Darwin and the Bible 2 (RJS)


The fourth chapter of Darwin and the Bible: The Cultural Confrontation
is a contribution by Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters entitled The Science of Evolution and the Theology of Creation. Peters is a Lutheran theologian who has written on science and faith while Hewlett is a molecular biologist by training. This chapter rambles though a number of topics providing background that should prove useful to a student who is new to the idea of thinking through these issues.

Hewlett and Peters take a position generally described as theistic evolution.  God as primary cause – the creator – uses secondary causes as his tools of creation. Science investigates and illuminates these secondary causes. Evolutionary theory describes one such secondary cause.

This is a position held with some subtle variations by many, likely most, active Christian scientists, and many Christian theologians – NT Wright among others. Tim Keller is somewhat reserved in his statements – but as far as I can tell his arguments are not against the scientific evidence, but against some expressions of theistic evolution that border on deism. This criticism – that theistic evolution borders on deism, with a god who starts things going and steps aside – is a criticism that must be considered carefully. So the first question to consider is this:

How does theistic evolution or evolutionary creation differ from deism?

Another criticism of evolutionary creation is that it comes close to saying that the world God created was inherently evil, that sin and fallness are part of the natural order.  So a second important question arises.

How does a Christian view of theistic evolution or evolutionary creation differ from the Gnostic view of an inherently evil creation from which we must escape?

Francis Collins describes his theistic evolution position as follows:

who is not limited in space or time, created the universe and
established the natural laws that govern it. Seeking to populate this
otherwise sterile universe with living creatures, God chose the elegant
mechanism of evolution to create microbes, plants, and animals of all
sorts. Most remarkably, God intentionally chose the same mechanism to
give rise to special creatures who would have intelligence, a knowledge
of right and wrong, free will, and a desire to seek fellowship with
Him. He also knew these creatures would ultimately choose to disobey
the Moral Law. … This perspective makes it possible for the
scientist-believer to be intellectually fulfilled and spiritually
alive, both worshiping God and using the tools of science to uncover
some of the awesome mysteries of his creation. (p. 201, The Language of

Hewlett and Peters would likely affirm Collins’s definition – but go beyond
this and offer seven principles of theistic evolution (pp. 78-80 – extracted and paraphrased below). They
suggest that these principles are a model to shed light on further
theological reflection and to provide spiritual guidance. These
principles are somewhat different from descriptions of theistic
evolution I’ve seen elsewhere and are worth some discussion.

Seven Principles of Theistic Evolution

1. The Darwinian model of evolution should be conditionally accepted.  This is today’s best science.

2. God is the primary cause while nature operates according to secondary causes. As primary cause, God is the creator of all things. Science studies only the secondary causes.

3. God has a purpose for nature that scientists cannot see within nature.

4. God’s promised new creation provides the purpose for the present creation. Science cannot shine a light on the new creation promised by the Bible, we can apprehend it only in faith and trust.

5. God creates from the future, not from the past. The new creation, the redeemed creation of Revelation 21 and 22 is anticipated from the beginning.

6. The book of Genesis does not describe a finished event in the past; rather it describes the full sweep of God’s creative activities that includes us today.  They suggest that today we are still within days one to six of Genesis 1. Day seven commences with the arrival of the prophesied New Jerusalem.

7. Redemption coincides with creation. They believe that creation cannot be understood from the perspective of faith unless it is viewed in the light of redemption.

A few observations:

For the most part these principles are consistent with the definition given by Collins and with any definition that I would give. In general we can trust that science will, eventually, elucidate the secondary causes used in God’s creation. God’s creation is rational and uniformitarianism is the rule, a reasonable expectation. We can generally trust that both Christian and non-Christian scientists will agree on the basic facts of the workings of nature. We all do science in the same way.

God does intervene in his creation (despite Cohen’s assertion to the contrary discussed in the last post)  – but only in accord with his plan, only for a purpose. His intervention is not tinkering – to perfect an imperfect first attempt – but to establish relationship with mankind – created in his very image and likeness. His intervention is not arbitrary – and it does not invalidate the general scientific method.

Hewlett and Peters provide a framework for thinking about the interaction of God with his creation. Creation is an ongoing process. The fall was not a detour requiring corrective action, but an anticipated consequence of creation of mankind with intelligence and free will.

I find the suggestion by Hewlett and Peters that we are still in the six days of creation intriguing – but I am not sure that it is the right image. NT Wright has suggested that the seventh day of creation stretched from creation to resurrection – that Jesus was raised on the first day of the new week. Wright’s proposal makes more sense to me – but Hewlett and Peters’ view may provide a description that counters the suggestion that evolutionary creation borders on a Gnostic view of evil inherent in creation.

What do you think? Do these views fall into the traps of Deism or Gnosticism? Have you another better description of evolutionary creation?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.

  • Scott W

    I think that a good exegesis of the Creation accounts of Genesis should help us rethink the categories we place this reflection under. Ultimately I think it has to do with how view YHWH.
    In the sc-calledP creation narrative,the initial condition of the Earth is described as tohu wbahu (“formless void”), bespeaking of chaos. Step by step God brings order to this “chaos”. And the J account,in its own way has this same view, with humankins being instruments to bring Creation to its divine goal. It’s clear that,in the biblical text,creation is contingent,not inherently evil, with ambivalent or evil elements in it (the serpent). In a sense,Creation is escatological by nature, with human free will playing a central role, as YHWH’s viceroys,in this whole scenario.
    The flat, wrong-headed Augustinian notion of the “perfection” of creation at the beginning, which was spoiled by the Fall. THe Eastern Patristic vision, I think,is much more in concert with scintific construals,and more faithful to the biblical understanding.

  • Kyle

    It’s been at least 7-8 years since I read Peter’s systematic theology, “God – The World’s Future,” but if I remember correctly he was suggesting that the creative process continues as we progress into God’s future…the resurrection of the saints. I don’t think he was suggesting any literalness to the narrative of Genesis 1 as though we are actually in a “day,” but instead more simply that the idea communicated in Genesis 1 is still at work in the world, and that we are progressing (purposively) toward God’s end.
    I don’t think that Peter’s model falls prey to deism because it isn’t a closed causal system in every regard. Evolution is guided and directed (through proleptic planning) toward God’s future, yet certain events come about through God’s plan which are miraculous (Peters holds to a literal bodily resurrection and has done some fine work in this regard).

  • Jason

    How does theistic evolution or evolutionary creation differ from deism?
    Probably the same way the theory of sexual reproduction differs from deism.
    How does a Christian view of theistic evolution or evolutionary creation differ from the Gnostic view of an inherently evil creation from which we must escape?
    Maybe death is not inherently evil? Even in the YEC account, plants, bacteria, fungus, died.
    What do you think? Do these views fall into the traps of Deism or Gnosticism? Have you another better description of evolutionary creation?
    I have to run, so I haven’t actually finished reading your post. But I’ll stab this one anyway. Yes, I think evolutionary creationism can easily lead to deism. Once again though, I think most of our modern scientific understanding does this, including sexual reproduction.

  • Scott M

    I think I have an issue with the idea that many seem to develop from the language of ‘secondary causes’ and ‘intervention’. The former can easily come to imply the idea that God started something in motion and that it then runs apart from him. The latter carries with it an idea of distance that I think is unwarranted. I think I am more comfortable with borrowing from some of the ancient language even if it used in slightly different ways. Thus I would say something like science studies the energies of God that are sustaining and guiding the universe. It’s not really saying anything different than the language of ‘secondary causes’, but it places God in a more active ongoing position. Yes, we follow a rational and orderly God, so his energies normally act in ways that conform with our expectations. Except when they don’t. I would not, however, call those ‘interventions’. God radically ‘intervened’ when he shared in the nature of his creation through the Incarnation. But I wouldn’t say that anything else or anything less is ‘intervention’. Rather, it’s an activity of God’s energies that does not fit our models or ideas.
    I tend to agree with Wright’s idea of the Resurrection forming the center of time and the center at which reality changed. Everything changed when Christ came out of that tomb. And thus we are even now living in the 8th day, the 1st day of the new creation.
    A somewhat disordered creation doesn’t strike me as a problem and never has. First, it seems to only be the death of the eikon, the one in the image of God that is a problem. We were created with the potential for immortality or mortality, but intended to be the eikon of the uncreated God. It is the death of the eikon that is defeated in the Resurrection. The natural order of plants and animals existing in a cycle of temporary existence has never seemed a problem or ‘evil’ to me. But on a deeper level, just as the Resurrection is the new center, restoring and making all creation new, I don’t have a problem seeing the sin of the eikon, the participation of the eikon in that which is not God, essentially seeking non-existence, as something which operates in a similarly transcendent and in effect timeless manner. I’m not convinced a linear model is the best model to describe the time and effect of sin. When I sin I am participating in the disordering of creation, not merely creating trouble for myself. That seems to be a necessary component if we are indeed eikons of the creator God.

  • Peeling Dragon Skins

    You brought up Tim Keller, saying he is reserved in his statements, so I thought I would point people to an answer he gave to a direct question: Tim Keller on Evolution
    He raises some interesting questions that Francis Collins does not address in his book.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I agree with Peters’ and Martinze-Hewlitt’s distinction between primary and secondary causation. This distinction is very well founded in the Christian tradition (see, e.g., Aquinas’ “Summa Contra Gentiles”) and in classical philosophy.
    I’m not entirely comfortable with Peters’ “proleptic” eschatology. (He doesn’t use the term “proleptic” in the list you quote, but propositions 4-7 reflect this notion, which is fleshed out in other systematic theology works by Peters, including the one mentioned by Kyle (#2). As an Edwardsian supralapsarian (at least on Wednesdays), I agree that the redemption of all creation was not “plan B” (which also allows me to sidestep, to some extent, the diachronic-synchronic problem with respect to the historiography of the Fall). However, Peters ties his proleptic eschatology too closely to panentheism and process theism for my comfort.
    As far as I can tell, in Peters’ theology, for God himself creation is an indeterminate risk, and God himself suffers and develops along with the rest of creation as it struggles to give birth to the new creation. “Salvation” in this view is the movement of all creation towards the “omega point” (a term Peters uses and that was earlier used by Teilhard de Chardin) in which everything becomes God and God becomes everything.
    Remember the post a week or so discussing the heresy of patripassionism? Peters’ proleptic eschatology is how patripassionism plays out in much of the contemporary mainstream discourse about evolutionary theodicy. To me, this is not closely enough tied to the Biblical vision of the atonement as both a cosmic victory over sin and a satisfaction of God’s just judgment of sin; nor does it seem to reflect the transcendence of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In truth, there isn’t much of a notion of “sin” here at all, which is partly why Peters seems to hesitantly affirm universalism in “God: The World’s Future.”

  • Scott M

    Dopderbeck, as I recall that aspect of Aquinas’ adoption of classical philosophy led to his categories of uncreated and created grace. I think that basic idea is not really compatible with classic Christian belief. So I think I depart right there. That’s probably why I reject the idea of primary and secondary causes in this particular discussion.

  • dopderbeck

    Scott (#7) — I suspect that your understanding of the distinctions between Thomistic and Reformed notions of justification and grace far exceeds mine! But that said, in Summa Contra Gentiles, Thomas uses the distinction between primary and secondary causation to support a free will theodicy, consistent with Augustine. The question Thomas is addressing is an old one: if God is completely sovereign, how does a theodicy grounded in human free will make any sense? It makes sense because human freedom to make sinful choices is not incompatible with God’s sovereignty. We are speaking here, Thomas says, of different levels of causation. I’m not sure if that eventually plays into distinctions between Catholic and Reformed views of justification or not, but as a way of handling the problem of God’s sovereignty and human free will, it makes a great deal of sense to me.
    And, likewise, it makes a great deal of sense to me with respect to evolution, nature, and Divine action (though of course Thomas never applied it that way). Think of the birth of a baby. Scripture affirms that every human being is a unique creation of God, using strongly anthropomorphic language for God’s creative activity (“skillfully wrought” — NASB; “woven together” — NIV). (Ps. 139). And yet, even the Bible writers knew that babies are “caused” by sex — while we today, of course, can describe the development of a human person from conception to birth in great, microscopic detail. Is this a contradiction?
    Has science elided divine action and falsified Psalm 139 when it comes to the construction of a human embryo? I don’t think so. We are dealing with different, complementary levels of causation: the human decision to have sexual relations, the “natural” progress of embryonic development, and God’s providential creation and sustaining of a new human life. Similarly, the “scientific” account of evolutionary common descent can be a true description of one level of causation that does not elide the deeper level of causation that describes God’s providential creation and sustaining of the material creation.

  • Josh

    As far as the interpretation of the Genesis account as ongoing, I don’t think that will fly exegetically.
    Deism? I think a Deist would be attracted to this explanation but I don’t believe someone who tentatively held it would inadvertently drift toward Deism.
    Gnosticism? Yeah, now here’s a rub. At its heart, gnosticism is primarily an attitude of elitism that says “I know something the others don’t know” and is not concerned whatsoever as if those in the don’t come to know the special knowledge. In fact, they like it because it makes them “special.”
    Someone who holds to this view may think they are in the “know” and get all tingly when others in the “know” applaud them for not being so “fundamentalist” and “backwards.”
    The Genesis narrative is a poetic piece of literature and not a scientific journal article. I think we all know that. However, Christians can still rightly affirm that it is “true.” God did create all things and place man as the pinnacle of all creation. All creation is good. So on and so forth.
    But I think that proponents of evolution need to take a humility pill as well. They are finite beings making absolute statements about events that happened millions, billions, or even trillions of years ago in their mind. I also find the theory of evolution to be a bit pat. I mean, all the weak things being weeded out in a progressive way. Life is so fragile. Entire ecosystems can be destroyed by the introduction of a plant or animal.
    I am alright with saying “I don’t know” but I do know this and I will act upon it during my brief stay here.

  • RJS

    PDS (#5)
    Your quote is where I got the impression that Keller is wary of an approach that comes too close to deism. But Keller is in the conversation – not in a reactionary mode.
    Frankly this is where I am as well – rejecting the science is a dead-end approach; but wrestling with the theology and how it all fits together is a work in progress.
    I don’t think the special knowledge aspect of Gnosticism is particularly relevant here. But the Gnostic schema – at least that described by Irenaeus in “Against Heresies” – contains the idea that the material creation is inherently evil, even created by an evil “lesser” god. Does an approach of theistic evolution lead to a view with evil inherent in the material creation?

  • http://mysticallimpet.blogspot.com Travis Greene

    Josh @ 9, “The Genesis narrative is a poetic piece of literature and not a scientific journal article. I think we all know that.”
    You obviously didn’t grow up in the churches I did.
    dopderbeck @ 8,
    I like the baby analogy. Reminds me of a favorite quote from The Hobbit:
    “Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.
    “Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?”

  • Scott M

    Dopderbeck, I would tend to frame it more in terms that God has created beings (angels and man certainly) who have a will of their own. Though created and sustained by God, he begrudges existence to none of his creation. God’s will, encompassing all that is, sustains and in each moment moves the ‘natural’ order of creation. As beings with our own will, though our sphere of power is much less, angels and man with their own primary will can act in ways that God does not desire. When they do so, their actions – especially those of man, the eikon of God – also disorder creation in ways that extend beyond the visible, directly causal effects. In a sense that is a secondary effect, I suppose, not the same sort of thing Thomas Aquinas meant. This is the train of thought, in his effort to define ‘free will’ that led him to define two categories of ‘grace’, uncreated and created. I know I disagree there. Grace is God. That is, grace is the direct presence and activity of God in our lives.
    I see nothing in what you describe as the creation of a human life that is somehow natural or independent of God. I think that for a Christian to ever make the mistake of removing God even a step from any operation of the world is to begin to drift into some form of deism or dualism. God is creating an eikon in that moment even if we can learn much of the processes he is using. And because humans are eikons, that creation is impacted to some extent by the actions of our wills. We not only will (in normal circumstances) whom and in what manner the conception occurred, but we can continue to will actions that will certainly impact the creation and formation of that eikon. On the negative side, one need only consider FAS or crack addicted newborns to see that truth. On the positive side, parents lovingly caring for the unborn child, praying for him or her, and bringing the child to meet and be filled with the love and grace of God after birth in baptism also impact the creation and formation of that child. Of course, in the instance of human child, that child’s own will comes into play at some point.
    I would say better categories are the universal primary scope and effect of God’s will, the primary action within a more limited scope of the will of humans and angels, and the disordering impact on creation when the latter run counter to God, run to death instead of life. But through it all God is everywhere present and filling all things — even the angels and humans who are setting their will in opposition to him. Science ‘works’ because God is rational and ordered and thus his creation is generally rational and ordered.
    Or so I conceive it in my limited way.

  • PDS

    RJS (10) and post-
    I think the most common versions of theistic evolution deny that God intervened at all. I think this has problems and overstates the evidence for evolution.
    Some questions-
    When God created man and woman, did he only use random mutation and natural selection? Was mankind just incrementally different than its ape ancestor? Did God do anything spiritual at the creation of mankind.
    When God created DNA, did he only use random mutation and natural selection? Why should we think that, when RMNS needs DNA to work?

  • dopderbeck

    Scott (#12) said: I think that for a Christian to ever make the mistake of removing God even a step from any operation of the world is to begin to drift into some form of deism or dualism.
    I respond: I agree. My theological take on evolution borrows quite a bit from Thomas Torrance, who is clear that creation is “contingent.” That is, even as evolution unfolds, none of it happens without the God’s sustaining presence and will.
    This also is my answer to PDS (#13) — I don’t think “intervene” is a useful term with respect to Divine action. Creation is ever and always contingent on God’s sustaining will and presence. Thus, God is never “absent” such that He would have to show up and “intervene.” God does sometimes act in ways we call “miraculous,” meaning that they transcend ordinary natural laws, usually for the purpose of offering a special sign to people. But this doesn’t mean God is not “active” in nature apart from the miraculous.

  • RJS

    What kind of intervention is necessary? Perhaps more significantly – what evidence would we expect to see for such intervention?
    The intelligent design argument seems to spring from a desire to demonstrate that “natural” process could not be sufficient – that there is direct, discernable evidence of intervention. I don’t think that this is a profitable direction of thought, because I don’t think that there is anyway to construct an argument that is not essentially a “gap” argument – there is a gap that only God can fill, until we better understand the nature of his creation anyway.
    I don’t think that we will find incontrovertible traces of intervention.
    But that is different from saying God did not and does not intervene or direct the process.

  • RJS

    Exactly – nothing happens without God’s sustaining presence and will – but intervene is the wrong word.
    In fact I think that the only place where we will see incontrovertible evidence of “intervention” (miracle) is when the intervention is part of a plan to establish relationship with and interact with mankind.

  • Josh

    No, I don’t see any correlation from theistic evolution to that aspect of gnosticism. There may be the idea that creation was chaotic and God had to whip into shape through evolution. But throughout the psalms God is presented just that way; as one who brings order out of chaos. I still would not connect that ANE belief to theistic evolution.
    Do you think that finite beings who live short lifetimes engage in a sort of hubris when they begin to talk about millions and billions of years? I am not being accusatory or ugly. I would really just like to know a scientist’s opinion on the matter. Thanks.

  • PDS

    RJS- I just think it is more complicated than Collins suggests and that there are some really interesting questions that Collins does not seem very interested in.
    I do not think all design arguments are “gap” arguments. Neither do Dallas Willard or Peter Kreeft. By the way, all the arguments that Collins thinks are good arguments could also be criticized as “gap” arguments. For example, why isn’t his argument based on altruism a gap argument?
    Are you saying that humans are no more spiritual than apes?

  • RJS

    Any argument for the existence of God can be criticized as a gap argument by anyone who doesn’t buy the argument. But some are more of a problem than others.
    If we read Collins as saying – “evolution cannot explain the existence of the moral law, therefore there must be a God” – this is a gap argument, and an evolutionary explanation for a moral law providing survival advantage will close the gap. Such explanations do in fact exist. I think his reasoning, now – perhaps not originally – is more sophisticated than this.
    I am a Christian because ultimately I believe that God designed the world with meaning and purpose. One can argue that meaning and purpose are “gaps” that God fills. One can also argue that there is an evolutionary advantage to believing that there is meaning and purpose to life (similar to the moral law argument).
    But I always come back to the fact that all science can do is rationalize an evolutionary advantage for our belief in morality, meaning, and purpose. Ultimately a purely natural explanation means that morality, meaning, and purpose are fictions with utilitarian value but no foundational reality. I don’t think that they are fictions and I do not think that we are simply animated bits of meat (A.N. Wilson’s expression). But belief takes a leap of faith – it doesn’t rest on incontrovertible proof.
    I do not buy the design arguments that purport to demonstrate that natural explanations for the material world are inherently insufficient. Science does explain the workings of the world we see, and the explanations are becoming more and more complete, more and more sophisticated. A proposal that science cannot explain the physical workings of the world is a gap argument I dislike because I am essentially certain that the gap will vanish eventually.

  • Phil M

    I don’t think the “gap argument” description of the morality problem is so easily filled by the evolutionist. I think it is a little stronger than one that requires faith in order to link moral meaning to God’s existence (forgive me if I am misreading you). Keller argues that our experiences of morality are valid evidence, ie, we don’t need to try and show God’s existence without referring to common human experience with morality. William Lane Craig argues that human experience can be (within reason) acceptable “basic evidence”.
    So a person might be able to create some kind of academic argument that morality was purely a utilitarian survival mechanism but they can’t live that way because it doesn’t match reality as we experience it – *everyone knows* that it is always wrong to [insert favorite evil act here]. There are always exceptions to the rule, but that’s why they are exceptions.
    Anyway, back to the question. I think I would agree with dopderbeck that theistic evolution is more likely to lead to panentheism than deism.
    On the topic of evolutionary uniformitarianism’s intersection with Christianity, I think there is agreement and disagreement. As has been pointed out, we trust that God does not change and that very fact underpins the scientific method itself. However, orthodoxy includes the hope of the physical resurrection – what would *that* look like to uniformitarianist (is that even a word?) scientists on the other side? Sometimes I think Christian scientists are a little too scared (perhaps for political or financial reasons) to step back and say “well hey, perhaps this doesn’t have a natural explanation”. Maybe they are afraid they will look a little too fundamentalist by doing so. I wonder – perhaps you can help me out here RJS – why is it “acceptable” for Christian scientists to proclaim literal belief in the virgin birth | resurrection of Christ | final resurrection etc, but not in things like the flood of Noah, parting the Red Sea, divine intervention with Israel’s battles etc (the list changes from person to person)? I’ve heard the arguments about geological evidence not supporting a global flood etc, but these are quite often uncompeling and sometimes seem to come from a predisposition to another view point anyway – one that is the opposite of YEC simply to be as far away from YEC as possible.
    Perhaps I am not putting it very well, but sometimes it seems a little reactionary from non-YEC Christian Scientists; that they unnecessarily take a polar view point from the YECers simply because the YECers take a literal view of those things. What is the criteria by which one determines what is valid divine intervention and what is merely allegorical etc? Maybe there is no real answer here but I wonder if it really is as cut and dried as some Christian scientists make it out to be.

  • Kyle

    I laughed out loud when I read these words of yours, “As an Edwardsian supralapsarian (at least on Wednesdays).” I know exactly how you feel. I used to tell some students that I was historic premillenialist on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, amillenialist on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and seeking some synthesis on Sundays.

  • PDS

    You said-
    “Any argument for the existence of God can be criticized as a gap argument by anyone who doesn’t buy the argument. But some are more of a problem than others.”
    I agree!
    I wish I had time to develop why the “gap fallacy” criticism is often itself a logical fallacy. Here is quick example:
    Gap fallacy: Great Danes don’t exist because I have never seen one.
    No gap fallacy: There is no great dane in the bathroom, because I did not see one when I went in and looked.
    Both could be criticized as “arguments from ignorance,” (argument based on the absence of evidence) but one is reasonable and the other is not. (borrowed example, BTW)
    Most design arguments include positive evidence of design combined with arguments showing why non-design explanations are not plausible. So they are not arguments from ignorance.
    By the way, Behe does not say: Evolution can’t explain it therefore there must be a God. He is very careful not to say that.

  • RJS

    Phil M,
    On the latter question – why are some things simply not accepted.
    The flood of Noah as a global flood fails on many, many points – from volume of water required to size of the ark given the diversity of animal life to the required genetic bottle neck in all land animal life to the subsequent time available for global dispersion to the absence of geological evidence for a flood – and we could continue to list points of conflict. The story simply does not make any sense in light of the evidence that we have.
    The story of the Tower of Babel also fails on many observational grounds – because dispersion of peoples was much longer ago among other things. There simply was no bottleneck a few thousand years BC, genetically, physically, culturally, geographically.
    On the parting of the Red Sea and divine intervention in Israel’s battles – these fall in a different category. These are limited events that would leave no physical evidence. I think that evaluation here is not so much a matter of science as a matter of History and Old Testament studies. What is the nature of the Bible? How does the story mesh with the historical record?
    Resurrection is future – and for this to be true there will be a foundational change in the world. New Heaven and new earth cannot be a simple uniform continuation of the past. But science can’t speak to it at all.

  • RJS

    Phil M,
    On your first sentence and the word “evolutionist” – with respect to most of this discussion using the word “evolutionist” makes the wrong distinction. The important distinction cuts a different line.
    I see three important categories:

    Ontological materialism – that the natural world revealed by science is the sum total of reality.

    Theism – there is a God who interacts with his creation.

    Other forms of supernaturalism.

    In our western world today there is a push toward forms of ontological naturalism, and these debates are fierce in the realm of science. I don’t think that ontological naturalism makes the most sense of the world we see and experience. Keller’s arguments mesh with my experience, but not because there is a “gap” that only God can fill to explain the presence of the moral law.
    There is also a move among portions of society to embrace non theistic forms of supernaturalism however – naturalistic atheism is not the norm.

  • RJS

    No gap fallacy: There is no great dane in the bathroom, because I did not see one when I went in and looked.
    This is a poor example – because absence of evidence is evidence. A null result in a well designed experiment is incredibly important – in all of science. So this is not an argument from ignorance – there is no ignorance here – there is measurement and result. One must, of course, state the result within the limits of the experiment or observation. Both scientists and nonscientists err on such grounds on occasion.

  • http://highcallingblogs.com/about/marcus-goodyear Marcus Goodyear

    I’m not quite the logical or theological expert, but I’ve spent some time with Francis Collins on the phone and the conversation pretty much changed my life. His book helped too.
    So I’ll speak from personal experience. I DO struggle with a tendency toward Deism. Whether this is a logical trap of theistic evolution, I don’t know. Frankly, I’ve always struggled with it. I just have trouble believing God actually cares about any particular detail of my life. That takes some serious faith, and it feels almost arrogant at times to think God would care about me. Apostasy, I know.
    Although evolution is the latest handle for this struggle, it is not a new struggle at all. Chaucer wrestled with this 400 years before Darwin in The Knight’s Tale and the First Mover speech.
    Chaucer’s idea is that the world’s structure encourages us. When bad things happen, when the world seems unfair, we can be reassured by the order around us. The order doesn’t exist to suggest God has created a perfect machine and gone off bowling somewhere. The order exists to help our weak faith and remind us that God is stable and eternal.
    You can read the whole speech with my highlights at this link: http://www.diigo.com/05pli . Here’s an excerpt:
    “The First Mover and the Cause above,
    When first He forged the goodly chain of love,
    Great the effect, and high was His intent;
    Well knew He why, and what thereof He meant;
    For with that goodly chain of love He bound
    The fire, the air, the water, and dry ground
    In certain bounds, the which they might not flee;

    Then may men by this order well discern
    This Mover to be stable and eterne.”

  • Percival

    My faith is in a God whose actions are often hidden. He is the One who intervenes in my life regularly, but I can’t prove He does. Perhaps everything that happens to me can be explained by natural causes. I have a moment of ecstasy as I worship – chemical reactions to a release of stress. For no logical reason, I feel I should be extra careful at an intersection just when a car runs the red light – coincidence. We prayed and then we were able to adopt just the right child for our family – our nurturing instincts just kicked in.
    In short, if I tried to explain my daily experience of faith as a scientist might, I could not. But if I choose to believe that God hears, answers, and moves in my life, I am no Deist. A Deist has no relationship with God, no hope, no love, no faith. Why should we expect that science would strengthen or weaken our faith? God has not designed us or His universe to work that way. With the eyes of the soul we see beauty. With our physical eyes we only see variations in the electromagnetic spectrum.
    As RJS said, “Naturalistic atheism is not the norm.”
    And I would add, it never will be the norm. As a species, humans cannot continue for long with no faith. Machines can. But it is obvious to most people, and always will be, that we are more than chemical machines with DNA software.

  • PDS

    RJS- I think it is an excellent example, and the rest of your response shows me you agree with my point. The absence of evidence is evidence of a sort, and the importance is determined by context.
    My main point is that people use the “God of the gaps” criticism simplistically. We need to look at the whole argument and judge fairly and charitably.
    There is a big difference between 1. a logical fallacy and 2. an argument that a particular person does not find terribly persuasive.

  • RJS

    No – I don’t agree with your point and the ID arguments are inherently flawed.

  • Percival

    As a bystander in this with no dog in the fight and no wager on the outcome (sorry for the extremely non-PC expression) It seems you actually DO agree with what PDS said to an extent.
    “A null result in a well designed experiment is incredibly important – in all of science. So this is not an argument from ignorance – there is no ignorance here – there is measurement and result. One must, of course, state the result within the limits of the experiment or observation. Both scientists and nonscientists err on such grounds on occasion.”
    If PDS fails to see a great dane in the bathroom he has “a null result” in his experiment.
    Perhaps he failed to look very closely (Not a well-designed experiment” and this was result of “the limits of the experiment or observation”) But if another scientist comes in and says, “Look! Here’s the dog in the shower.” Then he proves PDS wrong.
    It is certainly possible that all difficulties of complexity can be answered by natural selection. It is also true that the evidence for irreducible complexity is incomplete and the claims of ID are perhaps unverifiable. However, I don’t understand why some insist that the claims are inherently unverifiable. Another scientist friend of mine just repeats “God of the gaps! God of the gaps!” almost as a mantra.
    Please, those of us who are not as informed on these issues honestly need a little more than your rather terse reply to PDS, who seemed to me to be making an honest effort to understand.

  • RJS

    You are right – I should have refrained from response under time constraint rather than give the terse response I gave.
    In PDS’s original comment (#22) he said that: Both could be criticized as “arguments from ignorance,”. But a measurement with a null result isn’t ignorance – it is evidence and knowledge. And that was my main point. The gap arguments that I dispute are arguments from ignorance. And intelligent design in the sense of irreducible complexity is an argument from ignorance – not an argument from a null result in an experiment. There are other expressions of design that require more or different response.

  • RJS

    To continue:
    The conclusion “no great dane in the bathroom” is based on knowledge and evidence. The experiment is well designed and the data support the conclusion.
    If he had asked “Is there a flea in the bathroom?” the situation is different.
    If he looked in the bathroom and saw no flea – thereby concluding that there were no fleas in the bathroom we would rightly question the conclusion – because it was a poorly designed experiment and the conclusion was not supported by the data. (The questions always asked when reviewing a scientific paper).

  • PDS

    RJS- Your comments indicate to me that you are not addressing the full ID argument, which includes positive evidence based on knowledge. See #22.

  • RJS

    Ok, I got caught up in the great dane statement, which took me off track. Let me go back to your statement and approach this differently.
    You said: Most design arguments include positive evidence of design combined with arguments showing why non-design explanations are not plausible. So they are not arguments from ignorance.
    But I think that both parts of this approach usually involve arguments from ignorance.
    Most design arguments do suggest that there is positive evidence of design. But in no case I have encountered thus far does the “positive evidence” stand scrutiny. It is not rigorous and generally contains hidden within an argument from ignorance. This is actually the biggest problem with the whole proposal. Part one fails.
    The arguments showing why non-design explanations are not plausible are also unconvincing. Again most of these are arguments from ignorance. In no case I have encountered thus far is the non-design explanation successfully refuted. Part two fails.
    However, to get any further we would have to look at specific real examples. I can say “not convincing” you can say “convincing” but without a concrete focus neither of us will persuade the other.

  • http://www.eloquentbooks.com/AnaMarkovic.html David Murdoch

    I think that the only thing that would need to be tied to a christian understanding of evolution would simply be that Adam and Eve, when they came to be, could not have experienced suffering, lust or death before they committed the original sin.
    St Augustine of Hippo had a very interesting interpretation of the creation week in Genesis 1, which is not literal and which he wrote long before anyone had ever heard anything about evolution. You can find it here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XI.7.html
    God Bless,

  • Percival

    Thanks RJS for the more complete explanation.
    David Murdoch,
    I think those things you mentioned are exactly the sorts of things that are extremely difficult to imagine from a evolutionary standpoint. Suffering and physical death, for example, are absolutely necessary for the web of life that we have on earth. I can’t imagine how things could possibly work without them – before or after “the Fall.” Therefore we are seeing a somewhat frantic attempt to reframe what “original sin” might mean. There were a number of interesting posts on this topic previously. I think most other people have moved on from this post.

  • PDS

    You have stated that ID arguments have not stood up to scrutiny. I am curious to know what refutations of Behe’s arguments based on the bacterial flagellum you find persuasive? What evolutionary pathway (consisting of incremental steps in which each is advantageous) do you find plausible?

  • RJS

    I didn’t say that a full pathway was as yet worked out for anything – including the bacterial flagellum – but more steps are. There is much less reason to consider it as “irreducibly complex” today than ten years ago. It is not really possible to answer this question off the top of my head in a comment.
    However, I don’t mean to blow it off. I will come back over the next few months with some posts that attempt to look at bite size chunks of the questions and will welcome further discussion of all the issues.

  • Arcos Plage

    Science has thoroughly debunked and emasculated such nonsense as a flat Earth with corners, talking snakes and mules, a Universe aged thousands of years rather than the billions that the very distribution of the stars would require, and Santa Claus visiting all the houses on Christmas Eve. But the rational debunkers can not diminish the probability of Pandeism.
    Pandeism is a theological position between Pantheism and Deism, which demonstrates through a series of testable logical proofs that the Creator of the Universe in fact became the Universe — through a Big Bang, and using mechana such as evolution — to experience existence through us. Thus Pandeism provides a logical explanation premised on a sane Creator, and a vastly superior rational moral basis for existence!