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.