Eddie's Defense of Natural Theology

This is interesting too. Is it fair to demand the reverse as well? If theologians want to talk about the generalities of science, they should read primary works of science (papers, books, etc.) instead of relying on second-hand sources? (I’m reminded of CP Snow’s lecture The Two Cultures.)


To be clear, science does make design inferences all the time. It just rejects ID inferences because the science behind them, as we have seen them, is demonstrably in error. Even if they are not in error, science cannot make divine design tractable. I know ID tries to treat divine and creaturely design the same, but this is not grounded in either science or theology. So the problem is not design inferences. The problem is ID.

Now @Eddie, i though all you cared about was natural theology, even if it wasn’t in science? You are deviating from that sentiment in all this. Why not stick to your word:

Just give up on calling it science. That is an argument you are going to lose, and you say it isn’t even your goal. So drop it. Let’s get back to something you know about. Theology of nature, right?

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Thanks for alerting me to that list, it seems very appealing!

I think you’ve also basically perfectly expressed what I’ve been trying to get at.

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4 posts were split to a new topic: Science Makes Design Inferences, But Unlike ID

This is an excellent discussion, Daniel. I agree with much of what you say.

Thanks for clarifying why you use “departure from regularity”. I understand your position better now.

I agree that ID folks and also creationists sometimes offer weak arguments along these lines. I don’t think it would be fair to say that all ID arguments are along these lines. We would have to take them case by case. But as this topic is natural theology rather than detailed arguments about the flagellum and specified complex information and so on, let’s not get into those here.

I’m not sure what database you used to determine where the majority of ID proponents come from. I know a few hundred of them, and only about 5% or so of those are philosophers. Most of them are scientists, engineers, computer programmers, etc. It is true that many of the leaders have training in philosophy, but even in those cases they almost all also have training in science. I’m going from memory here, but I believe that Luskin has Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in Paleontology and Geology as well as his Law degrees; Meyer studied Physics I think, then worked for years in field geology for an oil company, before going on to do a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science, specifically focused on the history of origin of life theorizing; Behe’s degrees are all in life science; Denton’s are all in life science and medicine; Jonathan Wells, in addition to a Ph.D. in Religion, has also a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology; Paul Nelson, in addition to a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Biology from Chicago (working under an evolutionary biologist), took many undergraduate and graduate courses in biology; Dembski has a degree in Psychology followed by two Ph.D.s in probability theory, one from a Math department and one from a Philosophy department; Ann Gauger has her Ph.D. and other degrees in the life sciences; Caroline Crocker had similar qualifications; so, I believe, does Doug Axe; Sternberg has two Ph.D.s, one in evolutionary biology and one in systems science, an engineering discipline; Hunter has two degrees in Aeronautical Engineering followed by a Ph.D. in BioPhysics; Durston has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Physics and Engineering, followed by a Master’s in Philosophy and a Ph.D. in Computational Biology; Snoke has a Ph.D. in Physics; Hugh Ross in Astrophysics; need I go on? And of course Behe, Sternberg and Denton have many research publications unconnected with ID, and Wells and Nelson actually go to secular biology conferences fairly frequently, sometimes presenting poster sessions. They were at the major conference on evolutionary theory in England a year or so ago, where many of the high mucky-mucks of evolutionary theory in the world were gathered to revisit the Modern Synthesis and discuss its soundness and possible need of revision. Nelson and Wells also, I know from direct personal communication, read hundreds of peer-reviewed technical biology articles every year, in the mainstream journals of evolution etc. We are not talking about people who have no familiarity with how science operates. You don’t have to agree with their conclusions, but you can’t regard them as lacking training or knowledge.

Well, yes, but the boundaries aren’t always obvious; there can be overlap. Even Gould with his NOMA admits there can be boundary disputes. If one is trying to understand the phenomenon called “life”, is it so easy to divide philosophical and scientific analyses? I don’t think so: read Aristotle, Hans Jonas, Bergson, Scott Turner. There is an intellectual danger of thinking of academic disciplines in too compartmentalized a way.

On your account of the success of non-teleological science. I don’t challenge it. Of course the achievements of modern science have been great. But no one I know of is advocating scrapping all of modern science and going back to Aristotle – certainly not myself. What I am interested in is a careful, limited revival of aspects of earlier science, including (in a careful way) notions of teleology. Already some biologists are doing this. And the fine-tuning folks in Physics, etc. are doing this in a different way. It is not that we should scrap the mechanistic approach; it is that it might be able to be supplemented. But there are certain people who would like to crush such discussions before they can ever get started, with a dismissive, “That’s not science.”

I should clarify that I am several decades old, probably older than most people posting here, and that I started out as a real keener for science, not only doing well in school and winning a scholarship to study science at a good research place that boasted of some Nobel winners, but reading voraciously in popular science from the time I was about 5 all the way into my adulthood. Asimov and Sagan were my gurus back then, and I read my copy of Robert Jastrow’s Red Giants and White Dwarfs so often (the way some Christians read their Bibles) that I started to wear it out. I used to deliberately seek out fundamentalists to argue with them (trying to convince them that evolution was true). Then I did my doctoral work specifically in the area of religion and science, and made a special study of the rise of modern science. I published two academic tomes in that field (for secular, not evangelical publishers). Years of other teaching (at both seminaries and universities) followed Last year I taught a university course where we studied Galileo, Kepler, etc., as well as the Christian matrix in which modern natural science emerged, and debunked the Warfare Thesis. I have immense admiration for the great scientists of the past, and no desire to induce anyone to reject science. My interest in ID was never due to any rejection of science; on the contrary, it was precisely because ID folks did not (like Creation Science people) wave Bible quotations at their readers, but presented rational and empirical arguments, that I was interested in them. But even now I don’t dogmatically defend all ID conclusions or authors; I merely assert the intellectual value of hearing their ideas, and discussing them. If even only 5% of their notions survive the test of time, they will have made a useful contribution.


Actually, it would be better if the ID movement got in a good habit of rejecting their own bad arguments. Why not? That is the usual way that fields build credibility, right?

Natural theology would be great, but you took us to ID man! That has very little to do with natural theology. Keep it straight, right?

Well I agree with that. In fact, I have a track record of doing just that. Perhaps someday you’ll trust my scientific assessment of what I have studied.

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I’ll give a common-sense answer. I would not expect a scientist who has never studied Hebrew or Greek to read detailed scholarly articles on the Old or New Testament filled with Greek and Hebrew characters. Nor would I expect a philosopher or theologian who has taken maybe some high school math and science but not much university math or science to be able to follow the symbols and equations in technical journals. But a scientist could read a good translation of Augustine’s City of God into English, and a theologian or philosopher could read a layman’s summary of current evolutionary thought written by a competent evolutionary theorist who has himself digested the technical articles. Parts of Gould’s Structure of Evolutionary Theory are accessible to the intelligent layperson who knows some basic science, and I have read some of that work; there are also writings of biologists such as James Shapiro, Gunter Wagner, Scott Turner, etc. which summarize what goes on their fields accurately. And of course nothing is stopping a philosopher from reading some of the scientific classics, including many works of Galileo, Darwin, Gilbert, etc. which I have read. In short, one should try to find out about other fields at the highest level at which one is capable of digesting them.

The situation is never perfect, because we never can know enough about every field to claim perfect understanding. But we can try. What I’m objecting to something like this: EC biologist picks up a book on science and faith by EC chemist, who has himself no real training in theology, and EC biologist then relies on EC chemist’s loose and undocumented use of “providential” and adopts and repeats it uncritically in her own writings, waxing eloquent, say, on the harmonization of providence and randomness. Instead, I say, EC biologist should not rely on the other EC author, but should look up the doctrine of providence in some good reference books, followed up by some primary sources in translation, and only then make arguments that “randomness” and “providence” go together, based on an understanding of how “providence” is actually understood by competent theologians. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, that before a scientist makes public statements about how science and theology go together, the scientist learns some minimal theology from good sources – not from other evangelical scientists who don’t know any more theology than he or she does. I’ve made a point of doing the same thing regarding Darwin. Before I posted a thing anywhere on Darwin, I read the Origin of Species in its entirety, many of Darwin’s other works, biographies of Darwin, Darwin’s Autobiography, etc. I made sure I understood what Darwin said before I offered any opinions about his thought. That’s really all I’m asking for.


There are many people talking here, about many things, and the principle of charitableness should cause you to “cut me some slack” if in answering so many people from so many different directions, some things get a bit jumbled. But to distinguish:

natural theology – arguments to the existence and character of God based on general or specific features of the natural world

design arguments – a general term for arguments purporting to find design in nature

ID arguments – arguments for design in nature produced by the particular group of writers known as ID proponents

One does not have to endorse particular arguments made by ID folks in order to endorse design arguments. Long before ID existed, Greeks and English and others were making design arguments.

But where people here have asked me specifically about ID, or made charges against ID folks, then of course I have switched to talking about ID and ID folks, in order to deal with their questions or comments.

In short, I have not confused anything, but the back and forth between people with different emphases and questions and vocabulary makes it hard to maintain perfect clarity.

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Yep, I remember an old prof, one of those guys who earned Oxford’s once top degree of BPhil lecturing us young guns on the impossibility of our future due to the proliferation of publications. It is daunting to say the least!

If you had started the other way around, you’d sound more like @Eddie and me :smile:

Good, it is rare to find a philosopher trying to tell a scientist how to DO science post-Kuhn. In fact, the philosophy of science degree is kind of dead as most people specialize into philosophy of biology, physics, psychology, etc where they tend to do close work with real scientists. I spent a year cultivating dictyostelium in petri dishes, then starving them, then chopping them up, then running them through some machine to count irradiated genes. It was great fun. Does not make me an expert in science and I wouldn’t say that the scientists I worked with were illiterate on philosophy, although it was damn near impossible to get them to sign up for a graduate philosophy seminar!

If that is the way it read, let me assure you that I wasn’t accusing you of “narrow-mindedness” Mea Culpa! I was more interested in your claim to separate knowledge claims. I think that we academically do that and that we must do that when we are speaking internally. However, all of us, I imagine, give public talks where we more freely speak outside the bounds of our disciplines. In fact, I think, as was pointed out somewhere in this thread, that ID is very guilty of this. Most are/were philosophers and most of the conversations they have are in the public realm. This is a problem as is being discussed in the Dover/Kansas thread here.

I suppose when it comes down to it, I’m really more interested in HOW we investigate science and religion. I’m okay with disciplines specific discourse, but the more interesting question to a philosopher is always going to be the relationships of the disciplines to each other. This means that one has to come to terms with how claims derived from “theology,” “science,” “philosophy,” do relate to each other.


I never read @dga471 as dissing non-scientific fields (although his comment about choosing science because philosophy would be easier to pick up is close :face_with_raised_eyebrow:) – however, if you are going to continually claim that we must be very careful to demarcate our knowledge claims, then at some point, you owe me an account of how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. That was my question to @dga471 earlier about his “big picture:”

So how do the knowledge claims of science, theology, philosophy work together? It seems you have thought about it since “you love” talking about the bigger picture. Now, let me remind you all that I am a philosopher and you should read Plato’s Apology to get a sense of my ethos. I don’t have answers for you, but raise questions when I see declarations made. This is why Socrates was put to death by the way!

This is an interesting contrast with the nice effect of being an example that ID proponents have established in the literature as just the sort of thing they are on about.

This is one of those areas that needs to be more front and center with the public in my opinion. Regardless of Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, etc… negative results ARE the benchmark by which science secures its “progress.” However, we, as scientific laity, are conditioned to positive results. I’ve read numerous books against ID that continually bring this and similar points forward which usually is then rebutted by IDers with some Kuhnian point about science being more complicated than negative results (e.g., against falsification)… and we are back into the conversation of philosophy versus science!

This is definitely alive and well in professional philosophy of biology. Teleology is a live research project.

This sounds similar to Antony Flew’s progression and recognition of a designer.

This IS key and I’ve noticed a couple of occasions here at PeacefulScience where @swamidass is trying to have a better conversation by helping strengthen ID arguments. However, I have also sensed much tension in those conversations (if it isn’t simply an artifact of digital discourse)…

And I’ve thrown philosophical curve balls that might not relate to either Natural Theology OR ID! It is time for bed – Cheers all!


I’m late to the US party as usual. I don’t like the “divine intervention” phrase because it suggests God doing something he doesn’t always do (even people do some things regularly, and some contingently), but it’s good to toss the concepts around and not be too picky about the vocabulary, if we’re talking about a theology of nature, or natural theology.

So I agree with you (against my friend Eddie) that such divine action is more about “departure from regularity” than “breaking laws of nature”, whatever rationalists may have said in the past. By that token, what is natural is to be described as “what is regular,” which is the definition of “natural”, and thus the delimitor of science, that I’ve been arguing for for a while.

Since the regularities of nature may be seen as God’s faithful activity too, that enables us to ask how contingency is also God’s irregular work.

Whilst “miracle” is another convenient word to designate the supernatural, its weakness is that it has a specific meaning in terms of revelation - a “wonder” to teach mankind about God. So I would want to be developing, or recycling, other concepts of irregular divine action.

For example, when we pray for our daily bread, we are generally invoking “special providence” rather than miracle, asking God so to guide normal circumstances that the harvest is good, the money sufficient etc.

Then, once we move away from a deterministic universe, and posit God’s making “active decisions” (or at least actions in real time) to govern it, let’s say by creating new things, we have again a different category, for creation brings all normality into being, whether the laws of nature at the beginning of time, or Adam (on a genealogical Adam model) a few thousand years ago.

The question of whether laws of nature are broken or not is separate - to put it crudely, if I can shove material physically around without breaking any laws, there’s no reason God shouldn’t, even before we get to more subtle categories of action.

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I’m having to pick at this long thread, but I would say that common descent is not a design principle, though it may be a manufacturing principle. The difference encourages us to think theologically and philosophically rather than mechanistically.

In divine terms, what we would call design or purpose is to conceive of an end, or series of ends, and bring it into being through creation. In itself, this requires no process or means, though in his freedom God may choose some sufficient means to achieve his ends.

For example, we may (to steal a controversy from Newton and Leibniz) conceive of his equipping the cosmos sufficiently with secondary causes to ensure that the solar system develops and becomes stable by the laws of gravity, with a purpose that it remain stable throughout human history.

Strictly, the creation is of the gravitational laws and intial conditions directed towards this end: the evolution of the universe is the outworking of creation, not creation itself.

This becomes important if there are reasons to suppose novelty that is beyond the secondary powers. For example, in Catholic theology, nature cannot produce a rational soul, though it can produce our bodies by natural generation (a created “manufacturing” process). So God creates each soul individually. To say God creates by generation confuses the categories.

However it might also be discussed by what means God might determine that the highly chaotic reproductive process results in Jeremy rather than Jemimah. In this case, natural generation is not “the means by which God creates Jeremy,” but something like “the physical occasion by which he creates Jeremy, also employing providential choice and the special creation of his soul.”

Similar considerations might apply if we consider common descent being directed by God, in some way, to produce Homo sapiens rather than Homo horribilis. We do not have evidence that common descent is a natural process sufficient in itself to determine that outcome: it is a created manufacturing process (once we include some evolutionary theory) which may partially implement God’s “design process”.

In all these cases, the design process (analogically so called) is a conception in God the Father, brought into being through the Logos, by the agency of the Spirit. And that leaves what is created wide open: it could be an entity, or it could be a natural process to produce that entity, or it could be a natural process interspersed with providential or creative acts to produce that entity and its history. But although of interest to people, especially scientists, the exact process is trivial with respect to design, which is in the mind of God, and is manifested by the end result, not how it arrived.

I’m getting most of my philosophy of science from guys like Eddington, Heisenberg, Polanyi, and where possible in dealing with the past from Maxwell, Asa Gray, Newton, Bacon… these are people who read widely outside their disciplines and were able to put them in perspective. Even Darwin makes the attempt, though I think he allowed himself too much specialisation to be very competent at philosophy and still less at theology.

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@swamidass… very clear narrative here.

Science is a discipline that controls for variables. And science is not in a position to control for the variable we call God.

We are allowed, and ENCOURAGED, to see purpose in the world around us… as intuition and perception…

… but we can’t equate those processes with Science!

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@jongarvey (and @Philosurfer):
If we are here to develop a fulsome dual scenario of Creation: where both special creation of Adam/Eve is paired with God-Guided Evolution of a pre-Adam population of humans (provided with God’s image no less) - - in not sure it matters whether evolution could function without God.

Christians have already taken the stance that God did the creating… one way or another (ha!.. or, actually, both ways). Everything else is just footnotes!

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No - everything else is understanding, just as you don’t stop the science when you make the discovery that “nature exhibits regularities.”

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@jongarvey, & @swamidass

I would accept that view EXCEPT for one reason:

You and others keep trying to bring the discussion back to ID DEVISIVELY.

ID should be set aside for later… not as an excuse to STOP discussing the Dual Scenarios.

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No ID in that post, or the previous one - just doing theology.


I’m willing to go along with you and Daniel on this, Jon. Certainly the notion of “breaking the laws of nature” (as typically understood by modern scientists, philosophers, and apologists) is a questionable reading of Old Testament passages of God’s relationship to the created world. But if we go in your direction, things become a bit more ambiguous than under the Enlightenment-style “miracles vs. natural laws” contrast.

If “the natural” means merely “the regular” (and I presume by “the regular” you mean “what happens the overwhelming majority of the time”), then the boundary between “natural” and “miraculous” events becomes blurrier. God can act the way he does most of the time, or he can act differently from the way he does most of the time, and since it’s all God’s action, it becomes harder to say that X is miraculous and Y is not. God is revealed both in the regular and the irregular. The glory of a regular sunrise might not be so different from Joshua’s stopping of the sun as we think.

But of course, I think that is your point.

The advantage of the Humean way of speaking is that one can look at a dramatic event, e.g., the Red Sea escape, and say, “No natural forces could have caused the waters to separate in just this way, at just the right time, for all of Israel to escape and none of Pharaoh’s army to escape; therefore, God was intervening miraculously.” There is, as it were, an empirical test of “miraculous vs. natural”. Under your way of speaking, which I don’t reject, one wouldn’t speak in quite that way.

Could you flesh out your general statement with a couple of examples? Let’s take two examples which most people would have called “miraculous” under any definition: the escape at the Red Sea (or Reed Sea, or whatever you think the Sea was), and the instantaneous turning of water into wine. How would you recast the description of these miracles, to avoid the law/intervention dichotomy, but still bring out the sense that God is doing something remarkable or special? What language would you use to characterize these events, and how they differ from “regular” events?

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I think you will find phrases like “miraculous engagement” useful… when trying to avoid awkward terms like “intervention” and the like.

What about miracles of chance… evolution is rife with improbable events happening again and again…

Aren’t ridiculous “chance events” happening again and again a problem for science?