Eddie's Defense of Natural Theology

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

I’m glad to see an old friend @eddie appear on the forums.

He has a topic of high importance that comes up often for him: the importance of natural theology, contrasting this with what most TE and EC think on this topic. True to form his first post here hits exactly on this topic. This is an important issue to work out and deserves more than rabbit trails mentions on other topics. So I am inviting @eddie to explain his position here.

When it comes up again, he can link to this topic for a deeper explanation. That way we can keep other topics on tasks.

So welcome @eddie. I’m sure a lot of people new to you will enjoy interacting with you here about your position on this. To the extent possible, let’s keep this focused on the current position of organizations, rather than their past views.

Let is also keep a strong distinction between Peaceful Science myself on one hand, and many of the other TE organizations that have taken a different path. We are trying to find a better way.

Maybe you can help shape us, and that is more likely if you can articulate a position that is more than merely a critique of one side. Show us the position that corrects the excesses of both TE and ID. Show us a better way.

(Edward Robinson) #2

Hello, Daniel (@dga471) . Thanks for your comments in this forum, which I judge to be thoughtful and informed.

I’ve just joined the forum, in part because Joshua Swamidass urged me to, and in part because of your reference to my Hump of the Camel article. Since you commented on what I wrote there, I wanted to respond and clarify.

You quote one passage from my article, which was a passage about inferring the existence of God from the facts of nature, but then go on to respond to it as if I was trying to bring the study of miraculous actions into science. Your misunderstanding here is a common one, so it’s worth clarifying what I meant.

In my article I was discussing the typical TE/EC hostility to natural theology. Of course, not all TE/EC proponents are entirely hostile to natural theology, but many are. Frequently shots are taken at natural theology in ASA and BioLogos settings. I have dealt with this subject at great length, on BioLogos and on The Hump of the Camel.

By natural theology I mean the attempt to derive the existence of God, and some of the more general characteristics of God, from our knowledge of nature. Natural theology is a very limited enterprise, and is not to be confused with “natural religion” or “the religion of nature”, which thought it could derive our moral duties, the immortality of the soul, and in some cases even some specifically Christian teachings from nature. Natural theology is humbler in ambition. It affirms that there are certain truths about God (e.g., his existence, wisdom, and power) that can be found out by “unaided reason”, i.e., without the help of special revelation (the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, etc.). Natural theology is found in some of the ancient Greek and Roman thinkers. The Church Fathers generally found natural theology acceptable as a vestibule through which many pagans found their way to Christianity. Natural theology is allowed by Calvin as well, and the Lutheran George Murphy, himself no friend of natural theology, has conceded that a limited natural theology can be found in statements by Luther.

Natural theology can be found in one form in the “Five Ways” of Aquinas, and in another form in the “physicotheology” of William Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises. In the latter form it typically rests on “teleological arguments” for the existence of God. It is important to stress that natural theology in the proper sense that I’m employing does not claim to be able to vindicate Christianity, or to reveal truths about the Fall, the Incarnation, the Trinity, Redemption, etc. It does not attempt to replace Christian doctrine or faith in Jesus. It is a branch of philosophy, not a branch of Christian theology.

It’s precisely because natural theology does not compete with Christian revelation that there is no reason for Christians to reflexively reject it . Many ASA and BioLogos TEs have charged that if we could reason our way to God from nature, we would not need Christ, and therefore natural theology is “bad theology”. But of course none of the classical advocates of natural theology (Aquinas, Calvin, Paley, etc.) said that natural theology gave sufficient knowledge of God, and certainly none of them said that it provided salvific knowledge of God. For that, it was clear, revelation was needed. So this charge against natural theology is a false alarm, but it continues to be made.

So, suppose for the sake of argument (and I’m not insisting this is the case), that God chose to make some knowledge of himself available to the thoughtful pagan; why should that be a problem? (Indeed, that is the most natural way of reading Romans 1, that there is a knowledge of God available to human beings even if they have never heard the Jewish or Christian revelations, but I don’t want to get into a tangle of exegesis of Romans here, especially since there are several Old Testament passages which also make the point.)

This brings me to the point of tension between ID and TE over natural theology. Many TEs have accused ID of promoting “bad theology” because, they say, ID is natural theology and natural theology gets rid of the need for Jesus. But of course, ID is not, strictly speaking, natural theology, since ID reasons only “from nature to design”; the further step, reasoning “from design to God”, is not strictly speaking part of ID (though many ID proponents think it is a reasonable theological extension). Yet even supposing that ID did directly claim that ID arguments prove the existence of God (from design in nature), what would be the harm in that?

Supposedly, say many TE proponents, God “hides himself” in nature; nature is one of his “masks”, and we should not expect to be able to find God, even by inference, in the patterns or structures of nature. But how do the TEs know that God hides himself? He might do so; he might choose to make it impossible for human beings to know anything at all about him, even his bare existence, through inferences from nature. But he might not. He might choose to give all human beings, even pagans, a limited knowledge of himself. How can we say in advance which of these courses God would choose, to reveal himself through his creation, or to hide himself in his creation (as a hunter hides himself in a blind)? It’s presumptuous of us to use our a priori theological conceptions to decide what God would do.

So if we are trying to decide whether God leaves clues to his existence in the arrangements of nature, the proper way to investigate the question is not through a priori theologizing, based on our personal preferences of what God ought to be like, but empirically, by studying the arrangements of nature and seeing if they give indications of an intelligence that accomplishes things that mere chance, or mere chance plus blind natural laws, would not accomplish.

I am talking about design detection, not miracle detection. I can infer correctly that the Pyramids could not have come into existence without design, but that does not mean I think they required a miracle. I can correctly infer that the computer I am typing on did not come into existence without design, but I don’t suppose any miracle was required. Design might be executed entirely through natural agents, while not itself being explicable or derivable from those natural agents. And design might be a required cause of the existence of something, without interfering with causation as typically studied by natural scientists. No house is built without a design in mind, yet the architect doesn’t have any miraculous powers. The house is built by men using muscle power and other natural means. Nonetheless, the architect’s design is an absolutely necessary cause of the existence of the house; no design, no house. So the question of miracles need not come into the discussion at all.

The ID enterprise is a science of design detection, not of miracle detection. ID methods (if they work, which of course can be debated) can detect only design, not miracles. They leave the question of the cause of the design to be settled by non-ID forms of argument. For example, Stephen Meyer and Michael Denton both argue for design in nature, but Stephen Meyer seems to think that new information was periodically injected into nature supernaturally, whereas Michael Denton argues that after the initial creation of laws and constants, no supernatural intervention was necessary. Both are Fellows of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Discovery has published three of Denton’s books. Discovery, then, takes no side on the necessity of miracles; it is neutral on the question whether the realization of design required miracles.

Natural theology of the physicotheology type purports to show that certain things in nature can’t be explained without design, and that design points to God. But natural theology doesn’t in itself say anything about miraculous interventions in nature. It simply points to God as the source of the design we see in nature. Whether or not God “intervenes” is a different question from whether or not God “designs”. I was not trying to argue that scientists should accept an “intervening” God as a component in their explanations. I was merely pointing out that there is no reason why a Christian should forbid anyone from inferring that there is design in nature and that God is the source of that design. There is nothing in Christian faith or Christian theology that rules out the possibility of inferring the existence and wisdom of God from the patterns and operations of nature.

Note that I did not argue that natural theology had succeeded in proving the existence or qualities of God. I merely said that the enterprise was not forbidden by anything in Christian faith, and that the TE leaders who say that it is forbidden, or leads to “bad theology”, are overreaching.

I added that this overreaching is largely due to their lack of education in theology; they are mostly people with Ph.D.s in natural science and no degrees at all in anything other than natural science; almost none of them have formally studied religion or theology, and some of them have never taken even a single university course in philosophy or theology. They are not well-read in the Church Fathers, the Scholastics, the Reformers, Spinoza, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Descartes, and other authors relevant to these kinds of questions. They have in most cases picked up a lot of their theology through secondhand and thirdhand sources, mostly from reading bits and pieces of modern evangelical writers. It would therefore be better if these biochemists, astronomers, etc., refrained from declaring what is “good theology”. It is the presumptuousness of the TE leaders to pose as arbiters of Christian theology that I was objecting to.

If the TEs want to refute ID arguments for design, based on scientific knowledge, by all means they may do so. But if they want to be the judges of the theology allegedly held by the ID proponents, then they should go back for a second career in theology, and learn things such as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, philosophy, and the history of Christian thought from the early Fathers through to modern times. It’s simply absurd for people with the limited theological knowledge of Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, Ken Miller, and most of those who publish in the ASA journal to write as if they are authorities on Christian doctrine – as absurd as it would be for me to write as if I were an authority on endogenous retroviruses or special relativity.

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Three Reviews of the Crossway Theistic Evolution Book
Three Reviews of the Crossway Theistic Evolution Book
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #3

@eddie, I’m looking forward to seeing you development this more here.

You focus on correctives of BioLogos. Many of them are important to consider carefully. What are your correctives to ID?

(Edward Robinson) #4

Joshua:

Thanks for the greeting, and for your invitation to join.

I am happy to do what you ask, i.e., distinguish between Peaceful Science and other organizations, including BioLogos. Over on Hump of the Camel, in my latest reply to George Brooks, I said that I thought BioLogos had become tired, and that other organizations, such as Peaceful Science and the Hump, were picking up from its falling hands the torch of science/theology discourse.

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(George) #5

And the shocker is… I completely agree with you @Eddie !

@jongarvey, could any of us seen this day of agreement coming!? :smiley:

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(Jon Garvey) #6

Maybe you just understand each other a bit better!

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(George) #7

That seems unlikely. Now there is a point in the spectrum more capable of making a useful impression on the next generations of Creationists!

(Edward Robinson) #8

Hi, Joshua.

I agree that correctives are needed to the excesses of all sides in these debates (TE, ID, YEC, New Atheism, etc.).

The reason I spend so much time correcting TE rather than ID folks is that TE folks, unlike ID folks (who purport to be doing only design detection, not theology) are, as Jon Garvey has recently said well on this site, explicitly theological in their purpose. Especially BioLogos, which in its very inception announced the vision of harmonizing Bios (the living world, and its science, biology) with Logos (the divine world, and its science, theology), claims not only to have scientific evidence for evolution, but also a reasoned position showing that evolution is not incompatible with traditional evangelical theology. So they can’t duck detailed theological discussion, yet they often do; and when they do venture spotty theological remarks, they are often incorrect, shallow, or undocumented from traditional texts. My own field being religion and theology (though I started out on a science scholarship), I’m naturally enough more focused on the position which makes theological claims.

That said, ID could also stand in need of improvement. One of the biggest defects in ID, from my point of view (and by the way, I came to ID as a historian of ideas who had studied teleology in nature, natural theology, etc., not as a fundamentalist or Biblical literalist trying to defend the Bible against science), is its inconsistent self-representation. Its formal definition I have no problem with: it seeks to investigate the evidence for design in nature. That’s an old idea with an honored place in Western intellectual history, among Christian and pagan alike. And that position is not in itself necessarily anti-evolutionary. Discovery itself has conceded this, many times. Yet often the rhetoric in some (not all) ID writers is anti-evolutionary, as if ID is intrinsically opposed to evolution. So I think the public gets confused: are these ID guys anti-evolution, or not? The confusion leads many to identify ID with creationism, which it isn’t; but the ID writers themselves sometimes invite this inference by the way they write.

Behe is clear, because he almost always qualifies the term “evolution” with “Darwinian” or “neo-Darwinian”; so one knows that he is not rejecting “descent with modification” but only criticizing certain proposed mechanisms for how that descent can be accounted for. But several ID writers seem to use “Darwinian” and “evolutionary” interchangeably, which muddies the waters.

Another place where improvement could be made: In my reply on the Hump to your review of the Crossway book, I pointed out that while the Crossway book gives a good sample of part of ID, it doesn’t give a sample of all of ID. I mentioned that none of the explicitly evolutionist ID writers had essays in that book. In fact, the book, while it has some good contents (I like the philosophy section the best, though there is good material in some chapters in the other sections as well), really represents OEC-ID and YEC-ID, completely leaving out evolutionist-ID.

In the Biblical section of the Crossway book, while many points are made about the Bible and theology that I agree with, the general leaning (and here I concur with Jon Garvey) is toward a literalist understanding of Genesis that I don’t share. In their bending over backwards to oppose what they see as the errors of liberal evangelicalism (at BioLogos), they tend toward the opposite error, i.e., that of mechanical fundamentalism. The pendulum swings too far.

There is also from time to time a sort of edgy, crusading tone in the Crossway book. I don’t say all the writers employ this tone, but two or three of them do. I know where the edginess comes from: there are long-standing quarrels between the ID and TE/EC camps, much of them reflecting battles going back to the 1960s and 1970s when evangelical scientists were dealing with the scientific claims of Gish and Morris. The TE/EC folks are often shrill against creationists (and against ID folks whom they often equate with creationists) because many of them (Falk, Giberson, Venema, Isaac and others) used to be creationists, and one is often the most militant and uncompromising against what one used to be – that seems to be a fact of human psychology, in religion, politics, or anything else. And the creationists within the ID movement see the formerly creationist TE/EC leaders as defectors, as liberals, as apostates from true Biblical faith, etc., and that leads them to adopt a militant tone. So from the outsider’s point of view, the person (like myself) who didn’t grow up inside the fishbowl of the evangelical/fundamentalist world, this looks like an angry family spat, and it is as uncivilized as such spats often become. I grew up in more middle-of-the-road Protestantism, where neither evolution nor Genesis literalism were topics that preoccupied ministers or congregations, and the fury of these debates did not exist in my environment.

So my recommendation to some ID writers would be to turn down the volume a bit, watch the tone a bit more. I think that on both sides there is a sense of hurt and betrayal, but trick is to try to find some constructive common ground. Among the ID proponents, I find Paul Nelson to be very good at sticking to the theoretical issues regarding design and evolution and not making personal digs at the religious or theological beliefs or motives of his opponents. I think his own writing and speaking is a better model for ID folks than that of some other ID writers who seem to enjoy polemics against TE/EC folks.

That doesn’t mean that one can’t give vigorous arguments. I think that many BioLogos and other TE statements about theology are egregiously wrong or one-sided, and I hit hard, intellectually, against such statements. But I try not to question the motives of those who make them. For example, I think that Jim Stump, Brad Kramer, Kathryn Applegate, Darrel Falk, Francis Collins and most other TEs are very sincere Christians and I don’t doubt their commitment or their good intentions. (I have expressed some doubts about the commitments of some pseudonymous commenters on BioLogos, but that is another matter.) I try to keep my theological critiques of these people on the subject-matter (texts, historical confessions, etc.) and not on the subject of their motives. If I occasionally fail, I don’t mind people pointing out to me where I have slipped from theological critique into charges of bad motives. My goal is to keep the discussion on substance rather than personalities. That is sometimes difficult, because when one is confronted with obtuse behavior (e.g., someone uses the term “providence” but won’t define the term or give her source in the tradition for her usage, and when challenged ducks out of the discussion), one is inclined to start formulating hypotheses about motivation. But overall, I try to stick to the issues. I wish everyone in all camps would strive to do that.

I would like to see the emergence of a theological position which ( a ) is open to evolution understood as descent with modification, but also open to various widely-differing accounts of evolutionary mechanisms, i.e., non-dogmatic regarding mechanism; ( b ) non-mechanical in its reading of Biblical texts, paying proper attention to their literary character and the difference between the ancient religious mind and the modern secular mind; ( c ) Christian in the sense not merely of Biblical but in the sense of informed by two millennia of deep theological reflection upon notions such as creation, sovereignty, providence, nature, image of God, etc.

On the last point, I would emphasize that in order to carry it out properly, American evangelical Christianity might have to become more informed about Christian writings more than 50 years old, especially writings from England, from the European Continent, and from the Eastern Christian world. Too often these debates have been parochially “American Protestant evangelical”, and have suffered as a result, becoming shallow and focused on the inessential rather than the essential. Large doses of reading of Christian theologians and other writers who aren’t American-bred, or who date from centuries before America was even founded, can help restore needed perspective here.

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Eddie's Response to Review of Crossway TE
(Daniel Deen) #9

Well, you have provided much to think about in your last two posts @Eddie. Thanks, for these reflections. I will need to sit on these for a bit and perhaps peruse your offerings elsewhere, knowing that I’ll have more questions.

This seems right, do you have a brief bibliography in mind?

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #10

@Eddie, thanks for answering. I want to us to fall into a better pattern here.

In the past, you’ve often been forced into to the role of “prophet in the wilderness”, repeating the same message over and over in the hopes you would be heard. That is not necessary here. I want a better pattern. I want to hear you out, and that is a purpose of this thread.

I’m really looking forward to seeing you work out a balanced corrective, that is constructive and helps us all move forward. I see the beginnings of that here. I want to pull out some of the more helpful things here.

Great. So here, it will be very helpful to be an equal opportunity corrective, that looks to find a better way for everyone, not just correct one sides mistakes. Our goal also is not merely to be critics, but to also invite people into something better. So build something better with all of us to invite them into.

I see why you have fixated on BioLogos for this reason, but remember there are both stated and unstated theological claims. ID has a large number of usually unstated theological presuppositions. Many of them are made clear in the Crossway book. They deserve as much scrutiny as you have given to BioLogos.

Moreover, you will have more credibility to fix them in ID than in BioLogos, because you are from “within” their camp and this is your area. In contrast, I’m always going to have more credibility to challenge TE/EC, because I was once closely associated with them. Certainly take BioLogos to task at times, but keep in mind where and how you will have the most impact.

This critique is point on. It is also entirely within their ability to correct. As much as you point out that ID has been misunderstood, we need to equally insist that ID has not represented itself consistently.

I agree. So help us on that front in helping ID proponents coming here arguing against common descent realize they are undermining the goals of ID. That would be really helpful. Even helping them realize the Behe affirms common descent is helpful.

Though I also have to insist that modern evolutionary science is not Darwinism or neo-Darwinism. (that is a side point though).

On that, the best critique is a better option. Help us build a better articulated middle, wise, and informed ground. In building that middle ground, push equally hard against both points of view, but push hardest for what you think is the most constructive way forward.

I’d say you’ve been accused of that same edgy and crusading tone. I think it is often because you have been ignored. I’m giving you a voice here. Let’s do something constructive instead.

I could not agree more Eddie. This needs to be emblazoned somewhere, and repeated everywhere. Could this become the drum you are beating over and over? I really hope so…

That is legitimate. One more thing that will really help is if you back off from critiquing TE/EC/BioLogos as a whole. That critique turns out to be a fulfilling prophecy, failing to affirm positive directions, and being overly vague.

Instead, let me suggest identifying concrete examples by specific people, identifying those examples and people, when you critique them. This is still in keeping with engaging ideas, not ad hominems. However, it gives space for people doing favorable things (in your view) to be part of BioLogos too, and to clearly identify the specific concerns and critiques you have. That also clarifies who exactly is meant to answer to you, and what specific statements are at play.

Speaking as a past associate of BioLogos, it was often frustrating to hear critiques of “BioLogos” that did not at all apply to me. The strategy I’m suggesting here would have avoided that frustration. I would have been able to better understand you, and even become an ally. The best scenario for everyone is not for BioLogos to fall apart, but to come to a better place. For that to happen would require a large number of allies, like I could have been, within BioLogos working for the good of BioLogos. That means we have to communicate in a way that builds understanding of what is and is not a way that will make sense to the church, recognizing there is real diversity in that organization too.

You are describing precisely what we are building here. It is already emerging. This is what you have been looking for, and it is poised to grow much more. Once again @Eddie, I am inviting you in from the cold. Come here to build with us. You need not any longer be the ignored prophet in the wilderness. The last bit of my Crossway review is targeted to scholars exactly like you:

#11

Eddie’s back. You’re the guy who writes 1000 words to say “Good Morning”. Glad to see you and look forward to conversing with you.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #12

Yes, but we are going to try for some better patterns this go around :smile:. I general, I want threads to remain consistent with the OP. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop his position constructively in threads like this, devoted to exactly that purpose.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #13

To understand and be understood. That is the purpose of this forum, to uncover unexpected common ground. I’m looking forward to seeing this develop. In truth, @gbrooks9 and @eddie have very aligned goals at times. See, for example, No need to Dispute God’s Design... the Goal is

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #14

Thank you Eddie, here is the comment you reference, for safe keeping here so it is not lost:

Already it is clear that deeper discussions of these matters are happening here, on the Hump of the Camel, and now, over at Peaceful Science. The torch of leadership in faith-science discussion is passing out of the hands of BioLogos, to other organizations. And that’s not surprising, given that the BioLogos folks have repeatedly shown that they find the torch too heavy to carry. Happy to answer difficult questions by “it’s a divine mystery how it all fits together, so you’re unreasonable to press the inquiry”, they would prefer to leave the heavy metaphysical and theological lifting to other people. Well, that is what is happening.
http://potiphar.jongarvey.co.uk/2018/08/10/evolutionary-creation-and-theology-of-nature/

Thanks for the kind words. I hope we can live up to them.

(Edward Robinson) #15

Hello, Joshua:

We agree on much. Regarding this point:

“That is legitimate. One more thing that will really help is if you back off from critiquing TE/EC/BioLogos as a whole . That critique turns out to be a fulfilling prophecy, failing to affirm positive directions, and being overly vague.”

I agree with you entirely. As someone trained in the Humanities, I always prefer to argue with the position of individual writers rather than with the position of organizations or movements. The position of individual writers is often clear and identifiable, whereas the position of organizations or movements is often vague, because the organization or movement is built upon a set of compromises made to achieve certain social or political ends, and in those compromises individuals mute their personal views “for the good of the movement”. So serious intellectual analysis has to proceed from the views of individuals.

That is why, over the years, I pleaded, begged, and prostrated myself before BioLogos leaders, asking them not to hide behind the bland, vague, generic positions given on the BioLogos site, but to give their own particular views on various science and theology questions. I was almost completely unsuccessful in getting any of them to speak as individuals. So I found myself having to oppose a composite, vaguely defined, shifting, amorphous theology called “BioLogos” or “TE” or “EC” when I would rather have had very specific (and very different) individual discussions with Darrel Falk, Karl Giberson, Kathryn Applegate, Ard Louis, etc., about their particular theological views and their particular ways of relation theology to science, God to evolution, etc. All were incredibly reluctant to step outside the safe, generic, party line.

“Instead, let me suggest identifying concrete examples by specific people, identifying those examples and people, when you critique them. This is still in keeping with engaging ideas,”

I agree. And if you look at the book edited by Jay Richards, called God and Evolution, you will see that the essayists in that book address very specific theological claims of Ken Miller, Howard Van Till, Francis Collins, certain Catholic Thomists, and others. But I found that at BioLogos, no matter carefully one specified the doctrines one wanted to examine, one could not generate a conversation.

For example, many BioLogos folks over the years, when asked about the relationship between randomness and God’s sovereign role as Creator, would say something very vague about God’s providential activity; the word “providence” was being used in these cases as a sort of magic wand that waved away all intellectual problems. So I would ask – politely – say, Kathryn Applegate or Ard Louis either to define “providence” as they used the term, or give me some source in the tradition (Luther, Wesley, Calvin, etc.) from which they were getting their notion of “providence”. The answer was always dead silence, an end to the conversation. For whatever reasons, they simply did not want to disclose what they meant by the word, or what readings had informed their use of it. Yet they wanted to use the word to justify their particular conclusions. So my attempt to do exactly what you suggest – individualize the discussion rather than speak of “BioLogos” or “TE” – was rejected. The individual BioLogos columnists did not want to offer their own individual theologies. They felt more secure, it seems, hiding behind a general position, in which terms like “providence” were invoked vaguely.

Now you can accuse ID folks of lumping together all kinds of different things under EC, and indeed, I think that the Crossway book paints evolutionary creation in darker colors than it needs to be painted, because the Crossway writers are so upset at what a particular subset of ECs have said (mainly those at BioLogos and in the ASA), that they ignore the wide range of EC views that fall outside of those boundaries, as if all EC everywhere were the same as, e.g., the views of Dennis Venema or Darrel Falk. This, I agree, is unfair. For example, your own position, and that of Robert Russell, and that of Owen Gingerich, and that of many others, are quite different from each other, and quite different from some of the views typically expressed on BioLogos. Indeed, EC Terry Gray has quite a different version of how Reformed theology and evolution go together than his fellow Reformed EC Deb Haarsma appears to have. And recall when David Opderbeck, an EC, left the discussion group of the ASA because of the frequency of unorthodox theology found there. So all EC is not alike. So I agree that ID folks (and not just ID folks but creationists of various sorts) are sometimes too indiscriminate in lumping things together.

So yes, I think it is good to specify individual people and ideas rather than deal in broad labels, and I will definitely try to do that here. I think it will be more possible to do that here than on BioLogos, because Peaceful Science is, as it were, an idea under construction, without an “orthodoxy”, and individuals posting here will feel freer to try out ideas and approaches, whereas BioLogos has existed a long time and thus has tended to develop an organizational mentality, and the defensiveness that goes with that. I thus have higher hopes for Peaceful Science.

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(Daniel Ang) #16

Hi Eddie,
Thanks for your extensive response. Even as a scientist, I am a big fan of natural theology. I appreciate the various arguments for the existence of God - Aquinas’ Five Ways, the kalam cosmological argument, fine tuning, and so on. So I believe we are in mostly in agreement with regards to whether natural theology is a legitimate enterprise, theologically and philosophically speaking. For me however, all of these arguments are philosophical. Even if some of their premisses can be bolstered by scientific arguments (e.g. Craig’s use of the BVG theorem to support the proposition that the Universe had a beginning), the actual argument is a philosophical one, crucially depending on metaphysical premisses that must be argued using philosophical arguments, not empirical ones.

Scientific vs. Philosophical Natural Theology

In general, I am usually very suspicious of purely scientific arguments of natural theology. This is why I am unconvinced by arguments from ID advocates. Now, if they changed their arguments for Design to be purely philosophical, I could be more open to those. But then these arguments would be more similar to arguments from fine-tuning or the argument based on unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in describing nature. An example of such an argument would be, for example, an Aristotelian-Thomist arguing that evolution requires a change of substantial form that needs input from outside, that can only come from God. (This is adapting an argument from Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a noted A/T and evolutionary biologist. Note that this is AFAIK somewhat opposed to Fr. Chaberek’s Thomistic arguments against evolution.) Because natural science doesn’t study substantial form in the A/T sense, it has nothing to say directly about the soundness of the argument. If this is all that you are advocating for that I’m all for it.

The Importance of Methodological Naturalism in Science

So why am I suspicious of scientific natural theology arguments? You’ve probably heard this a lot, but as a scientist I think methodological naturalism (MN) in science is important. In my view, MN is not a form of dogmatic temporary deism or atheism. Instead, MN demands us give very specific, mechanistic, measurable (in principle) definition of every concept. This allows us to conduct experiments testing that concept. Popper was not right in everything, but he was right in identifying falsification as a very important aspect of empirical science. Without MN, all kinds of untestable claims are allowed to enter, and it becomes more and more difficult to do science.

Now I have tried to express this during my exchange with @jongarvey, but it seems that most people who do not work primarily in empirical science don’t seem to understand how important this is. Empirical science today, at least the simple, experimental kind that I do everyday, always assumes methodological naturalism! Perhaps we can start a separate discussion about MN between scientists and theologians if this is controversial.

Applying MN to the case of ID, design arguments can only work as actual science if we can get a rigorous, objective, measurable definition of design. In addition, this has to be a positive definition that stands on its own, instead of negative arguments that only attack the legitimacy of existing theories. That is not how science works, period. Now, this seems hard to come by in ID literature. Even watching @swamidass’ debate with Eric Holloway the other day as an interested layman, the discussion seemed still focused on negative arguments against the sufficiency of evolution to explain the amount of information in DNA, and Eric was using handwavey terms like “function” which in my knowledge do not have a rigorous, measurable definition.

Is Design a Miracle?

With this in mind, I was particularly interested by this statement of yours:

I can only agree with this if you are referring to design in the philosophical, perhaps metaphysical sense. I would support you in arguing, for example, that the beauty and effectiveness of the laws of physics must have been designed by some external mind. Such an argument is never undermined no matter how much more science we discover. I could also support you in arguing that the fine-tuning of the universe to support life is a form of Divine Providence.

However, from a strictly scientific perspective, the quoted statement is problematic because while “divine intervention” has a pretty clear definition (i.e. “a scientifically unanalyzable, temporary departure from regularity”), “design” does not yet have a clear definition. I’m not even sure if it has a rigorous, non-circular philosophical definition. This is why your paragraph-long explanation of “design detection”, while convincing to common sense, would not make sense to a scientist qua scientist, no matter how many philosophy classes they take.

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(Edward Robinson) #17

Joshua, on this point:

I agree that ID people, along with many others, may have unstated theological commitments. However, it is important to make a distinction between what ID by its own self-definition requires, and what individual ID proponents (who each have a set of religious, aesthetic, social, political, etc. agendas outside of ID). There is nothing in ID that requires anyone to hold to a literal reading of Genesis, for example. There is nothing in ID that requires one to hold the Bible in reverence at all. (I know Muslim, Hindu, Deist and agnostic ID proponents.) There is nothing in ID that requires one to be a Christian, or even a theist. ID in its pure form is simply about investigating the evidence for design in nature, trying to determine if the appearance of design indicates actual design.

So when you speak of religious or theological assumptions made by various authors in the Crossway volume, I would agree with you, but those theological assumptions are personal to those authors, and ID as such does not endorse any of them. It is indifferent to them.

That’s why I pointed out that the Crossway volume was not a true cross-section of ID thought. Had it included an essay by, say, Behe, it would have been clear to all that ID requires no commitment to a particular kind of Protestant Biblicism. The Crossway volume might give the reader the impression (indeed, to a reader who had no previous knowledge of ID, could convey no other impression) that ID is a species of creationism, which is not the case. That is why the God and Evolution volume is in some respects a better snapshot of ID – both creationist and evolutionist ID folks have essays in there. (Partly this is because of the marked presence of Catholic writers there; Catholicism is much less hostile to evolution than Biblicist Protestantism.)

I also indicated that I don’t share the tendency to literal-historical interpretation found in the Biblical essays in the Crossway book. That tendency, as you have pointed out, involves tacit theological assumptions about what the Bible is, and what Christianity is. But again, those writers have no authority from ID to make those assumptions. Those assumptions come straight out of their own personal religious biographies, and are not binding on other ID proponents. They are entitled to those assumptions, but they don’t speak for ID when they make them. They speak as OEC Christians, YEC Christians, Southern Baptist Christians, or whatever. Certainly they don’t speak for Behe, Denton, Sternberg – or for me!

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #18

It does seem that we are coming to terms.

You’ve said your piece on BioLogos, and it is largely correct. I can see you’ve been frustrated by constantly thwarted attempts to engage on deeper questions. That is all true, and has also been frustrating.

Now let’s look forward. We cannot become the place of complain and disgruntled reiterations about BioLogos. I see what you are saying, but let’s move past it. When need comes to reiterate these things, just point people to that post, and let’s focus on the bigger and more interesting questions. I want to build a positive engaging with the questions, not a long running critique of BioLogos. I hope you are board with me on this.

As for ID, I want a better way than them too. Too many of them (perhaps not all) insist on making their natural theology within science, in the language of science. I know that is not as important to you. So freely make your case in philosophy and theology. Help us find a grounded language, engaged with Pascal and Barth too, to make sense of natural theology. That is really important work. Let it begin.

I’m not interested in an abstract defense of ID as a concept. I hope it won’t be laborious to make that clear. I think we both know the limits of the existing models. Let’s find a better way. Maybe, in the end, some of them will take some cues from us.

(Daniel Ang) #19

(Emphasis mine.) This is exactly what I was getting at!

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #20

A post was split to a new topic: Are Living Systems Machines?