Intelligent Design

A Conversation With a TE

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UD Editors:  This is an update from an article originally posted in 2014.  We are posting it again in honor of the publication of “Theistic Evolution.”

 

Preliminary Note:  I have put words in the TE’s mouth based on my understanding of what he would in fact say.  If I have gotten it wrong, I trust you will inform me.

IDist: World-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins says that living things overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design by an agent (whom he calls a master watchmaker).

Theistic Evolutionist: Yes he does.

IDist: Do you agree with that observation?

TE: Yes of course. It is undeniable.

IDist: Dawkins goes on to say that the impression of design by an agent is an illusion, because the apparent design of living things can be accounted for on the basis of blind natural forces.

TE: Yes, that’s what Dawkins says.

IDist: As a TE you essentially agree with Dawkins on this point.

TE: Correct. The appearance of design by an agent is an illusion. Darwinism is reductionist at its core. The properties of all living things (except the human spirit) can ultimately be explained by the operation of blind natural forces, which St. Thomas would have grouped in the category of “secondary causes” were he alive today.

IDist: It seems that as far as material bodies are concerned (i.e., setting aside the human spirit) there is no daylight between your position and the position of someone like P.Z. Meyers, a radical atheist materialist reductionist. Am I wrong?

TE: At one level of ontology you are correct. From a methodological/empirical perspective there is no daylight between my position and the position of P.Z. Meyers (again, setting aside the issue of the human spirit). At a different, higher, more important level of ontology, however, you are wrong. You see, a process that to us appears to by haphazard and random may actually at a deeper ontological level be the product of design. In Chance, By Design, Stephen Barr argued that “horizontal randomness” should be distinguished from “vertical randomness.” Horizontal randomness is what we perceive empirically. If I roll fair dice fifty times, each roll has a 1/6 chance of being 7. But at a deeper level, what Barr calls “vertical randomness,” God can fix the game so that the roll comes up 7 as many times in a row as are necessary to accomplish his purposes. Therefore, if the dice come up “7” 50 times in a row, the series of rolls nevertheless remains the product of a stochastic process. This is “horizontal randomness.” But God willed the result in an empirically undetectable way to come out as it did (“vertical randomness”). Barr explains this in his article as follows:

. . . whether or not things unfold in accordance with natural randomness and natural probabilities, it is God who in the vertical sense is causing them to happen that way. As St. Thomas put it, ‘The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow; but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore, whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; [whereas those things that divine providence conceives should happen from contingency], happen by contingency.’

By itself, the doctrine of divine providence only tells us that everything unfolds in accordance with God’s plan. It does not tell us what that plan is, either in its general features or in its particular details. It does not tell us the mix of law and chance, or of necessity and contingency, that God chose to use in his plan. Evolutionary history may have unfolded entirely in accordance with natural laws, natural randomness, and natural probabilities, as the great majority of biologists believe, or there may have been some extraordinary events along the way that contravened those laws and probabilities. In either case, evolution unfolded exactly as known and willed by God from all eternity.

IDist. OK. I think I understand. Like the dice coming up “7” 50 times in a row, God ordained in an empirically undetectible way that the evolutionary dice came up “life.” From our limited perception we can see the results of the process only from the perspective of “horizontal randomness,” and we say “it looks like the game is fixed,” because the results of the rolls appear to us to be astronomically improbable.  But the game is not fixed, because God can make even fair dice come up “7” 50 times in a row, and if that is what he wants even a seemingly (to us) random process is in reality infallibly designed because at a higher level – the level of “vertical randomness” — God willed it to happen.

TE: Correct.

IDist. Barr says God willed events to happen such that the biosphere as we now see it arose no matter how statistically improbably those events might be.

TE: Correct.

IDist. Another way of looking at it is that as the title of Barr’s article suggests (Chance, By Design), what appears to us to be random is actually, at a deeper level, designed.

TE: Correct.

IDist: That puts the TE in a peculiar position.

TE: How so?

IDist: Well, the TE says that the apparent design of living things is an illusion.

TE: Yes.

IDist. He also says that the illusion of design is explained by the working of random events and mechanical processes, i.e., reductionist Neo-Darwinian processes.

TE: Yes.

IDist: But then the TE goes a step further and says that the “random” processes at work in the Neo-Darwinian process are actually “random” only from our horizontal perspective. From God’s vertical perspective they are not random at all. They are infallibly willed, and another way of putting that is from a vertical perspective the events are designed to occur, no matter how improbable they appear to us.

TE: Correct.

IDist: So the TE says that the appearance of design is an illusion, and the reality that explains the illusion is random natural processes. But the reality that explains the illusion is itself an illusion, because from God’s perspective what appears to be the product of random processes is in fact designed.

TE: Yes, that is right.

IDist: So the reality behind the illusion is itself an illusion, and the ultimate reality behind that illusion is what you declared to be the initial illusion. If “design” is the ultimate reality would it not be more parsimonious to simply affirm it from the outset?

68 Replies to “A Conversation With a TE

  1. 1
    News says:

    Barry, then the TE would have to deal with the head ends of Darwin’s pack of rottweilers.

    He was proposing to deal only with the tail ends, and leave the head ends to us.

    I vote we forego the deal and make them stand at the heads end with us, or buzz off.

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    IDist: So the reality behind the illusion is itself an illusion that points to the original illusion being the reality. If “design” is the ultimate reality would it not be more parsimonious to simply affirm it from the outset?

    Brilliant.

    There’s something else — it’s common for TE’s to claim that ID distorts the idea of God (forget the fact that ID doesn’t reference God directly).

    But here we have God creating an illusion of design, then creating another illusion of randomness, in order to (conceal or show, whatever) the reality of design.

    But supposedly, this says nothing controversial or even damaging about the nature of God?

  3. 3
    rhampton7 says:

    This is where your “faithful” understanding of TEs goes off the rails.

    IDist: Well, the TE says that the apparent design of living things is an illusion.

    TE: Yes.

    Let me fix that for you:

    TE: No

    I’ve explained why this is so before. Apparently it made no impression on you. Neither the words of Barr or anyone else you may have read – and certainly not the Catholic Church itself.

    Can I assume you that really dislike it when people put words – inaccurately – into the mouths of IDists? Think about why that is so.

  4. 4
    rhampton7 says:

    I suggest having a conversation with a real TE. Perhaps you can try reaching out to John F. Haught

  5. 5
    Barry Arrington says:

    rhampton7

    I don’t suppose we will settle what it means to be a “real TE.” But I think that another passage from the Barr article linked above might shed some light on the issue:

    Theologians distinguish between “mediate” and “immediate” providence. The former is exercised through natural secondary causes and the latter directly. God does indeed “make the little green apples,” as the song says, but he does so by making an entire process of natural growth and development occur, whereas no natural causes were at work when he turned water into wine at Cana of Galilee. Therefore, saying that something arose through natural processes in no way denies particular providence. Indeed, traditional teaching tells us that God’s providence ordinarily works through natural causes. As the great scholastic theologian Francisco Suárez put it, “God does not intervene directly in the natural order where secondary causes suffice to produce the intended effect.”

    Now when I say that living things have an overwhelming appearance of design, I am saying that they give the appearance of “immediate providence,” and I say that because it is obvious to me that the staggeringly intricate and complex designs and the digital code we see in every living thing is beyond the ken of “mediate providence.” I am making a sort of Psalm 139 statement.

    It seems to me everyone at Biologos would agree with Dawkins that living things appear to be designed (immediate providence). How could they not? But the whole point of their project is to deny that immediacy in favor of a “mediate” explanation (natural secondary causes, probably Darwinian in nature). To do that they must indeed say that the appearance of immediate design is an illusion. The whole point of Darwinism is to explain the appearance of immediate design without an immediate designer. It is incoherent to subscribe to a Darwinian (or any other naturalistic) explanation if you believe in immediate design.

  6. 6
    Mung says:

    rhampton7:

    This is where your “faithful” understanding of TEs goes off the rails.

    I wrote almost the exact some thing in response to the same comment but then decided not to post it. so thanks. and i agree.

    Though I was going to go further and question his understanding of St. Thomas as well.

    But I probably already have enough things on my plate.

  7. 7
    StephenB says:

    According to the authors of biological textbooks, the “science” of evolution is described, in large part, as a chance process. It is important to understand that they are referring to real chance (ontological) not perceived chance (epistemological). That is why they can say that design is an “illusion.”

    The Christian Darwinist, then, is both incoherent and schizophrenic insofar as he says, on the one hand, that evolution merely seems random to us (horizontal) while, at the same time, embracing the (pseudo) “science” of neo-Darwinism, which holds that evolution is, in reality and in large part, a random process (vertical). Thus, Barr’s explanation is total nonsense.

  8. 8
    StephenB says:

    rhampton 7

    I suggest having a conversation with a real TE. Perhaps you can try reaching out to John F. Haught

    I have had several conversations with Christian Darwinists (some of whom are college professors), but they don’t last very long. As soon as I ask them one or two questions. they head for the tall grass.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    As the great scholastic theologian Francisco Suárez put it, “God does not intervene directly in the natural order where secondary causes suffice to produce the intended effect.”

    This would presumably be the same great scholastic theologian who wrote Metaphysical Disputations 20-22.

    On Creation, Conservation, & Concurrence

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    Mr. Arrington, I believe you may enjoy this testimony:

    Grand Central Question – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AWKprLnloE
    Dr. Kevin Clarkson interviews Abdu Murray (who has a law degree) about his book, Grand Central Question. They delve into Abdu’s journey of abandoning Islam for the truth found in Christ.

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    A_b, what word would your mother use for someone who issued a “complement” for a well-written OP but who then refused to engaged the actual issues raised in the OP?

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    A_b, glad to hear that I did not misjudge you.

    Perhaps Phinehas should have reserved judgement:

    HeKS, you are more charitable than I in giving the benefit of doubt. I saw A_B’s post as more of a barb directed at Barry, but you are right to have taken it at face value.

    Given that the OP “addressed the comments that [you] had made in a previous OP in a logical, fair and respectful way, and didn’t resort to lame attempts at ridicule…” don’t you think it deserved a response that consisted of more substance than “nice that you weren’t like Barry”?

    Does your own hypocrisy never rise up as a stench in your own nostrils?

  13. 13
    Acartia_bogart says:

    A_b is no longer with us.

  14. 14
    Mapou says:

    A_b is no longer with us.

    Good riddance. And don’t just ask him politely to leave. Kick him out as unceremoniously as possible. LOL.

  15. 15
    Jon Garvey says:

    Now when I say that living things have an overwhelming appearance of design, I am saying that they give the appearance of “immediate providence,”

    Barry, I think you’ve jumped too quickly to dismissing “mediate providence” as an agent of design, and Bill Dembski agrees, according to his new book (p58-9, once it becomes available over there). Even William Paley allows for his self-reproducing watch, however many generations removed from its origin, to be evidence of design. And (to prolong the mechanical metaphor) I doubt there is anything obvious to distinguish a car built by hand from a car built by robots built by hand – mediate manufacture, in that case.

    The devil is in the detail of “sufficient cause”, and whether what is actually seen in nature is a sufficient medium for such “mediate providence” to produce what we see.

    I agree that the big logjam for contemporary theistic evolution (not for that of a former generation like B B Warfield) is in trying to juxtapose an avowedly ateleogical process as “the means God uses to create” (quoting BioLogos official words) between the purposive will of God and the achievement of that purpose, and that is incoherent.

    John Haught, like many others, tries to mitigate that on a basically theodical scheme of God’s “granting creation freedom”. But in 4 years of discussion at BioLogos, it’s clear that that emotive metaphor cashes out only to “making creation subject to absolute contingency”, which of course is no more to do with freedom than playing Russian Roulette is.

    In fact, “freedom” merely becomes smoke in your eyes to cover up the fact that the ateology in the middle of your process is a block to “mediate providence” being able to connect God’s creative purpose with the end result.

    The problem is not accepting evolution per se, understood as common descent, change over time, or even the inclusion of specific “natural” mechanisms like natural selection, but the attempt to produce a teleological rabbit (aka “evolutionary creation”) from what is insisted upon as an ateological top hat. It’s an essentially metaphysical problem, to which Suarez indeed has some answers, as Mung points out.

  16. 16
    Neil Rickert says:

    There’s probably a range of views among TEs. The view you present does not seem very likely. The last time I saw a view expressed along those lines, it was by a Christian evolutionist who was insisting that he was an evolutionist, not a TE.

    I would imagine that at least some TEs see evolution itself as a designed process. And for such a TE, the ongoing evolution would be the unrolling of a grand divine plan.

    Note, also, that many evolutionists are not reductionists. I seem to recall that Ernst Mayr criticized reductionism, and he was no TE.

  17. 17
    Barry Arrington says:

    Jon @ 15:

    I think you’ve jumped too quickly to dismissing “mediate providence” as an agent of design

    Jon, I have not dismissed mediate providence as an agent of design. Indeed, I affirm it. The point I am trying to make is that TEs dismiss design (at least a logically coherent conception of design) from mediate providence.

    The devil is in the detail of “sufficient cause”, and whether what is actually seen in nature is a sufficient medium for such “mediate providence” to produce what we see.

    No argument here. It seems to me that the entire ID project is devoted to demonstrating secondary causes are insufficient to the task assigned them.

    The problem is not accepting evolution per se, understood as common descent, change over time, or even the inclusion of specific “natural” mechanisms like natural selection

    Again we agree.

    The problem is . . . the attempt to produce a teleological rabbit (aka “evolutionary creation”) from what is insisted upon as an ateological top hat

    That is indeed the problem.

    At the end, I am not sure where we disagree Jon. Perhaps you can expand on your thoughts on why you think we do.

  18. 18
    Barry Arrington says:

    Neil @ 16

    There’s probably a range of views among TEs.

    You are undoubtedly correct.

    The view you present does not seem very likely. The last time I saw a view expressed along those lines, it was by a Christian evolutionist who was insisting that he was an evolutionist, not a TE.

    That is an interesting comment, because it seems to me that the last time you saw a view expressed along these lines was when you read the OP. I was, after all, using Barr as my model. If you think I have misrepresented Barr’s view, I would be interested to know why.

    I would imagine that at least some TEs see evolution itself as a designed process.

    That may be so.

    And for such a TE, the ongoing evolution would be the unrolling of a grand divine plan.

    For some TEs that might be correct. But as Jon points out in 15, a large part of the motive behind the TE project is to get God off the hook, so to speak, for what they consider to be the more unseemly parts of the biosphere.

    Note, also, that many evolutionists are not reductionists. I seem to recall that Ernst Mayr criticized reductionism, and he was no TE

    .

    Agreed. At least as far as the human spirit is concerned, TEs are not reductionists. That said, a materialist non-reductionist seems like a contradiction in terms to me.

  19. 19
    StephenB says:

    Rhampton 7

    This is where your “faithful” understanding of TEs goes off the rails.

    “IDist: Well, the TE says that the apparent design of living things is an illusion.

    TE: Yes.”

    Rhampton 7

    Let me fix that for you:

    TE: No

    Let me fix it again for you.

    It’s yes and no. That’s the problem.

    Insofar as the Christian Darwinist accepts the non-teleological claims neo-Darwinian science, it’s “yes,”

    Insofar as they need to pay lip service to teleological tenets of Christianity, it’s “no.”

  20. 20
    Jon Garvey says:

    Barry

    Perhaps we do agree, then. But on the face of it “it is obvious to me that the staggeringly intricate and complex designs and the digital code we see in every living thing is beyond the ken of ‘mediate providence,'” and “I have not dismissed mediate providence as an agent of design. Indeed, I affirm it,” seem to be mutually contradictory statements.

    Probably the difference is semantic – I can accept that secondary causes might well be capable of producing what exists, but not the currently orthodox secondary causes, operating in the purely bottom-up mechanistic way that materialist science demands.

    There is mounting evidence for all kinds of interesting teleological mechanisms that might well explain much of evolution (though so far nothing whatsoever of abiogensis or consciousness), but you’re right in saying that these are not commonly a part of the TE picture, and won’t be whilst it shares the abhorrence of the true materialists for inherent teleology. The metaphysical basis is inadequate (though I have to say the same is true of many IDists and Creationists too).

    A strong doctrine of providence acting to guide events through natural law and “chance” would also help, and is held by TEs like David Wilcox who remember the historic Christian teachings on “concurrence”, and, probably, by many ordinary people who see evolution as under God’s control. But for the most part what Thomist Freddie Freddoso calls “mere conservationism” leaves only a weak idea of special providence.

    Lastly, of course, the distaste for direct divine action is prominent even amongst those, like Robert J Russell, who allow for it in, say, quantum events, whilst by their support for “free process” creation make it morally unacceptable and coercive.

    Although it’s hard to pin down exactly what it means, I think a good proportion of TEs of this kind genuinely believe that, for example, “God intended mankind” – but they seem happy to regard as “divine mystery” that an ateological process can be teleological at the same time, and so they end up with an incoherent position.

    The reticence of TEs in engaging with discussion on such issues is a longstanding irritation to me after some 4 years commenting at BioLogos. That said, there are small signs of change: BioLogos has “officially” begun to talk of the new insights in biology and to speak of moving beyond classical Neodarwinism. And of course Darrel Falk said some genuinely complimentary things about Steve Meyer – enough to prompt a rap across the knuckles from Dr Matzke for breaking the ranks of those for whom the only good ID’n is a dead ID’n.

    But it’s hard for me to be sure just what that all means either, because when I politely seek further clarification the writers of the articles suddenly have other important commitments. It’s a busy life being an evolutonary creationist, you know. And a test of patience and fortitude being a conscientious enquirer in the face of hints that one is a Chauvinist, a Calvinist, an Obscurantist and a Radicalised Troublemaker!

  21. 21
    Mung says:

    Stephen Barr:

    …our universe’s openness to biological evolution appears to be a consequence of the fact that its laws are indeed very special. A slightly different set of laws would, it seems, have led to a completely lifeless sterile universe.

    If this is so, then Darwinian evolution, far from disproving the necessity of a cosmic designer, may actually point to it.

    It would appear that Barr thinks the design is real, not illusory.

  22. 22
    Mung says:

    BioLogos:

    The view that all life on earth came about by the God-ordained process of evolution with common descent. Evolution is a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes in creation.

    It would appear that BioLogos would deny the purposelessness of biological evolution.

  23. 23
    Mung says:

    Perhaps for BioLogos it is “the appearance of purposelessness” that is illusory.

  24. 24
    Jon Garvey says:

    Mung @ 22 & 23

    There you have the difficulty, Mung. Your quotation in 22 sounds clear enough, but one never achieves an answer to follow-on questions like “Are God’s purposes the specific outcomes of evolution (ie particular species or classes or phyla), or simply that there should be an evolutionary process? Or is it something in between?”

    Most bizarre of all are the hints one gets that the death and suffering in evolution are the result of God’s generously freeing creation to “be itself” and its misuse of that freedom – so that even the evolutionary process is an evil that “providentially achieves his purpose” though it isn’t, in itself, his purpose. Confused enough yet?

    Another such FAQ (but not in my experience a frequently answered question) which would help to contextualise the quote is, “Over what processes does God’s guiding providence actually govern? Over natural law and chance as Aquinas held, or does he just sustain them in existence? I’ve seen ” creating and sustaining” and I’ve seen “governing by natural law”, but have asked in vain for clarification.

    In 23, the “perhaps” is the longstanding issue – it takes one sentence to say “what seems purposeless in biology isn’t really.” Oh good, then the whole controversy is at an end…

    But the best one gets is “Christians disagree over how much God guides nature” and at worst (quoting a question put rhetorically to to me by Darrel Falk) “Did God really create the order and function of viruses?” Obviously not – it was that other god down the road.

    Most commonly, though, one has the distinct impression that it is believed that somehow “God providentially achieves his purposes through purposelessness. It’s a mystery”. No it’s not, it’s a contradiction.

  25. 25
    Barry Arrington says:

    John @ 20:

    Perhaps we do agree, then. But on the face of it “it is obvious to me that the staggeringly intricate and complex designs and the digital code we see in every living thing is beyond the ken of ‘mediate providence,’” and “I have not dismissed mediate providence as an agent of design. Indeed, I affirm it,” seem to be mutually contradictory statements.

    Probably the difference is semantic – I can accept that secondary causes might well be capable of producing what exists, but not the currently orthodox secondary causes, operating in the purely bottom-up mechanistic way that materialist science demands.

    There is mounting evidence for all kinds of interesting teleological mechanisms that might well explain much of evolution . . .

    I think we are in basic agreement. “I have not dismissed mediate providence as an agent of design. Indeed, I affirm it.” I can see your point about how this appears to conflict with my earlier statement. Perhaps I should have said “I have not dismissed mediate providence as the cause of many of the features we see in living things. Indeed, I affirm it.”

  26. 26
    Barry Arrington says:

    Mung @ 22 and 23: What Jon said.

    Mung @ 21: “It would appear that Barr thinks the design is real, not illusory.”

    Barr affirms teleology in the universe. As a Christian how could he not? And it is no surprise that as a physicist he especially affirms it at the cosmological level. Yet he insists that at the biological level blind purposeless secondary forces are sufficient to explain everything about life, because “blind” is only “horizontally blind,” not “vertically blind.”

  27. 27
    Timaeus says:

    rhampton7:

    You apparently are recommending, as “a real TE,” Jack Haught. Is this the Jack Haught you mean?:

    (3) Then it got really, really interesting. Mr thompson asked Jack whether he is a Roman Catholic theologian, and Jack affirmed that he is. Did he have the official whatever-it-is-called-sort-of-license to be a Catholic theologian? No, Jack said, the local authority responsible for that is pretty understanding (my words to give my impression of what he said, I don’t have notes with his words) about this. Mr Thompson then produced a copy of the Catholic catechism, and asked Jack point blank about whether or not he believes in the virgin birth, the resurrection, and an historical Adam and Eve. What is your position on these points, he wanted to know.
    []
    Jack then did the Bultmann thing, relative to the virgin birth and the resurrection–no, he stated, if there were a videocamera in the room when Jesus appeared to the disciples, that camera would not have recorded anything, since it takes faith to see the resurrected Jesus (and presumably, the camera would have lacked faith). From private conversation with Jack a few years ago, I was pretty sure this is what he would say–Jack questioned my conviction that the bodily resurrection is vital to Christian belief–but I have never talked about this conversation publicly b/c I did not think it was appropriate to do so. Now however it is fair to mention it.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....01060.html

    rhampton7, would such views on Haught’s part, if confirmed, be compatible with being “a real TE” and with being an orthodox Roman Catholic theologian?

  28. 28
    Axel says:

    ‘..it takes faith to see the resurrected Jesus.’

    Who says, Mr Bultmann? (Rhetorical, as I expect he’s passed on). The resurrected Jesus was not a phantasm, a ghost. He ate and drank with his disciples. Thomas put his hand in his side.

    It seems quite different from the inability of a observer in the form of some type of camera to register what the human observer observes at the quantum level.

    All the evidence of Christian theology and cosmic fine-tuning, indeed, suggests that the collapse of a quantum-wave could not be effected by any non-human creature, either.

  29. 29
    Axel says:

    Did I tell the joke about Bultmann and St Peter on here recently, anyone?

  30. 30
    Axel says:

    Sorry, Timaeus. I should have read your post properly. I’m too fond of scanning posts, then picking out a point without finishing reading the post!

    Bultmann just doesn’t seem to have been the ’round shilling’ at all. In fact, he was like a shilling that had been crushed, totalled, like they do to old, used-cars, until he looked like an intriguing ingot.

    He is to theology, what I am brain surgery. I don’t know much theology, but I know what is not even up for discussion.

  31. 31
    Mung says:

    ‘..it takes faith to see the resurrected Jesus.’

    Who says, Mr Bultmann? (Rhetorical, as I expect he’s passed on). The resurrected Jesus was not a phantasm, a ghost. He ate and drank with his disciples.

    I was trying to visualize what would have appeared on the tape from the camcorder during that meal!

  32. 32
    Mung says:

    John F. Haught is a Roman Catholic theologian and Senior Research Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

  33. 33
    Axel says:

    Doesn’t stop them from being as mad as hatters, mung, in a field in which we have no right to play fast and loose. The Holy Spirit doesn’t defer to university-examination boards.

    JPII warned scholarly priests against looking upon the priesthood as an alternative secular career. The more books they publish the less optimistic I would be about their spiritual acuity.

    Really, gnosticism is the intellectual’s natural inclination. Christianity, as Paul so emphatically described it, is desperately downmarket, plain ‘meat and potatoes’: Christ, a carpenter by trade, crucified to save us from the hell our sins merit.

    Although the spiritual depths of scripture are never-ending.

  34. 34
    Axel says:

    Do you not think Jesus would likely have looked radiant with light on a camera, mung?

  35. 35
    Axel says:

    Malclm Muggeride told the cameraman to film in Mother Theresa’s kind of hospice in Calcutta, for his book, Something Beautiful for God. But he was told by the director or cameraman that it was too dark, and the film would be wasted. He insisted, and it came out with a beautiful kind of clarity. Of course, his atheist interlocutor put it down to a new kind of film, but Muggeridge said it was piffle.

    He also subsequently claimed to have lost the bit film in which a mysterious second individual had appeared beside the companion with whom he was making a film about the Holy Land.

  36. 36
    StephenB says:

    John F. Haught is a Roman Catholic theologian and Senior Research Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

    It’s one thing to be a Catholic in a trivial or sociological sense and quite another thing to be a believing Catholic that accepts Church teachings.

    “What do you make of the miracles in the Bible — most importantly, the Resurrection? Do you think that happened in the literal sense?”

    John Haught

    I don’t think theology is being responsible if it ever takes anything with completely literal understanding. What we have in the New Testament is a story that’s trying to awaken us to trust that our lives make sense, that in the end, everything works out for the best. In a pre-scientific age, this is done in a way in which unlettered and scientifically illiterate people can be challenged by this Resurrection. But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

  37. 37
    Timaeus says:

    Thanks, StephenB.

    It should be interesting to hear rhampton’s response.

    He has already indicated that Thomas Aquinas got things about Creation doctrine wrong. Perhaps his endorsement of Jack Haught implies that he thinks Aquinas got the Resurrection wrong, too.

    It wouldn’t be fair to say that all TEs are religious liberals, but there is enough of a correlation between TE and religious liberalism to make one ponder possible connections.

  38. 38
    StephenB says:

    Hi Timaeus,

    Interestingly, it was Mung @32 who insinuated that Haught is a fair representative of Catholic theology. I gather that he was echoing rhampton7’s sentiments. I encourage both to respond to my quote from Haught.

    **I would characterize anyone who denies or de-emphasizes original sin and the fall as a religious liberal. As you know, modern TEs (as opposed to traditional TEs) tend to have problems in that area.

  39. 39
    Timaeus says:

    StephenB:

    Well, if Haught teaches at a place named “Woodstock” he probably is a liberal. 🙂

  40. 40
    Mung says:

    StephenB, actually my intent was to make sure people were all talking about the same person. I don’t have a dog in the fight. 🙂

  41. 41
    Timaeus says:

    rhampton7:

    Are you going to respond to the question about Jack Haught?

    Or shall we assume that you have silently retracted your example with a red face?

    Or shall we assume that you endorse Jack Haught’s version of Roman Catholic theology?

    The latter would explain a lot about your motivations.

  42. 42
    rhampton7 says:

    Timaeus,

    I really don’t care if John F. Haught gets your seal of approval as an authentic Catholic. Do you believe he is an authentic TE? If you answer yes, then my suggestion remains valid with respect to “having a conversation with a real TE” and John F. Haught.

  43. 43
    Timaeus says:

    rhampton7:

    How can I answer the question whether anyone is an “authentic TE” when you won’t tell me what your definition of “TE” is, and give me some idea of how one discriminates between an “authentic” TE and a “fake” TE?

    What is a TE, according to you, rhampton7?

    I find it interesting that the “authentic TE” that you chose is one who, if several reports are correct, holds to views that not only the current Roman Church would repudiate, but the Church in the days of your beloved Aquinas as well. Are orthodox Catholic TEs so hard to find, that the only example you could come up with on short notice was an unorthodox one?

    Or do you just really like the theology of Jack Haught?

  44. 44
    rhampton7 says:

    Timaeus,

    I wouldn’t mind Barry Arrington choosing to converse with a TE other than John F. Haught. Any authentic (living, breathing) TE is much preferable to “conversing” with an imaginary person.

  45. 45
    Timaeus says:

    rhampton:

    If all you meant was that Barry should engage with a real TE rather than an imaginary one, you could have said just that, mentioning no examples. But your specification of Jack Haught, accompanied by a link, drew attention, naturally enough, to Jack Haught’s particular version of TE, and thus created the impression that many other so-called TEs (unnamed) weren’t “real” TEs. So if you weren’t trying to invoke the particular views of Haught, you weren’t being an effective writer.

    Anyhow, my question still stands: what is your definition of a TE? What beliefs, doctrines, teachings, affirmations, etc. are sufficient to constitute someone a TE?

    And by the way, what is your opinion of the theology of Jack Haught, especially regarding the resurrection of Jesus? Are his views consistent with the teaching of the Church of Rome?

  46. 46
    Silver Asiatic says:

    rhampton7

    I think you’re dodging some very interesting questions that would make a good discussion.

    But if the point is that a “real TE” is merely a living one, then I guess any will do and we wouldn’t need John Haught.
    Would you be a good candidate?

  47. 47
    rhampton7 says:

    Silver Asiatic,

    Remember, the point is: “I have put words in the TE’s mouth based on my understanding of what he would in fact say.”

    Barry should speak to someone who is an acknowledged “expert” on the topic, since he wants a public discussion of what TEs, collectively, truly believe. And feel free to offer a suggestion, if you have one, of a TE with the theological weight to hold up his/her side of the conversation.

  48. 48
    Timaeus says:

    rhampton:

    I see that, as usual, you are ducking my questions.

    Regarding Barry’s conversation, I would say: Of course it is better to have a conversation with a real person than with an imaginary person. But conversations can be set up for didactic purposes. The device is as old as the hills: Plato, Cicero, Galileo, etc. In such cases, it is not important whether a real person is being represented; the character in question represents a broad type or position.

    What Barry is doing is concocting a “generic TE” for the purpose of making a few points about common TE logic. And in fact, I’ve seen almost every step in his conversation taken, at one time or another, by some TE, and many of the responses I’ve seen scores of times in TE literature. Overall, his portrait is not unfair, given his purpose.

    Of course “real TEs” — a term which you cravenly refuse to define — don’t come here. They are invited, but they don’t come. (Except for Ted Davis, who has engaged constructively here more than once.) So it’s not surprising that the fictional dialogue device would be used.

    rhampton, I’m quite willing to debate with any “real TE” in the world that you can get to come here. It would especially be fun to talk — in your presence — with Haught about the Resurrection, and hear what you had to say in response to him. We already know that you approve of modern Catholic theologians who break with traditional Catholic thinking (e.g., Aquinas) on creation; maybe you approve of modern Catholic theologians who break with traditional Catholic thinking on the Resurrection as well.

  49. 49
    Timaeus says:

    I see that rhampton continues to chicken out.

    He won’t define the term he is tossing around, “TE.”

    He won’t discuss the theology of the man he recommended as a “real TE,” John Haught.

    He has been informed of the possible and even likely unorthodoxy of Haught regarding the Resurrection (and by extension other things), but doesn’t seem to care.

    But then, what else should we expect from rhampton? He fiercely defended Aquinas as compatible with Darwinian evolution for a long time, but eventually, when confronted by clear texts of Aquinas that were incompatible with Darwinian views on origins, suddenly changed his tune to (I paraphrase) “the Church has progressed since Aquinas.” I guess that Haught is part of that “progress.”

    Jerry Coyne has some wonderful comments on Haught. As always, I disagree with Jerry Coyne’s materialism and atheism, but find him refreshingly clear where liberal theologians (Catholic and Protestant) are obscure. But then, a liberal theologian teaching in a Catholic university has to be obscure, because Catholic truth by its nature is not going to be friendly to liberal thought. Liberal thought has to disguise itself to look mostly traditional, or the liberal professor of theology will be fired.

    And this is basically the problem of the modern academic world of theology almost everywhere: it’s jam-packed with liberals, taking salaries from institutions founded when Christians held to rigorous beliefs, so that they can teach the young that those beliefs are backwards and evil and should be replaced by feminism and secular humanism. One wonders how some of them can sleep at night.

    But then, if they have stopped believing that the God of their childhood tradition exists, and therefore that there is no personal judge they will one day have to answer to, but only a sort of formless “ground of being,” and if they have come to think that the goal of humanity is “religionless faith” (i.e., secular humanism with a sort of mystical veneer), I suppose they think the ends justify the means, and that they are right to take money donated to their colleges by pious, conservative old ladies and gentlemen and use it for the great humanist cause.

    Who are your modern theological models, rhampton? Hans Kung? Teilhard de Chardin? Jack Haught? Gregory Baum? Karen Armstrong? John Dominic Crossan? Do let us know.

  50. 50
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Barry should speak to someone who is an acknowledged “expert” on the topic, since he wants a public discussion of what TEs, collectively, truly believe. And feel free to offer a suggestion, if you have one, of a TE with the theological weight to hold up his/her side of the conversation.

    Ok, that’s reasonable. I was just wondering what your view was and/or if you’d contribute something on the TE side.

    You seem to have very strong views on this, but you haven’t shared them. I don’t mean that as an attack against you, but just an interest in learning your views on the discussion.
    Personally, I find the TE position to be almost impossible to defend – although most of my Catholic friends (and some Protestant friends) hold it. ID is a lot stronger, although it comes with its own risks. I think most TE’s already accept the core-concepts of ID but don’t want to acknowledge that.

  51. 51
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Timaeus #49 – great insights, and very informative. Thanks.

    It is kind of funny but I also sense that Jerry Coyne doesn’t like the liberal-compromises in religion but he expects (and maybe respects?) adherence to what the faith actually teaches. He knows quite well when religious teachings are caving in — and this means it’s really science that is the teacher of all truth, with religion as the disciple.

    But then, a liberal theologian teaching in a Catholic university has to be obscure, because Catholic truth by its nature is not going to be friendly to liberal thought. Liberal thought has to disguise itself to look mostly traditional, or the liberal professor of theology will be fired.

    So true.

  52. 52
    Timaeus says:

    Thanks, Silver Asiatic.

    The difficulty with so many (not all) TEs is that they prefer to keep their theological commitments as vague as possible. There is a sort of general affirmation that God is behind everything, but precisely because the affirmation is so general it is impossible to tell if it really means anything. So when they say God can be behind even ontologically random events (as rhampton seems to believe) one cannot tell whether they actually think God does anything beyond sustain the laws of nature, or whether their declaration that God is behind everything is merely a pious nod which then allows them to get on with a basically secular and godless interpretation of nature.

    One gets the impression that if rhampton were a scientist (which from his discussions, I would guess he is not), he would do science exactly the way Dawkins and Weinberg and Krauss do it, and that the only difference is that he would add “but as a Catholic I also believe that God is in there somehow, in some mysterious way we can’t fathom.” But that addition is a private and gratuitous add-on.

    The nod to Haught, the unwillingness to comment on Haught’s views on the resurrection, and the general avoidance of discussions of the meaning of Biblical texts, or even of those parts of Aquinas which are clearly inspired by Biblical texts rather than by the metaphysics of so-called “classic theism,” suggests that rhampton, like so many TEs, starts from the assumption that consensus science is true and then allows himself only the Christian theology that consensus science permits.

    But we can’t tell, in the end, what theological views rhampton has, because he doesn’t hold forth. In that he is like the majority of TE writers, Catholic or Protestant. A strong-sounding *general* statement of faith in Jesus or faith in the Bible or faith in Catholicism is offered, but it can rarely be pinned down to anything specific. How different this is from the faith of Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc., or even from the theistic evolutionists of Darwin’s day.

    This is one of the disadvantages of the internet. When one’s theological conversations had to be held in person, when one could not hide behind a screen name but had to appear live — usually in one’s own home community where one’s religious behavior, ethical behavior, etc. were well-known, or in an academic community where one’s books and articles on religious matters were on record and were in the minds of those listening — it was harder to be evasive. To look a man straight in the eye and answer his honest questions evasively is difficult; one’s body-language, tones of voice, etc. give one away if one is being insincere or deliberately equivocal. But on the internet all that can be concealed; where one is coming from can be strategically kept secret. This gives the least courageous religious people the advantage over the most courageous religious people in internet debate.

    And rhampton appears to like it that way. We won’t hear what he has to say about Haught, and we won’t get from him any definition of what a TE is, and we will never hear from him which TEs he agrees with and doesn’t agree with, and why. He does not seem to have the intestinal fortitude to put his theology and personal religion on the line to see if they can be defended. He is content to sneer at ID people for bad science and bad theology (having no visible intellectual accomplishment in either of those areas himself) while remaining immune from the detailed inspection to which he subjects the religious and scientific views of Dembski, Behe, etc.

  53. 53
    Mung says:

    Speaking of Catholic theologians, anyone else here a fan of Hans Kung?

  54. 54
    Mung says:

    Timaeus,

    Aquinas agreed with Augustine that we ought not appear as fools to the unbeliever.

    He obviously thought that Biblical interpretation ought to be informed rather than dogmatic.

    Do you agree?

  55. 55
    Timaeus says:

    Mung:

    Hi there!

    Obviously, if a Christian who opposes evolution, in the course of opposing it, says a lot of scientifically false or uninformed things, he will bring Christianity into disrepute; people will say that Christians are scientific ignoramuses and that Christianity makes one scientifically stupid. Thus, when scientifically educated people hear Ken Ham etc. talking about biology or geology, they think Christianity makes people stupid and they don’t want to be Christian.

    There is no need for Christians to bring themselves into disrepute in *that* way.

    On the other hand, the principle that one must not look like a fool in the eyes of the world, or of the clever or educated, cannot be an absolute principle for Christians. Christians have to be willing to seem foolish where something at the heart of the religion is at stake.

    So if someone says that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and there is nothing *essential* to Christian faith about a young age for the earth, then any bad science the person cooks up to hang on to a 6,000-year-old earth will not only embarrass Christianity, but embarrass it *unnecessarily*.

    On the other hand, if someone says that evolution is an unguided process and that we are the product of chance rather than any divine design, a Christian must stand up and oppose that, even if in the eyes of the world his scientific arguments seem ridiculous. (Of course, there are good and lousy scientific arguments to use against “chance evolution”; I’m assuming that the Christian in question will avoid the lousy ones and use the good ones.)

    So if, for example, it were a condition of employment in the biology Department at Harvard University that one accept an ancient earth, I would say that a Christian would be foolish to use bad arguments for a young earth and lose the job; the age of the earth is not central to the message of Christianity.

    On the other hand, if Harvard insisted on a statement of faith that evolution is an unguided process and that man was just a cosmic freak, then the Christian should oppose that even if it means losing the job, because God’s sovereignty and providence and design are central to Christian faith. And he should oppose it even if the Harvard faculty ridicule his arguments as “bad science.” Of course, he should do his best to make sure his arguments are good science. That is why ID is superior to the old Creation Science of the 1960s and 1970s. Creation Science often employed outright bad science (i.e., its proponents were ignorant of science in many cases), and sometimes it even employed dishonest science (suppressed contrary evidence, etc.). What Dembski, Behe, etc. have tried to do is employ only good science, and honest science, in opposing neo-Darwinism. I don’t think either Augustine or Aquinas would object to that. I think they would object to Ken Ham.

    Of course, one can argue that this or that scientific argument of Behe or Dembski is inadequate, and that’s fine. But that’s different from saying that these guys are ignoramuses with no training, or from saying that these guys are being deliberately dishonest in order to rescue the Bible — which was often the problem with Creation Science.

    But what has this got to do with rhampton7 and his lack of concern over Catholic TEs who apparently deny the Resurrection?

    And why do you call yourself “Mung”?

  56. 56
    Mung says:

    Hi T,

    Let’s get the easy matter out of the way first 🙂

    I was in the Navy for 7 years, a number of which were spent upon the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64), “Connie.”

    Underneath the spigot of our coffee dispenser was a bucket to catch the drippings from the spigot (among other substances). This bucket was called “the mung bucket.” At the time I had no idea why.

    If someone is really intent on finding out who I am in real life they can try to find out who owns the domain name mungbucket.com.

    It’s as harmless and as simple as that.

  57. 57
    Mung says:

    Timaeus:

    But what has this got to do with rhampton7 and his lack of concern over Catholic TEs who apparently deny the Resurrection?

    Not much. But he wasn’t producing any material to advance the conversation so I thought I’d take a shot at it. The thread poses too interesting a subject to just let it die because some dissenter cannot express their reason for dissent.

  58. 58
    rvb8 says:

    I’ve never really understood the bitterness that IDers and TEists have for each other. I view them as natural allies. TE after all believe a creator’s hand is not above tinkering, as do IDists.

    Perhaps it’s that old argument of tiny differences creating huge hatreds: Protestant/Catholic; Sunni/Shia; Communist/Socialist, etc.

    As an ateist I view this viscious argument as nothing but positive for the position of A/M.

    Surely ID and TE can find common ground? As opposition to pure AM you would have a stronger voice.

  59. 59
    Barry Arrington says:

    rvb8
    “I’ve never really understood . . .”

    That much is evident.

  60. 60
    rvb8 says:

    Barry,

    now that I have your attention, perhaps you can explain more clearly (besides your post), why there is such visceral antipathy for the one side that believes in the supernatural, TE, and the other side that believes in the supernatural, ID?

  61. 61
    EricMH says:

    Barr misinterprets Aquinas, as most modern Thomists:

    Contingent ~= random!

    This is the core insight of ID; saying the world is composed of necessary and contingent forces is not the same as saying the world is composed of necessary and random forces.

    A contingent process can appear to be either deterministic or random. Contingent only means that there are multiple live possibilities.

    This is how ID kept me from becoming an atheist, and I instead became a Catholic.

  62. 62
    hnorman5 says:

    Theistic evolution is a good faith-based position. But if you want to see the implications of a metaphysically neutral view of science has for TE, then intelligent design is essential.

  63. 63
    critical rationalist says:

    God: I’d really like some kind of complex life to appear. I bet if put the design of a simple replicator in the laws of physics to get things started, I could just sit back and wait for complex life to appear.

    Physical laws: [forms replicators from raw materials]

    God: Well, that’s a good start.

    Physical laws: [mutations occur due to copying, resulting in the possibility of five different new functions]

    God: Well, those five possible functions are not ones I would have picked, but out of those five, I’ll fill in the gaps that will result in the third.

    Physical laws: [mutations occur due to copying, resulting in the possibility of ten different new functions]

    God: Well, those ten possible functions are not ones I would have picked, but out of those ten, I’ll fill in the gaps that will results in the second.

    God: I like the general direction this is headed, even though none of the options I was presented with were ones I initially picked.

    [Repeat the process, with different numbers of possible new/modified features, species, muti-celluar life appearing, etc. ]

    God: out of all the complex life that ended up appearing, I think I’ll endow this one specific species with a soul.

    Couldn’t that be compatible with TE?

  64. 64
    critical rationalist says:

    To use analogy, If you play poker, you are dealt five cards. You can stay, or replace one, two or even all of the cards. In poker, when you replace a card, you don’t know what it will be replaced with. But in the case of TE, God would be able to choose exactly what genes (“cards”) to replace to get a feature (“hand”).

  65. 65
    Dionisio says:

    .

  66. 66
    critical rationalist says:

    What, not takers?

    Where is the problem with the above?

  67. 67
    es58 says:

    testing

  68. 68
    hnorman5 says:

    Correction to my comment at 62.

    When I made the reference to TE, I was using the term in the old sense. I was referring to people who believe in evolution but that God guided it. I think that’s a coherent faith-based position. On the other hand, the modern incarnation of TE, where God both guides and doesn’t guide evolution, is incoherent at every level.

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