This is the 3d and final part of RJS’s review of Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science. [SMcK adds later: Take advantage of this; you are reading a world-class scientist and Christian as you read this post today and interact with RJS.]
Over the course of the last few weeks we have been discussing “Redeeming Science” by Vern Poythress. In chapters 11-17 Poythress deals with the philosophical and biblical interrelationship of science and faith, while in chapters 18-22 he concentrates on Christian approaches to specific scientific disciplines. In this last post I would like to pull a couple of ideas out of the third section of the book for discussion. I encourage anyone interested to read the entire book, as there is neither time nor space to wrestle with all of his ideas here.
First, let me make it clear, ultimately all Christians believe that God designed the world and created life – intelligently. We also believe that we are human as opposed to animal as the result of a special act of God. Being “in the image of God” means something special. The only issue here is the nature of the action of God in carrying out his intelligent design – his method.
So as you read on, a couple of questions to consider: (1) Do you find any of these positions on method incompatible with the Bible as you understand it? Why or why not? (2) Does the introduction of the concepts of irreducible complexity and “Intelligent Design” bring anything useful to the discussion?
The theistic evolution position is the hardest for many evangelical Christians to embrace, or even accept in others. One common argument raised against this position is the fact that Genesis describes God as creator but mentions no secondary cause. Consider for example Genesis 1:3 “Then God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.” In this verse, and in all of the Genesis 1 passage, the formula followed is straightforward: God said … and there was… with no intimation of a secondary cause.
So- in considering the text of the Bible we must remember that God often acts through secondary cause, silence of the text does not eliminate the possibility of secondary cause, and that scripture speaks equally to ordinary people in ordinary situations in ancient Israel, in 16th century Europe, and today in the 21st century. The language is not technical or scientific and is not intended to be. We must not allow our assumptions to determine how the scripture must be interpreted. Neither can we allow the naturalistic supposition that God never acts in extraordinary ways.
Chapter 19 brings the discussion around to “Intelligent Design.” If one takes a point of view akin to theistic evolution, is there still room for special acts of creation in the production of biological components which are or at least appear to be irreducibly complex? Are there biological systems – such as the bacterial flagellum suggested by Michael Behe (Darwin’s Black Box) – which are useless until fully assembled? Poythress describes the positions of ID and works through the issues, coming to the conclusion that the question must remain open – future work may demonstrate a plausible mechanism for formation of biological machines which appear at present to be irreducibly complex. It is neither necessary nor wise to base theology on the presence of gaps in creation requiring the special action of God to bridge.