” or “Pascalian” or “Lutheran” Christians conceive of the matter: God deliberately makes it impossible for us to see anything of him in his Creation, without the aid of revelation.

          This conception seems to me to be too theoretical and programmatic; it seems to me the sort of idea that would be dreamed up by a clever and inventive priest or theologian, rather than by a simple Christian reading the statements about Creation in Genesis, Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, etc. It seems to me that God wanted to reveal, not conceal, himself in his Creation: his power, intelligence, generosity, and goodness shine on through it, despite any effects of the Fall. I think that’s what Jon is getting at.

          True, we can’t know everything about God from his Creation; we cannot penetrate to his mysterious ultimate nature. Nor can his Creation tell us of his historical plan for human beings, of Incarnation and salvation. But it is one thing to say: “God never intended for us to understand his inner nature or all his plans for us by reasoning from nature”, and quite another thing to say, “God deliberately makes sure we can’t possibly deduce anything at all about him, not even his bare existence, from what he has created.”

          I see Jon as offering a more positive view of Creation, as opposed to the more negative view which has often prevailed in some Protestant circles. God is hidden partly by necessity (his divine nature is ultimately beyond human comprehension), and partly by choice (he reveals his plan of salvation only progressively to Israel and the Church), but he is not completely hidden, nor does he intend to be completely hidden; rather, he intends that even a virtuous and honest pagan should have some knowledge of him, however sketchy (Romans 1, Psalm 19).

          So I think that Jon’s remark about God’s “intent”, in context, is perfectly reasonable.

          Regarding evidence of “for” and “against”, I think that there is only “balance of evidence” if one is trying to get a specifically Christian idea of God out of nature; nature is sometimes kind and sometimes cruel, etc. But if one is thinking only about a generic idea of God, i.e., as the mind behind the world, I think nature tips more in favor of “for” than “against”.

          I think Michael Denton and others have amassed plenty of evidence for the “for” side. It may not constitute a “proof”, but I think that it’s reasonable to go with the preponderance of evidence. (Of course, those who are existentially committed to the non-existence of God — the Coynes, the Dawkinses, the Myerses, etc. — will never grant such a preponderance of evidence. But because of their prior prejudice — their hatred of the very idea of God — I don’t grant that they weigh the evidence objectively.)

          • Jay313 says:

            I agree with everything you said down to this paragraph:

            Regarding evidence of “for” and “against”, I think that there is only “balance of evidence” if one is trying to get a specifically Christian idea of God out of nature; nature is sometimes kind and sometimes cruel, etc. But if one is thinking only about a generic idea of God, i.e., as the mind behind the world, I think nature tips more in favor of “for” than “against”.

            I should clarify what I meant by “balance.” Simply, no one has ever come up with an argument capable of convincing everyone. Whether the argument is for or against, an objection will be raised, an escape hatch will be found, and the debate will rage until the Lord’s return. Obviously, I think the preponderance of evidence is on our side, but if Augustine and Aquinas and Anselm weren’t able to convince the skeptics of their time, I don’t expect present-day apologists to do much better.

            As always, though, I don’t begrudge them the effort. The only thing I don’t like is a bad argument that makes the rest of us look bad, too.

            • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

              I should clarify what I meant by “balance.” Simply, no one has ever come up with an argument capable of convincing everyone.

              But that’s not the same as “sufficiency of evidence”, surely. The gospel of Jesus (the sole means of salvation) is either sufficiently evidenced to render men accountabel or not. But it doesn not convince everyone.

              The reason appears to be implict in Romans 1 (and Augustine) – that sin has blinded men’s eyes. 2 Cor 4:3 seems to speak to that.

              • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

                Addendum: Law courts proceed on the basis of what a “reasonable person” will believe. But the accused’s mother still shouts “My boy’s innocent” after he’s convicted.

                The problem is her impaired judgement.

              • Jay313 says:

                As I point out below, the blindness is in the heart, not the intellect.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          I don’t think your “therefore” is a valid syllogism. Everything God does is because of who he is, and everything he does is by intent, since it is impossible to conceive an unintentional act of God. In any case, the mere mention of the fact that men must actively seek God to find him speaks of his hiddenness. One doesn’t seek water in the ocean or sand in the desert.

          Agreed – though God’s “final causes” are complex: one can say both that God created man to be righteous, and that he created the world to bring glory to his Son through his sacrifice for sin – and they don’t contradict, because the conditions under consideration differ.

          The idea (maybe found in Pascal, but certainly in your final remark – and formerly in my own thinking) that the world is set up to be finely balanced on the matter of God’s existence is countered in other writers (and FWIW I have come to beliueve to be an artifact of our particular culture).

          So Augustine writes:

          “Why is it that we couldn’t see? Think about this, my beloved friends, and understand what I say! Dust and earth had blown into the human eye, so to speak; this had damaged the eye, so that it couldn’t see the light.”

          God then is hidden only because of sin, in his understanding – and I suspect that Pascal might be writing from that “present situation” viewpoint too, since his clear focus is on the salvation of Christ rather than the nature of creation.

          I wonder if one might prefer one view over the other depending on ones view of sin: I believe you have a view of sinful behaviour being intrinsic to man from evolution, and only becoming understood as sin through essentially cognitive gain of speech. In that context, a view like Augustine’s of original righteousness makes little sense.

          I, however, believe in a historical Adam and, in some sense, original righteousness (together, in my particular understanding, with a view of man before Adam with a simple natural theology adequate to their creatureliness). That obviously orientates me away from ideas of creation as a kind of neutral arena for decisionsregardin God… and particularly the existence of deity, which was barely an issue before modern times.

          • Jay313 says:

            On the question of “balance,” see my reply to Eddie above. I don’t think it’s an artifact of our particular culture, though. Pascal alone is proof of that.

            On God’s hiddenness and sin, I don’t think it depends on one’s view of sin as much as one’s view of the effects of the Fall. For instance, if one took Augustine seriously when he said that sin had so damaged the human eye that it could not see the light, then natural theology would be a hopeless enterprise, and Paul would seem to be wrong in Romans 1. More than that, it would make it impossible for God to judge anyone guilty of unbelief. How could God righteously condemn anyone for failing to believe evidence they were incapable of seeing? That doesn’t even pass our lowly human standards of justice. In order to be found guilty, a man must both see and not see, which is how Pascal described things. I don’t agree with that interpretation, nor with the hyper-Calvinists who take total depravity to the extreme by asserting that even an unbeliever’s ability to reason is affected by sin. (Cornelius van Til would be an example.) Ultimately, the effects of sin are seen in the human will, not the human intellect. People don’t believe because they don’t want to believe. They would rather look at anything than cast their eyes at the evidence for God. The question of belief in God is a moral problem, not an intellectual one.

            Your description of my view of sin is slightly off, but close enough for discussion purposes. Let’s set aside the fact that God, as spirit, is invisible to the naked eye. That aspect of his hiddenness is a “permanent feature” of his nature, so to speak. Nevertheless, we both agree that a historical Fall took place, however we conceive of “the man” in Genesis 2-3, so we can rationally discuss conditions pre- and post-Fall.

            The expulsion of “the man” and his wife from the Garden, coupled with the angel barring the entrance, is one of the effects of the Fall. I take this as the origin of the problem of God’s hiddenness, just as you do. Whatever humanity’s relationship with God was prior to the Fall, sin permanently altered it. So, regardless of one’s view of “the man” as literal Adam or figurative mankind, God’s present hiddenness ultimately comes down to human sinfulness.

            On pre-Fall conditions, I do have a view of original righteousness, but we can continue that discussion with Eddie via email, if you want to pursue it. I’ll have some pretty hard questions for you, too. 😉

            • Jay313 says:

              Quick correction: “I don’t agree with that interpretation, nor with the hyper-Calvinists…” should be “I don’t agree with that interpretation of Augustine, nor with the …”


            • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


              I’d agree with Pascal that no one has come with a “proof” for God that satisfies everyone. But I agree with Jon that this is setting the bar too high. Let’s say natural theology can only get as far as, “To a rational person without a personal constitutional hatred of the very idea of God, there is sufficient evidence for the existence of God (a) to make Dawkins-Coyne dogmatic atheism unreasonable, and (b) and to make the position of scientifically trained people like Denton and Polkinghorne reasonable,” then natural theology is already adequate to serve as a vestibule for Christian faith. It doesn’t need to prove that God exists; it only needs to show that the angry rejections of God by materialists are inconclusive and that there is plenty of positive evidence for a divine mind behind the world. It only needs to demolish the “science had shown there is no God” trope which has dominated much of modern popular culture, and replace it with the idea that the universe at many points looks like something that was designed. That’s sufficient to remove the cultural blockage that prevents many people from even investigating the possible truth of revealed religion, e.g., Christianity.

              Once the “You’re stupid and unscientific if you even consider that Christianity might be true” line of argument has been removed, Christianity can then be assessed on its own merits. Natural theology is thus apologetically useful, at least for some people. If the BioLogos folks haven’t found it useful in their personal spiritual journeys, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t condemn it when it could be helpful to others.

              • Jay313 says:

                No, I wasn’t clear. I’m not saying that the evidence is insufficient to render them guilty. I am saying the balance is maintained because no intellectual proof will ever overcome the unbeliever’s desire to find an objection in theistic arguments, just as no intellectual proof of God’s non-existence will overcome my desire to find an objection to that argument.

                I already agreed with you a long time ago that natural theology is not ruled out by Scripture (Groothuis was correct about that), and it actually does serve as a “vestibule” to faith for some. I just don’t expect it to do much more than that. As I said, unbelief is primarily a moral problem, not an intellectual one.

  7. Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


    There is no Reply button under your last, so I’m starting at the left of the page again.

    I agree with you about the moral problem, and I would put it this way: The will is involved in these arguments as much as, or more than, the reason. There is among some people a will that God should exist, and among others a will that God should not exist. The Greek philosophical detachment which is recommended by Socrates is rarely found in human beings, even in human beings trained in philosophy, and theoretical judgments are usually tinged with personal preferences regarding the kind of God and kind of world that ought to exist.

    But of course, Coyne etc. would say that I read the evidence for design through a biased filter because of my sympathies for Christianity. And probably that is partly true. But it’s clear from their venomous attacks on religion as such, attacks which even some of their own kind (e.g., Ruse) find uninformed and unfair, that they have an even more biased filter. At least I will grant that the existence of certain kinds of suffering seem to count against [not necessarily disprove, but count against] certain conceptions of God, or that in principle some of what seems designed could have arisen by natural selection without design (e.g., white fur on a polar bear or antibiotic resistance in a bacterium), but they won’t grant any point at all to those who endorse fine-tuning or design arguments. They won’t concede, for example, that 20% of the arguments for design or fine-tuning are pretty good, even if the other 80% aren’t very good. For them, all the arguments are bad, and of no force whatever. Their rigid one-sidedness, their unwillingness to grant any rationality at all to the case for God, shows that their bias is much greater than mine, and therefore, while I don’t claim to be entirely disinterested, I’m sure I’m closer to the Socratic spirit than they are.

    I’m old-fashioned enough to attribute their systematic bias to “sin” — meaning not specific sins such as lechery or avarice, etc., but something more general — a willful turning away from God, shutting one’s ears to God. Their sin lies not in being skeptical about particular arguments for design or for God, but in their determination, in advance of the discussion, to cut off any and all routes which might lead to the conclusion of design or God. That’s a product of the will, not of the detached, serene, philosophical spirit which would listen to arguments on both sides without passion. Coyne etc. have a wish that God should not exist, and that corrupts their argumentation.

    I add that, as I’m a lover of Athens as well as Jerusalem, Coyne etc. sin not only against God, but against the spirit of philosophy itself. The philosopher, unless he has arrived at a demonstration, maintains an open mind to all logically possible conclusions; but that’s precisely what the aggressive atheists don’t do. They are thus as faithless to philosophy as they are to the Biblical God of their Protestant, Catholic and Jewish ancestors.

    • Jay313 says:

      I agree with pretty much everything you say here, especially this: “The will is involved in these arguments as much as, or more than, the reason…. The Greek philosophical detachment which is recommended by Socrates is rarely found in human beings …”

      I was “out of pocket” yesterday, but during the break I thought of a simpler way to express the balance of evidence. For the atheist, there is enough evidence to convict, but not enough to convince. For the Christian, there is enough evidence to inspire faith, but not enough to dispel all doubt.

      I definitely agree that the stubborn bias against anything and everything related to God can be rightly attributed to “sin.” As you note, “That’s a product of the will, not of the detached, serene, philosophical spirit which would listen to arguments on both sides without passion.” In the same spirit, Pascal observed, “There is a universal and essential difference between the actions of the will and all other actions. The will is one of the chief factors in belief, not that it creates belief, but because things are true or false according to the aspect in which we look at them. The will, which prefers one aspect to another, turns away the mind from considering the qualities of all that it does not like to see; and thus the mind, moving in accord with the will, stops to consider the aspect which it likes, and so judges by what it sees.” (Pascal anticipates modernism here, by the way.)

      Finally, I like how Pascal summed up the question of God’s hiddenness:

      “Instead of complaining that God had hidden Himself, you will give Him thanks for having revealed so much of Himself; and you will also give Him thanks for not having revealed Himself to haughty sages, unworthy to know so holy a God. Two kinds of persons know Him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever kind of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it.”

      • Avatar photo Edward Robinson says:


        I like these passages from Pascal, especially the first one. It seems that Pascal’s thought is more carefully shaded than I had been led to believe by some of his boosters in the TE/EC community.

        I certainly agree with those who say that mere logical argument won’t bring someone to religious faith. Religion is an affair not only of the head but of the heart. I do think, however, that there is enough evidence from nature to raise questions about the motivations of those who stubbornly reject all design arguments. When even Hoyle (who surely has no axe to grind in favor of revealed religion) admits that it sure looks as if someone was monkeying with the fundamental laws and constants of nature, the dogmatic rejection of design arguments by so many secular scientists has to be the result of prejudice, i.e., has to be a product of the will and passions. Reason would at the very least suspend judgment and admit that the question was open.

        I think we are in virtually total agreement here. Thanks for your comments and passages, which have been helpful.

Leave a Reply