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Theology at BioLogos: The Curious Case of the Wesleyan Maneuver – Part 3

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In Part 2A and Part 2B, we analyzed in great depth the discussion between Crude and Dennis Venema. We discovered that Venema consistently evaded Crude’s questions, and that, even when he finally answered them, his answers were unclear and unsatisfactory. And we discovered the source of the lack of clarity – Venema’s self-contradictory commitment both to God’s absolute sovereignty and to the “freedom” of nature which he thinks is implied by his “non-Calvinist” position. And we discovered that, rather than being much distressed by the incoherence of his position, he excused it on the grounds that “mystery” is allowable in his theology.

Such a position renders the entire BioLogos venture pointless, since its goal is to convince the public, especially Christian evangelicals, that the “free” nature of neo-Darwinian evolution is not incompatible with the “determined” ends of a sovereign, providential God. How can it do this, if in the final analysis, all it can say is, “I tend to be OK with a bit of mystery”? The word “bathetic” is not one I use often, but it pretty well describes the theological position of the lead scientific writer on BioLogos.

But the story does not end here. In the same column, Dr. Darrel Falk, the head of BioLogos – who joined in the fray during the two days when Venema was unaccountably silent – at one point answers Crude in the following words (67623):

“Regarding your question about whether God knew of and intended for the existence of each individual species in advance I’ll leave that question for you to think about. I am a Wesleyan. We Wesleyans think about matters like that a little differently than Calvinists…”

“I’ll leave that question for you to think about”? This is a dialogically dishonest way of saying, “I’m not going to answer that question”; or, putting the very best construction on it, “I’m not going to directly answer that question, but I’ll give you the following hint, and maybe you will figure out what I mean and maybe you won’t, and if you don’t, frankly, I don’t really care.”

Falk apparently is under the impression that he has no obligation to directly answer Crude’s question, even though Crude’s question goes to the very heart of what BioLogos is about. Given the pretentiousness of BioLogos’s claim – to be bringing together science and religion in harmony – Falk cannot be reticent about saying what he believes about God’s action in evolution. If God did not intend all the individual results of evolution, momentous consequences follow for Christian theology; and if God did intend every last detail of evolution, momentous consequence follow for neo-Darwinian evolutionary processes (which by their very mode of operation cannot guarantee such details). For Falk to remain silent, or even to answer with hints rather than clear statements, is for BioLogos to duck the theology/science harmonization which is its very raison d’etre.

The most important thing here, however, is Falk’s reference to Calvinists and Wesleyans. The Wesleyans (represented in large numbers in America as Methodists) are historically influenced by Arminianism, as was their founder, John Wesley (1703-1791). Falk is thus hearkening to the same Calvinist/Arminian distinction that was implicitly made by Venema. Falk is implying a major theological thesis – that a “Calvinist” will believe that God intended all the details of evolution, but that a Wesleyan will not, because a Wesleyan will think that God gave nature some “freedom.”

This contrast of Calvin vs. Wesley is not incidental. Many BioLogos columns of the past have alluded to the contrast, and sometimes it has even been made the central focus of a column. And Darrel Falk and Karl Giberson, and several guest columnists on BioLogos, have been ensconced at Nazarene colleges (in the Wesleyan tradition), or Wesleyan foundations like Asbury University (Asbury was Wesley’s lieutenant in America). And there has never been a single regular columnist on BioLogos from the Calvinist/Reformed tradition, even though Calvinist/Reformed Christians outnumber Wesleyan/Methodist/Nazarene Christians in the USA by a very great margin. So what we have had in the leadership and the columns at BioLogos is a theologically skewed segment of American evangelical Christianity, with Calvinism grossly underrepresented, and Wesleyanism grossly overrepresented.

To summarize what I’ve said so far: BioLogos has an “Arminian” emphasis on human freedom, which, without explanation of any kind, it extrapolates to produce the notion of a “freedom” of nature; and this “freedom of nature” theology, while not formally labelled by Venema, is labelled generally by BioLogos as “Wesleyan.” It is for this reason that I have called the climax of Venema’s performance “the Wesleyan Maneuver.”

Now, let us examine the “theology of freedom” that lies behind the use of the Wesleyan Maneuver.

The polarization which Falk and Venema would like to sell to the evangelical world – between a “Wesleyan theology of freedom” and a “Calvinist theology of divine sovereignty” – seems to work like this. (Note how often we have to fill in these things for ourselves, because of the maddening non-explicitness of the BioLogos theologians.) In a “Calvinistic” understanding of creation, even an evolutionary creation, nature has no option in what it produces. It must supply exactly those creations which a sovereign God has demanded. In a “Wesleyan” doctrine of creation, nature is in some sense “free.” All the details aren’t specified in advance. Note that this is exactly the model of nature – loose, somewhat indeterminate, with outcomes determined by contingency and circumstance rather than “natural laws” – that allows for an open-ended process such as neo-Darwinian evolution, which – coincidentally enough – just happens to be the view of evolution to which Falk and Venema, as the heirs of Darwin and Dobzhansky and Mayr, are committed.

This harmony between a “freedom of nature” theology and the Darwinian model of evolution is rather convenient. Only outright open theism – a heresy which often seems not to be far below the surface in some of the BioLogos columns, and elsewhere in the TE world – could be more convenient. However, the cost of this convenient partnership between maverick theology and naturalistic, anti-teleological science, is deep intellectual incoherence. BioLogos is faced with a gross contradiction – on one hand, its belief that God is creator, all-powerful, all-knowing, and in charge of everything through his Providence, and on the other, its assertion that neo-Darwinian processes, outside of any context of guidance or planning or design or control or purposiveness (all words which Falk and Venema steadfastly refuse to use in relation to the evolutionary process), are fully satisfactory explanations of how God’s ends are achieved.

The problem is that neo-Darwinian processes are not natural laws like those of gravity or electrostatic attraction; they are highly contingent chains of events, very sensitive to initial conditions and to even slight perturbations afterward. There is simply no set of initial conditions that can guarantee the existence of man, mice, or anything else, if neo-Darwinian (or equivalent stochastic processes) are the whole story about evolution. If the goals of evolution are to be guaranteed within a neo-Darwinian framework, there must be intervention (scientifically detectable or not), because otherwise the actualization of God’s will is left to chance. Yet interventions, steering, guiding, etc. are clearly unacceptable to biologists like Falk and Venema. So how does BioLogos respond to this contradiction?

By wallowing in “mystery.” And by invoking the name of Wesley.

Let’s talk for a moment about the “freedom of nature” theology which, by many TEs, is connected with the names of Arminius and Wesley. Is there any historical evidence that either Arminius or Wesley ever held to such a view?

Regarding Arminius himself, it seems that even on the question of human free will, his views were actually very close to Calvin’s, and nothing at all like what many TEs (and others) mean when they speak of being “Arminian.” The “freedom” Arminius gave to the human will was in fact very limited. See, for example, this account. And what were Arminius’s views on the “freedom of nature”? There is a very good discussion of that here. Not much promise for an open-ended evolutionary process, it seems.

What, then, of Wesley? Well, his Commentary on the Whole Bible is public domain, and can be found here. His account of Genesis 1, it appears, is: (a) very literalist – right down to six creation days; (b) in conflict with key BioLogos teachings – he says that all human beings came from Adam and Eve only, not from a “population”; (c) without any discussion at all of the “freedom” of nature to do anything.

Now admittedly this search concerning Arminius and Wesley has been cursory. But remember, it is not up to those who doubt a radical new claim to disprove it. The onus is on those making the claim to prove it. If BioLogos believes that Arminius and Wesley supported a “freedom of nature” theology, it’s their job to show where Arminius and Wesley say so. And not a single such source has been provided during the five-year existence of BioLogos. Thus, the idea that “Wesleyanism” is especially friendly to an “unguided” or “free” evolutionary process is simply without any documentary support. To continue to assert it, without evidence, is both theologically and academically irresponsible.

I have one final point to make. The “clinching” of an argument by the statement “I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist” – if it is done, as it always is on BioLogos, without further elaboration – is completely unacceptable. As it is done on BioLogos, it implies that religious adherences are givens, like an inherited or chronic disease that one is somehow stuck with. Wesleyans all the BioLogos people may indeed be, but it is not as if anyone ever held a gun to their heads to make them so. They are human beings; they can think and reason. They can compare theological systems against the Bible and the tradition of the Church. They can weigh the claims of “Calvinism” and “Wesleyanism” in relation to the Genesis, the Psalms, John, etc., and in relation to Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, etc. They can weigh them in relation to the Creeds and the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. And they can decide which view, the Wesleyan or the Calvinist, is truer to the Christian faith, and they can publish their reasons for choosing one view over the other.

The importance of this research and justification process cannot be overemphasized. All the greatest theologians of the Church agonized over correct doctrine in exactly this way. To say “I kinda like Wesleyanism because it seems to give people and nature more freedom, and I kind of dislike Calvinism because it seems to give God too much power” – which is only a slight caricature of the theology that seems to be promoted on BioLogos – is not to do Christian theology. It’s to invent a private theology.

As Christian leaders, Falk and Venema and all the other regular columnists on BioLogos have a responsibility to something bigger than their own theological tastes and preferences. They are responsible to all the Christians who have ever lived, and all the Christians who will live in the future, to justify their theology in the light of the accumulated wisdom of the Christian tradition. Christianity is not a voluntary association of free-lancing private theologians. It is the teaching of an organic community stretching back to Christ and the Apostles, and forward into the indefinite future. Christian truth is historical and communitarian. Thus, while there is room for internal dialogue, expansion, and even modification of past formulations, there is no room for people who just arbitrarily reject conceptions of God or Creation that they don’t happen to like. It is not within the authority of BioLogos to invent some grand new synthesis of science and theology and present it to the “rubes” in the fundamentalist churches as a fait accompli. It is, rather, the Christian duty of the people at BioLogos to submit all their theological speculations to the discipline of the Christian theological tradition.

This why it is so distressing that, until very recently, BioLogos has shown not a shred of respect for the history of Christian thought. In place of a detailed study of what the great Christian thinkers have said about creation, chance, teleology, providence, etc., it has offered the half-baked speculations of bench-scientists-turned-amateur-theologians, interspersed with at best a handful of proof-texts. It has spoken of a “Wesleyan” view of creation without even bothering to consult Wesley’s writings, or the writings of any of his immediate disciples. It has made cursory generalizations about the frequency of non-literal interpretations of Genesis in the early church without even bothering to check them, and when these generalization have been decisively refuted by actual research (as has been done here, by Vincent Torley), it has simply ignored the testimony of the ancient authors and continued to repeat the falsehood.

In short, BioLogos has acted as if it not only has no obligation to agree with Christian tradition regarding God and creation, but as if it has no obligation even to find out what the Christian tradition is. None of the great Christian theologians – Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, Augustine – were ever contemptuous of the Christian past in that manner.

This is why the “Wesleyan Maneuver” is more than simply a pathetic rhetorical trick to avoid openly and honestly stating a TE’s view of God’s role in evolution. It is certainly that. But it indicates something much deeper – an irresponsible confidence on the part of theologically untrained TE scientists in their ability to create a theology of creation de novo, and an unparallelled contempt for what the greatest Christian minds of the past have had to say on the subject.


Thanks for the reply Bilbo. "If you mean a being created in God’s likeness, then I think there is a strong theological objection, since it’s clear that it was God’s purpose to create a being in His likeness." Yes that's essentially what I meant, although I believe that this includes elements of physical form as well as spiritual and intellectual. Whatever exactly God means by "in our image," it's a very specific thing, which means having a definite goal. Chance Ratcliff
Hi Thomas, I've considered most of your criticisms of BioLogos to be irrelevant to the question of whether they hold theologically unacceptable views, so I have ignored them. The only relevant question you raised was raised in this thread: that God's sovereignty and a free Nature is a contradiction. Now you tell me that you have replied to it on your previous thread. So be it. I will go there and doubtless wade through your usual lengthy prose and see if there's anything that addresses the question. And yes, as an ID proponent, I believe that there is a deterministic chain of causal events from a mind (most likely God's) to at least some biological features including the origin of life. Bilbo I
Hi Chance, I think the only one on your list that there might be theological problems with is the last one: "Evolution blind, human form not purposed." It depends on what you mean by "human form." If you mean a being created in God's likeness, then I think there is a strong theological objection, since it's clear that it was God's purpose to create a being in His likeness. Bilbo I
Thanks for your list of views, Chance, some of which seem mutually exclusive of each other. I do think, though, that Bilbo I had a different meaning of 'unnecessary dividing walls' in mind ("tyrannical and 'Calvinistic'" might provide an example, or the theological arrogance of presuming one's dialogue partner has read only "a few lightweight evangelical books about theology"). Perhaps he'll share what he meant in more detail here. He is one of the few who is active both on UD and BioLogos, so he is at least engaging people on both 'sides' of this dialogical divide in the USAmerican culture war cum blogging debate. On Thomas' question about "whether God determined and compelled any or all particular results of evolution," this similar phrase has been repeated many times on UD. It was asked to me also recently in another thread. I just don't find it such an important question or that answering it 'directly' proves much and it is not one that can easily be answered technically or systematically instead of just generally. Sure, God determines and compels *everything* by definition of being omniscient and omnipotent. But that's not a particular answer. Which particular results of evolution does Thomas Cudworth claim that God determined and compelled (including where and when, please)? The Cambrian Explosion? Bacterial flagelli? Thomas and others here seem to be searching for a (ultimate game changing) particular answer to a 'science and theology' question that they're not 'scientifically' been able to give themselves. So here we see the argument turn to theology, bring in Pelagianism and Arminianism, talk of heresy, etc. As a trained theologian, Thomas is making (strong) theological criticisms of BioLogos leaders. Taken in context that BioLogos is openly advocating a collaborative dialogue between science and faith (or religion, theology, worldview), there is nothing wrong with that. They should be able to speak apologetically for their theology, especially in the highly denominational tradition of Protestantism. Otoh, when BioLogos leaders make scientific criticisms of ID, Thomas should understand that since the IDM still continues to insist that ID has nothing to do with religion or theology, that scientific criticisms of ID are also fair game. BioLogos has made some strong challenges to ID, in so far as ID counts as 'scientific' (which I and several others here don't think it does, likewise, Bilbo I's scientific mentor, Mike Gene) or makes scientific claims, mainly in natural and applied sciences. In this sense, asking “whether God determined and compelled any or all particular results of intelligent design” to Thomas as a theologian might produce fruit that has not been produced in the BioLogos discussion regarding Crude's (deceptively) simple questions to Falk and Venema. However, turning a situation where sciences are also involved into an opportunity to focus exclusively on the theology does not create a suitable (or even pleasant) framework for meaningful or fruitful discussion. 'My dad's better than your dad' as an argument within Protestantism, among evangelicals or even between Christians or Abrahamic believers about 'free will' and 'predestination' (did God determine evolution, did he have humans in mind) doesn't seem to be one that will be resolved with clarity anytime soon. Here, though Venema and I are not on the same page in a number of ways and there's a negative past between us, I actually think that Venema's deference (elevation of conversation) to 'free will' and 'predestination' was a good one. Unfortunately, it has opened the floodgates for theologians, both professional and armchair, to flex their spiritual muscles in public against each other, dragging legitimate evolutionary science (in so far as it is legitimate) even further in the metaphysical mud. Gregory
Bilbo: "I object to Christians erecting unnecessary dividing walls between each other, which is what you are attempting to do." True -- that BioLogos has frequently done so. False -- that I am attempting to do so. The key word is "unnecessary." It's not "unnecessary" to point out when a Christian is being evasive on a very important theological question -- a question concerning which he has asserted his qualifications to lead the whole world of evangelical Christianity, and concerning which he has denigrated the theology of others (e.g., ID people) who speak much more clearly and honestly to the question than he does. It's not "unnecessary" to inform readers of BioLogos (who, often being common church folk without much time to study theology in depth, and who might think that Venema and Falk and Louis know a lot about theology, because they talk a good game) that most of the BioLogos columnists are unqualified practitioners. This is no different than pointing out that a supposed doctor does not in fact have a medical license and has never attended medical school. It's not "unnecessary" to point out that many of the views fathered on Wesley, Calvin, Augustine, Origen, etc., by BioLogos are either doctrines those writers would have considered damnable, or, at the very best, doctrines for which not a shred of textual evidence has been produced. On the contrary, the interest of truth demands exactly the kind of criticism I've offered. You, on the other hand, continue to tacitly endorse the aforementioned indefensible practices of BioLogos, by remaining silent about them. Finally, aside from the fact that I never undertook, with the help of a dead millionaire's money, to arrogantly pose as the world's instructor on science and theology, and never made any claim to have reconciled Darwin and Christianity, and therefore haven't assumed the explanatory burden that BioLogos has assumed, you are in no position to criticize me for my silence on a question which isn't even on the table, i.e., free will vs determinism, as you have not given your own position on the question which is on the table, i.e., the question how or even whether God guides evolution. It is no wonder that you steadily condone BioLogos for its evasiveness. If you condemned it, you would be condemning yourself. "your assertion that a free Nature contradicts God’s sovereignty is without merit." Actually, my assertion was that BioLogos has defined the "freedom" of nature so vaguely and incoherently that it is impossible to even address the question whether or not such freedom contradicts God's sovereignty. (For that matter, BioLogos has not defined divine sovereignty, either.) However, if the "freedom of nature" is just a coded phrase for "God doesn't manipulate nature directly, but leaves it under the sway of natural laws alone," then there *is* a contradiction between evolution (in the neo-Darwinian form endorsed by BioLogos) and orthodox Christian teaching. I've explained why, in a stepwise manner, on another thread; you've not only not refuted my argument there; you've not even replied to it. So it's actually your position which appears to be without merit. It obviously cannot withstand my demonstration. Bye, Bilbo. Thomas Cudworth
Hi Bilbo, "...I object to Christians erecting unnecessary dividing walls between each other..." I'm presuming that you would find any one of these views acceptable parts of a creation doctrine: - Young earth. - Old earth. - Young universe. - Old universe. - Adam and Eve created de novo. - Adam and Eve created through evolution. - Universal common descent. - Naturalistic OOL scenario. - Limited common descent. - Evolution specifically end-directed. - Evolution blind, human form not purposed. Or are there any above which you think warrant a dividing wall of sorts? Chance Ratcliff
Hi Thomas, Yes, I run interference for BioLogos here, and I run interfence for UD at BioLogos (I do my best to show BioLogos that their theological and scientific objections to ID are without merit) I object to Christians erecting unnecessary dividing walls between each other, which is what you are attempting to do. So you refuse to disclose whether you think God is sovereign over human affairs, yet you insist that if nature is free, then God is not sovereign over nature. Since you are so coy with your stance on God's sovereignty over human affairs, then I don't see how you can legitimately object to Venema and Falk being coy on God's sovereignty over nature. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, I'm afraid. I haven't read Jon's explanation of how he thinks God can control the broad events of human history without controlling individual human events, but I'm willing to bet that his argument, sound or unsound, can be applied with equal validity to a "free" nature. As I have already said a number of times, I don't see why God wouldn't override even a free Nature, so I disagree with BioLogos on this question. But as I said in your previous post, even if they are correct, I think there are ways to reconcile their position with a sovereign God achieving His will. So no, your assertion that a free Nature contradicts God's sovereignty is without merit. Bilbo I
Bilbo: If I gave shorter answers than I did, you would doubtless (based on your performance here) captiously object to all kinds of statements, demanding my reasons for them. And when I give fuller discussions, anticipating the likely questions and objections and building the answers into my argument, you complain. There is no pleasing you. Besides, I am not writing my replies only for you. Everyone here is at different levels of understanding of science and of theology. Everyone here has had different levels of exposure to neo-Darwinian theory, ID theory, and TE "theory" (if we can dignify TE thought by that word). I'm trying to write good expository answers that will contribute to building up a common language and common set of ideas for discussing the issues. I think at least some people find a full, orderly exposition helpful. As someone trained in theology, I am finding your "fly by the seat of the pants" form of theological argumentation difficult to be patient with. You ignore classical distinctions -- such as the distinction between what God allows and what God commands -- which anyone discussing these subjects ought to take into account, especially when he voices very confident opinions, as you do. I'd like to see an able discussion of the classical positions. I have little patience for improvisation. That's precisely my objection to the BioLogos folk, that they think that by reading a few lightweight evangelical books about theology, they are ready to "wing it" with general reasoning and gratuitous speculations, and set their "Wesleyan" (which aren't truly Wesleyan) opinions against those held by mainstream Christianity for about 1800 years. These BioLogos folks are theological quacks, and one of the purposes of my writing career here at UD has been to make that clear to the public. Another irritating thing about your mode of dialogue is your habit of imputing views to people. I've caught you doing this to me several times. You have done it again just now. I did not say that I did *not* think that God was sovereign over human affairs. I said that I had offered no opinion on the subject. You accused me first of affirming such sovereignty; now you accuse me of denying it. Simply by reading carefully, you could avoid such counterproductive remarks. (But by the way, God could control the broad outcomes of human activities, without riding roughshod over the free will of individuals -- Jon Garvey has just written an excellent column on that.) Back to the subject of evolution: in the context of the evolutionary process, Crude was not asking Falk and Venema about what God *allows*; he was asking them what, if anything, God *enforces*. And they knew that he was asking that, and they dodged the question. You have their conversation linked; you have my lengthy commentary on it. If you cannot refute my description and analysis of what they said in that conversation, then you should give up this cavilling, and admit what is evident to everyone else here but you, i.e., that the BioLogos folks were deliberately evasive and obfuscatory. You say that BioLogos has stated something more clear elsewhere. So what? You are not addressing the question: why weren't they being clear to Crude? You have steadily dodged that question. Are you trying to protect them? As for the piece you linked me to, I have read it before -- I've read virtually every piece on BioLogos -- and it's unconvincing. (As are all the columns of BioLogos on chance, not one of which addresses ID arguments head-on.) First of all, they pooh-pooh the idea that God could have or would have determined the sex of every individual human being. On what grounds? That he lacks the power to control the movements of the sperm, etc.? Clearly he does not lack that power. And at such a microscopic level, our instruments could not detect very slight divine interventions to guarantee the sex of a child. All that BioLogos has demonstrated in the argument here is that they would rather believe that God does not exercise that level of micromanagement. They may be right or wrong about what God in fact does; but their conclusion is speculative, not demonstrative. Further, their fertilization analogy fails. The process of fertilization of an egg is not analogous to the process of building up an entire new organ or bodily system over millions of years, one mutation at a time, with natural selection operating between the mutations. The fact that "randomness" is involved in both cases hardly compensates for the wildly different contexts. It is such bogus comparisons which allow BioLogos to bamboozle the uncritical reader. Their analogy of micromanagement actually makes their position worse. The head of the firm may not tell each employee exactly what to do every waking minute; but he or she does tell them exactly what ends they have to achieve, and if they don't achieve those ends, fires them and replaces them with people who can. The firm declares its goals, and the firm achieves them. There is clear intention, clear teleology, so to speak. So is there clear intention, clear teleology in evolution? If BioLogos says yes, then why did Venema reject the word "purposive" when Crude offered it? And why did Falk slyly suggest that maybe God didn't intend all the outcomes of evolution? Does the firm not intend all the ends, as stated in its policy and strategy documents? Which ends does it leave the realization of to chance? If the firm is the right analogy, Falk and Venema should have come right out and said, yes, the goals are determined and the subordinate powers (employees, atoms, proteins, cells, organisms) have no choice but to carry them out. In fact, the article does not even begin to explain how contingent mutational events could be woven by God -- without intervention -- to produce novel biological systems. It simply tries to bluff its way around the unsolved theoretical problem with weak analogies and arbitrary theological positions. And by the way, the word "freedom" is mentioned only once in the article, and there, the "freedom" of nature is asserted as a possibility, but not as the official BioLogos position. It's another of their vague maybes. That hardly clarifies anything. You represent yourself as an ID proponent of sorts, but here, at any rate, you seem to be running interference for the BioLogos crowd. Your theological arguments -- in essence the same ones I've seen them use a hundred times -- are as ad hoc, improvised, and unconvincing as theirs. Further, by trying to confound the issue of God's authority over subhuman nature with the question whether God overrides human free will, you are trying to induce, in the readers here, the same kind of theoretical confusion which BioLogos hopes to induce in its readers. You want them to conflate the question whether God did in fact compel nature to produce the anteater with the question whether God would be so tyrannical and "Calvinistic" as to override free will. In the meantime, you, like Falk and Venema themselves, have not stated your own opinion whether God determined and compelled any or all particular results of evolution, or given your own theological account for the opinion that you hold. Further, in focusing your attack on the free will question, you effectively distract people from seeing what cowardly equivocators the BioLogos people are. And by remaining silent, by letting pass without criticism, the refusal of Falk and Venema to answer Crude, you are implicitly justifying all past examples of this behavior on their part, and giving them a license to be similarly vague, noncommittal, evasive, and theologically incoherent in the future. In short, your motivations here are very suspect, and your actions counterproductive. Thomas Cudworth
Bilbo I @ 30 "Perhaps if you gave shorter answers you would have more time." Would that Venema and Falk were as courteous and generous with their time in giving lengthy and detailed answers to pointed questions. Your criticism of how Mr. Cudworth allocates his time is disingenuous. "Biologos gave an explanation of what they mean by nature’s freedom and God’s sovereignty here:" Which was neither signed nor dated, nor cited by either Venema or Falk as relevant to the question put to them which was again “In your view, is evolution an entirely unguided process? Or was it guided by God, even if not in a way science is capable of detecting?” to which Venema replied (with an economy of time and length I'm sure you appreciated) “Can you define ‘guided’ for me, as you see it?” and then “I’m not trying to be coy here, but much turns on precise definitions. One more question of clarification – if God is omnipotent and omniscient, is there anything at all in the entire cosmos that is, in your view, “unguided”?” Whereas the 'FAQ' you linked merely perpetuates the 'mystery' of Biologo's incoherence that "God could choose to use random, unpredictable processes to accomplish his purposes in creation" without defining with any precision (let alone explaining) how God's "use" of said random, unpredictable processes is "guided" or "unguided", without any regard for "how much turns on precise definitions." Charles
Hi Thomas, Perhaps if you gave shorter answers you would have more time. Biologos gave an explanation of what they mean by nature's freedom and God's sovereignty here: http://biologos.org/questions/chance-and-god I'm amazed that you don't think God is sovereign over human affairs. Do you mean to say that things happen in human affairs that God does not allow?* I doubt that's what you mean. So if nothing happens in human affairs unless God allows it to happen, wouldn't that imply that God was sovereign over human affairs? * In fact, no only does God allow it, but God sustains it in existence, so that it may happen. Bilbo I
--Gregory: "Falk says he is not a ‘Darwinist.’ I accept that." You accept it because you have not defined your terms or probed very deeply into the subject matter. You simply throw words around without thinking about what they might mean. Definition: A Darwinist is someone who accepts Darwinian "science" uncondionally. Falk accepts Darwinian science unconditionally. Fact: Darwinian science, as originally conceived, and as now promoted, is inseparable from its non-teleology. Anyone who doubts this should take the trouble to read the definitive biology textbooks. Falk, in spite of his empty claims, is a Darwinist. It is exactly as I said. Falk uses the rhetoric of teleology, but he argues on behalf of non-teleology. --"UD is the home of the antagonistic term ‘Christian Darwinist.’ I call it wishful thinking and brother slagging. StephenB (likely) thinks it’s legit and clever." Gregory, why do you think some UD commenters use the term Christian Darwinist as opposed to the term "Theistic Evolutionist?" No, it has nothing to do with attempts to be derogatory. Don't just react; try to think the matter through. Here is a hint: The meaning of Theistic Evolution has changed dramatically over the years. --"I believe in both teleology and non-teleology in their proper places." Do you now? Let's find out what you really do believe. Did God create, cause, and guide the evolutionary process to a specified end that reflected the original intent of the creator (Homo Sapiens)? Or, put another way, did God exercise his divine governance over nature in such a way that man was the intended and inevitable outcome of an evolutionary process? Falk will not answer. Will you? --"StephenB seems to want TELEOLOGY EVERYWHERE, even in places where ‘teleology’ doesn’t belong. This is just like elevating ID into a ‘worldview,’ as StephenB does." No, not really. The difference between work and play is that the former activity is ordered to a purpose while the latter need not be. StephenB
All I really had it in mind to add something more to this thread, but after reading through it, it seems my points have already been made (by Bilbo in particular, thanks Bilbo). I just hope in future people may think a little more about motes and beams before criticising their brothers. Cheers CLAVDIVS
Thomas wrote: "I am neither affirming nor denying the existence of a free will that is uncontrolled by God. Nor do I think that Christian faith stands or falls on how that question is answered." I replied: "How does Christian faith stand without free will?...Isn’t free will part of the definition of ‘Christian faith’?" StephenB claimed: "Your comments were irrelevant because they did not relate to the subject matter on the table." Readers can judge for themselves re: 'relevance'. The 'purposeless, mindless process' rhetoric has been repeated ad nauseum. Many people who accept a 'purposeful, mindful creator' (re: origins) don't think one can 'scientifically' detect (divine) 'guidance of evolution.' Does StephenB think we can scientifically detect divine guidance of evolution? Let us await his silent answer. Falk says he is not a 'Darwinist.' I accept that. StephenB doesn't. UD is the home of the antagonistic term 'Christian Darwinist.' I call it wishful thinking and brother slagging. StephenB (likely) thinks it's legit and clever. Falk says: "Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity...I do not consider my views to be Darwinian...I am not a Darwinist." StephenB without cred. begs to differ. So what? I believe in both teleology and non-teleology in their proper places. StephenB seems to want TELEOLOGY EVERYWHERE, even in places where 'teleology' doesn't belong. This is just like elevating ID into a 'worldview,' as StephenB does. "Falk, and by extension, BioLogos." That's an interesting proposition alongside "Dembski, and by extension, the IDM." Gregory
--Gregory: "Probably I must be ‘irrelevant’ and meaningless just because I’ve disappointed StephenB. Otoh, truth continues to be shown and sought regardless of his sadness." Your comments were irrelevant because they did not relate to the subject matter on the table, not because I found them "disappointing." “--Gregory quoting Falk: "Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity. Quite simply, this is why I do not consider my views to be Darwinian and why I am not a Darwinist.” – Falk identifies with the modern evolutionary synthesis proposed by evolutionary biologists, which characterizes evolution as a purposeless, mindless, process that did not have man in mind. Thus, Falk is a neo-Darwinist. Since an accident-producing, neo-Darwinist mechanism cannot be reconciled with the acts and intentions a purposeful, mindful creator, Falk (and, and by extension, BioLogos) is conflicted. As I said, TEs use the rhetoric of teleology while arguing on behalf of non-teleology. Focus on the meaning of the first half of the preceding sentence. StephenB
Bilbo: That was a cheap shot. I said I was "out of time" to consider new topics that went beyond the investigation that I had undertaken. As far as what was on topic, I gave you far more time than most columnists give to commenters on most places on the internet. Maybe you have no job or family business to attend to, Bilbo, and can spend 40 hours a week on the internet, but I can't. Given constraints, I have made a great effort to consider your objections in considerable detail. I know you want to try to draw me into a wider discussion of free will and determinism, and I know exactly why you want to do that. But I've explained to you why it's not relevant to my more limited purpose. I've also explained to you that you have been operating on false premises, by imputing to me a theological position that I don't hold. You apparently didn't listen to a word I said about that. You also don't read carefully, because what you say about Miller, I already granted. Gould *may* have said what he said with quantum indeterminacy in mind; he may also have believed there was some other source of indeterminacy. Unless you have direct statements, you can't be sure what his reasons were. In any case, from a Christian point of view, Gould is useless, since he doesn't believe in God, and therefore doesn't believe that God works through quantum indeterminacy to guide evolution. I did not say that God could not have subtly influenced the course of the evolution at the quantum level. I granted it as a possibility. I even named a TE, Russell, who makes the argument. But you are not listening. I have said now twice, and I'll say it a third time for the benefit of the near-deaf -- that is not the argument made by Falk, Venema, etc. If that is what they mean by the "freedom" of nature, then they need to *say* it. It's not my job to read their minds, and figure out what they must mean if they are making a good argument rather than a lousy one. I assume that if they appear to be making a lousy argument, that a lousy argument is all that is in their heads. If you want to imagine that they are brighter than they seem, you can invent all the arguments for them that you want. I'm not interested in debating with BioLogos supplemented by Bilbo. I'm interested in debating BioLogos. (And if BioLogos *needs* such supplements to make its arguments coherent, it has no business whatsoever being in the "religion and science" business.) Again, you do not read carefully. You write: "you still maintain that God is sovereign over human affairs" I never said any such thing. That is a view you imputed to me. In fact, I never took any position on divine sovereignty in relation to human free will. And I explicitly distanced myself from the "mysterious" hyper-Calvinist position you appear to have labelled me with. The Bible and the Christian tradition teach that God had certain ends in mind in creation, and that he achieved those ends. Russell's view of God subtly guiding through quantum indeterminacy is compatible with that teaching. However, what you yourself have declared to be the BioLogos position is not. I have shown you this on one of the other threads. And now, I'm done. Thomas Cudworth
Hi Thomas, The fact that you say that you are "out of time" and that this will be your final statement sounds rather similar to what you accuse people at BioLogos of doing. As to the idea that nature has freedom because of quantum physics, both Kenneth Miller and Francis Collins make that connection in their books, though I don't have their books with me at the moment. But apparently it doesn't matter is I quote them directly or not, since you are "out of time." Is this idea incoherent or irrational? No. It means that the universe's laws are statistical, and no event is ever completely determined. Thus Gould could say that if we replayed the tape of evolution, we would get different results. He never would have said this if he believed in strict determinism. So given quantum physics, and given the premise that God did not intervene in natural history, could God still be sovereign of natural history? You say that it is a contradiction, yet you still maintain that God is sovereign over human affairs, which are free, and that there is no contradiction. You can't have it both ways. Bilbo I
I wasn't talking about God's Sovereignty, Bilbo. I was presenting God's timelessness as a solution to the problem of God's having foreknowledge without predetermining everything. And I think Mr. Torley and Mr. Cudworth could some to an agreement on the current topic, since the post you linked is on a different topic entirely. Some clarification of terms is needed, obviously, but they are not making contradictory claims about Darwinism. tragic mishap
Bilbo I: While many of the evolutionary biologists I listed were alive when quantum indeterminacy was starting to be talked about by the physicists, there is no evidence that quantum indeterminacy figured into their formulation of evolutionary theory. To the best of my knowledge, the architects of the Modern Synthesis (Julian Huxley, Gaylord Simpson, Mayr, Dobzhansky) made no use of quantum indeterminism in their biological theory of evolution. (If they later, as old men, wrote semi-popular books reflecting on the possible connection of quantum indeterminacy with "randomness" of mutations, that is another matter. But the concept appears to have played no role in the biological theory itself. If you can show me from the writings of these men where it did, I will be glad to learn about it.) Also, while many on BioLogos have written in praise of mutational "randomness," rarely or never have they argued that all or most mutational randomness is caused by quantum indeterminacy, and never, to my knowledge, has any columnist, until about a week ago, argued that quantum indeterminacy is a vehicle for divine action. Robert Russell has just done so, but he is the lone exception in five years. I do not recall Gould, Ayala, Collins, Dawkins, Coyne, or other leading champions of neo-Darwinism discussing quantum indeterminacy in connection with mutations. If you know of sources, please provide them. Ken Miller and George Murphy and perhaps John Polkinghorne have floated quantum randomness as a possible way for God to sneak undetected into the evolutionary process. But note that these are all very recent writers; the biological theory of neo-Darwinism was established long before them, and without the input of any of their ideas. It has always been understood by biologists to stand as valid science, regardless of the fate of quantum indeterminacy in physics. If quantum indeterminacy in physics were overthrown tomorrow, not one change in neo-Darwinian theory would be required. The theory never depended on any notion that nature was "free"; it has always been compatible with the strictest determinism. The randomness and contingency of neo-Darwinism pertains only to the relationship between mutations and their evolutionary outcomes; it has nothing to do with the question of overall determinism or indeterminism in nature. In any case, if we are speaking about the BioLogos gang -- which is what my whole article was about -- you cannot impute to them the view that "freedom" in nature is based on quantum indeterminism. Unless they say so, you have no evidence that this is the "freedom" they have in mind. So unless you can produce passages from BioLogos people, I am afraid that you are going to have to drop this point. But even supposing they *did* argue that the freedom of nature came from quantum indeterminacy, their view would still be inadmissible. The alleged "freedom" in quantum indeterminacy is not "freedom" in the normal sense at all. To take an example: a mutation might be caused by damage to a genome from contact with an emitted alpha particle. The emission of the alpha particle may be "random" due to quantum indeterminacy, but it doesn't follow that the alpha particle has any "freedom." It can no more control the timing of its own emission under "indeterminacy" than it could under the strictest of natural laws. The alpha particle is a helpless puppet of an irrational causality under quantum indeterminacy, as it is a helpless puppet of mechanistic causality under 19th-century determinism. Those who call this change of status -- from indeterministic helplessness to deterministic helplessness -- "freedom" are guilty of a gross abuse of the English language. If what is meant is that quantum indeterminacy leaves *God* free to intervene in evolution, without altering the macroscopic laws of nature, that makes sense -- that is Russell's position. But if what is meant is that quantum indeterminacy makes *nature* free, it's rubbish. Quantum indeterminacy makes nature jerky, arbitrary, without measure, irrational. That is not freedom, in any normal sense of the word. And it is certainly not freedom in any "Wesleyan" theological sense. But as I say, I don't believe that this is the freedom that Venema and Falk are talking about. I think "freedom" is their codeword for "God doesn't interfere with nature". That is, God leaves nature "free" of divine interference; but it's still subject to uniformitarian natural laws. That is consistent with everything they have said about science, natural causes, God's ordinary action, etc. Of course, I can't prove that this is what they mean, because they will not say what they mean. But it makes fewer assumptions than imputing to them a view about quantum indeterminacy. In any case, whether the freedom is quantum or some other kind, their refusal to define it is intellectually and theologically irresponsible, and until they do explain what they mean, no one in the academic or theological world (or in the churches) should take their views seriously. Their account of nature as "free" is simply too vague to be treated with any intellectual respect. Anyone who has a serious proposal -- scientific or theological -- puts it in language that people can understand, so that it can be tested. To willfully put your proposal in vague terms is a sign that you have no confidence that it has any merit. As for your second-last paragraph, I don't need to answer it, because, as I just said, the whole discussion of God and freedom and nature that BioLogos is advancing is too unclear to profitably discuss. If I knew exactly what BioLogos was saying, and if it was exactly what you are saying in this paragraph, then I would feel a need to respond to it. But you are only guessing as to what Falk and Venema might mean. I didn't undertake to have a long theoretical conversation with third parties who can't even guarantee that the view they want to argue about is in fact held by Falk and Venema. I undertook to expose the intellectual incoherence of Falk and Venema. Regarding your last paragraph, you presume too much. You seem to think that I acknowledge the terms of engagement of those who insist that God is in complete control of all things, including all human decisions, and yet also insist that human beings have genuinely free will, so that their damnation (if they are damned) is their own fault. And you seem to think that I would have to resort to "mystery" to maintain that position. Well, perhaps I would have to, if that were my position, but it is not. Nor do I think it is a position that is required by Biblical statements. The Biblical statements are all over the map, and systematizing them is notoriously difficult, and probably impossible. But whether it is Biblical or not, it is not my position. In any case, there is a difference between appealing to mystery when there is a profound paradox that is beyond human reason to grasp, and appealing to mystery because your thought is lazy, undisciplined, muddled, and incoherent, due to failure to define terms, failure to deal with pertinent critical questions, etc. I am sympathetic with those who say that the nature of the Trinity is a mystery. I am not sympathetic with minor-league scientists who play at being amateur theologians, do no research at all in the Christian tradition, and then toss out half-baked and unexplained theological notions, and, when their thought is exposed as shallow, blundering, and self-contradictory, excuse its ineptitude by saying that they are "OK with a bit of mystery." It would be better if these scientists simply closed their mouths until they had something intelligent to say. Thanks for your questions, Bilbo. I'm out of time again, so this will be my final statement to you. I think I've tried honestly to address your concerns. If we still do not agree, that is bound to happen from time to time. Thomas Cudworth
Whoops, I wrote to Thomas in #18, "if we understand freedom as the opposite of indeterminate...." I meant to write: "if we understand freedom as the opposite of determined...." Bilbo I
Hi Tragic, You also wrote: "I can do it with one sentence: God is outside of time. Bam." But then, regarding God's sovereignty over an indeterminate Nature, I also can do it with one sentence: "God is outside of time. Bam." Bilbo I
Hi Tragic, You wrote: "Mr. Cudworth is talking about the process of evolution itself being indeterminate." Yes, but if Darwin believed in determinism, then it would follow that the process of evolution itself was determined, not indetermined. Bilbo I
Hi Thomas, You wrote: "I don’t know where Vincent said that Darwin was a determinist...." https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/why-you-cant-be-a-darwinist-and-a-human-exceptionalist/ "If God exercises his sovereignty over matter in the form of natural laws — as Darwin, Huxley, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Gould, Ayala, Collins, Falk, and Venema all believe (at least, as Falk and Venema believe when they are talking to secular biologists and don’t think any Christians are listening) — then to speak of nature’s freedom is simply to talk rot." Darwin and Huxley probably believed in physical determinism, so they would probably have agreed with you that "to speak of nature's freedom" was "to talk rot." However, I think the rest of the people you mentioned lived after the discovery of Quantum Physics, with the idea of nature behaving indeterminately at the subatomic level. For them, speaking of nature's freedom was not "to talk rot." So if Nature is indeterminate at the subatomic level (it may not be), does that meant that God has endowed Nature with something we could understand as "freedom"? I don't think Nature is conscious or even sentient, so it wouldn't be freedom as we ascribe it to humans or even to animals. On the other hand, if we understand freedom as the opposite of indeterminate, then yes, Nature seems to have some kind of freedom. Is it a freedom that God would never override? I don't think it is. But I could see how others might think it is. The question then is, if God has endowed Nature with this kind of freedom, could God be sovereign over it without violating that freedom? Since you have never explained how God could maintain His sovereignty over humanity without violating our freedom, yet apparently you think He does so, your case that God couldn't maintain His sovereignty over Nature while allowing her freedom has never been made. And until you make it, your case against the leaders of BioLogos hasn't been made. You could, in the last resort, maintain that God's sovereignty over free human beings is a ... mystery. Bilbo I
Probably I must be 'irrelevant' and meaningless just because I've disappointed StephenB. Otoh, truth continues to be shown and sought regardless of his sadness. "Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity. Quite simply, this is why I do not consider my views to be Darwinian and why I am not a Darwinist." - Darrel Falk Re: 'absolutisation of freedom' - the defense of 'absolutisation of slavery' (or whatever opposite of 'freedom' you actively seek to propose) has not yet been convincing. Iow, 'nuanced understandings of freedom' no more support ID than they do TE/EC. Though I laughed at the notion of dogs eating 'fox poo,' what has been shown thus far is purely abstract theological involving no entanglement with (dirty) natural science. Why won't Jon get his hands active on this topic? He seems to support the "please tell us how evolution is 'guided' because we have no clue and otherwise we'll mock you" camp. Yet if a gene were actually 'created' with even the minutest notion of 'freedom,' the anti-freedom of nature position would break down. Really, folks, for a country that is supposed to be 'land of the free,' there's been more anti-freedom talk here in the last couple of weeks than appears healthy. Like I said, mineral, vegetable, animal, human - if you're only speaking about human, that's a different story. But then again, ID so heavily depends on analogies to human intelligence that it would seem strange if many IDers would reject 'freedom of nature' alongside them. Gregory
--Gregory: ”How does Christian faith stand without free will? This seems to me similar to the notion that theism could have any other meaning than that human life is meaningful and not meaningless. Isn’t free will part of the definition of ‘Christian faith’?” Since Thomas has not denied the connection of Christianity and free will, your question is irrelevant. Thomas Cudworth: “The transference of “freedom” from the human realm to the natural is entirely illegitimate — at least, on BioLogos’s naturalistic premises.” --Gregory: “Many points involved there. I agree to one aspect of the illegitimacy, but ID doesn’t (yet) pay attention to this agreement. Are human beings something other than ‘natural’? This overlaps with the ‘natural intelligence’ possibility used by ID wrt E.T. seeding of biological information.” Although human free will is essential to classical Christianity, it doesn’t follow that the alleged “freedom of nature” is also essential to, relevant to, or even compatible with classical Christianity. Your comments about ID are, again, irrelevant. ---“It does not seem to me that BioLogos thinks human beings are a ‘cosmic accident’. Quite the contrary; to a man or woman at BioLogos they believe human beings are purposeful and meaningful creations. What’s the difference then between our interpretations of these evangelical Christians, Thomas? It seems you are questioning their place within Christianity while I’m questioning their relationship to philosophy, ideology and humanitarian thought.” The BioLogos crowd, while giving lip service to teleology, purpose, and end-directedness, do nevertheless insist, as a tribute to Darwinistic” evolutionary science,” that God used a non-teleological, accident-producing, Darwinian process to create man. Since the process cannot be both purposeful and purposeless (end-directed and not end-directed) BioLogos cannot try to have it both ways and remain either rational or intellectually honest. To regain some semblance of credibility, they must affirm one account and negate the other. StephenB
Mr. Cudworth
To fully argue out the implications of this separation between foreknowledge and predetermination would require a graduate course in theology (and then some), and I won’t undertake such a grand essay here.
I can do it with one sentence: God is outside of time. Bam. Anyway I like you Mr. Cudworth. I hope you post more often at UD. tragic mishap
Bilbo and Thomas: Vincent Torley and Thomas Cudworth are not disagreeing. Mr. Torley was talking about philosophy of mind. He was saying that according to Darwinism, what we call the "mind" is determined by physical precursors, indeterminate or not. Mr. Cudworth is talking about the process of evolution itself being indeterminate. tragic mishap
Isn’t free will part of the definition of ‘Christian faith’?
Gregory, I don't think Thomas at any point denies "free will" any more than does any major strand of Christianity. He's simply being inclusive of the various nuanced understandings of that freedom which have been debated for nearly 2 millennia (and more - compare Pharisaic and Sadducean concepts of God's sovereignty in human affairs). The alternative would be to get into the absolutist elevation of "freedom" to a virtue independent of, and even higher, than God which cuts across large strands of Biblical data, all orthodox understandings of grace, assurance and so on. It is that absolutisation of "freedom" which seems to underpin applying it to every rock and stone in the cosmos, lest God be seen as "coercing" dust into becoming man. The logical application of that is to wait for the bricks to vote before you build a wall. I don't think EAM cuts across that at all, any more than the obvious ability of dogs to choose between eating biscuits and fox poo has ever threatened the concept of God's sovereignty in nature. It does, however, raise further considerations of whether one could distinguish adaptive mutagenesis (currently without a plausible mechanism) from the direct activity of the Creator. Jon Garvey
Thomas, How does Christian faith stand without free will? This seems to me similar to the notion that theism could have any other meaning than that human life is meaningful and not meaningless. Isn't free will part of the definition of 'Christian faith'? You wrote: "The transference of “freedom” from the human realm to the natural is entirely illegitimate — at least, on BioLogos’s naturalistic premises." Many points involved there. I agree to one aspect of the illegitimacy, but ID doesn't (yet) pay attention to this agreement. Are human beings something other than 'natural'? This overlaps with the 'natural intelligence' possibility used by ID wrt E.T. seeding of biological information. BioLogos believes God created humanity 'non-naturalistically' in addition to 'naturalistically.' Yet you seem to only wish to focus on the naturalistic half of the theme. Why do you not accept their non-naturalistic perspective, given that it claims historical over-lap with your religious worldview? When I read your 'naturalistic premises' here I see 'natural scientific premises.' As I understand, you are not a natural scientist. Neither am I. But it is a post-modern trick indeed for any natural scientist to *not* be a naturalist. It would take vastly more training in philosophy of science than is usually present in university biological training to become aware of the differences between ideology and natural science more clearly. BioLogos and DI are both guilty by association here; e.g. Dembski speaks of 'Darwinism' as a 'scientific theory' rather than as an 'ideology' in The Design Revolution. Btw, what ever happened to EAM - Endogenous Adaptative Mutagenesis - giving freedom to non-human entities to 'design' their futures. Wasn't this an ID idea positing 'freedom in nature'? It does not seem to me that BioLogos thinks human beings are a 'cosmic accident'. Quite the contrary; to a man or woman at BioLogos they believe human beings are purposeful and meaningful creations. What's the difference then between our interpretations of these evangelical Christians, Thomas? It seems you are questioning their place within Christianity while I'm questioning their relationship to philosophy, ideology and humanitarian thought. Gregory
Claudius: First of all, I want to be clear that I am neither affirming nor denying the existence of a free will that is uncontrolled by God. Nor do I think that Christian faith stands or falls on how that question is answered. Second, "raw matter" has no free will, so the intellectual problem you are referring to cannot possibly arise with respect to it. If God tells "raw matter" what to do, raw matter has to do it. The transference of "freedom" from the human realm to the natural is entirely illegitimate -- at least, on BioLogos's naturalistic premises. Mushrooms and meteoroids, stars and sand dunes, planets and pumpkins, don't have any "freedom." There is, to be sure, a sense in which animals can be said to have a "freedom" of choice, but that is not what is meant by the freedom of the will in the Wesleyan theology that Falk etc. are talking about. Dogs and monkeys aren't candidates for salvation and damnation. Thus, the attempt to speak of nature as "free" on the basis of Wesleyan thinking is entirely unfounded. Of course, one might say that the conventional naturalism that BioLogos accepts is wrong, and that nature -- from atoms through asteroids through to pumpkins and mushrooms and worms and monkeys -- really does have some freedom. This would be a sort of Whiteheadian view, of the sort once championed, if I remember correctly, by Ian Barbour. But one can't establish such a freedom on the basis of Wesleyan theology. One would have to demonstrate it empirically. And there has been no such demonstration of nature's "freedom" by any BioLogos author. But why would BioLogos *want* to insist on such freedom, anyway? Any real freedom possessed by nature would clash with BioLogos's determination that origins questions shall be completely within the province of natural science. It is only uniformitarian assumptions which allow BioLogos to "prove" the age of the earth, common descent, etc. But uniformitarian assumptions remove all freedom from nature -- it becomes the prisoner of natural laws. So the very thing that allows BioLogos the ability to disprove YEC etc. also means that nature cannot be "free." At this point, it becomes clear that the thought of BioLogos on nature and creation is nothing but muddle. I have been studying serious thinkers on religion and science for nearly 40 years now, and I have never seen more confused discussions of the subject than I have seen on BioLogos. The level of theoretical self-contradiction there is astounding. We must keep our eyes on the 8-ball. We must not allow anyone to deflect our criticism by trying to turn the question back on us (as Venema tried to turn the question back on Crude). It is not our responsibility to show how, under a providential God, human will can be free; it is BioLogos's responsibility to demonstrate its claim that nature is free. And once it has shown that nature is free, its next job is to show how that freedom reconciles divine governance and providence with neo-Darwinian contingency. I have no confidence that any of the scientists currently posting at BioLogos -- Falk, Venema, Applegate, Louis -- are up to this challenge. Their instinct for evasive action is much more powerful than their desire for intellectual clarity. Thomas Cudworth
Thomas @ 8
However, there is a prima facie case to be made that God cannot overrule human freedom, and would never want to overrule human freedom, his whole purpose in creating man being to produce another being like himself that was above the necessities of nature. If that is the case, then God can foreknow what humans will do with their freedom, but he does not predetermine it. To fully argue out the implications of this separation between foreknowledge and predetermination would require a graduate course in theology (and then some), and I won’t undertake such a grand essay here.
But isn't this precisely what needs to be argued out to answer Bilbo's question? Scripture clearly teaches about God using human history and human actions to achieve His purposes. If one accepts that such can be achieved without predetermining human actions, then it seems arbitrary to state that God could not do the same with raw matter. Cheers CLAVDIVS
My initial impression of Biologos...A warm fuzzy "feel good" time for some Christian believers...who want a nice digital coffehouse where one will not get harassed either by scornful materialist evolutionists...or by them sorta backwoods uber-creationists...or even by the less "weird" ID persons. I too think Biologos' LACK of desire to face the TOUGH questions about Christianity interacting with the philosophies, and truth claims by many in modern science...and the problems in the interaction...are heavily influenced by Postmodern thought and views of reality. My first (yes...shallow) impression is...maybe some (deep down) really doubt if GOD had anything at all to do with the world...Secret doubts...which scares some from applying rigorous scientific (and logic based) kinds of research to any FAITH ideas... ...thus making Biologos irrelevant (I suspect) to any serious materialist kind of scientist/thinker--...and evasive and nonhelpful to some believers... thinkoutsidethebox
Bilbo I (7): Regarding Vincent Torley, let me first say that I regard him as one of our top columnists here, and am grateful for all his work. Let me also say that his series of columns on Darwin, Aquinas, and the Thomists was masterful -- which doesn't mean that I am committed to agreeing with every statement he made in the series, but does mean that I think he crushed his Thomist opponents. I don't know where Vincent said that Darwin was a determinist, and possibly he was using some special sense of "determinism" that would be applicable to Darwin's thought. In any case, as I normally use the word "determinism," Darwin was not a determinist, nor were the neo-Darwinians (Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, etc.) Nor is Dawkins, nor, most of all, was Gould. All of these people saw evolution as a massively contingent series of events, highly sensitive to initial conditions and to slight perturbations thereafter. None of them believed that evolution proceeded in a way that made man, or higher animals of any kind, inevitable. I therefore reject the term "determinism" for Darwinian/neo-Darwinian evolution. If Vincent disagrees with me, that is fine; we aren't subscribers to any orthodoxy here, and each columnist thinks for himself. Vincent and I have both studied philosophy at a graduate school level and it isn't surprising that we, like other philosophers, would disagree with each other from time to time. What I like about ID is that a range of opinions are tolerated -- YEC, OEC, guided or front-loaded macroevolution -- meaning that real intellectual discussion can take place, as opposed to the nodding of yes-men which we see at Biologos every time "randomness" is celebrated for its divine creative powers or whale evolution is declared to be a done deal or the early Church fathers are declared (on the basis of one quotation from one Church father regarding one small portion of one chapter of Genesis) to have read Genesis 1-11 non-literally. Homogeneity of thought is the enemy of all intellectual creativity. You ask which view should you accept. That's easy: read Darwin, read Gaylord Simpson, read Gould. Then decide, on the basis of normal uses of the word, whether their view of evolution is "determinist." I think that if you do this, you will agree with me. But I would not try to exert any authority over your mind. That is where I differ from TEs like Karl Giberson, who advises us all to slavishly abandon our critical faculties whenever the experts have spoken. The second question is both easier and harder to answer. The easy part is this: there is an ontological difference between beings with free will and beings without. Beings without free will must (if one accepts the naturalistic account defended by BioLogos) behave in accord with "natural laws." They therefore have no "freedom" in any meaningful sense, and the term is therefore violently misleading. An electron has no "freedom" to decide whether or not it will be stripped from a Sodium atom by the power of a Chlorine atom. If God exercises his sovereignty over matter in the form of natural laws -- as Darwin, Huxley, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Gould, Ayala, Collins, Falk, and Venema all believe (at least, as Falk and Venema believe when they are talking to secular biologists and don't think any Christians are listening) -- then to speak of nature's freedom is simply to talk rot. This is my position -- at least until Falk and Venema muster the intellectual courage to define what they mean by nature's "freedom," and persuade me otherwise. But that is not likely to happen on this side of the Second Coming. The human case is more difficult. However, there is a prima facie case to be made that God cannot overrule human freedom, and would never want to overrule human freedom, his whole purpose in creating man being to produce another being like himself that was above the necessities of nature. If that is the case, then God can foreknow what humans will do with their freedom, but he does not predetermine it. To fully argue out the implications of this separation between foreknowledge and predetermination would require a graduate course in theology (and then some), and I won't undertake such a grand essay here. I'll just say that there is no prima facie reason why God cannot leave the human will free. But I don't insist on it. I merely acknowledge it as a legitimate theological position. Now, you may say, "That is not a classical Calvinist (or Augustinian, or whatever) position." To that I reply: Christian theologians are responsible to the historical church to theologize within the tradition on core doctrines, but on more speculative matters, which do not touch the heart of faith or practice, they have (or should have) intellectual freedom. I have no objection to sitting in a church with someone on my right side who thinks that God has determined every choice that human beings will ever make, and with someone on my left side who thinks that God has left human choice totally free. There are Biblical passages which seem to clearly support both speculative conclusions, and therefore both people could hold their beliefs in good faith. On the other hand, I do have an objection to sitting in a church next to someone who thinks that there is no guidance in evolution, and no front-loading, either, two propositions which together imply that man is a cosmic accident -- even if that same person thinks that the cosmic accident was somehow "providential," because he's a "Wesleyan." Whether or not God's sovereignty is compatible with human free will -- that is a speculative, philosophical matter for theologians to argue about; but *that God is sovereign* is a core doctrine which Christians are not free to reject. BioLogos, while affirming verbally that God is sovereign, in fact questions whether God is sovereign, because it systematically evades terms such as "purposeful", "design," "guided," etc. BioLogos subtly undermines the notion of sovereignty by forbidding the vocabulary that sovereignty requires, if it is to be anything more than pious window dressing. But while it won't use the language of design, command, intended results fully accomplished, specific ends carried out, etc., it gladly uses the language of "freedom" -- a language absent from the all the Creation accounts in the Bible, but at the heart of modern man's self-definition since the Enlightenment. I think it is very clear where the loyalties of BioLogos lie. Ironically, they are so far from being "Wesleyan" loyalties that Wesley would utterly condemn them. Thomas Cudworth
Hi Thomas, I get to be the guy who disagrees with you: 1) It is ironic that not long ago Vincent Torely wrote a post here in which he criticized Darwin for being a determinist. Now you accuse him of being an indeterminist. You can't both be right. Which view should we accept? 2) You speak of a contradiction between God's sovereignty and Nature's freedom. Yet I doubt that you think there is a contradiction between God's sovereignty and human freedom. Please explain how the first is a contradiction but not the second. Otherwise, I see no reason to take your criticism of BioLogos seriously. Bilbo I
Jon, Maybe my experience is different than most. I grew up with a creationist dad M.D. who always had evidence and argument behind his beliefs. So I agree that "what you know about properly is a lot less likely to lead to disillusionment." By the time I got to college, I already knew all the crap they were going to throw at me, and I already had an answer. In fact, I was extremely disappointed with the quality, having been prepared for much better from the evolutionists. However, I was not given a whole lot of "room to explore" because the arguments and evidence presented to me were excellent. Every question I could come up with, dad had an answer, and a good one. Someone can only be disillusioned with their point of view if their point of view is disappointing. tragic mishap
TM I didn't blame creationists for anyone else's views, but I criticised those of them who appear to give their young people no room to explore other alternatives fully from the beginning. What you know about properly is a lot less likely to lead to disillusionment. Jon Garvey
Thomas, your three-part series on TE incoherence fulfills a desperate need. I congratulate you for weighing in so forcefully and so persuasively on this vitally important subject. StephenB
Uh, Jon, buddy, don't blame creationists for the views of people who aren't creationists. That's about as good an argument as BioLogos is making. The mistake BioLogos is making is tying the physical to the spiritual. If one is "free," so must the other be. If one is determined, so must the other be. That is an assumption which I believe is false and also one shared by Calvinists (apparently). And I agree, most people today whom Calvinists accuse of being Arminian, or who claim to be Arminian, are not. "Arminian" has become a blanket term for anyone who opposes Calvinism, mostly because Calvinists use it so often as a pejorative. tragic mishap
A few assorted thoughts on this whole thing, in no particular order: - It's rather pathetic that five years into this project of supposedly harmonizing Darwinian evolution and Christianity, the nicest thing to be honestly said about these guys is that they might be theists. In reality, it's not even clear that their position amounts to deism, since even deists have traditionally thought that God intended humans to exist, even if he had no direct involvement in the universe after setting it running. - The idea that a statement and its negation can both be "true" is not "Wesleyan". It's Post-Modernist/deconstructionist. If they're going to take this route, they might as well say that Darwinism and Young Earth Creationism are both true, but that it's a "mystery" how. Or hey, even better yet, they might as well say that theism and atheism are both true, and that it's a "mystery". - Venema's claim that "God has given humans free will" only makes sense if in fact God deliberately made human beings and determined the traits we would have. But his claim that God gave the universe "freedom", which is his deliberately obfuscatory way of saying that evolution is not planned or guided by God, contradicts this. But hey, I guess he can just appeal to the "mystery" of contradictory "truths" again. - One thing we can be thankful to Biologos for is showing what's really at stake in the debate. It's not merely a question of whether God brought man into existence directly or through secondary causes as is asserted by many TEs, but whether he deliberately brought man into existence at all. Some TEs harmonize Christianity with "Darwinism" by saying that the "randomness" of Darwinism is only relative or subjective, but that the direction of evolution is really planned, thus defining "Darwinism" down (Stephen Barr fits this category, for instance). But it's obvious that the folks at Biologos understand Darwinian evolution to entail the metaphysical claim that man's existence is unplanned by God. This also undercuts the supposed methodological/philosophical naturalism distinction that TEs like the Biologos folks try to draw for the purposes of science, since it's clear that they themselves think that Darwinism is a scientific theory that nonetheless makes naturalistic claims of a philosophical sort. - This nonsense about God giving the universe "freedom" is some of the most perverse and flagrantly dishonest sophistry I've ever seen, and the Biologos folks should be ashamed of themselves for it, both morally and intellectually. Furthermore, they know better. This isn't mere logical incompetence. Notice that they only use the word "freedom" in reference to the universe, not "free will", which they use in reference to people. They are aware of the distinction, but they are knowingly trying to obscure it, and to fool people into not seeing it. To put it bluntly, they are lying liars. They have absolutely no excuse for this, and they merit censure for their deceitful attempt to promulgate muddled thinking and sophistry on one of the most vital parts of Christian theology. Deuce
Thanks for this overview, Thomas. I can't disagree with any of it, really. A few comments at random. (1) It's maybe significant that many of the BioLogos people are churchgoing scientists - they think as scientists rather than as theologians, so it seems a small matter to throw out Adam and Eve, for example, but a big matter to suggest that mutations may not be stochastic. (2) As Timaeus pointed out recently, many seem to have been raised spiritually in a very defensively Creationist culture, so that "conversion" to evolution was as dramatic as conversion to Christ, and just as thorough. But evolution, of course, is not the Only Saviour and one really ought to maintain a Christian critique of the science in one way or another. So in one way this series is as much a critique of doctrinaire Creationism in the US as of doctrinaire Neodarwinism. (3) Sad to say pick-n-mix theology is not only a feature of TE popular writing, but of the heavy-duty theoreticians that Ted Davis points to in his recent work on BioLogos. Many of these guys are physicists by training, and the science-religion studies in academia seem often to follow a similar methodology to the lower level activity at BioLogos: The science is a given, and this or that somewhat left-field "liberal" theology seems to fit it quite well so we'll graft it in (hardly a surprising fit since both science and liberal theology have common Enlightenment roots). (4) Personal heterodoxy is certainly not confined to Theistic Evolution: perhaps understandably in view of its non-theological basis ID too is a comfortable place for "I like to think that..." thelogy. You make the point well that the Universal Church is a community covering the world and stretching across several millennia under the government of Christ through the Holy Spirit. All of us calling ourselves Christians are doing work on this stuff not to get things sorted to our own satisfaction, but in service to the Kingdom of the Lord who called us. Jon Garvey

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