AJ Roberts's Theology of Nature

Is Edward Robinson on Peaceful Science?

Confessions, I haven’t read this whole string, but I couldn’t wait to jump into the conversation on natural theology. My closing plea in my response to Jeff Hardin’s paper at Dabar was that we all… whether OEC or EC/TE; biblical scholar, scientist, or theologian need to become natural theologians .

I want to meet Ed Robinson! I found his post "The Crossway Theistic Evolution Book: A Response to Joshua Swamidass" extremely well written, articulate and broadly informed.

Ed says, "And this has been the predominant position among the BioLogos and ASA evangelical scientists, i.e., that while God has the power and the right to intervene in or manipulate the evolutionary process, there is no strong evidence that he has done so." I think Ed, perhaps, failed to acknowledge, or fails to recognize, that almost all, if not all, EC/TE-ers would say that if God intervened in the evolutionary process, that such intervention would be undetectable.

Ed calls out one of the most frustrating (to me) points of EC/TE rhetoric and a theological blind spot for EC/TE-ers that I’ve encountered. I tried to raise this in Q&A at Dabar, especially in response to Joshua’s similar insistence to Bill Craig and other OEC-ers, that if God set things up to look like evolution is true then they must give a good theological explanation as to why God would do it this way. I agree that Joshua’s comment has some merit, as OEC-ers use the same reasoning with YEC-ers who say God created the earth with only the appearance of age. But I think Joshua fails to see the same need for theological justification by EC/TE-ers for the point Ed hits on the head… Ed raises a critical point that needs to be justified theologically from the TE/EC-ers who hold this theological slant or position:

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

And continues…

" It is another thing entirely to rule out a priori , on theological grounds, that God’s creative action could ever be detectable. And that’s what many TE writers have been saying or suggesting. So it’s the TE writers, not the ID writers, who are making a theological assumption. They are assuming that the Christian God would never make his actions in creation such that human beings could infer his existence from them. But what gives the TEs the right to assume that? Where do they get this assumption? It’s certainly not from from any plain reading of the Bible, which many times affirms that God is knowable by features of nature accessible to all human beings, not just Jews or Christians."

Bravo!

But, I disagree with Ed, if I understand him correctly, when he says, “There is no Biblical or systematic theological principle which would warrant such an a priori judgment.” I disagree with Ed on this point for the same reason I commend him on his previous point, an action that is undetectable either in outcome or mechanism is not revelatory. And God’s heart is self-disclosure for the sake of reconciliation. We know from scripture (and Tertullian) that God intends creations as a source of natural theology. Which is why, I also disagree with Ed when he says, " And sure, the God derivable from nature is not specifically the Christian God, but that makes no difference at all from the point of view of refuting the New Atheists." This is an unfortunate position held by many in the ID movement that is not supported by the Christian scripture or traditional theology. One can actually know the very nature and character of the “designer” as Paul states explicitly in Romans 1.

I have recently blogged on some of my related thoughts and hope you might take the time to consider what I share there, “Reveling in Revelation”. (That blog was written prior to my awareness of this string and prior to reading Ed’s article.) If I write on that topic again I will incorporate some of Ed’s thoughts and comments in his article.

One last point of agreement: I agree with Ed, but find it a bit ironic that he says, " We have to get away from the American autodidactic, individualistic model of theology, and back to the older, European model of a learned theological tradition sustained over centuries of progressive reflection." While at least twice referring to the Faraday Institute as a "British analogue of BioLogos".

I thoroughly enjoyed and commend Ed for his keen article and hope one day to share a beer with him and Josh and talk face-to-face about natural theology and the God we follow through the grace of Christ.

I look forward to reading more comments and thoughts on this string on natural theology.

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Great to see you @AJRoberts. This post might get pulled into its own thread cause it is so substantive and strong.

I’m not sure that is fair, at least in reference to me, for two reasons.

  1. I’ve in good faith offered possible theological explanations that might work for you on OEC.

  2. I’ve also given clear scientific and theological reasons why God’s action is undetectable in science. The fact that these justifications have never been engaged is not my fault. I have offered them, and they have been ignored.

As for TE/EC at large, I do not speak for them. In particular, this is not my position, and I am pretty sure that @eddie is not refering to me in this either:

I do not take that position. If there is an objection I have to answer for, it is an objection to my position, not to a position that I do not hold.

Well, I would specifically dispute that claim alongside @eddie. The view he is disputing is not my view. Frankly it is not even most TE’s views either, though it certainly applies to a few.

At some point it would be great if my actual beliefs on these concerns were engaged. Are you up for that sometime?

Well, of course you are up for it @AJRoberts. I’d have fun with that too.

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And for the record, that is not what I said or believe. You misread me @eddie. Do you care to understand how?

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Hi, Joshua. Yes, I will quickly clarify that many of these critiques of TE/EC-ers do not fall specifically on you. You have yourself said - even at Dabar - that you are not an EC-er but a confessing scientist.

I hope I have time to find, read , think about and respond to your possible theological explanation as to why God would choose to hide himself in the evolutionary process… although that is not your belief, if I understand what you are trying to make clear here.

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So I do not claim that God hides himself. Rather I restate the observation in theology that God is usually hidden. Do you see the difference?

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There is a paradox here, for “as the heavens and the earth declare the glory of God” there are other Scriptures which do speak of God’s hiddenness being due to unbelief.
“But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?“ Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living.“The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’“ Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it, Nor can silver be weighed as its price.“ Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?“Thus it is hidden from the eyes of all living And concealed from the birds of the sky.“ Abaddon and Death say, ‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’“ God understands its way, And He knows its place.“For He looks to the ends of the earth And sees everything under the heavens.“When He imparted weight to the wind And meted out the waters by measure,When He set a limit for the rain And a course for the thunderbolt,Then He saw it and declared it; He established it and also searched it out.“And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.’” - Job 28:12-15,20-28 NASB
It would seem to be axiomatic that a person will not (or cannot) find what he or she is unwilling to find, no matter how clear the evidence.
I am glad that is not the case with either of you guys!

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Exactly. We have to engage the both and of the paradox.

Also, I’m not saying that God is hiding himself, as if he is intending to conceal truth from us. Rather I am stating the empirical and obvious fact that He is usually hidden. A fundamental theological question is to ask “why?” There are a long list of ways theology has engaged this question. In fact, this is grounding for why we rely on Scripture in the first place, because we understand our need for God to reveal Himself to us. In our context, I emphasize that God is hidden in science because science is limited. The issue is not God’s desire to be deceitful, but the limits of scientific inquiry. God is clearly seen in other ways, even if science is blind.

This position is consistent with Romans 1, consistent with God’s character, and consistent with the world as we find it. It is also well grounded in theology and philosophy of science.

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I am not willing to concede to as much of a paradox as you imply. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge of God. The latter is a requirement for the former but the two should not be conflated. To say God is usually hidden raises the question Josh raises, why? But to say he is in effect usually hidden (because of the failure to see or look or acknowledge or proclaim it) does not mean that nature/creation fails to constantly and consistently show God’s existence, power and character. I think this is where we as Christian scientists need to embrace a role as natural theologians… whether we are OEC or EC (or even YEC or none of the above). It is what Eddie and Jon are getting at in their critique of many in the BioLogos camp who are claiming mystery without working out the nitty gritty details of how Bios and Logos fit together and not just lay side by side.

This quest for integration is exactly how I find myself at RTB. And I’m not saying we’ve got it all right or that one can’t be an EC and pursue integration. But if it’s not at a fundamental level of teleology and revelation that God infuses into all of creation and secondary causal events that we study in science, I don’t know where it is and I don’t know how anyone can call a perspective that denies God’s action in revelation “Christian” or biblical.

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Honestly not sure what we disagree about in all this. Science is blind because it doesn’t look, just as you say. Maybe you are certain there is a difference when there in fact is not?

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Eddie’s Defense of Natural Theology

Science is blind because it has no eyes. Scientists, Christian scientists, are not and have a role to show God’s revelation in nature is ubiquitous.

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Sorry about the confusion here @AJRoberts. Can you relink your article on Revelation?

Science is only blind when it is practiced in a manner which refuses to admit or to take into account God’s providential and other types of actions. That “secular” science is usually so conducted says nothing about the actual involvement of God. A scientist can, indeed, benefit from the notion of careful engineering in nature, while remaining agnostic, but is thereby separated from the full wisdom that creation reveals. We are good at examining the “survival of the fittest,” and largely in the dark about the “arrival of the fittest.”

I like to say “all evidence is a mirror”.

God says of Himself in scripture “to the pure I show Myself pure, but to the froward I show Myself froward.” That is how God seems, or if He seems, says as much about you as Him.

And as AJ noted…

I think a fresh look at the text is needed by theologians (and a fresh look at nature is needed by scientists) because to me what the text is saying is that something which would look to us like TE is happening, but that creation needed God’s help in a creation subjected to futility (which as an OEC I know you also believe was done before the fall.)

Hello, Joshua. I couldn’t reply to you last night, because I had reached the maximum number of posts for the day. (I didn’t know there was a maximum number, but I wish the software would tell you you’ve reached it before you compose another post, not afterward!)

I was confused by the exchange above, because Anjeanette was quoting me talking about Meyer, and then you said that I had misread you, so with four people involved, I thought I would clear the mist, and look up my original Hump post and figure out where the miscommunication was.

The comment of yours – in your review of the Crossway book – that I expressed doubt about was this one:

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

That’s a direct quotation from your review.

The word I was hesitating over was “assumption”. I do not think that the Crossway authors “assume” that God’s action is detectable. I think they “believe” or “infer” or “conclude” that God’s action is detectable, but I think “assume” is too strong a word. An assumption (say, in Euclidean geometry, the five axioms and five postulates) is something that is taken for granted, and further argument is based on that. I don’t see the Crossway folks as taking the detectability of God’s action as a theological given, but rather as something that can be argued for, on the basis of Biblical passages (e.g., Romans 1, Psalm 19). That is, they admit that they are relying on Biblical passages for support; they are not merely speculating about God and assuming that he would make his action detectable.

It may be that we are simply using the word “assume” in different ways, and that we have no disagreement on this.

Does that clarify my original objection?

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Thanks for your comments, Anjeanette. You are with Reasons to Believe? That is Hugh Ross’s organization, no? I admire Hugh Ross’s writings on fine tuning. They concur with the arguments of ID proponent Michael Denton.

I’m not sure I understand your paragraph containing theological objections to my post. I don’t think you would want to argue that Paul in Romans is saying that pagans who observed nature, even if they had never heard of Abraham, Moses, the Jewish Scriptures, etc., would look at nature and derive from it a Triune God, including a Logos who was incarnated as Jesus Christ. Surely Paul is indicating that paganism is capable of rising to a general idea of a God behind the universe, not that paganism is capable of deriving the existence of Christ by reasoning from the facts of nature.

I see your point. It might seem contradictory for me approve of European thinkers and then disapprove of the Faraday Institute. But I had in mind older European theological thought, i.e., pre-Enlightenment theological thought, before Christian theology defensively reshaped itself to meet the Enlightenment critique. Most modern European theology, like American theology, is reactive to the Enlightenment, modern Biblical criticism, Darwin, and other modern developments, and both European and American thought have a tendency to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” in their theological revisions. Thus, the Faraday Institute, consisting of British scientists who like North American ones are deeply steeped in modernity, shows the same tendencies as BioLogos, including the same tendency of scientists to construct their own, individualistic, private versions of Christian theology in order to harmonize with perceived demands of modern science. When I read Denis Alexander’s book on creation and evolution, I was struck by how much his argument rested on his own fresh interpretation of the Bible, and how little his readings of passages were shaped by centuries of theological reflection.

The more general cultural point I was making is that modern Protestants, and especially American Protestants, tend to be individualistic in their theologizing, whereas older Europeans were more corporate. The Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian and other older churches tend to emphasize creeds, formal Confessions (of their various denominations), etc.; theology isn’t a free-for-all of individuals reading their Bibles subjectively, but is governed by authorities within a religious community. This makes perfect sense given that both Israel and the Church (in the New Testament) were always treated as corporate entities. But in the American ethos, where the prairie homesteader, due to his isolation or life in very small communities without much contact with the older European theological tradition, was often his own minister, his own theologian, and his own Pope, an individualistic attitude toward the Bible and theology sprang up, with many going so far as to start up their own denominations because they didn’t agree with anybody else’s interpretations. (I’ve heard figures quoted of between 2,000 and 10,000 American denominations today.) Many American Protestants imagine that they have no theological obligation to anything but the Bible (as read by them) and their own “conscience.” The sense that a corporate entity has the right to correct an individual’s theology is not strong, in many sectors of American Protestantism. The right of private interpretation is almost sacrosanct.

In contrast, Jon Garvey’s columns at Hump of the Camel constantly remind the reader of the views of the Fathers, of Aquinas, of Calvin and other Reformers, etc. For Jon, Christianity isn’t a private pick and mix, according to individual theological taste or emotion; all Christians are responsible to a centuries-long tradition produced by people more learned than they. It is not that tradition is always necessarily right, but that on the whole tradition is likely to be wiser than the individual, and should be respected before one goes off on a tangent and creates a private theology.

My frustration with BioLogos (as with evangelical Christians generally, BioLogos merely being one group of such Christians) is the ad hoc nature of theologizing, grabbing a bit of science, a tad of Biblical exegesis, an out-of-context quotation from Calvin or Augustine (not based on a thorough reading of those authors), etc., and throwing together a theology that makes one personally comfortable. That wasn’t the way of doing theology in the Fathers, the Scholastics, or the Reformers. Private opinion and private interpretation was much less important relative to centuries of informed theological discussion. Again, this is a fault not just of some BioLogos scientists, but of many evangelical Christians – an overconfidence in the ability of the individual, without the aid of learned tradition, to always come up with correct theological understanding. To me it bespeaks a lack of humility, both intellectual and spiritual, to be so firmly individualistic and to be so cavalier about the conclusions that centuries of learned tradition have arrived at.

Is it too evangelically Protestant of me, a graduate of a Jesuit Catholic High School, to note that every theological (or other) consensus, classical or otherwise, HAS to start with individuals reading, interpreting, evaluating, and dialoguing with others who, at the time, are considered to be, at least close to, heretical vis-a-vis the current traditions? Is this not the work of being what the God of the Bible calls for, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15 NASB ?
So much so, in fact, that Jesus has rather harsh words for those inclined to follow traditions rather than to searchingly seek out the meaning of God’s substantive revelation, in Mark 7:1-13.
Ignorance of the traditions is not praised; but the successful transcendence of them, when warranted, is.

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This is a very interesting argument. Thank you.

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Thanks, Guy.

My point is not that Christians should not diligently read their Bibles and try to make sense of them. My point is that, just as in physics or chemistry or medicine or law or literary criticism or history or philosophy, we seek out teachers who know more about the subject than we do, so Christians reading their Bibles should desire the aid of those more learned in the Bible and theology than they are. Yet on BioLogos the consideration of the “Logos” part has been almost always primarily “Biblical exegesis showing that Genesis doesn’t have to be read literally, so there’s room for evolution.” Very, very little time has been devoted to making readers aware of the thought of Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Hooker, etc. on the doctrine of Creation, Fall, etc. It’s as if we can set aside the past tradition, and, on the basis of modern Biblical scholarship, interpret the Bible afresh, free of the need to regard anyone who lived before the age of Biblical criticism as wise or truthful.

Part of the problem is that in the modern era, systematic theology and Biblical studies have become separate academic disciplines; up to and beyond the Reformation, it was expected that a theologian would do both. BioLogos has tended to act as if Biblical studies is much more relevant than systematic and historical theology in establishing what the Christian Church should believe. And I think that’s a bad judgment. Both are important, and a good theologian should make himself the master of both.

To do proper religion/science dialogue, it’s not enough to bring in a few Biblical scholars who say that Genesis wasn’t meant as science and therefore evolution is OK. To do religion and science, or to do anything in theology, the historical Christian notions of providence, sovereignty, foreknowledge, omnipotence, Fall, etc. all have to be dealt with – and more than just knowledge of the Biblical text is required to accomplish that. Calvin and Luther immersed themselves in the Bible in the original languages – and also immersed themselves in the entire theological literature from the early Fathers through the Scholastics. That’s the right procedure, but it’s not the one followed by many in these debates, who think that Bible interpretation alone (especially when the interpretation coincides with one’s private religious tastes about what God ought to be like) is enough.

I’m not pitting tradition against the Bible; I’m saying that for those who aren’t too proud to learn from previous generations of Christians (who had just as much access to the Holy Spirit as our generation does!), theology must consist of study of the Bible and the study of learned Christian tradition.

No dispute with this position; only with the idea that everything worth discovering in the Bible has already been discovered, elucidated, considered and either accepted or rejected within that tradition. I do believe the church learned from her mistakes with Galileo, for example, that “traditional orthodoxy” is never immune to further scrutiny and even development. It is not a lack of humility to say so.

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