The Divine Action Project

Continuing the discussion from Three Reviews of the Crossway Theistic Evolution Book:

This is an important piece of history I want to learn more about. Running from 1988 to 2003, the timing is important. It predates the ID movement by a couple years, continues through the 90’s and ends just before the 2005 Dover Trial/Kansas Hearings. Some views elaborated here often seem to be position against which ID is defined, and even might match the definition in their recent Crossway TE book.

Perhaps @rcohlers or @jongarvey can fill us in on some details. This article, also, might help…

The best summary I’ve found of the DAP is in the Introduction to Robert J Russell’s Cosmology - from Alpha to Omega, in which he describes his own methodology in relation, mainly, to the Divine Action project of which he was one of the more orthodox participants. Since the whole book’s a good read anyway, that would be my first recommendation.

The project’s agenda is too lengthy to summarize here, but a few things stand out, once one realises how influential it was at the beginning of “modern” theistic evolution.

The first is that it consisted of a pretty small group of scholars, in which were overemphasized fringe positions like process theology and panentheism. These influenced its conclusions greatly. Whatever rational basis this provided for the “autonomous nature” theology that tended to develop did not transfer easily to Evangelical theology, but was retained anyway, initially via Open Theism, and subsequently (it appears to me) by simply fudging words like “freedom” to cover the concept of “chance”.

The second is the adoption (maybe because of the scienrtists involved, or the liberal bent of the theology) of a hierarchy of knowledge, privileging physics > chemistry > biology > psychology > philosophy > theology, or even reducing the lower levels to the upper. That explains why Russell feels constrained to limit divine action to the only “gap” an all-explaining science makes no claim to, ie quantum events. I understand that, for the same reason, Polkinghorne suggested divine action in gaps in chaotic events - but he may have retreated from that in the light of their being deemed to be actually deterministic.

Probably the most influential of these guys on Evangelicals in ASA days was Howard van Till, though he later gave up on Christianity altogether. His chapter in Gordon and Dembski’s The Nature of Nature covers it well. Incidentally, although van Till doesn’t contribute to Dembski and Ruse’s Debating Design, the prevalence of “free process theology” in Theistic Evolution just a decade ago is shown almost throughout that books “Theistic Evolution” section, which has chapters by John Haught, John Polkinghorne, Keith Ward, Michael Roberts and Richard Swinburne.

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As a physical chemist I fully support this hierarchy. :wink:


I’d put eating at the top.

I was Physics/Math undergrad, but OT Theology PhD. I’ve devolved.