Intelligent Design

Theology at BioLogos: The Curious Case of the Wesleyan Maneuver – Part 2B

Spread the love

Continuing, from Part 2A of this posting, our analysis of the BioLogos conversation between Crude and Dennis Venema:

Crude comes back one more time for clarification (67718):

“So then, you believe God knew what evolution would result in, in advance of His beginning the process. And of course, He had and has complete power over that process – He chose what would result. So you’d hold evolution to be – ultimately, and not necessarily in a way that requires intervening miracles – guided and purposeful. Do I have you correct?”

Again, a set of clear statements to which it should be easy to respond. Yet, when Venema returns, he again refuses speak to the word “guided” (nor will he speak to “purposeful”). He also does not confirm that God “chose what would result,” and he never confirms that Crude has understood him. Venema’s answer (67748) runs as follows:

“For me these questions are a subset of the larger free will / predestination question. I hold that God ordains and sustains all things, and that he is all-powerful. I also feel that he values freedom greatly – I am not a Calvinist. I believe God has given humans free will, and I also believe that he has given his creation freedom within the bounds he has set for it through natural law. How God balances his sovereignty with his delight in freedom is something I do not claim to fully understand. I tend to be ok with a little mystery.”

Notice the repetition of the ill-defined “sustains,” and the introduction of a new term, “ordains,” which Crude had not asked about. What does “ordain” mean for Venema? If it has its usual English meaning, then it implies purpose, so why would Venema not simply confirm Crude’s term “purposeful”? Or is “ordains” an attempt to avoid speaking of God’s “purposes” in evolution? We can’t tell. The evasiveness continues.

Is there any justification for this evasiveness? If there is, it is perhaps to be found in the claim that “these questions” belong to “the larger free will / predestination question.” That is, we can’t answer Crude’s questions about God’s control over the evolutionary process – which concerns subhuman nature – until we have an answer to the question of free will vs. predestination – which concerns human nature. Why is the one necessary to the other? Why do we need to know how God relates to the will of human beings in order to understand how he relates to rocks and genes and atoms and mushrooms? Venema does not say. He makes a theological claim, and expends no effort to defend it.

One thing is clear, however: Venema is lining up two opposing theologies. One, which he characterizes as “Calvinist,” emphasizes God’s power and sovereignty; the other, which he does not give a name, emphasizes God’s concern for “freedom.” This “freedom” includes the freedom of the human will, but it also includes the “freedom” of creation “within the bounds he has set for it through natural law.” What sort of “freedom,” we might ask, does a stone or a creeping fungus or a bolt of lightning have “within the bounds of natural law”? Venema does not say. But apparently God wants non-human nature to be “free,” too.

Why is Venema setting up this contrast between “Calvinism” and a “theology of freedom”? In terms of the history of Protestant thought, the answer is clear. For centuries there has been battle within the Protestant fold between the “Calvinists” and the “Arminians.” We will state this conflict in crude and unscholarly terms. According to the “Arminians,” the heartless “Calvinists” hold a doctrine of predestination (to salvation or damnation) that is so rigid that it leaves no room for genuine human free will; according to the “Calvinists,” the Arminians are soft on God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, and therefore end up with a doctrine in which human beings might be mistakenly thought to “save themselves” by their choice for Christ. Of course, these characterizations are oversimplified, and both sides generally deny the charges against them; and further, neither “Arminian” nor “Calvinist” is an unequivocal term, since there are many varieties of each type. But this is the popular conception, and it’s the one Venema seems to be operating under. He’s against the “Calvinists” and he’s for “free will”; and somehow that means he’s for “the freedom of nature” as well.

This may explain why Venema refuses the term “guidance.” Guidance implies that God somehow pushes or steers or impels nature toward an end which is God’s, not nature’s; but Venema wants nature to be “free.” So it seems that it is because he is “anti-Calvinist,” or in the “Arminian” camp (though he does not use the term), that he cannot accept the idea that God “guides” nature. At least, that is what we may infer, based on the sketchy theology he provides. And he probably objects to Crude’s notion that God “chose what would result” on similar grounds – that would be God overruling nature’s “freedom.” Even to speak of God’s “purpose” suggests that nature is subservient to ends defined by God, so Venema avoids that word, too. He prefers the more archaic-sounding “ordain” – a word not used often in daily speech, and therefore vaguer to the modern ear, and perhaps, for Venema, not as clearly suggesting direct control as Crude’s other words do.

So apparently, if “Calvinism” is true, then free will would be undermined; so we must deny “Calvinism” in order to preserve free will; but by doing that, we somehow free up “evolution” from strict determination by God. So, as a result, we should not speak of evolution as “guided.” This seems to be the logic of Venema’s position – at least, this is about the best sense we can make of the theological dog’s breakfast that he offers us.

Note that Venema himself seems to be aware of what a dog’s breakfast it is. He ends up almost apologizing for it, by saying that he doesn’t actually know how to reconcile God’s sovereignty over creation with God’s supposed desire for the freedom of nature. He says it’s a “mystery,” and his lame final comment is “I tend to be ok with a little mystery.” This is the best effort of the top-ranking (after Falk) Christian biologist at BioLogos, five years into the existence of the project, about how God controls evolution? That he doesn’t know how evolutionary contingency and divine sovereignty relate, but he’s “ok” with a little mystery?

Crude rightly (but politely) seizes upon this, in his follow-up comment (67758):

“Yes, there’s nothing wrong with mystery. Still, Biologos – understandably – puts limits on mystery. I’m sure you do not defend saying, “Well, earth is 6000 years old and all creatures were created fully formed rather than in a way involving common descent. How? Well, that’s a mystery.” or anything similar.”

Well said. BioLogos would not allow any appeal to “mystery” as a means of holding on to YEC in the light of the overwhelming (as BioLogos sees it) evidence for an old earth and common descent. They would not accept the incompatibility of, say, the results of radioactive dating with Biblical genealogies and creation days as just one of those “mysteries” that believers can be “OK” with. They demand a clear explanation of how YEC can be true, one free of contradictions. So how, then, can Venema duck the same demand for clarity regarding the contradiction espoused by himself – that God is sovereign over nature, ordains everything, yet does not guide evolution or impose his purposes on it?

In the appeal to “mystery”, Venema has, essentially, abdicated any responsibility, not only for answering Crude’s questions, but for saying anything non-trivial about the relationship of God to evolution. He absolves himself of any duty to the evangelical world to show that the BioLogos position on God and evolution is rationally coherent or logically self-consistent.

And that is the very last word he says on the subject. For, though Crude repeats his questions again, offering Venema all kinds of options for “picking and mixing” some things as determined, and others as not determined, by the will or guidance of God (67758), Venema will not speak again. Though his “non-Calvinist” theological position amounts to an assembly of undefined terms, stitched together by speculation, grounded in no traditional texts, and advanced as sheer assertion, “mystery” exempts him from having to defend or explain his position any further. And thus, an argument that would warrant an F in an undergrad philosophy class is allowed to stand as serious theological thought on the world’s prime TE/EC website.

We can see from the above analysis how closely the Crude-Venema conversation exemplifies the pattern of argument – evasion, obfuscation, misdirection, and finally an answer that is at the very best incoherent, and at the worst some form of heresy – that I’ve identified as the lead-up to “the Wesleyan Maneuver.” But so far we can call it only the “I’m not a Calvinist Maneuver.” The next question, then, is how Venema’s position connects with Wesleyanism. I’ll turn to that question in Part 3.

To be continued …

40 Replies to “Theology at BioLogos: The Curious Case of the Wesleyan Maneuver – Part 2B

  1. 1
    johnnyb says:

    The other thing which should be pointed out is that if sufficient “freedom” is given to “the universe” / “creation” / “whatever”, it actually becomes an intelligent design position.

  2. 2
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I’ve been holding my breathg all day, waiting for part 3. Although I’m an ID proponent, I don’t think there is a good theological objection to Darwinian evolution. But perhaps you have found one. I can hardly wait to hear it.

  3. 3
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I agree with your assessment that Falk’s and Ayala’s argument only works if Nature is an actual agent, making free conscious decisions. Since we don’t think Nature is conscious, I think their theodicy fails. But they could stll maintain that Nature is “free” in the sense of being non-determined. God would still be responsible for Natural evil, but He is allowing it for good reasons. Since there is Natural evil, whatever the proximal cause, God is ultimately responsible for allowing it, but we trust that He has good reasons for doing so.

  4. 4
    johnnyb says:

    Bilbo –

    That’s the current line of thinking being developed by Dinesh D’souza. I’m not sure I totally buy it, but it is certainly a worthwhile contribution.

    It’s actually kind of interesting, because from a practical pastoral standpoint, telling people that things happen as part of a bigger plan is healing, but being specific about what that plan is tends to be maddening. I’m not quite sure why, but as one whose family has been on the receiving end of a lot of natural evil, I can only say that it is true.

    It also has a ring of incoherence with Christian theology, and it’s the same one that evolution has. In Christian thought, death is the enemy that is being defeated. In evolutionary thought, death is the hero that makes the rest of life possible. On the one hand, there is a separation of physical and spiritual death, but, on the other hand, physical death is part of the same condition that brought about spiritual death.

    As a side note, thinking about the evolutionary theology of death makes me think of a hysterical book I once read called “The Universe Story” by Swimme and Berry. The authors tried to show how every mass extinction event was actually a good thing in disguise, but ended the book by saying that Walmart was irredeemably evil.

    Back to the original ideas, participating in the suffering of Christ is now thought of as a good thing, and certainly suffering in a natural disaster is somehow part of that. But it seems to me that just as Christ’s suffering was only needed because of something *wrong* in the world, our suffering, if it mirror’s Christs, is also because of something wrong, whether it is human or natural.

    Anyway, just some food for thought on the subject.

  5. 5
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I’m sorry, but you weren’t very specific. What is the current line of thinking being developed by D’souza?

    I agree that Natural evil is evil. Therefore we should be careful about attributing it to God. I much prefer attributing it to Satan. However, that means that God has allowed Satan to cause Natural evil. Why would God do so unless He had good reasons for it?

    Does a Christian Darwinist need to attribute Natural evil to God’s proximal cause? I think she can say that God loves freedom so much that He has even allowed Nature to have it. Agreed this is not at the same level as human freedom, where we as free moral agents make conscious choices, some of which are evil. But if there is really indeterminacy in Nature, I think one can legitimately think of it as a kind of freedom.

    But meanwhile, if a Christian doesn’t accept indeterminacy in Nature (or even Satan’s agency in Nature), but maintains that God has caused all Natural events, then that means that they think God has caused Natural evil. Do we really want to attribute such tragedies to God’s direct actions?

  6. 6

    Bilbo I wrote:

    Although I’m an ID proponent, I don’t think there is a good theological objection to Darwinian evolution.

    I generally agree with this point, at least insofar as we mean Darwinian evolution in the semi-narrow sense of change over time, RM+NS, common descent, even descent of man. However, “broad” evolution, what might be understood as the larger world paradigm of evolution as so often embraced and preached by proponents of evolutionary theory, is theologically problematic in at least the following ways:

    (i) To the extent that evolution is seen, as it often is, as a single process that accounts for all of reality, then in that sense the idea that there is something either before-in-time or beyond-in-scope of the purely physical and material universe can be seen as incompatible with such a wholly materialistic and naturalistic view of reality. To the extent that any theology proclaims a reality beyond the tangible physical and the material — whether angels, spirits, souls, visions, miracles, prayer, divine inspiration, life after death, and so on — such a view is incompatible with a purely natural and material doctrine.

    (ii) To the extent that evolution is understood, as it generally is, to operate without any plan, purpose or greater meaning, and without, as Huxley stated “either need or room for a creator,” then to that extent evolution is in contrast with theology. This is precisely why Dawkins excitedly proclaimed that evolution allowed a person to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist.” This is also what prompted Will Provine to assert that “there are no purposive forces of any kind, no Gods . . .”

    (iii) To the extent that a theologian believes (and perhaps not all theologies do, but many do) that man is created in the image of deity (whether physically or in mental capacities, sensibilities, reason, intelligence, potential and so on), then to that extent the evolutionary narrative of an unguided natural process leading to man, becomes incompatible with theology. For if both descent of man and the “image of God” are taken seriously, then the only two logical alternatives are either: (i) evolution was somehow guided to the right solution (such guided evolution being a decidedly non-Darwinian and non-mainstream kind of evolution), or (ii) evolution just happened to stumble upon the “image” of God by an incredible coincidence of the cosmic lottery . . . one imagines God holding his breath, crossing his fingers, and tapping his pencil nervously, hoping that perhaps this time around evolution will stumble upon the right result and produce something in his image . . .

    —–

    I realize it is possible to speak of evolution in more general terms of basic physical mechanisms leading from point A to B. Many of us try to be careful to use evolution in this narrow sense and I suspect that is what you had in mind. Yet we need to remember that when evolution is used by proponents of evolution, in textbooks, and in the media generally, although perhaps not stated it is almost always understood to mean a completely natural and material process operating without any guidance, plan or purpose. It is not the specific mechanisms of biological change, but rather these (often unstated) underlying assumptions of evolutionary doctrine that run counter to theological moorings.

  7. 7
    Jon Garvey says:

    I think she can say that God loves freedom so much that He has even allowed Nature to have it.

    Bilbo, one of the things that irks me in the BioLogos “freedom” thinking (and that of very many of other top TEs) is the kind of sweeping assumptions made about God on zilch evidence. And of course the fact that the disparate concepts of “randomness” and “freedom” are merged into one.

    On the first, where does the idea come from that God loves freedom above all else? Liberal democrats do (and particularly Americans, which is why Iraq and Afghanistan are like they are), but I’d be interested to see a Scriptural case for God being an American. I’d be upfront, and say that from 47 years of Bible study, freedom is a very specific theme centred around liberation from sin, and isn’t a fundamental theme of God’s government at all. Even liberation fromn sin is supposed to lead to slavery to Christ.

    On the second, using randomness in the hope of making gains is called “gambling”. To pick up on johnnyb’s point about spiritual comfort, I get a lot of comfort in trouble realising that God’s purposes are too high for me, little comfort from “advisors” who think they have a hotline to those inscrutable purposes, and none at all from someone who tells me that I’m suffering because God’s game of dice isn’t quite working out for him.

  8. 8
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Eric,

    1) Yes, I think TEs need to be clear that they are referring to the biological theory of evolution only.

    2) BioLogos has brought up the example of the Sierpinski triangle a few times to illustrate how a random system can come up with a very predictable pattern. So it seems logically possible that God has provided enough built-in constraints in our Universe so that the outcomes of random evolution will still be predictable. Simon Conway Morris seems to suggest that this is what is being displayed with convergent evolution. I’m not convinced that he is right. But I’m not convinced that he is wrong, either.

    3) But let’s take the worse case scenario: evolution is totally unpredictable, and the chances of getting human-like creatures is infinitesimal. There are cosmological models that predict that our own universe is actually infinite in space. And there are cosmological models that predict infinite universes. It is possible that God could use either one in order to eventually produce us. I don’t think He would. But He didn’t ask me for my opinion. The point is that if God wanted to, He could create an infinite number of worlds, just so that we would eventually appear by means of Darwinian evolution.

  9. 9
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Jon,

    1) Does God love freedom above all else? I wouldn’t know. But I think God prefers being loved by free creatures, than by automotons. But I’m a liberal Democrat. Do conservative Republicans prefer being loved by automotons?

    2) As far as God and gambling are concerned, I wonder how much comfort Job would have obtained in knowing that his sufferings were because of a bet between God and Satan.

  10. 10
    Bilbo I says:

    BTW, I’m defending BioLogos’ view as being compatible with Christianity. But I don’t agree with their view. Yes, I think the indeterminism that we seem to see in Nature may be a sign that God even wants non-sentience to have some freedom. But it is a freedom that we see God overriding again and again in the Bible. I see no reason to think that God would constrain Himself from intervening in Nature and causing things to happen that wouldn’t ordinarily happen in order to direct Natural history.

  11. 11
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Bilbo I (10):

    You speak of the Biologos view as being compatible with Christianity. I don’t know how you determined this. In order to say “Belief X is compatible with Christianity,” you have to first know what Belief X is. And the whole point of my series is that it is impossible to tell what BioLogos believes about God’s role in evolution. They refuse to be clear about it. And the refusal is deliberate, practiced, and part of the standard TE routine.

    I note that in your posts here, you give a number of possible scenarios which could make sense of TE claims — multiverses, quantum indeterminacy, built-in constraints, etc. Supposing that any of those things were in the minds of Falk and Venema, the question is, why did they not mention them when asked about God’s relationship to evolution? It is gracious of you to do their work for them, but why should you? Why can’t they speak for themselves?

    Look at the large amount of exegetical work I had to do in my series, in order to sublimate the remarks of Falk and Venema into some kind of sense. Why do we have to guess, from their vague and non-committal answers, how they think God is involved (or not involved) in evolution? Why do we have to guess what they might mean by the “freedom” of a protein molecule or a mushroom? Why do we have to guess what definition of “providence” they are employing? Why do we have to guess what version of “Wesleyan” thought they are appealing to? Why do we have to guess what they object to in the word “guided”? Why do we have to take their incoherent answers and supply the missing premises and logical inferences that would make those answers coherent? Why should we have to do their explanatory work for them, when they are the ones claiming to be able to prove that neo-Darwinian evolution is compatible with the traditional Christian views of providence and governance?

    Try to imagine this debate removed from the blogosphere — where the key environmental factor governing all debates is the freedom to be verbally and intellectually irresponsible — to a more serious environment. Imagine an academic conference, attended by world-class professors of the history and philosophy of science, of the philosophy of religion, and of the history of Christian thought, with the theme: “Is God involved in the evolutionary process?” If Falk and Venema read papers on the subject which contained no more clarity than what they offered to Crude, how do you think their papers would fare with the audience of Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge faculty there? Do you think they would escape the room with their academic reputations intact?

  12. 12
    Jon Garvey says:

    Bilbo @9

    (1) The point about the Biblical witness is that it doesn’t dichotomise beings into “free” and “automatons” – that’s a modern distinction. Human will is a phenomenological assumption in Scripture, and responsibility to obey God is built on that – from which come slavery to sin and death as the alternative, and the whole complex salvation history vocabulary of liberation with its application to human institutions like slavery, coercion and the like. The aim is always to return to a state of joyful and willing obedience to God’s will, freed from false constraints of sin, oppression and so on.

    None of any of that warrants the conclusion that because freedom is so important to God, it permeates the whole non-sapient creation in the form of randomness.

    (2) Hardly a telling point – the dialogue between God and Satan was written as part of the argument for the meaning of unjust suffering. The protagonist, Job, may not have been privy to it, but everyone since who identifies with Job is. And no believer in their right mind will feel God cheated Job in a private wager. It was not a bet – but God’s assertion of the power of the faith of his true servant against Satan’s worst efforts. And why was God so certain? Because faith is a supernatural gift (1 Jn 5.5, 1 Pet 1.7, Eph 2.8). You want a lesson on spiritual warfare – Job is it. And the biggest lesson in spiritual warfare is that you often don’t know you’re in it – even afterwards. Revelation 12.10-11 is a commentary on that, and I’ve always found that aspect of Job the most helpful aspect of the book pastorally.

  13. 13
    Gregory says:

    “None of any of that warrants the conclusion that because freedom is so important to God, it permeates the whole non-sapient creation in the form of randomness.” – Jon

    Yes, I agree with that. There really does seem to be a major difference when it comes to ‘anthropic’ talk, which is why I was glad to see Dembski and Falk predominantly agree on the topic of human exceptionalism. More of that needs to follow…

    To Thomas’ thought experiment: “Imagine an academic conference, attended by world-class professors of the history and philosophy of science, of the philosophy of religion, and of the history of Christian thought, with the theme: “Is God involved in the evolutionary process?” If Falk and Venema read papers on the subject which contained no more clarity than what they offered to Crude, how do you think their papers would fare with the audience of Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge faculty there? Do you think they would escape the room with their academic reputations intact?”

    Only by saying ‘we have no scientific proof of guidance of the evolutionary process’ and leaving it at that. If it was a conference on ‘science and faith,’ noting that Falk and Venema are biologists and not philosophers or historians of theology, the audience would probably be able to understand the ‘no further than this’ approach of BioLogos wrt evolution vs. evolutionism (cf. Ard Louis’ recent post), given the Big ‘L’ acknowledges much already relevant though far from satisfactory re: ‘guidance,’ etc. Again, remember that the guidance question is ID-language being forced upon BioLogos from outside, though they haven’t done themselves any favours by not offering a clearly expressed suitable alternative.

    It is a fitting reversal from asking “what BioLogos believes about God’s role in evolution” to asking “what ID believes about the ‘designer’s/Designer’s’ role in evolution.” As you mentioned in the other thread, Thomas, this was not the goal of your series to answer. But is it not screaming out with unfairness to criticise people for not having a satisfactory answer to a question that one’s ‘camp’ likewise cannot (and in many cases, refuses to) answer? This to me highlights the different approaches of ID and EC/BioLogos; one focuses on origins while the other works on processes – neither one having produced a world-class scientific or philosophical breakthrough.

    By the way, Thomas, what was God’s role in the founding of the United Nations? A similarly broad question, which it would be unfair of me to expect a clear, direct satisfactory answer from you. E.g. UNDHR = ‘intelligently designed’?

    More ‘teleological’ language indeed seems needed from BioLogos. Who can they turn to to find this in the TE tradition – Teilhard de Chardin, Bergson, Whitehead, Dobzhansky, et al.? Please know, Thomas, that teleological language is already prolific in spheres outside of the IDM’s current vision. Making biology into a teleological science seems more like engineering or applied biology, than it does of natural history or theoretical biology. One has to be careful of things like bioprospecting, neo-eugenics and bioliberalism lurking around the corner if one goes the biology-teleology-engineering route, don’t you agree? ID is much closer to danger on this front than BioLogos will probably ever be.

  14. 14
    Jon Garvey says:

    More ‘teleological’ language indeed seems needed from BioLogos. Who can they turn to to find this in the TE tradition – Teilhard de Chardin, Bergson, Whitehead, Dobzhansky, et al.?

    There’s the rub – theistic evolution is, generically, a perfectly reasonable position to hold in common with historically orthodox Christianity, but most of its major expressions have, in my view, flown too close to the metaphysical presuppositions of Darwinism and fallen into alternative theologies. That seems the case not only in the US BioLogos situation, but here in the UK in Christians in Science, if their discussion board is at all representative. And the more academic “science and religion” field of Polkinghorne, Barbour etc shares similar biases.

    The early strand of people like B B Warfield, which was careful to guard not only essential doctrine but subject science’s philosophical assumptions to rigorous critique, seems largely absent now.

  15. 15
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Gregory:

    I’m running out of time. The main posting, plus my several long answers to commenters, have drained me of spare moments. So I’ll answer a couple of your points quickly, and then I will have to retire from action on this thread.

    “what was God’s role in the founding of the United Nations?”

    God did not found the United Nations. Human beings did, albeit with his consent, and using the powers he gave them — reason, and speech. And in using reason and speech, human beings from each nation were aware that they could not compel, but could only persuade, human beings from the various other nations to cooperate with them. That is because human beings are free to say yes or no.

    On the other hand, human beings did not create the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. God did. And the matter out of which God made the world, by whatever process, was completely compliant to his will, and he did not need to persuade it, but could compel it, to take on whatever forms he wanted it to. It had no freedom to say yes or no. At least, this must be the view for those who, like the scientists at BioLogos, profess the Christian God, who is omnipotent and sovereign.

    The question is why the BioLogos people have trouble acknowledging this distinction between the human world and the world of subhuman nature. If they acknowledged it, they would have no trouble with employing the language of purpose, design, guidance, governance, etc. in regard to God’s creative activity. They would not think that such language was offensive to the “freedom” of anything.

    “But is it not screaming out with unfairness to criticise people for not having a satisfactory answer to a question that one’s ‘camp’ likewise cannot (and in many cases, refuses to) answer?”

    ID people have very clear answers to the questions Crude was posing to Venema and Falk. Those ID people who accept evolution have no problem in saying that the process was either end-driven from the start (programmed, front-loaded, etc.) or involved a series of interventions to compensate for the non-teleology of stochastic processes such as random mutations. To Crude’s question, “Was evolution guided?” the latter group would say, immediately, “Yes,” and the former group would say, immediately, “Not ‘guided,’ in the sense of ‘manually steered,’ but rather ‘programmed’ into nature from the beginning.” Neither group would stall, fire back questions, dance around, or equivocate as the BioLogos people do. ID needs no “Wesleyan Maneuver” because its positions are not internally contradictory. When your position is not internally contradictory, you can give a straight question a straight answer. Your answer may be right, or it may be wrong, but at least it’s straight, not crooked.

  16. 16
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Jon Garvey (14):

    Thanks for your overview of the USA, Britain and older writers. I do not feel certain enough to pronounce upon the British situation, but what I have seen of British TE leaders supports your judgment, and your analysis of the USA leaders is spot on.

    I agree with you that theistic evolution per se need not be unorthodox. Indeed, theistic evolution can also be quite compatible with design theory. The problem is that most of the leaders of TE today have adopted resolutely anti-teleological premises (both in their Darwinian science and in their “Wesleyan” theology of “freedom”) that prevent any toleration of design ideas. The squirming about the term “guided” is just one of many indicators of this deep problem.

    By the way, I found your article on Arminius on *Hump of the Camel* very helpful, and from the looks of the place, I think that many ID people should drop in there for a visit.

  17. 17
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I think BioLogos has made their belief about evolution clear: They accept a neo-Darwinian view, not seeing any special need for God’s intervention or for more input into the initial conditions of the universe than have been discovered by physics and chemistry.

    I don’t see how this contradicts Christianity.

  18. 18
    Bilbo I says:

    Jon,

    So Job learns that God has made a bet with Satan. Satan claims that Job is only faithful to God because of Job’s good fortune and health. So God allows Satan to kill all of Job’s children, destroy his possessions, and afflict Job with boils. And Job remains faithful.

    Let’s now view a universe where God has made a bet with Satan. Satan claims that Job is only faithful to God because of Job’s good fortune and health. God replies to Satan, “It just so happens that the random events in this universe will kill all of Job ‘s children, destroy his possessions, and afflict Job with boils. I bet that Job will remain faithful.” And Job remains faithful.

    We can claim that the universe would have visited all of these misfortunes on Job anyway. But the point is that Job will remain faithful, regardless.

    Now which universe do we live in? One where all of our misfortunes are a direct result of Satan? Or one where all of our misfortunes are a result of a random universe? My guess is that it’s a little of both. But regardless of which it is, the point is for us to remain faithful.

  19. 19
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Bilbo, you wrote:

    “I think BioLogos has made their belief about evolution clear: They accept a neo-Darwinian view, not seeing any special need for God’s intervention or for more input into the initial conditions of the universe than have been discovered by physics and chemistry.”

    I agree with you that this is almost certainly the personal belief of Falk and Venema, and probably of all the other regular columnists. But in their public statements, which are designed for the consumption of a wide variety of people, they obscure this belief by various means. For example, given the position you sketch above, Venema should have answered Crude’s question about “guidance” with “No.” Obviously no “guidance” (or “steering” or “directing”) is necessary if Darwinian processes can do the job without any nudges or pushes. There was therefore no need to string Crude along for three days. Another example: why all the business about the “freedom” of nature? “Freedom” doesn’t come into the view you describe here at all. Why muddy the waters with such a loaded term? And another example: Why talk about “Wesleyan” vs “Calvinist” understandings? They have nothing to do with the account you’ve given above. Venema was totally capable of saying: “Given the first life-forms, random mutations plus natural selection are totally capable of explaining the evolution of all other species, including man, without the aid of any special action by God.” Had he said that up front, Crude could then have gone on to probe with other questions, e.g., “Well, if God didn’t guide the process, in what way did he determine its outcomes — or did he even determine its outcomes?” But because Venema stalled, evaded, equivocated, vanished for two days, and finally returned to give an answer to the question that ran completely sideways to the original question, no intellectual progress was made.

    So the question is, if Venema believes what you say he believes — and I think you are right — what explains his evasive conversational behavior? And what explain’s Falk’s? I suspect that the answer lies in the complicated political relationships of American intra-evangelical politics. But whatever the cause of the concealment, a critic must analyze the public statements of BioLogos writers, not what he thinks they privately believe, because it is the public statements that the BioLogos people claim to be standing on. The position you have outlined is not the position they argued when they were talking to Crude, and it’s not the position they have argued on other occasions where they have employed the Wesleyan Maneuver. I have to deal with the statements I’m given, and I think I’ve done that thoroughly.

    Now, as to your second question, I’ve already explained that, in my column. You must have missed the part about the crucial role of contingent events and the impossibility of initial conditions (in a Darwinian system) guaranteeing any particular outcome. If God restricted himself to using only Darwinian means, he could not have (omnipotent or not) guaranteed any particular outcomes. That’s neither a theological nor a scientific claim; it’s a logical truth, on the level of God not being able to make a square circle. So if God used only Darwinian means, and did not intervene — both conditions which you have just conceded to be the heart of the BioLogos position — God could not have guaranteed the existence of man. Yet the Bible and the tradition tell us that God guaranteed the existence of man. So the BioLogos view is incompatible with the orthodox Christian view of creation. Q.E.D.

    This does not mean that evolution is incompatible with Christian faith. It just means that the dated and badly flawed evolutionary theory held by the behind-the-times scientists at BioLogos is incompatible with Christian faith. Indeed, the only way to hold that stale theory together with Christian faith is to invoke “mystery” — which is probably why they do it. But the fact that they still hold to neo-Darwinism, on the eve of its theoretical collapse, indicates that they are not the right people to be leading discussions about theology and “modern science.”

  20. 20
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Bilbo:

    Just to clarify the above response: when I was speaking to your second point, I was taking your account of the BioLogos view as the basis of my discussion. I say this because I had distinguished earlier between the public and private BioLogos view. I wasn’t contradicting myself in switching from the public view to the private view; I was addressing the private view because that is the one you wanted analyzed in terms of the charge of contradiction with Christianity.

    Whether what I called the public view — the one presented to Crude — contradicts Christianity, is harder to say, because the view is so murky that one can’t tell what it is actually asserting. But it’s a fair guess that the public view is deliberately murky, in order to conceal from some sectors of the evangelical world the contradiction between what the BioLogos people actually believe, and traditional Christian creation doctrine. To say outright that God did not guide evolution would cost BioLogos the support of some moderate evangelicals who currently hover between TE and ID, or TE and OEC. In such a situation, vagueness rather than honesty is the best policy.

  21. 21
    Jon Garvey says:

    Bilbo @18

    (1) Let’s pass over the fact that you’re still calling God’s dealings with Satan a bet, which is the kind of calumny I’d expect more of beaglelady over on BioLogos than you.

    (2) Let’s also pass over the fact that Scripture gives (other than the bet) the first version of your scenario, and not the second. That makes it the version to go with.

    Though you’re generalising beyond what Job itself can teach us (ie there is no mention of undirected nature, or undirected Midianite raiders, so I assume you’re just questioning what difference a couple of alternative scenarios would make in principle), we can still use the story, in fact.

    One of the fascinations of the story is that Job is kept in the dark about Satan’s involvement. He directs all his complaints at God himself, whom he counts as responsible for his affliction. And God’s reply does not deny Job’s assessment at all – indeed the book itself attributes the affliction ultimately to God (see 42.11). So Satan is shown, in his perverse accusation and destructive activity, to be in the long run serving the will of God.

    So we can learn the valuable lesson that Satan, though our enemy and even God’s enemy, is not a free agent.

    Your second scenario, then, would be no different to the first – God willed (for his own inscrutable reason) to afflict Job in this way and at this time, and it would still be thus if God merely foresaw natural events and (this is key) chose not to intervene.

    More than that – God is still shown as sovereign in restoring to Job more than he had before. It gets a little artificial, does it not, to say that he simply foresaw that Job would recover naturally (after praying for his friends), win the lottery, find a nice girl and live happily ever after. Neither would that serve the story’s main message – that God governs our circumstances wisely and justly, though his ways are beyond our comprehension.

    There is simply no room in the Biblical worldview for a Universe acting independently of God’s governance. It is his agent, working out his purposes.

  22. 22
    Gregory says:

    “There is simply no room in the Biblical worldview for a Universe acting independently of God’s governance. It is his agent, working out his purposes.” – Jon

    Isn’t this precisely the same argument that many TEs/ECs or ‘Christians who accept biological evolutionary theories’ make against ‘intelligent design’ (ID)?

    Doesn’t ‘sustained and governed evolution (read: natural history), that is nevertheless not scientifically provable’ appropriately reflect your current position then, Jon?

    TE/EC is more immanence-oriented while ID is more transcendence-oriented, in regard to the Deity, wouldn’t you agree?

  23. 23
    Joe says:

    Bilbo:

    I think BioLogos has made their belief about evolution clear: They accept a neo-Darwinian view, not seeing any special need for God’s intervention or for more input into the initial conditions of the universe than have been discovered by physics and chemistry.

    I don’t see how this contradicts Christianity.

    You can give them eyes but you cannot make them see:

    As if it had to be said-

    In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism.1

    The frequently made assertion that modern biology and the assumptions of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are fully compatible is false.2

    Evolution is the greatest engine of atheism ever invented.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.3

    As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.4

    click here for a hint:

    ‘Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.’ 5

    Thank you for your honesty Will Provine.

    1- Academe January 1987 pp.51-52 †

    2-Evolutionary Progress (1988) p. 65 †

    3- “Evolution: Free will and punishment and meaning in life” 1998 Darwin Day Keynote Address 1 2 †

    4- No Free Will (1999) p.123

    5- Provine, W.B., Origins Research 16(1), p.9, 1994.

  24. 24
    Jon Garvey says:

    Isn’t this precisely the same argument that many TEs/ECs or ‘Christians who accept biological evolutionary theories’ make against ‘intelligent design’ (ID)?

    It might be the same words, Gregory, but not quite the same understanding. The biblical Universe has smart whirlwinds targeting specific individuals under angelic sub-agency to further God’s purpose for another specific individual. It has the deaths of individual sparrows programmed into God’s will.

    In the case of many, at least, of the TEs you cite the Universe is serving God’s purpose specifically enough if it produces some kind of intelligent species God can co-opt for spirituality before the same Universe manages to destroy it by egregious genetic errors.

    Doesn’t ‘sustained and governed evolution (read: natural history), that is nevertheless not scientifically provable’ appropriately reflect your current position then, Jon?

    Hmm, that’s one for a lawyer to pick apart before it goes to print. For a start, please stress “governed” since that’s another area where Darrell Falk refused to be drawn at BioLogos, and affects ones view of evolution profoundly.

    Then “scientifically proveable”: is that with or without methodological naturalism? If the latter were dropped, then the question is still open: no science is ever “proven”, but it may become obtuse to deny external agency. My own position is that if God is governing outcomes with consistently low probabilities, ie not predictable by physical laws, then his fingerprints are all over the show. As someone said, “improbability” is indistinguishable from “caprice” – or better, given information theory, indistinguishable from “conscious choice”.

  25. 25
    Gregory says:

    In this case, the unanswered question speaks louder than those that were answered:

    “TE/EC is more immanence-oriented while ID is more transcendence-oriented, in regard to the Deity, wouldn’t you agree?”

    ‘Smart whirlwinds’ and ‘sparrows programmed’ sounds much more like a fairytale or new mythology than TE/EC works attempting to bridge the gap between science and religion/theology. There is a Penman who defends EC, balancing evolutionary science with theology.

    “His fingerprints” phraseology sounds like you’ve become an IDer, Jon, ala Phillip Johnson! He’s a lawyer, you’re a doctor, yet still the same terms for communicative purposes? No offense, sounds more than a bit theo-anthropomorphic to me, a sociologist. At least we can all chuckle at our circularity! = )

    Let me rephrase then: You don’t think we can ‘scientifically prove’ that ‘evolution is guided/governed’, do you Jon? Iow, you believe that evolution is guided/governed solely on theological grounds, right?

  26. 26
    Jon Garvey says:

    “TE/EC is more immanence-oriented while ID is more transcendence-oriented, in regard to the Deity, wouldn’t you agree?”

    Didn’t notice the question, sorry. I don’t think one can generalise – it depends on which part of either broad camp you ask. A YEC ID is presumably more orientated to transcendence than a panentheistic TE or one who favours Russell’s quantum management.

    But those TEs close to Deism, and those who accept God’s sustaining power but no actual government of events to produce specific outcomes are less immanence-orientated than IDs who think of design as an ongoing, intimate, input of information.

    “Smart whirlwinds” refers colloquially to Job, as discussed with Bilbo: programmed sparrows to Jesus’s teaching. Even serious physicists have used plum-puddings as examples. Such homely events are where the revealed theology comes from in order to engage with the science. The outcomes attributed to God in the Bible are specific and detailed, wise and personal.

    Your last question is hardly rephrased at all – it still talks about scientific proof as if there were such a thing outside shampoo ads. What I look for is a consonance between theology and science, and I don’t find that in the ND synthesis because it’s apparently incapable of delivering the precision teleological creation would seem to require, and which is my general observation within nature.

    I’ve already said that the role of God cannot be proven, firstly because natural science currently formulated excludes it a priori, and secondly because the kind of divine activity I’d expect to see could also be attributed to chance, as the current theory expects, because information is by definition of low probability.

    But the degree of “luck” demanded in evolution has grown exponentially since Darwin’s time, especially with the post-genome project developments. What seemed once like just selecting the best card from an easily modified pack of 52 now retreats further and further into looking like an unending series of top prize lottery wins.

    Unlike cosmology, biology is less able to explain “fine tuned” evolution by the anthropic principle. So at some point, though proof cannot be given for any metaphysical explanation, the naturalistic account may well become too implausible to be taken seriously, and theistic explanations seen as having better explanatory power. Which is as closew to “proof” as science should ever go.

  27. 27
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Good to see that you tried defending the position you stated on your fourth thread here in your third thread. No, there is no contradiction. Prior to Quantum Mechanics, we thought the universe was deterministic, so that God could set up the initial conditions and whatever result he wanted would obtain, without the need of intervention. Thus Darwinism and Christiantiy could both be true.

    Then came QM, and determinism came into doubt. Could God still set up the initial conditions and obtain whatever result he wanted? At first blush, the answer appears to be no. But now the real question is how specific a result does God want? Does he want a very specific biological form known as homo sapiens, or could he settle for something that was very similar to it? If something very similar, then we already have evidence of life forms that were very similar to homo sapiens. If neo-Darwinism is correct (an empirical question) then those similar life forms were obtained by indeterministic processes.

    But let’s say that God wanted a very specific biological form known as homo sapiens. He could still obtain this result in an infinite universe (which, in fact, we might be living in) or in a multiverse. For QM doesn’t mean that certain improbable, specific events won’t happen, just that they are improbable. Increase the probabilistic resources and those specific events eventually reach a probability of one.

    So no contradiction necessarily accrues. Do I think that God would go to the trouble of creating infinite probabilistic resources in order to obtain the results he wanted, when he could just as easily override “free” nature? No. I’m just saying that God could do it that way if he so chose. And I try to let God do things the way he wants to do them. Don’t you?

  28. 28
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Bilbo:

    Your sarcastic remark about which thread I answered on is uncalled for. I answered on this thread the question you asked on this thread — look at your own words in 17 above. If I’d answered your question above on another thread, doubtless you’d have complained that I answered your question in an inconvenient place.

    Prior to quantum mechanics, *we* thought the universe was deterministic? I beg your pardon? *Some* thought the universe was deterministic. But yes, I’m well aware of 19th-century determinism in physics. I was reading about Laplace’s famous statement when I was still in short pants.

    The problem with your argument is that you write as if it is just obvious that determinism in physics translates to determinism in biology. That isn’t obvious, as living things have characteristic that non-living things don’t have, including desire, volition, thought, and, in the human case, reason. It can be argued that new levels of organization can produce new powers, including the ability to break chains of previous determinants, and initiate new chains of one’s own. It’s certainly not clear that beavers build dams because of Boyle’s law, etc.

    You like to fly by the seat of your pants, figuring out from first principles (as you see the first principles) what a thinker would probably believe or argue. You don’t seem to like checking those reasonings of yours against historical documents, to find out if the thinkers in question actually did reason the way you think they should have (if they were as logical as you). I caught you doing this previously, in your speculations about why Gould said something that he did — speculations which you confirmed with no references.

    Have you actually checked the writings of either Darwin or the neo-Darwinians to see if they adopted this deterministic understanding of evolutionary biology? Funny, I’ve read The Origin of Species, in the longest edition, very carefully, and I didn’t see determinism in it; I saw contingency. A very tiny change of circumstances can result in a whole new evolutionary possibility. And Darwin had certainly not heard of quantum mechanics. And, as I’ve already mentioned, you have provided not a shred of evidence — perhaps because you don’t like to read long books? — that any of the champions of the Modern Synthesis had been influenced by quantum mechanics, either. Their model of evolution is again contingent. And, while Gould was certainly late enough to have taken quantum mechanics into account, given his training under the influence of the Modern Synthesis, he would have made that famous statement about contingency anyway.

    Now if you are talking about Michael Denton — another person you probably have not read, since you don’t like anything that is “long” — that’s a different case. Denton’s scheme in his second book is close to deterministic; and he’s explicitly anti-Darwinian. He speaks specifically against the “chance” elements in Darwinian thinking, and talks about evolution as the output of a cosmic computer program — driven by the relentless necessity programmed into nature at the beginning. Your argument about the Darwinian view would be better made on the basis of Denton, who comes much closer to saying that determinism at the atomic level will necessarily lead to determinism at the biological level. So you’ve missed an important distinction.

    All of my argument is based on my awareness — due to my studies of what evolutionary biologists have actually said, not to any ad hoc reasoning on my part — of the distinction between a “chancy” and a “deterministic” sort of evolutionary biology. If you reject that distinction, then of course you won’t accept my argument. (But if you reject my distinction, you are saying that Darwin and the neo-Darwinians didn’t understand the philosophical implications of their own theory, and that Denton didn’t understand the nature of Darwin’s theory — which is possible, though it’s a pretty brassy thing to say when we are dealing with people as intelligent as these people were.)

    Anyhow, what I am saying is that even for Darwin, setting up the initial conditions could not guarantee any final result. So the rise of quantum indeterminacy did not affect the theological issue. And if you would take the time to do some research, instead of relying on your own ad hoc reasoning, you would find that in fact in the 19th century, theologians like Hodge were objecting to Darwinian thought precisely because of its chanciness, which was incompatible with the idea of divine ends whose failure of achievement was unthinkable.

    As for your first point about quantum indeterminism, taken by itself, I have no objection — yes, it did indeed looks as if God would not be able to guarantee whatever result he wanted. But we part company over your “rescue” of the situation. You suggest that God could “settle” for something that was very similar to it. (Of course, the idea of God “settling” for anything is out of line with both Biblical and systematic theology for at least the first 1800 years of Christian thought, but leave that aside.) But how could God guarantee anything even close to what he wanted, if quantum irregularities were a serious factor in the evolutionary process? You are suggesting that God would be only “a little bit” out of control of the process? Why not a lot? How did you quantify this, to determine that God could still get pretty close? Where are your equations? Or are you just relying on your gut instincts about how much effect quantum variation should have? Why should I follow your gut instinct?

    Your remarks about specific events eventually reaching a probability of one show that you are thinking about arrangements of physical particles, but again, there is no reason why *any* number of rearrangements of genetic material should guarantee any result, if (as is becoming increasingly clear) gene-based evolution is a gross oversimplfication that borders on a falsehood. (Epigenetics, etc.) (Read some Shapiro, please.) By this reasoning, given a large enough universe, eventually a Dell computer will be assembled by chance in a desert on some planet. And that’s a silly conclusion, because mere largeness of numbers don’t take into account certain qualitative considerations, i.e., it takes an intelligent agent to produce silicon chips.

    As to your final question, I don’t tell God what to do, either. (Though the BioLogos people do, quite frequently.) And I grant that he *could* do things any way he wanted to, consistent with logic. But if we believe in a Biblical God, then our reference point is not what a philosophical theologian says that God *might* have done, but what the Bible says that God *did* do.

    The Bible indicates that God created man in his image, and that he projected man in his mind beforehand, and there isn’t a hint of a suggestion that man wasn’t exactly what God wanted. So if the Bible seems to teach that God got exactly what he wanted, and “science” (meaning that travesty of science which is neo-Darwinism) seems to teach that God couldn’t have guaranteed more than an approximation of man, who has to give way? The theology of the Biblical writers? Or the science of neo-Darwinism?

    For BioLogos, the answer is clear: science always trumps the traditional understanding of the Bible; the traditional understanding of the Bible has to be changed if it’s incompatible with the best science. Science, it is implied, is reliable knowledge, and theology is only fuzzy knowledge, and hence should be constantly adjusted to get along with science. (Christ is true, of course, but theology is negotiable. Oddly, there is no equivalent for BioLogos on the science side, such as evolution is true, but neo-Darwinian theory is negotiable.)

    But of course BioLogos can’t say outright, without outraging the moderates in the evangelical world, that the scientific tail is right to wag the theological dog, and that the dog should be glad to be wagged. Hence, the studied ambiguity, the evasiveness, etc.

    I simply want the world to ask the question: why are these BioLogos guys being so cagey about whether God exercises any kind of guidance, control or planning of the evolutionary process? You don’t see Al Mohler or Ken Ham being cagey. And on the other end, you don’t see Dawkins or Dennett being cagey. What is it about the TE position that causes BioLogos to seek the blandest, least committal, most ambiguous statements of its views? What has TE got to hide? The more evangelical Christians in the USA ask that question, the better.

    Anyhow, if Darwinian theory is interpreted as its classic exponents interpret it, it is incompatible with the Christian doctrine of creation as its classic exponents interpret it. If you want to play around with Darwinian theory and make it something like Denton’s — necessitarian evolution — yes, that is perfectly compatible with hardcore “Calvinism” or Catholicism or orthodox traditions of most kinds. But I don’t believe in falsifying what writers intended.

  29. 29
    Gregory says:

    “I simply want the world to ask the question: why are these BioLogos guys being so cagey about whether God exercises any kind of guidance, control or planning of the evolutionary process? You don’t see Al Mohler or Ken Ham being cagey. And on the other end, you don’t see Dawkins or Dennett being cagey.” – Thomas

    You want to try to take down the BioLogos guys (and gals) because in the USA’s culture war you think this will lift you up? Yet these are your evangelical brothers and sisters, who sit beside you in the pews. What gives? ‘Guidance,’ ‘control’ and ‘planning’ are ID-talk, not EC/BioLogos-talk; simple as that. Respect their chosen language as they might choose to respect yours.

    Al Mohler and Ken Ham are YECs – and you prefer them to BioLogos because they are ‘not cagey’!!!

    Read this clearly, Thomas: ECs don’t think (natural) ‘SCIENCE’ can prove God’s guidance. But this doesn’t mean ECs disbelieve in God’s guidance, governance and/or control. Do you not recognise the difference between these two positions? I can only guess not because you keep repeating the same promissary refrain, without stating where and when you believe science can prove that ‘design guidance’ occurred.

    Bilbo I – do you still not speak the difference between ‘(neo-)Darwinian’ and ‘(neo-)Darwinism’? Hint: one is a scientific theory or paradigm, the other is an ideology. Just because Dembski and Falk speak not clearly on this doesn’t mean you must also. ‘Neo-Darwinism’ being ‘correct is not an empirical question, but an ideological presupposition. Surely this is not something you can learn, Bilbo I, or is it?

    “For BioLogos, the answer is clear: science always trumps the traditional understanding of the Bible; the traditional understanding of the Bible has to be changed if it’s incompatible with the best science.” – Thomas

    This is an example of mud just slung. As clear as mud, both of your camps are on the same (mostly evangelical) hymn sheet. A mediator would seem necessary to negotiate such antagonism.

    “the moderates in the evangelical world” – Thomas

    Who is Thomas Cudworth ‘in the evangelical world’? Is he a moderate evangelical, a centrist evangelical, a non-evangelical, a former evangelical, a soon-to-be evangelical, an extreme evangelical, a wanna-be evangelical, etc.? For all the oppositional work against contemporary evangelicals (BioLogos and ASA) in the recent series, one might think Thomas has a beef with USAmerican evangelicalism in general.

    “The question is why the BioLogos people have trouble acknowledging this distinction between the human world and the world of subhuman nature.” – Thomas (#15)

    Same question amplified to the IDM; analogies from human to subhuman (or non-human) abound. Meyer, Dembski, Behe, Johnson et al. continue this troubled distinction. Robert Trivers is the eight ball staring you down, but I’ve not yet read an IDer who’s confronted him (not even Schloss, who’s flown the ID koop to BioLogos!).

    “ID people have very clear answers to the questions Crude was posing to Venema and Falk. Those ID people who accept evolution have no problem in saying that the process was either end-driven from the start (programmed, front-loaded, etc.) or involved a series of interventions to compensate for the non-teleology of stochastic processes such as random mutations.” – Thomas

    When or where did these ‘interventions’ happen in natural history, Thomas? Please be specific. What scientific proof do you have of them? Having clear answers with no back-up empirically means little if you’re claiming ID-is-science and ‘not-theology’ or merely culture war talk.

    Btw, your ‘want the world’ statement reminded me of a good song by the Goo Goo Dolls (not the Bee Gees):
    “And I don’t want the world to see me,
    ‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand,
    When everything’s made to be broken,
    I just want you to know who I am.”

    This is what the IDM teaches young people to believe.

  30. 30
    Bilbo I says:

    Hey Joe,

    Jerry Coyne just posted an entry from a blog by a Joe G. I doubt this was your work. You might want to let people know.

  31. 31
    Bilbo I says:

    Hi Thomas,

    So we are agreed that if determinism is true, then there is no conflict between Darwinism and Christianity. God could set up the initial conditions and achieve the desired outcome without recourse to intervention.

    The problem comes in if determinism is not true. How does God guarantee the desired results?

    I’ve suggested that God could simply create either an infinite universe or a multiverse, and allow stochastic processes to eventually produce what he wants.

    Your objection is that the results God wants may be beyond the reach of even infinite stochastic processes, such as producing a dell computer in the desert of some planet. My answer is that I’m not really sure if that is beyond the reach of an infinite stochastic process. But let’s assume that it is. Then if God wanted a dell computer in a desert of some planet, and the laws were indeterministic, then God would need to intervene and create one.

    Is such the case with the living cell and with human beings? Again, I wouldn’t know. But if it is the same, then yes, God would need to intervene and create them.

    How do we figure out if something is beyond the reach of an infinite stochastic process? I wouldn’t know. I imagine mathematicians and physicists might have a better grasp of the answer.

    Meanwhile, we have the question of how God actually achieved things in our known universe. BioLogos thinks God could have achieved his ends without intervention. Most ID proponents think otherwise. As far as I can tell this is a difference of opinion based on the empirical evidence. There is no theological barrier to either view.

    And as far as I can tell, you haven’t demonstrated that there is anything other than an difference of opinion of the empirical evidence. We might, for example, find out tomorrow that there is a physical process that makes living cells appear instantaneosly from mud and a few drops of water. No supernatural intervention. Just physical and chemical laws, whose interactions we never clearly understood. Would this be a form of front-loaded ID? We ID proponents would say yes. BioLogos people would probably agree with us, just like they agree about the fine-tuning arguments, and then they would breathe a sigh of relief that the origin of life can be explained without supernatural intervention. And atheists would say, “See! We don’t need God to explain the origin of life!”

    So all you are doing, Thomas, is trying to erect a theological barrier between ID and BioLogos. Of course, BioLogos tries to erect a theological barrier between them and ID, claiming that there is something theologically unacceptable about God intervening in natural history. I’ve argued against them about their views. And I will continue to do so. And I will continue to argue against you and others here at UD who try to erect your superficial boundaries against brothers and sisters in the faith.

  32. 32
    Charles says:

    Gregory @ 29:

    Who is Thomas Cudworth ‘in the evangelical world’? Is he a moderate evangelical, a centrist evangelical, a non-evangelical, a former evangelical, a soon-to-be evangelical, an extreme evangelical, a wanna-be evangelical, etc.? For all the oppositional work against contemporary evangelicals (BioLogos and ASA) in the recent series, one might think Thomas has a beef with USAmerican evangelicalism in general.

    I too, like Thomas Cudworth, take issue with biblically irreconcilable doctrines often (albeit not universally) espoused at BioLogos and ASA. One does not need a “label” to ask how Theological Evolution (or Evolutionary Creationism) can be reconciled with a plain reading of scripture:

    Gen 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
    Mat 19:4 And [Jesus] answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,

    Scripture is clear. God and the Son of God are creationists. It is there in God’s Old Testament Hebrew words and meanings and reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament Greek words and meanings. The proponents of TE or EC at BioLogos and ASA have only three options:
    1) Moses misquoted God and Matthew misquoted Jesus (and neither God nor Jesus has seen fit to correct those misquotes).
    2) God and Jesus mispoke.
    3) Evolution was somehow purposely guided by God to create man.

    Orthodox Christianity denies options 1 & 2. Falk and Venema were asked by Crude if they were arguing for option 3. We are all still waiting for that answer, even after Venema clarified the importance of getting the definitions of “guided” and “unguided” precise before answering, but he has yet to actually answer.

    As Thomas Cudworth clearly explained, it is precisely BioLogos’ claim to reconcile unguided, unpurposed, neo-Darwinian evolution with purposeful, intended, determined biblical creation. Keep in mind, that these men profess Jesus Christ, Himself a literal creationist, as Lord and Savior, and yet deny that same literal creation to which their Lord and Savior testified. Considering the incoherence and seeming indefensibility of their viewpoint, perhaps silence is their only remaining refuge.

    I (and I suspect others) am willing to consider option 3, if in fact Falk or venema had clearly and unambiguously explicated it.

    But we don’t need labels to plainly read what scripture says nor to recognize that Falk and Venema (and others, e.g. Stephen Barr) remain silent in the face of what scripture plainly says. Cudworth could not be more rational or clearer on calling attention to Falk and Venema having surreptitiously abandoned the very raison d’être of BioLogos.

  33. 33
    Joe says:

    Hi Bilbo-

    Thank you for your “concern”. If I didn’t want people to know it was me I would have taken on a silly “name” like Bilbo…

  34. 34
    Gregory says:

    Sorry, Charles, but I do not see it as ‘biblically irreconcilable.’

    ‘Created’ does not equate with creation-ISM. Do you or do you not acknowledge a difference between theory, reality and ideology? Creationism is an ideology, it is not ‘good theology’. A non-answer to or misunderstanding of this question would reveal unpreparedness to answer or lack of discernment.

    Only immature philosophy of science does not distinguish between ideology and science. Unfortunately, this is the current low public level of (history and) philosophy of science in the USA today. Mature philosophy of science, otoh, which comes from the East, is able to properly distinguish. A reality check on where top-level PoS comes from is badly needed here. For many who read this, ‘west is always best.’

    I have rarely read anything so absurd and unnecessary as what you wrote, Charles: “God and the Son of God are creationists“.

    Bless my soul to correct this; “God and the Son of God are Creators…”

    …but not ‘creationists’ – uggh, that ideology is a distasteful U.S.American philosophy/theology of science invention! That the Canadian-born or raised contingent of BioLogos is willing to entertain the label ‘creationist,’ i.e. of the evolutionary variety, speaks volumes. Do your ears hear the message?

    Even if evolution was purposely guided by God to create man the main point at BioLogos is that this cannot be ‘scientifically’ proven. Is this understood as their main point or not, Charles? If you are not asking them if they have ‘scientific proof’ then you are not challenging the main mission of TE/EC/BioLogos, which is to reconcile biological evolution, specifically OLD EARTH with uneducated doubting evangelicals. BioLogos doesn’t claim to have scientific proof of ‘guided evolution’…but to a man and women nevertheless they still believe in it, whatever their theological competence or maturity might be!

    ‘Biblical creation’ differs drastically from ‘creationism.’ If you do not recognise this, then there is serious work to do in learning about philosophy and ideology in dialogue with science and religion/theology.

    ‘Plain reading’ of Scripture is not competent alone to evaluate ideology dictating to theology, as well as to science. That you promote ‘plain/plainly’ 3 times reveals an attitude similar to that of vastly out-dated flat earthers, Charles. But we’re in the 21st century now, friend. We don’t need to entertain such language anymore.

  35. 35
    Charles says:

    Gregory @ 34:

    Bless my soul to correct this; “God and the Son of God are Creators…” …but not ‘creationists’ – uggh, that ideology is a distasteful U.S.American philosophy/theology of science invention!

    That is you projecting. They are clearly “creationists” (a noun referring to a believer in the act creation) insofar that Jesus asserted that God created (the verb form of creator) and God likewise asserted that He created (again the verb form of creator), and “creationists” (the noun) also assert that God “created”. Jesus and God asserted “creation” (a purposeful, intended act) as opposed to “evolution” (an unpurposeful accident). Whatever you may wish to argue about the semantic nuance of creator vs creationist, nowhere does the word or grammar permit an interpretation of unpurposed accident.

    Even if evolution was purposely guided by God to create man the main point at BioLogos is that this cannot be ‘scientifically’ proven.

    But Crude didn’t ask for the scientific proof. Crude asked for what Venema believed; did they (Falk and Venema) believe that God had guided (or not) evolution? Crude did not ask where was the proof. Crude even allowed that science may not be capable of detecting such guidence, i.e. not capable of detecting the proof. They were asked not for proof of God’s purposeful guidance but merely was it Venema’s view that evolution was guided or unguided by God.

    BioLogos doesn’t claim to have scientific proof of ‘guided evolution’…but to a man and women nevertheless they still believe in it, whatever their theological competence or maturity might be!

    Your exact words are “but to a man and women nevertheless they still believe in it [‘guided evolution’], and yet neither Falk nor Venema could bring themselves to actually state that belief, could they. No matter your insistence, they refused to state what you insist they believe. Are we, and Crude, to believe your words or Venema’s words, or lack thereof? Who is the greater expert on Venema’s stated beliefs? Him or you? Is Cudworth not allowed to call attention to Venema’s (and Falk’s) evasion from the question?

    ‘Plain reading’ of Scripture is not competent alone to evaluate ideology dictating to theology, as well as to science.

    But it is sufficient to exegete the meaning of scripture that underlies either ideology or theology, and nowhere did I say it dictated to science, conversely it is typically science that dictates (or chides) scripture or plain readings thereof.

    That you promote ‘plain/plainly’ 3 times reveals an attitude similar to that of vastly out-dated flat earthers, Charles. But we’re in the 21st century now, friend. We don’t need to entertain such language anymore.

    You’d no doubt disdain “straightforward” as well. While we are in the 21st century, those “plain” words were written centuries earlier, and their “plain” meanings then and now (all of 3 forms of the Hebrew and 2 forms of the Greek) are well understood, and their meanings are as plain as any dictionary meanings. Like most texts, they were meant to be read as written. No one writes with the expectation of their meaning being reversed thousands of years hence. Misunderstood perhaps, but not diametrically opposed to original meaning.

    Now, you can label those words and meanings however you like (especially if you abhor “plain”), but they stand as-is for anyone to read, regardless of which century in which the reading occured. You may even argue we have misunderstood the original meanings.

    Regardless, to believe those meanings include unguided, accidental evolution requires a rather “novel” 21st century eisegesis, which Falk or Venema are certainly free to believe, and had they said they believed God “created” (Hebrew ba?ra?’) or “made” (Greek poieo?) using “guided or unguided evolution”, then you’d have a point. But they didn’t state any such belief, did they, and in point of fact they remain silent on what they do believe about God guiding evolution or not, and so you don’t have a point.

  36. 36
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Gregory @ 29:

    First of all, let me thank your for the generally irenic tone of your posts on my current series. With the exception of one exchange where you seemed unnecessarily sharp with (and even a bit hostile to) a YEC fellow, you have been constructively critical.

    However, your latest reply to me seem less irenic. It’s almost as if you are angry with me. I think you have misperceived my intentions, so let me clarify.

    You asked me if wanted to take down the BioLogos people in order to lift myself up. This is not my at all my motive. My concern is for honesty in advertising.

    If someone has a heretical Christian belief, or even a non-Christian belief, I would not make a major issue of it in most settings. But if someone desires to be a leader of thousands or tens of thousands of Christians across the globe, teaching them the proper way of reconciling Christian theology with science, then that person has the responsibility of making sure that what he or she is offering as “Christian” theology is in fact Christian theology, and not a private construct of some kind. And that means offering definitions of terms and doctrines and notions that are in line with historical Christian teaching, as found in the Bible and the great Christian creeds and confessions and thinkers.

    You speak of brothers and sisters in the pews, but remember that I am not attacking the personal faith of anyone at BioLogos. I take Falk and Venema at their word when they say that they believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. I don’t question the fervency of their prayers or the quality of their lives as church members, parents, etc. But it’s one thing to say, “Your faith is sincere” and another thing to say, “Your doctrine is historically correct.” My concern here is with the latter.

    My concern is also for trust between people. No one trusts anyone who appears to be speaking with deliberate ambiguity. No one trusts anyone who appears to be steadily evading a question. No one trusts anyone who offers false historical statements, and then, when corrected, continues to repeat those false statements. It doesn’t matter whether the person guilty of these things is a Christian; such a person still generates distrust, and rightly so.

    Ken Ham and Al Mohler can be trusted because they say exactly what they mean, and mean exactly what they say. They don’t make a person ask a question six different ways before they will answer him (and then, even when they finally answer, give a reply that can be taken in two or three different ways because the vocabulary employed in the answer is not clearly defined). That doesn’t mean I agree with their *theology*; it means I agree with their conception of what “dialogue in good faith” is. One can have dialogue in good faith with someone who fiercely disagrees with one. One can’t have such dialogue with someone who equivocates and in various ways tries to derail constructive attempts at clarifying the issues. I provided a lengthy example of a case where leading BioLogos figures took precisely the latter course of action; and that example is just one out of many.

    I have never attacked the view that God could have created through a process of evolution. Like many ID people, I find the notion attractive, because it connects what we learn from things such as the fossil record with the idea of a God of wisdom and power who can shape nature according to his ends and achieve exactly what he intends to achieve. What I have attacked is any formulation of “evolutionary creation” that, in order to keep on the good side of “science,” is willing to scrap or drastically modify the traditional understanding of God’s providence, governance, and so on. And this concern is not limited to ID people — it’s found in TEs such as nullasalus and Jon Garvey. I believe that Crude himself is a TE as well. So this is not ID people bashing TE people; it is a criticism, coming from both ID and TE quarters, of certain theologically inadequate formulations of TE promoted by BioLogos.

    You raise the differences between ID and TE regarding whether science can identify design; yet my series here has not concerned that question. I have not in this place criticized TE one iota for denying that science can detect design, and I have not here endorsed ID people who say that it can. All my attention has been focused on the theological question of the relationship between God’s sovereignty over nature and the evolutionary process.

    You suggest that I and others are forcing ID language on the TEs of BioLogos. But this is not true. For first of all, you yourself, in a later paragraph in your post, imply that TEs at BioLogos don’t disbelieve in God’s “guidance,” “governance,” and “control.” If they don’t disbelieve in these notions, there is no reason they should put up such resistance to these notions when Crude (and others) advance them. And second, if they do find certain words unacceptable, there is nothing to stop them from providing an alternate vocabulary, and explaining that vocabulary. Here are a couple of examples illustrating how Venema could have replied to Crude in a non-evasive, non-obfuscatory way:

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘guided,’ but as I use the word ‘guided,” it means ——–, and I don’t think the evolutionary process proceeds in that that way, so I wouldn’t employ that word.”

    or

    “I wouldn’t say ‘guided’ — I’d say X instead. And by X, I mean …”

    If Venema was really interested in conveying his thoughts to Crude (and to the readers of BioLogos), he would have given an answer something like one of the above, rather than the series of non-answers that he gave.

    You ask ID people when divine interventions might have occurred in natural history. But I never criticized BioLogos for not giving a timetable of this kind. The question, as nullasalus has already stated, is not *how* or *when* God did this or that in evolution, but *whether* God did anything at all in evolution — beyond setting up and maintaining natural laws, spinning the Darwinian wheel of fortune, and watching to see what would turn out. The BioLogos folk are steadily evasive on this latter question, and ID people aren’t.

    You accuse me of slinging mud when I say that at BioLogos, science always trumps the traditional reading of the Bible. Of course, implied in my statement were the additional words “when the two appear to come into conflict.” And I have seen no examples on BioLogos where, when currently accepted science and the traditional reading of the Bible come into conflict, BioLogos people have said that currently acceptable science must be wrong and should be changed, because traditional theology denies such conclusions. In every case known to me, it is the theology which has been altered to accommodate the science, not the other way around. If you can find me counter-examples, I would be glad to know of them. But if you can find no counter-examples, then I am not slinging mud, but accurately describing what BioLogos has done.

    I don’t enjoy criticizing other Christians as an activity. I do it only when it is, in my view, necessary, because the other Christians are, as far as I can tell, either denying some crucial traditional teaching, or casting doubt upon it by offering remarks on it that are ambiguous, confusing, or evasive.

    It may be that I have misinterpreted the motivation of BioLogos people. If that is the case, they can easily clarify. They can easily say whether, in their view, God does something more to guarantee certain outcomes of evolution than sustain the natural laws. They have tongues. They have pens. They have microphones. They have computers. If they choose not to use these means of communication in order to give an answer to this question, that is not the fault of ID people, or of others (including other TE people) who are reading or listening. If their evasion does not imply lack of belief in traditional theological teaching, but is misinterpretd by others as doing so, they have no one to blame but themselves. No one is stopping them from being clear.

    I will gladly retract any stated or implied charges of unorthodoxy, the moment that BioLogos folks endorse a doctrine of divine sovereignty over the evolutionary process that removes all doubt about where they stand, and places their views clearly with the range of traditional, orthodox thinking on creation.

    Even if any clearly stated position of BioLogos people is *not*, in my judgment, orthodox or traditional, I will respect BioLogos for its courage in being honest about its unorthodoxy, and will withdraw the charges of evasiveness, ambiguity, deliberate obfuscation, etc.

    In other words, I would like to see Christian orthodoxy from BioLogos, but if all I can get from them is truth in advertising, I’d count that as an improvement worthy of praise.

    I hope this clarifies my position, and shows that my concern is not for any personal advantage, but for honest communication between Christians on theological questions.

  37. 37
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Bilbo (31):

    Thank you for this reply.

    It is unlike your previous replies, in that where your previous replies seemed to (rather contemptuously) ignore a large portion of what I had previously said, this one engages my arguments in a way that suggests that you read them carefully and took them seriously. I thank you for that.

    You also wisely dropped your insistence upon discussing free will and predestination, so that we could concentrate on the question that both of us, not just one of us, wanted to talk about. That was helpful.

    Surprisingly, perhaps, we have suddenly come much closer together.

    To many of your comments below, I could simply reply, “Amen.”

    I will make a few comments on outstanding matters.

    1. I would change your first paragraph from:

    “So we are agreed that if determinism is true, then there is no conflict between Darwinism and Christianity. God could set up the initial conditions and achieve the desired outcome without recourse to intervention.”

    to either:

    “So we are agreed that *if Darwinian evolution is deterministic*, then there is no conflict between Darwinism and Christianity. God could set up the initial conditions and achieve the desired outcome without recourse to intervention.”

    or:

    “So we are agreed that if determinism is true, then there is no conflict between *evolution* and Christianity. God could set up the initial conditions and achieve the desired outcome without recourse to intervention.”

    The second version would be best if “evolution” means Dentonian evolution, or something equivalent. The first version would be best if we mean to limit the discussion to evolution by the Darwinian mechanism.

    2. Regarding your question about the infinite stochastic process, are we talking about an infinitely large number of planets capable of supporting the existence of man existing at any one time, and an infinite length of time for the universe? Or are we talking about a large but finite number of earth-type planets (let us suppose, for the sake of argument, 100 billion), and an infinite length of time for the universe, so that it can replace those 100 billion planets every several billion years?

    Let’s assume, in either case, what we don’t know to be true, i.e., that the emergence of the Dell computer in the desert, or of man from hydrogen atoms, is physically possible due to chance and natural laws alone. Then, I would say:

    In the former case, God can guarantee the emergence of man, and even the timing of that emergence (at least the rough timing, say, to nearest million years or so, if not to the second);

    In the latter case, God could guarantee the emergence of man, but not the timing, because there is always a finite probability of failure, however small, for any fixed number of planets, and it is possible, however improbable, that the pattern of failure will repeat itself tens or hundreds or thousands or millions of times before man appears.

    So I would say, if you want God to be able to determine both the existence *and* the timing of man, you have to go with not only infinite time, but with an infinite number of earthlike planets existing at any one time.

    Now you may say that the timing is no big deal to God, since he lives in eternity and never gets bored due to duration, and that’s true, but nonetheless, within the worldly time-frame, not being able to guarantee the timing of man would be a limitation of sorts. If God can’t say: “Let us make man, and let him appear exactly 14 billion years after the Big Bang,” but only, “Let us make man, and let him appear maybe 14 billion years or maybe a quadrillion years or maybe way more after the Big Bang,” that could be thought of as a limitation on his power, and hence an offense to the theology of some Christians.

    Of course, you could then come back and say, “But it’s a voluntary limitation, which he accepted when he chose the stochastic method.” And I’d agree. But again, then we are doing philosophical theology, not Biblical theology. In Biblical theology, we get the strong sense that God times things very precisely — the rise and fall of empires, the coming of Jesus, etc. And if he does that where people are involved — with the complications that free will entails — then presumably he does it also where inanimate matter — which can’t resist him — is involved. So this “stochastic” proposal, while maybe not offensive to a philosophical theology of a generic God, seems dubious if we are talking about the Biblical God. So I would say that there might well be a theological barrier, if we are talking about Biblical rather than philosophical theology.

    Note that this problem is solved if we keep the Darwinian mechanism (interpreted my way, as indeterminate) but supplement it with interventions. God can then guarantee not only the existence but even the timing of man, because he can correct every single mutation, and even fiddle with the environmental circumstances that govern natural selection, as often as he needs to, to guarantee that man arrives at time X after creation. So if I were a committed neo-Darwinian in biology, which I’m not, I would say that God supplemented Darwinian mechanisms with designed interventions, to get exactly the result he wanted. This view combines the naturalism of the TEs with the interventionism supported by some ID people, and it results in a God who can use evolution to accomplish exactly what he could accomplish in instantaneous creation, and hence violates no Biblical or traditional notions. You would think it would be a natural compromise position between ID and TE. But note that not a single BioLogos columnist has ever endorsed this view, and that many of them view it with obvious distaste.

    3. I agree with you also about the relevance of empirical facts to these disputes. If, for example, cosmology can establish that both the mass and the age of the universe are finite, then a stochastic model of evolution cannot guarantee the timing or even the existence of man, and neo-Darwinism (understood my way, as contingent rather than deterministic) would be in conflict with traditional doctrine, which guarantees at least the latter (and probably also the former).

    I think I have been unconsciously assuming what most cosmologists since Father Lemaitre have believed, i.e., that the size of the universe is finite, and therefore that the number of earthlike planets is finite, and that the universe has a time boundary at least at the beginning, if not at the end (though there may be one at the end — either a big crunch destroying everything, or universal entropy after which nothing interesting will exist, certainly not new life). In such a universe, without infininite probablistic resources, I think ND evolution (again, understood as non-deterministic) is in conflict with Biblical teaching, because God can’t guarantee anything, not even life, let alone man. But if we allow more recent speculation about multiverses, or if we think that most 20th-century cosmologists were wrong and that this universe is boundless in size, then your scenarios would be possibilities. Needless to say, however, the Biblical authors, and the historical Christian tradition, did not have such possibilities in mind. So we would have to do some exegetical tap-dancing to make these views harmonize with received theology.

    Note again, however, that you and I are working these things out to a level of detail never achieved on BioLogos. We are defining what they leave undefined, clarifying what they leave unclear, subdividing ambiguous general notions into non-ambiguous specific proposals, etc. If they would carry out the sort of logical discussion we are having here, in full public view, instead of hiding behind nebulous answers, as they have done with Crude and other questioners, I would have far more respect for them.

  38. 38
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Bilbo @ 31:

    “So all you are doing, Thomas, is trying to erect a theological barrier between ID and BioLogos.”

    I’m not “trying to erect” such a barrier; I’m acknowledging the existence of the barrier that is already there. And it’s a barrier built by BioLogos, not by ID people. If you endorse or flirt with historically unorthodox theology, then you’ve put up a theological barrier between yourself and those — including most ID people — who hold to historically orthodox theology.

    All that BioLogos has to do to get rid of the barrier is to clearly endorse historically orthodox notions of God’s sovereignty, governance, providence, etc., by indicating, in an unambiguous way, what difference God’s activity makes to the specific results of evolution. But when asked to do so, it hides behind weasel words, or simply refuses to answer. This refusal to interpret evolution in terms of traditional notions implies at least some disagreement with the traditional notions. No one who endorsed the traditional notions would hesitate to apply them to the process of evolution in publically understandable terms.

    Finally, my record here shows that I am not a barrier-erector, but a bridge-builder. I tried to get BioLogos-ID co-operation started with Karl Giberson more than two years ago:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....-giberson/

    Giberson, and everyone else at BioLogos, simply ignored the peace offering.

    So, Bilbo, you can take your accusations elsewhere. If you want to rebut my theological arguments, that is fine. But your comments about my purported motives, aside from being presumptuous, are completely mistaken.

  39. 39
    Gregory says:

    Thank you for #36 Thomas. I’ll respond to it in due time.

    For now, just a question wrt your position re: “historically unorthodox theology.”

    Which is ‘historically orthodox theology’ for you: Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox Christianity? This makes a significant difference to the conversation, as you can well imagine. Surely you don’t think they are all ‘orthodox,’ do you? I haven’t read your work enough to know ‘where you are coming from’ on this topic.

    Of course, ‘traditional’ has been faced against ‘modern.’ Traditional usually loses in the case of modern technology and modern science at least. Traditional can seem backwards and outdated, instead of being capable of speaking to the ‘spirit of the age’ or zeitgeist.

    Answering this would help me to guess whether or not you could answer your own question satisfactorily: “what difference God’s activity makes to the specific results of [biological] evolution.” Can you speak clearly on this from a scientific perspective or is this only a theological question for you?

    You would just look like a finger-pointer if you’re not willing to ‘get reflexive,’ Thomas, which you indeed tried to acknowledge by calling yourself a ‘bridge-builder’. Just what kind of bridge are you seeking to build with your ‘Wesleyan maneuver’ language, Thomas? I see few bridges attempted by IDers towards TE/EC; Bilbo does more on this practically than you do by participation both at UD and BioLogos.

    Bilbo seems to be looking for more than just a “theological argument,” as you call it Thomas. That may be part of the reason you two are speaking past each other so far.

  40. 40
    Thomas Cudworth says:

    Gregory (39):

    The various Christian traditions differ on some things, and agree on other things. I don’t think there is any difference among the major Christian traditions regarding God’s sovereignty over non-human nature. If there is any such difference, I’d be glad to learn what it is.

    Thus, if you asked a Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, or Anglican theologian — I mean, prior to the last 50 years or so when all the traditions more or less caved in to liberalism — whether or not God intended certain results in creating the world, and made sure that the evolutionary process produced those results, you woudn’t have any problem getting an unambiguous affirmative answer. Ideas such as “Maybe God didn’t intend mice” and “Maybe God didn’t specifically intend man, but counted on the evolutionary process, by sheer statistical likelihood, to spit out some advanced being that would be worthy of bearing his image” are recent innovations. And contrary to Falk, these innovations don’t spring from the theology of Wesley. They arise from the need felt by BioLogos to harmonize the theology of creation with the perceived “chanciness” of Darwinian evolution. So the “science” (if we may call it that) is driving the theology. That’s my objection here. (That, and the fact that the BioLogos folks won’t admit that the science is driving the theology.)

    Note that there are *two* unorthodoxies here. The first unorthodoxy lies the specific contents of the view of BioLogos: the view that God might not be in control of every aspect of creation. The second unorthodoxy lies in the epistemological attitude: theological truth can and should be corrected by scientific truth, though scientific truth never can or should be corrected by theological truth. The second type of unorthodoxy is actually far more dangerous than the first, because it is a grand principle that can do far more damage in the long run than any particular heresy about divine action in creation. I think that Rome, Geneva, Canterbury, Wittenberg and Constantinople would all unite to denounce that grand principle.

    My own position is clear, so I can in fact answer the very question I’ve posed to Falk and Venema. Whatever process God used to create the world, it would be one in which the outcomes were exactly what he planned. But the mechanisms proposed by neo-Darwinism, by themselves and without external assistance, are incapable of guaranteeing, as outcomes, anything that anyone might plan. So the difference God’s activity makes is: everything. If God acted differently, either by letting neo-Darwinian mechanisms run riot without supplementing them with guidance, or by inserting his guidance at quite different points than he did (assuming he did), the results of evolution would be entirely different from what they in fact were. And by parallel reasoning, if we assume not a Darwinian but a programmed form of evolution, the evolutionary process would produce wildly different results, depending on what properties of matter, laws and constants God established at the beginning. Thus, for God to be in providential control of evolution, he would have to be involved in planning and/or governing in a much clearer way than BioLogos is willing to acknowledge.

    So the course of evolution must be somehow guided, or steered, or directed, or nudged, or programmed, or preset, or front-loaded, or designed, etc. And choose whatever terms you wish; if they are clear in meaning to a normal English-speaking person, BioLogos will waffle or hedge on all of them, without substituting any unambiguous language in their place.

    I’m puzzled by this passage:

    “Traditional can seem backwards and outdated, instead of being capable of speaking to the ‘spirit of the age’ or zeitgeist.”

    What are you saying here, Gregory? That Christianity must speak to the “spirit of the modern age”? And what does “speak to” mean? That Christianity must address, i.e., communicate with, people who think in modern ways? Or that Christianity must teach only those doctrines that are acceptable to modern people? If it’s the former, I agree; if it’s the latter, I don’t.

    If Christianity had limited its teaching only to what was acceptable to the “spirit” of the late Roman Empire, we would still have slavery and polytheism and the subjugation of women.

    So if saying that God is in control of the evolutionary process, in the sense of determining its outcomes, is against “the spirit of freedom” characteristic of the modern age, I’m not going to lose any sleep over that. I don’t think that Christians should surrender the doctrine of divine sovereignty, or even defend it in a muted and oblique way, merely because modern people are enamored with the notion of “freedom.” If, as the Westminster Confession says: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” then man’s chief end is not freedom. And if man’s chief end is not freedom, then how much less is “freedom” the chief end of a stone or a mushroom? And I doubt there is any difference among the main Christian confessions that the glory of God, rather than the freedom of any of his creations, is the paramount concern.

    If BioLogos does not agree with that, then I would suggest that BioLogos needs to do some serious theological study in the major works of the Christian tradition. And it could start with Wesley, whom it invokes, but apparently never reads.

Leave a Reply