Adaptive Immunity: How Randomness Comes to the Rescue

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March 22, 2013 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose

Today's entry was written by Kathryn Applegate. You can read more about what we believe here.

Adaptive Immunity: How Randomness Comes to the Rescue

Note: Originally posted May 13, 2010.

The last time my husband and I went camping in the desert, we noticed something: it’s a dangerous place! Everything seems to be trying to kill you. Besides extreme temperatures and little green men (which we didn’t see, sadly), you have to watch out for things like snakes, scorpions, spiders, ticks, cacti, and the rare but devastating hantavirus.

Even in the relative safety of your home, viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi are an inescapable part of life. Without a functioning immune system, we would easily succumb to infection from these pathogens. All animals share a basic set of defense strategies called the innate immune system, which includes protective barriers like skin and special cells that gobble up foreign material. In addition to this first line of defense, vertebrates have a highly sophisticated secondary system in place, called the adaptive immune system.

Previously, we examined the role of randomness in self-assembly processes and chaotic systems (here and here). Today I want to explain how the adaptive immune system harnesses the power of randomness to protect the body from assaults it has never seen before. To me, this topic represents a compelling example of the way God works through natural processes that he has put in place to preserve and uphold life.

Adaptive immune responses come in two types: antibody responses and cell-mediated responses. Each type is executed by a different kind of white blood cell, or lymphocyte. B cells, produced in the bone marrow, generate antibodies, while T cells, produced in the thymus, directly or indirectly kill pathogen-infected cells. Here we will focus on how antibodies are made within B cells, as their production requires randomness at multiple levels.

Antibodies: Signposts for Destruction

The main function of an antibody is to bind tightly and specifically to an antigen, usually an exposed portion of a virus or bacterium. This binding can inhibit the normal function of the pathogen, just as your ability to walk is inhibited when a toddler hugs you around both legs. Antibody binding also acts as a signpost, alerting cells of the innate immune system to destroy the pathogen.

Antibodies are proteins. Like all proteins, antibodies are strings of amino acids that fold up into a particular 3D shape. As you can see from the illustration at left, antibodies are Y-shaped proteins made from four separate amino acid chains: two “light” chains and two “heavy” chains. (The heavy chains are about twice as long as the light chains, so they have a higher molecular weight.) All antibodies are identical in the blue “constant” region but are quite different from each another in the orange “variable” region. The shape of the variable region determines what the antibody will bind to (if anything) and is consequently called the antigen-binding site.

If the antibody were a tool in your garage, it might be an 8-in-1 screwdriver, with the constant region being the handle and the variable region being an exchangeable bit. Each bit is designed to work with a different kind of screw, and as you probably know, using the wrong size or shape of bit can be fruitless and frustrating. Similarly, the shape of the antibody’s variable region must be exactly complementary to the antigen for it to bind.

Mix-and-Match Mutations Create Diversity

Amazingly, animals can manufacture antibodies for not just eight but literally trillions of foreign particles, even synthetic compounds never encountered in nature. How can a B cell design an antibody for a novel antigen when its shape depends on the amino acid sequence, which, in turn, is encoded by a gene? Humans only have about 25,000 genes total, so it can’t be that each potential antibody is generated by a separate gene.

Surely the design of a highly specific antigen-binding site could not be accomplished by random mutations! Actually, yes, though as we will see, the story is not as simple as a single gene undergoing spontaneous mutations every now and then. The mutations are programmed to occur in just a tiny part of the genome, and instead of involving changes in single DNA “letters” (bases), they involve random rearrangements of whole gene segments.

I’ll explain by way of analogy. Imagine packing for a trip. You will be gone for two weeks, but because your airline charges ridiculous fees to check luggage, you opt to take only a small duffle bag. You have a wide variety of events planned, so each day will require a different outfit. Since space is limited, you grab your favorite pair of shoes—they go with everything (work with me, ladies; analogies aren’t perfect)—along with three pairs of pants and five tops. Assuming each top matches each pair of pants, you can make 15 unique outfits. Some are more casual while others are dressier; some are better for hot weather while others are more appropriate for rain. In other words, by including a variety of styles, you can cover all your fashion needs with great efficiency.

Amazingly, B cells are able to produce a huge variety of antibodies by mixing and matching DNA segments to create unique antigen-binding sites. The pair of shoes is like the constant region; it is used with every “outfit.” Each pair of pants is like a different heavy chain, while each top is like a different light chain. When a new B cell begins to mature, it randomly picks some combination of gene segments (an outfit) from many options in the genome (the suitcase). It then physically stitches the segments together and from now on only produces one kind of antibody. (That’s like only getting to wear one outfit for the rest of your life!)

I’ve dramatically oversimplified the picture here. In reality, to make the variable region for its heavy chain, the maturing B cell randomly chooses one possible segment from each of three segment types, called V, D, and J (for variable, diversity, and joining, respectively). There are 51 V segments to choose from, 6 J segments, and 27 D segments, which yield 8,262 (51x6x27) possible heavy-chain variable regions. The light chains are a bit simpler, as they don’t use D segments. There are 316 possible combinations of V and J segments for the light chain. Thus, there are 2.6 million (8,262x316) different antigen-binding sites possible from this mix-and-match process.

More Diversity from Built-in Imprecision

2.6 million is a lot, but not even close to the trillions of antigens out in the world. Where does the rest of the diversity come from? As it turns out, the process of stitching together the V, D, and J gene segments into light and heavy chains isn’t very precise. To recombine (reshuffle) the gene segments, two lymphocyte-specific proteins, RAG1 and RAG2 (for recombination activating genes), form a complex to first physically break the double-stranded DNA in specific (but unpredictable) places. Then the complex works together with a cleanup crew of other proteins to rejoin the DNA segments in a different order.

Normally when DNA breaks occur, say due to radiation from the sun, this same kind of DNA repair occurs to rejoin the two ends very precisely. In developing B cells, however, a few bases can be added or removed, analogous to lengthening the hem of your pants or cutting the sleeves off your shirt. This built-in imprecision leads to an estimated 100 million-fold increase in the diversity of antigen-binding sites.

This boost in diversity comes at a significant cost, however. Since each amino acid is encoded by three DNA bases, the addition or deletion of only one or two bases will cause a shift in the “reading frame” such that the DNA code becomes meaningless and the B cell cannot make a functional antibody. Many developing B cells suffer this fate and die in the bone marrow, never getting to debut their one outfit. Yet, the cost is worth it to the organism for the benefits that come with a robust immune response.

What’s the Point?

Today we have seen two ways in which B cells exploit the power of randomness to make an enormous repertoire of antibodies. First, the RAG proteins break and rejoin the DNA at random sites to create unique combinations of V, D, and J gene segments. Second, a random small number of bases can be added or lost when the DNA ends are rejoined, leading to the insertion or deletion of one or more amino acids in the antigen-binding site.

The point of my post today is not to reveal the ingeniousness of the adaptive immune system, though I hope it accomplishes that also. Rather, I want to emphasize that God uses natural processes—indeed, even a “blind” system for generating massive amounts of diversity—to carry out his purposes. If God uses natural mechanisms that work over short time scales (less than a week) to evolve life-giving solutions to disease, mightn’t he also use a similarly elegant approach to creating life over long periods of time?

In my next post, we will continue to see how B cells and antibodies function and begin to see if there is any evidence for evolution of the immune system.

References

Alberts, Bruce et al. “The Adaptive Immune System.” Molecular Biology of the Cell. Fourth Edition. 2002.

Story, Craig M. “The God of Christiantiy and the G.O.D. of Immunology: Chance, Complexity, and God’s Action in Nature.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. 61:4. Dec. 2009.


Kathryn Applegate is Program Director at The BioLogos Foundation. She received her PhD in computational cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. At Scripps, she developed computer vision software tools for analyzing the cell's infrastructure, the cytoskeleton.

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hanan-d - #77719

March 22nd 2013

Rather, I want to emphasize that God uses natural processes—indeed, even a “blind” system for generating massive amounts of diversity—to carry out his purposes.

 

We keep getting stuck on this one issue so i apologize that I keep bringing it up, but once you say something is “blind” then there is no “guidence.” It really is God just throwing the dice in hope that something will come out. So is Richard Dawkins right that Theistic Evolution is simply trying to sneak God in through the back door? 


GJDS - #77735

March 23rd 2013

The short answer is that people know little about the ‘natural processes’ although they get muddled with long discriptive presentations; add to this ignorance to the greater one of ‘what God uses’ (and extraodinary statement that defies conventional and orthodox theology), and we have this nonsense presented as both science and theology.


GJDS - #77736

March 23rd 2013

... remove ‘to’ and should read ‘an extraordinary….’


PNG - #77737

March 23rd 2013

The molecular “agents” of antibody diversification, the enzymes that catalyze shuffling of DNA segments don’t have any information about what recombinations and mutations will give the highest affinity and most stable antibodies. In that sense the process itself is “blind”.  Before the process of antibody diversification was understood, one of the hypotheses of how it worked was that the antibody protein was actually synthesized or shaped on the surface of the antigen itself. A process like that would not be “blind” and could get away with devoting only one or a few cells to each antigen. But that’s not how it works. The immune system makes a huge number of variants “blindly,” and the few that bind antigen trigger those cells to survive and multiply.

Saying that the physical process is blind of course isn’t the same thing as saying that God doesn’t know what is going on or couldn’t influence it if He wants to. 


GJDS - #77745

March 23rd 2013

Your language leaves much to be desired - ‘something is blind’ is clear and understandable - just how can can this be redone or restated to show how God may exert His sovereign power over nature? This muddled language continues on this post. 


melanogaster - #77828

March 25th 2013

If you don’t like the language, why not study the relevant evidence unencumbered by language?


GJDS - #77830

March 25th 2013

Megamonstrosity - go and bother someone else.


melanogaster - #77832

March 26th 2013

The evidence is a bother to someone who claims to be a working scientist? Amazing!


GJDS - #77835

March 26th 2013

You are the bother, you strange person - and you are certainly not the evidence - can you just bother someone else for heaven’s sake.


melanogaster - #77841

March 26th 2013

More namecalling and insults. Why not just answer the question and end the alleged bother?

Why not study the relevant evidence unencumbered by language, instead of critiquing the language of others?


melanogaster - #77838

March 26th 2013

“It really is God just throwing the dice in hope that something will come out.”

That’s a terrible metaphor! It’s God throwing the dice KNOWING that something will come out!

If it was mere hoping, there’s be huge holes in the antibody and TCR repertoires, and there aren’t. For example, two genetically identical mice will make different antibodies to the same antigen, showing incredible redundancy. Even when we delete huge chunks of the variable-region gene segments in mice, they do quite well when challenged.


Merv - #77740

March 23rd 2013

I remember this being brought up (perhaps even here when this was posted the first time) so drawing on the parable of the sower isn’t original with me for this context.

The parable of the farmer sowing his seed makes an interesting study for this discussion.  We get the sense that God does something of which farmers today would very much disapprove.  He scatters seed rather haphazardly.  Rocky soil, good soil—all of it gets seed.  No more mention is made of the farmer trying to “be more efficient”.  This isn’t to say that God is not present in even the slightest events such as the alighting sparrow—I believe He is.  But this also plays out with him lavishing blessings (sun and rain) on everyone in what appears to us to be a more-or-less haphazard fashion, and letting things play out then as they will.  Perhaps this gets at the so-called “freedom” of creation that TEs mention, making the hair stand up of the back of the necks of some here.  (Sorry, Jon and Eddie—I couldn’t resist).  I know that such a term may be scientifically vacuous as the essence of ‘freedom’ isn’t permeable to scientific scrutiny.  Apparently some here may see it as theologically vacuous as well.  But I wonder how they react to teachings from Jesus such as the sower of the seed and if random processes of nature such as antibody production aren’t just microscopic applications of the same story.

-Merv


Merv - #77741

March 23rd 2013

... or if we draw in other teachings such as ...   branches that do not produce fruit are taken and thrown into the fire.  Or the servant who fails to multiply his master’s investment is cast out while his allotment is given to the more productive servants.  This is actually a rather harsh description of eventual efficiency in which this tale of antibodies and so much of nature seems to be echoed in scripture, or more accurately is all an echo of scripture.

-Merv


Jon Garvey - #77793

March 25th 2013

Hi Merv

I’m in two minds whether your parallel with the parable of the sower is useful or not. The undeniable core of the parable is that the word of God is given to all and sundry, whilst in terms of the story the farmer knows some soil will be better than others.

Jesus doesn’t make clear whether the farmer who sows is God or the Christian evangelist. There are teachings elsewhere that tell us to proclaim to all because we do not know where God will give the increase, so that might indicate (as it were) that the parable is about the human epistemological randomness of evangelism, subject to the hidden grace and purpose of God. We wouldn’t bother preaching to Saul of Tarsus, but God has his own ideas.

Then there’s also the issue, not present in the immune system, that the parable contains teaching about human freedom and accountability: we are warned by it to be careful how we hear: to be good soil and not thorny or stony. In that sense the story is partly about general grace - even the wicked hear the good news, and so have no excuse if they miss out through voluntary indifference, or ambition, or cowardice.

All that, I suppose, has undertones of selection of those “fitted” to be saved, but it’s rather dubious to parallel that with natural selection, as if the randomness people perceive in nature is also a fundamental feature of the Gospel.

Faith, of all things, is surely a fruit of God’s personal grace and love - is that not quite the opposite of the statistical function of the immune system, where producing enough variations is likely to turn up one that will just happen to bind to the invading pathogen?

God’s  providence might well be at work in that - if Paul’s time has not yet come, will he succumb by chance to a virus, or will the right antibodies be produced and God’s will done? But that’s a discussion on a different scale from any idea of preaching the gospel to every nation because God knows that statistically 10% of a population, or whatever, will be predisposed randomly to respond.


Jon Garvey - #77794

March 25th 2013

hanan-d

I echo your frustation (and Eddie’s on the other thread) that the central issue of randomness in relation to God’s teleological will is constantly being fudged here. My discussion of the parable of the sower touches that - could we really believe that any salvation purpose of a loving God would use the randomness of human responses just to make sure that at least some people got to heaven, on average?

Dr James Shapiro (NEVER mentioned on BioLogos) has a very thorough treatment of the immune system in his book Evolution - a View from the  21st Century. In contrast to this post, he doesn’t major on the randomness of the system, but on the way it’s very highly organised just to maximise the diversity of tightly specified parts of the molecules.

In other words, it’s a system that’s as constrained as a random number generator must be in human engineering: the generator is anything but random. Like the triangles and self-assembling virus in the previous post, the use of “randomness” is the exploitation of the properties of randomness by a planned system: there is hidden teleology.

Shapiro sees the immune system as a prime example of how cells target particular evolutionary change, and suggests that if they have learned to do that so effectively in the immune system, there is no valid reason to say that evolution generally does not involve similarly targeted changes.

Agree or not, it’s a viewpoint with which any biologist should be interacting now that the book has been out for two years.


melanogaster - #77833

March 26th 2013

“Like the triangles and self-assembling virus in the previous post, the use of “randomness” is the exploitation of the properties of randomness by a planned system: there is hidden teleology.”

You’re welcome to put God into that box if you wish. But then why is there so much resistance to having God run a hidden, teleological, and perfectly analogous variation/selection system at the population and species levels?

With respect to your book recommendation, do you really think that in the 21st century, books are a primary means for propelling science instead of empirical data? Do working scientists “interact with viewpoints” or do they test hypotheses and produce data?


Jon Garvey - #77837

March 26th 2013

Melanogaster

If you’d read my previous remarks on Sierpinski triangles, you’d have seen that I poinyted out that the teleology is inherent in the mathematical formulae underpinning them. It’s the maths that generates the triangles, not the random human choices, and it will always produce the same triangles.

God, one supposes, is ultimately behind the maths, but that’s not the point here: the order is not coming from randomness, but from the existing order of, in this case, the maths.

Scientifically there’s no problem at all with God’s using a law-driven, stochastically informed, evolutionary system. The theological issue is that, unlike Sierpinksi triangles, we have no current evidence that the same results will emerge whatever the stochastic events. The most we have is something like Conway Morris’s convergence to general patterns - which in any case lacks an explanatory mechanism.

Therefore we do not have any mechanism capable of producing, specifically, mankind - and not a few TEs are convinced that God intended mankind specifically, rather than some kind of intelligent species possibly.

As for Shapiro, you’re back on your “data is all” hobby-horse. Data, we all well know, means nothing until conjoined to a theory. And theories have appeared in books since long before The Origin of Species, The Selfish Gene, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Life’s Solution, and all the other books that have led people to go in search of supportive data. Of all of those I’ve mentioned, there is none, as far as I know, that is heavier on data and references to primary work, than Shapiro’s. How many other works include an online bibliography linked to the cited papers?

So if people don’t want to interact with his boiok, they’re quite at liberty, and possibly obliged, to interact with the hundreds of papers he references.


melanogaster - #77840

March 26th 2013

“God, one supposes, is ultimately behind the maths, but that’s not the point here: the order is not coming from randomness, but from the existing order of, in this case, the maths.”

Jon, you are missing the point here. You are missing the existing order of selection.

“Scientifically there’s no problem at all with God’s using a law-driven, stochastically informed, evolutionary system. The theological issue is that, unlike Sierpinksi triangles, we have no current evidence that the same results will emerge whatever the stochastic events.”

But you’re steadfastly ignoring selection.

“The most we have is something like Conway Morris’s convergence to general patterns - which in any case lacks an explanatory mechanism.”

Only if you ignore selection and operate on the creationist misrepresentation of evolution as “random” because mutations are random (only with respect to fitness).

“Therefore we do not have any mechanism capable of producing, specifically, mankind - and not a few TEs are convinced that God intended mankind specifically, rather than some kind of intelligent species possibly.”

We have selection. It is not random. Why do you pretend that it does not exist?

“As for Shapiro, you’re back on your “data is all” hobby-horse.”

You are grossly and predictably misrepresenting my position, which is not that “data are all.” Data are the meat and potatoes. They come both before and after hypothesis, as well as before and after theory.

“Data, we all well know, means nothing until conjoined to a theory.”

Really?

And here I’ve muddled through most of my scientific career thinking that data suggest hypotheses (not really theories), particularly when they are unexpected. Whocoodanode? Perhaps you should be advising people not to sequence genomes, do proteomics, and transcriptomics from your lofty perch? After all, we do call those “data-driven”! Are you really so blind as to think that data mean nothing until conjoined (whatever that means) to a theory?

“And theories have appeared in books since long before The Origin of Species,…”

Once again, misrepresentation is a staple of your responses. My point is that books no longer DRIVE science forward, not that theories don’t appear in books. By the way, can you name a theory supported by the data that was INTRODUCED in a book in the last 50 years?

“The Selfish Gene, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Life’s Solution, and all the other books that have led people to go in search of supportive data.”

Wouldn’t real scientists go in search of potentially falsifying data? And precisely how many people have done experiments based on those books?

“Of all of those I’ve mentioned, there is none, as far as I know, that is heavier on data and references to primary work, than Shapiro’s.”

Resorting to the numbers of references is a staple of pseudoscience. How many have you read?

“How many other works include an online bibliography linked to the cited papers?”

Only every single paper published in the primary literature nowadays, Jon! Perhaps you should read one!

“So if people don’t want to interact with his boiok, they’re quite at liberty, and possibly obliged, to interact with the hundreds of papers he references.”

How will they find the thousands of papers he doesn’t cite?


Jon Garvey - #77855

March 26th 2013

I should, of course, have followed GJDS’s example in refusing to reply to Melanogaster. I will certainly follow it hereafter. But first…

I suggested simply that BioLogos would do well to interact with the evidence cited by Shapiro regarding the immune system, and you turn it, tortuously but typically, to a claim (a) that Shapiro disqualifies himself from interaction at the first hurdle by stooping to write a book after 40 years of research literature; (b) that Shapiro fails to cite  thousands of papers (which would appear to be rather inevitable: how does that make it a problem to read those he does cite?); (c) that I should try as a novelty reading a scientific paper (which is a gratuitously insulting presumption - who do you think you are, young man, to suggest that I don’t follow up references in stuff I read?);  (d) that I have wilfully neglected natural selection in responding to Kathryn’s treatment of randomness in evolution, rather than to points she didn’t make; and (d) characteristically, I’m afraid, you have failed to make any constructive response to the theological point I was raising.

Melanogaster, the problem of the interaction of divine purpose and evolution was being raised with Darwin by his confidantes (like Lyell, Asa Gray) before the Origin was even published. It became, almost immediately, a major focus of his critics both scientific (Sedgwick et al) and theological, though the latter were more polite about it in general. It has remained the core of religious discussion of evolution in the 150 years since, and was a major theme in the thinking (sorry - he expressed it in a book so I shouldn’t really mention it) of Francis Collins in setting up BioLogos. It has been the central debating point in the science-faith debate, the divine action project and both academic and popular theistic evolution.

If you think the issue has gone away, then the world would thank you for explaining where it went, instead of huffing and puffing that we’re all creationists too lazy to look deeper than Morris and Whitcomb.

Now I’m pretty certain you are not a hyper-adaptationist, so I can’t understand how you appear to be suggesting (though experience tells me you’ll prefer to accuse me of willfully misunderstanding you) that natural selection answers all the questions of TEs about the ability of Neodarwinian mechanisms to fulfil any purpose God might have to create mankind as such.

I’m not aware of any current strand of thought that claims natural selection is deterministic enough to “guarantee” H. sapiens. So you probably weren’t implying it is. If that’s the case, then get off my back - because the point I was making was all about God’s creating the means sufficient to do what many TEs are committed to believing he did do. And if natural selection isn’t such a sufficient means, taken together with the other known mechanisms of evolution, then all your blustering to me about it is totally irrelevant distraction.


melanogaster - #77903

March 27th 2013

“I should, of course, have followed GJDS’s example in refusing to reply to Melanogaster. I will certainly follow it hereafter. But first…”

You don’t seem to notice that GJDS didn’t refuse to reply. He replied twice with only vapid insults.

“I suggested simply that BioLogos would do well to interact with the evidence cited by Shapiro regarding the immune system,…”

But why shouldn’t Biologos interact with ALL the evidence, not just the evidence cited by Shapiro? And you mentioned nothing at all about the evidence until I challenged you. You were putting his interpretation and rhetoric uber alles. Your pseudoacademic shorthand of throwing around names instead of discussing real evidence and hypotheses is the problem.

“… and you turn it, tortuously but typically, to a claim (a) that Shapiro disqualifies himself from interaction at the first hurdle by stooping to write a book after 40 years of research literature;”

Absolutely false, Jon. I take issue with your misrepresentation of my position as “data is all” and that we should deal with books instead of the primary literature in the 21st century, when no came-changing biological hypothesis has appeared in a book before appearing the primary literature (usually in concert with the new evidence that prompted it) in decades.

If Shapiro’s so important in driving science, what empirically-testable hypotheses does he propose? If you expect to be taken as a serious intellectual, try discussing them instead of throwing around Shapiro’s name like a magic word. BTW, “Shapiro” is a person, not a book. What is Shapiro the person DOING?

“(b) that Shapiro fails to cite thousands of papers (which would appear to be rather inevitable: how does that make it a problem to read those he does cite?);”

Your point that Shapiro cites more papers than other authors, even if true, was lame, and even more lame was your claim that providing links was some sort of novelty.

“... that I should try as a novelty reading a scientific paper (which is a gratuitously insulting presumption - who do you think you are, young man, to suggest that I don’t follow up references in stuff I read?);”

If you don’t know that every modern paper is online and has includes links to the literature cited, you haven’t been reading scientific papers. Here’s an idea—let’s discuss one of the papers Shapiro cites—only the hypotheses and data, not the text, no names. I don’t think you can do it!

“(d) that I have wilfully neglected natural selection in responding to Kathryn’s treatment of randomness in evolution, rather than to points she didn’t make;”

You have, because natural selection is the perfectly analogous constraint.

“…If you think the issue has gone away, then the world would thank you for explaining where it went, instead of huffing and puffing that we’re all creationists too lazy to look deeper than Morris and Whitcomb.”

I don’t think that the issue has gone away, I am objecting to your use of creationist canards and sleight-of-hand in framing it!

“Now I’m pretty certain you are not a hyper-adaptationist, so I can’t understand how you appear to be suggesting (though experience tells me you’ll prefer to accuse me of willfully misunderstanding you) that natural selection answers all the questions of TEs about the ability of Neodarwinian mechanisms to fulfil any purpose God might have to create mankind as such.”

I’m saying that natural selection is a big part, while randomness is not important—except in addressing the misrepresentations of evolution deniers. Variation + selection = Darwinian evolution, so arguing about the source of the known heritable variation does nothing to diminish the importance of Darwinian evolution.

BTW, do you see how the Darwinian evolution of new, high-affinity binding sites in two weeks makes Behe’s thesis look ridiculous?

“I’m not aware of any current strand of thought that claims natural selection is deterministic enough to “guarantee” H. sapiens.”

That’s pure sophistry to pretend that the theological “mankind” must necessarily equal the biological “H. sapiens.” Presumably, God must be acting throughout our vast universe, no?


Merv - #77816

March 25th 2013

Hannan-D and Jon, I continue to wrestle with this myself as well, but tend to put a more charitable spin on the TE project than Dawkins’ assessment of them “sneaking God in the back door.”    A good TE response might be:  “We’re just trying to do science right here before God and with God already being a given in, under, and through it all whether we think we understand phenomena in terms of science or not.  

Jon, I agree with you that it isn’t a given that the sower in the Parable necessarily be God.  But if we jump over to a different teaching; it definitely is God that sends the sun and rain indiscriminately over the righteous and the unrighteous.  The lesson here seems to be that God (nobody else) lavishes much blessing without partiality.  Indeed this is a vast understatement.  Do the following seemingly trivial thought experiment (remembering that no detail is to trivial for God’s attention as he attends each sparrow and each hair of your head.)

We have all had that brief stint out-of-doors just when it is starting to rain and the drops are few and far between.  You may be walking from building to car and perchance fill a single raindrop hit your forehead on your brief excursion.  Your companion however got hit by two or even three raindrops.  Now if we can agree about anything at all in nature appearing random, this should qualify.  So does it then become an issue for you to hear someone assert this, sounding as if they have apparently removed God’s sovereignty from the event?  It’s no use arguing that this is too trivial as to be beneath His sovereignty as there is no theological dividing line of triviality that suddenly keeps God’s sovereignty out. So do you have a problem thinking of rain drop placement as “random”—even random just in human terms?  Note that I’m not insisting that they actually be random from God’s perspective.  I’m just probing your reaction to *us* as *we* human scientists and mathematicians decide to treat them as if they were random.

-Merv


melanogaster - #77904

March 27th 2013

Beautifully put, Merv. 


Merv - #77817

March 25th 2013

...apologies as usual for my assortment of ill-chosen words above.  Make “fill a singe raindrop” into “feel a single raindrop”   and add the needed ‘o’ to make it “no detail is too trivial for God…”

By the way, what I meant by referring to the impartiality of blessing as a vast understatement was this:  If one thinks of what percentage of sun and starlight actually strikes the earth (and even all the other moons and planets so that they can be illumined in our sky) we still see 99.99…% of our suns energy shining off into empty space.   Indeed, God is so rich with abundance that we are amply fed energy from such a miniscule percentage of the energy generated in the universe, or we ourselves are such a miniscule percentage of all the crowds of sperm all wanting to fertilize the egg.  Nature seems to echo the Biblical theme of lavish or extravagant supply; does it not?  When one is rich, one is assured that the necessary results will come through.  But if one exerts omnipotent control, one does not need the lavish over-supply since they could, with 100% efficiency, make the right (and only) one count.  This is, for me, the crux of trying to meld Sovereignty  (which I believe God exercises) with randomness (which I also see as a valid scientific model for so much that transpires.)


Jon Garvey - #77836

March 26th 2013

Merv

The existence of the stochastic, and the reality of the mathematical truths one can tell about it, is a given as far as I am concerned. The problem comes from the insistence on one-thing-or-the-other views of reality: if chance, then chance to God too and unplanned and unpredictable to him . If not miracle, then independent of God.

One does need to return, if viewing things from the view of TE you give, with which I absolutely agree, to return to some notion of levels of causation - that efficient causes, including “randomness” are subsumed in, not operating alongside or free from, the will of God.

I sympathise with GJDS’s problems of shifting between parable and science, but at least bringing the biblical and the natural world together forces one to note the implications of leaving small events outside God’s control (but control through means, including chance in all its forms - contingency, chaos, quantum indeterminacy.)

So let’s consider that immune system which, statistically, is going to produce varying success, perhaps, at generating a molecule that binds to a new viral variant. Lucky A mounts an immune response, but unlucky B succumbs in the pandemic. And humanly speaking, my wife or child (or self) could be in either category, believers or not. None of us knows our future, and the uncertainty that brings generates much of life’s interest, whether good or bad for us.

But God does need to know our future: consider that the pandemic is in Tarsus, 25 AD, and that Paul, whose whole life and education has all been a preparation for his later apostleship, is A or B. Somehow the Christian needs to consider whether God had some interest, even oversight, of whether the Pauline Corpus and the Gentile Mission would occur or not. It’s hard to imagine that the existence of Romans hinges on a stochastic immune response that was as unknown to God as to Paul.

Or alternatively, that God had planned for a slam-dunk proof of the truth of the Gospel from the hand James the Apostle, but we never got it because the High Priest’s maverick decision got him killed before he could write it. God would have saved the whole world, but a chance decision ruined it.

Even one of your random raindrops, if it lands in my eye as I steer a car or pull a trigger, can change history.


GJDS - #77824

March 25th 2013

Merv,

I find your treatment of randomness useful and would generally agree with your outlook regarding how we view matters of faith, parables, and God as sovereign. After all, Jon and you have referred to a parable, which is intended to help us to understand the Gospel.

I suggest however that problems are created when we use terms such as random and stochastic methods in these discussions – within a scientific context. The scientific meaning is automatically given. The use of the same or similar terms, oscillating between language used to illuminate profound faith insights, and then inserting something scientific, makes these discussions extremely difficult for both lay persons and those who specialise in various disciplines of science (and I think other disciplines). We cannot blithely ignore this difficulty – I think this is the crux of the problem and this expands into arguments about what is blind chance and what God may or may not do (the latter phrase is the big difficulty).

I note that as I write this, I find myself struggling to make my meaning clear. This is not because I cannot write clearly, but because it is difficult to mentally go from parable to science in the same sentence. I trust, in any event, this note is sufficiently clear.   


GJDS - #77845

March 26th 2013

Jon, #77836

I agree with you in that we should gain a deeper understanding of God’s Sovereignty, and perhaps the point I am making is the terminology in parables allows us this insight, but the scientific terms may not. We would agree that God had determined that Paul would be called when he was – this is understood as God’s will and Paul testified to this. Those of the faith understand this and that is the end of the matter. Thus, I cannot see how we would use terms like chance and random in such a discussion.

Let us instead consider two instances where person x received three rain drops at point x, and person y 300 at point y. This in itself would be unremarkable, but it is possible that using Monte Carlo techniques and say 10 years of meteorological data for the region, a scientist could arrive at a formula; I will state it generally as Z (number of raindrops) is a function f{(x 1….10); y( 1….10); [data base]} (this is not a mathematical formula but a symbolic expression). The scientist may report that he can reproduce previous occurrences with 90% confidence limits and predict future events for persons x and y with 60% confidence limits.

WE may observe the events for person x and y as random; the meaning of these events may be historic for person y and not person x – again this may appear random. Faith and our understanding of the events and persons may convince us of God’s providence – my point is that at no occasion would we be inclined to ask the scientist to explain to us if the events he could model mathematically were to confirm or deny our conclusions regarding God. Nor would data of past events, or predicting future rain-drop events, give us additional insights regarding God’s will and His sovereignty. Indeed, if we had a discussion with a scientist, he would have stopped using words like random and blind chance, and now refer us to his formula and model as a meaningful way to communicate his scientific outlook. It may be the case that the scientific model would add to our feelings regarding the events and its consequences and God’s will, and in this I agree,... “at least bringing the biblical and the natural world together forces one to note the implications of leaving small events outside God’s control….”

The raindrop example however should also highlight the error in doing the reverse – in that after we consider the scientific formula, we now believe we know how and if God is involved through random events. It is clearly false, and no matter how it is stated, or what sophistry-scientific descriptions are used, it is a meaningless discussion. God is the Creator – this is a statement of faith, not science. Our understanding is derived from the Bible, our own reason and faith


sy - #77850

March 26th 2013

Nice article, Kathryn, although the analogy with packing a suitcase with outfits doesnt really work that well for me (nor perhaps for some of the other (male) commenters here). 

My own take on randomness, as part of any selection process, whether it is evolution or adaptive immunity, is that we see an appearance of randomness that is not at all random to God. Jon’s examples of seemingly random events, were all, (and so many trillions of others on an hourly basis) acts of God, deliberate and teleological. This sounds like a statement of faith, but in fact there is some interesting science, connected with some aspects of quantum mechanics that are consistent with the idea of will in the universe. I might mention adaptive mutations as an interesting and controversial example, but that is much too long a discussion for a single comment. (Unless there is further interest in that topic here). 


Jon Garvey - #77856

March 26th 2013

Sy

As ever, you speak wisdom. In principle, it’s quite legitimate to keep epistemologies separate: the scientist in me can say by observation, “A appears to be a stochastic process with a normal distibution (or whatever) producing a random result” whilst the Christian in me by faith says “Yet A is governed by God and brings about his ends.”

The problems come from integrating those two (as we must, to an extent, attempt, if we wish to unify our understaning of truth). The danger is that we will elevate one viewpoint over the other: on the one hand, by sticking miracles in all over the shop, (thus overturning the empirical findings of a stochastic process) or on the other by rewriting our theology to make God, too, subject to the unpredictability of events.

The former is a small danger for TEs - we’re more likely to make an unwarranted metaphysical assumption that there can‘t be miraculous exceptions in nature.

The latter is a real danger, and my contention is that it is an error not only commonly made, but that it undermines the whole coherence of Christian faith. Almost inevitably, God becomes a helpless bystander not only of natural processes, but of human history, of our personal wellbeing and even of eschatology. If God does not oversee small events, it’s hard to envisage how he could influence big ones: all big events are governed by small ones.


Merv - #77866

March 26th 2013

GJDS, I may not have captured the entirety of your point above, but if I understood correctly about admitting for confidence intervals and our ability to make limited predictions, then this helps highlight the reason I chose rain drops for my example.  If we restrict our attempted predictions down to the scale of a single sample (i.e. a single raindrop), then not only is it difficult to predict an occurrence—it is impossible to predict anything about it at all!  Our understanding of chaos theory and error amplification has driven this home for us.  We can only make general predictions (e.g. I will get soaked if I stay out).  And we may even be able to predict about how many drops will strike me given a specified longer duration and the average rain intensity over that duration.  But those first few drops as the storm is starting—whether one hits me and three on my friend or none on either of us in any given minute—all mathematicians, statisticians, meteorologists using supercomputer models—all alike have no better chances of getting that guess right than the average second grader.  It’s as random a thing as we can imagine.  That’s why I chose that example.

Jon, I agree with you that it’s the attempted force to a choice:  one or the other between sovereignty or randomness that is problematic.   However when you assert that all big events are governed by small ones, isn’t this a nod to reductionism?  I know exactly what you mean (I think) and even tend to agree.  But still it bears reflection that we are steeped in western thought and want whole things to be broken down into smaller things for analysis.   How can we know that God doesn’t indulge in top-down (or emergent?) management where the details aren’t going to foil his great plan because he’s already loaded the dice to make sure of it regardless of individual happenstances.  My challenge does seem to flounder on your Apostle Paul example.  I can’t very well imagine there were many different “Pauline alternatives” around at that time so that if one succumbed to your virus, another was likely to survive and carry on.  I’ve heard it speculated of Abraham that if he had failed to trust God, God would have found another.  But as you say, microscopic events change macroscopic things, and randomness is a poor fall-back in many such cases from where we see it.  It’s a pretty good thing that God is God and none of us are.

-Merv


GJDS - #77869

March 26th 2013

Merv, I am taking the rain drop example one step further by assuming the model may be able to predict (with good confidence limits) even the first rain drop - this is to illustrate my point on how we may discuss such events. Let us assume that modelling has reached such a stage - we would refer to the modelling methodology as a means to understand each event. It is unlikely that the discussion would centre on the meaning of random - it would discuss the formula and how such a software model was able to provide these predictions and how they were tested in the real world. I cannot see how this example would provide a basis for understanding God’s action, His limitations regarding natures freedom, or any theologically relevant meaning. WE would however, (if these raindrops were associated with a significant event related to the well-being of someone), seek insights into how God may have influenced someone’s life (or any event that has meaning to a human being). The meaning we may discuss would be based on faith - terms like random or chance would also be meaningful (if people use such terms, but they may choose not to use these terms) within the context of faith. Science would not, and could not, provide meaningful terms in such a discussion - it would simply show how those fateful raindrops fell and the conditions that led to the occurance.


Merv - #77874

March 26th 2013

Okay—I think I see your point, and if so, I agree with it:  that our ability to predict something (in this case a hypothetical ability) still would not negate any faith basis applied to the same event).

And it may be peripheral or irrelevant to your point since we are both obviously being hypothetical with the example anyway, but just realize that this isn’t something that “we just haven’t accompolished yet”.  It has pretty much been shown that we never will be able to predict such events no matter how good our science or supercomputer-driven models may get.  Where individual raindrops fall is forever beyond any reliable prediction.  And as an apparent testimony to Jon’s assertion that small events drive large ones:  this also means that even macro-weather prediction (i.e. entire storms, hurricanes, and global weather patterns) more than a few weeks out will also be forever beyond our predictive reach unless we learn somehow to control it.  There was a dream nearly half a century ago that math, science, and powerful computer modeling would enable perfect weather prediction.  Chaos theory killed that dream.

-Merv


GJDS - #77875

March 26th 2013

Merv,

I have attempted to simplify the discussion to how we may communicate meaningfully using particular terms such as random – however I accept your point on perfect predictability. I felt that if we gave science a boost and did not doubt it, the best we can hope for is a formula that is meaningful scientifically.

To expand this discussion by including chaos theory – we would use a mathematical formula to construct our ‘chaos’ patterns – I taught by daughter to do this when she was 12 using her PC. This formula is the meaning of chaos theory (and so on)

Yes we cannot find grounds to negate a faith basis by looking to scientific activity. I wanted to add another dimension to this – we cannot use terms that have a specific meaning to science, when communicating theological matters. By this I mean, statements such as, “God is ,,,,”, “God does ……” and so on, are theological. In this I sympathise with Jon regarding his comments on ‘what God does in TE’).

In this discussion, random seems to me to be an observation of a particular system the author has studied and she describes this, and in this she uses terms such as random. My main point is that from this, if we then provide sentences that include statements such as {“God does ……” and “… random …”}, while referring to scientific observations to give meaning to random, we are indulging either in (a) a meaningless statement, or (b) in theological error.


GJDS - #77879

March 26th 2013

The use of random and chaos (and determinism) is discussed, as for example, in A Wagner, Philosophy of Science, Vol. 79, No. 1 (January 2012), pp. 95-119. He is examining this subject and “does not focus just on fitness but on complex phenotypes and how mutations affect them”.

I bring up these types of discussions not as a way of showing lack of support, or support, for Darwin’s thinking – instead I find such discussions stimulating because whatever position may be taken, such discussions given good reason to ask questions, and to also understand how other people deal with these matters. It also illustrates that Darwin’s ideas are not dogma, and their semantic nature will inevitably lead to ‘endless’ discussions and questions. The following extracts from this paper fulfil these expectations.

Historically, one of the most controversial aspects of Darwinian evolution has been the prominent role that randomness and random change play in it.

The role of chance and randomness in evolution can be examined for three different and variable aspects of a living system. The first of them is an organism’s genotype. The second is its phenotype, which has many different facets that range from an organism’s form, to its physiology, down to the spatial fold of the proteins inside its cells. The third aspect ….. —is fitness, which collapses the immense complexity of a phenotype onto a single scalar quantity that indicates how well an organism is adapted to its environment.

Probability theory is a way of viewing the world. Through its glasses, every process in the world becomes a random process. This is unhelpful if we want to ask in which sense Darwinian evolution might involve random change. To simply state that everything about the world is random leaves us unsatisfied.


GJDS - #77880

March 26th 2013

I try to restrict the amount of material I place in these posts, but this portion of the Wegner paper (previous post) is worth considering (again I restate, this is not a post that supports or opposes anyone’s position): “Non-randomness in the sense I defined it—as a deviation from a prior expectation—is a property not just of a natural phenomenon but also of our knowledge about this phenomenon. As our knowledge increases, this expectation may change. Non-randomness is thus a moving target. Whether we call mutations in genotypes random may depend on our knowledge about genotypes and the mechanisms behind their change. Even at our present state of knowledge, after decades of studying DNA sequences, and with billions of DNA sequences in public databases available for analysis, we do not have an expectation sophisticated enough to explain the observed patterns of genotypic change we see in nature. And this holds despite considerable effort to look for statistical models of DNA. Thus, genotypic change is non-random on the basis of what we presently know.”


Jon Garvey - #77882

March 27th 2013

Merv

I’m glad you see where I’m coming from on the “small things cause big changes” side - a nod to chaos theory there, really, but certainly not to scientific determinism.

I think there is a pressing need to divorce divine omniscience/omnipotence from materialist determinism radically, because they are fundamentally different in essence. That’s not often recognised today, which is why theology gets itself into such a mess - not least in TE’s prevalent confusion of God with randomness, freedom, self-emptying and theodicy in ways that all presuppose a simpleminded univocal cause and effect (probably because too influenced by the efficient cause thinking of Enlightenment science).

Firstly, and obviously,  we don’t actually know how God does things (we have nowadays an addiction to paying lip service to God’s ways being higher than ours whilst completely denying it in practice). That’s why we must depend on revelation as Christians - and if that revelation tells us that he orders events but holds us accountable for our choices, we ought to assume that he’s not stupid or morally confused. Likewise if he says that he created the ostrich whose phylogenetic history we might uncover (or knit us together, come to that, though we’ve studied embryology and developmental biology).

More subtly “determinism” deals with a linear causal chain. Laplace, reckoning with neither chaos nor quantum theory, saw that chain stretching unbroken through all events, and inevitably (it seems to me) that makes both for a rigid universe and one bereft of any sense of moral liberty.

Not so with God, who stands alongside but apart from the causal chain - his sustaining of the Universe moment by moment has sometimes (by orthodox folk like the Greek Orthodox or Jonathan Edwards) been seen as a re-creation moment by moment (yet avoiding occasionalism). But in more classical formulations, he nevertheless has a subtle and sovereign interaction with every event, including the lawlike, the chaotic and the “indeterminate”, as well as the morally free choices of rational creatures.

Some such formulation is the basis of any robust concept of a personal, imminent, God - and certainly of the God of the Bible, who both predicts and controls in unfathomable ways the (chaotic) weather systems; the cast of the lot and the flight of the random arrow; the locust swarm and the marauding beast; the sudden plague and the prosperous harvest; the hearts of kings and the history of kingdoms; the call of prophets and messiahs from the womb; the free decisions of Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, of Nebuchadnessar to destroy Judah, of wicked men to betray Jesus, etc etc (to include as near as dammit pretty well every propositional statement made about God in the Scriptures).

It is only that which makes intercessory prayer anything more than a psychological trick, and God’s promises anything other than empty words. hence the importance of thinking through examples like mine of the virally-unpublished Romans - and yours of the unfortunate failure of all salvation history in the face of Abraham’s preferring to party in Ur. Thinking of Abraham I once did a rewrite of part of Genesis that speaks to that and may give food for thought to some.


Jon Garvey - #77883

March 27th 2013

Merv

I see I failed to deal adequately with your “reductionism” challenge. It is, of course, quite possible that God works top-down, in the sense that he wills for Paul to be born, become an apostle, and write Romans, with details like pathogenic viruses falling into line as a matter of creaturely compliance. But, of course, that does not mean the tiny details are beyond his control, because they might still produce chaotic effects both scientifically and soteriologically.

A parallel might be that in typing this I primarily engage myself with thoughts - the words themselves follow naturally, and I don’t consider my muscles and their individual action potentials at all. That doesn’t make them irrelevant - merely subservient.

But my “delegation of the details” is, essentially, because of my human limitations. If I had to move muscles individually I might as well forget about rational discussion. But although Darwin, amongst others, considered the detailed fate of an insect to be beneath God’s dignity, what limitation does he have to acting completely holistically? Why should he either build up the big picture from details or make policy decisions and leave the details to subsystems? If your or GJDS’s team might study individual raindrops to fit them into a coherent picture of the cosmos, there would seem no valid reason to limit God’s concerns at either end of the scale.

One thing I do conclude - there is nothing in this universe that I might concern myself with that God wouldn’t concern himself with more. That seems self-evident.


GJDS - #77899

March 27th 2013

Agreed


Merv - #77897

March 27th 2013

I agree that God is not limited on either end of our spectrum.  If one thing has nearly consistently floundered historically, it would seem to be our imposition of our own engineering sensibilities onto our own sense of who God should be.  We would never attend to such and such ...   therefore God would never do that either.  Or we would have done xyz if we were in charge, therefore any sensible Creator should also have done it that way also.

That attitude has probably propelled more people down the path away from theism than nearly anything else in recent centuries.

-Merv


Jon Garvey - #77906

March 28th 2013

Merv

The key here seems to be the rise of what some call theistic personalism (link to review by Catholic Thomist Ed Feser), which if I’m not mistaken arises ultimately from the univocity approach of Duns Scotus, which was covered in an excellent essay by Mark Noll on BL here. It’s that as opposed to classical theism - which is essentially what we’ve been discussing in the last few posts.

The underlying point is that what seems on the surface to be a dispute about science in relation to God is actually a very fundamental difference of understanding about the nature of God, which amongst other things will govern how God and science relate, and in the end (though of lesser importance in the scheme of things) how one thinks about science.

Since theistic personalism had become the dominant theology of the Enlightenment, it also became the framework in which evolution was discussed from the very start, even by the agnostics and atheists of Darwin’s time - it was that kind of God they didn’t believe in, and that kind of God Paley or Sedgwick believed in, and Darwin couldn’t make up his mind about. It’s that kind of God that gave rise to Creationism, to ID and, to a large extent, to modern “mainstream” theistic evolution, as well as to Dawkins’ straw man deity.

In my view the fact that all those are so often at loggerheads with each other is very largely a direct result of personalism’s weaknesses coming home to roost. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of classical theists in all camps, but it does explain why they have a different take on the issues - and often they don’t realise they’ve got more in common with classical theists in different “culture wars” tribes than with many in their own camps.


Merv - #77911

March 28th 2013

Thanks, Jon, for the excellent link above (the first one—-I haven’t looked at the second essay by Mark Noll yet—I’m sure it’s good as well.)  What Ed Feser wrote regarding William Paley is very interesting—especially in light of the fact that he apparently can’t be accused of befriending Darwinism or rejecting ID.

Regarding ‘theistic personalism’, with Feser’s objections so noted and even agreed with, I still see that the scant definition afforded that phrase in Wikipedia leaves it so open that I can’t see how Christians would stay out from under its umbrella.  To insist that God has ‘personality’ may lead one to all sorts of anthropomorphic error in their conception of God (including Paleyism), to be sure; but it will hardly separate us from solid Biblical company as one reads through passages of God arguing with Abraham over Sodom or suffering the emotional ravages of shepherding his stubborn and wayward people, or running like a delighted father to embrace his returning long lost son.

-Merv


Jon Garvey - #77912

March 28th 2013

Merv

I’m pretty sure the Wiki definition applies to some other iteration of “theistic personalism” altogether, which is why I didn’t cite it for you. The idea Feser is referring to is quite specific, whatever term is used.

The Scotist objections to Aquinas and classical theism were, as far as I understand, deep and scholastically philosophical and are therefore probably impossible to determine finally. But the aspect that has gained “neotheism” traction in popular religion is a gut reaction that God must be a “real person” as per your post, and not a “cold fish” as they falsely perceive the alternative to teach.

I’m trying to work on a blog about that imminently, and I may post to that here if it seems to turn out helpful.


Jon Garvey - #77913

March 28th 2013

Merv - try this.


Merv - #77925

March 28th 2013

Thanks, Jon.  So would you say all the scriptural precedants for us to relate to God in such human ways are God’s accommodation to humanity because we know of no other way to “have relationship”?  God is obviously pleased when “the clay” does talk to him—even asking or demanding things with child-like faith.  Perhaps we just need to relate to Him, always keeping in sight our context of humility (we are mere clay in the potter’s hands) so that we can eventually get back to saying “thy will be done” and being at peace to the extent we are granted that.

-Merv


GJDS - #77946

March 29th 2013

Jon and Merv, 

I am intrigued by the notion of a personalised God and the meanings found in parables – I tend to agree and disagree with both of your comments, and in support of this, I mention the parable in Math 21:33-46. If I personalise this, I am left with a view that God cared more about receiving the rent from these people than caring for, and protecting, His servants (who the rebellious tenants beat up and killed rather than pay the rent) and He even let them kill His son, before He decided to act against them. Yet we understand the message in the parable as showing how the Jews dealt with the prophets and finally with the Son of God.

This parable shows that we may get into a muddle if we personalise God within parables; yet there are numerous passages that talk of the care and concern that God has for us (even sending His Son amongst us), which surely personalises God in a profound way. I gues we may argue the point, but my suggestion is that our ‘personalised’ outlook is via the Holy Spirit bringing us insights about God the Father and the Son, while our human understanding can easily get us into a muddle.


Jon Garvey - #77965

March 29th 2013

Merv

I can’t fault that as a spiritual lesson - we’re called to depend on God in all things, just as Jesus did ... and this day of all days is the demonstration of that.

Intellectually, maybe one needs to add more nuance - your first sentence almost conjures an image of an alien intelligence talking down to us in condescending pidgin (like Weston in Lewis’s *Silent Planet* if you’ve read that: “Why you take our puff-bangs away? We very angry with you. We not afraid.”)

But we’re really talking about our maker, who created us expressly for communion with him (another problem I have with the idea of God picking up on the end-rproduct of an autonomous evolution). So the communication is real, even if accommodated to our human capacity, which means we can take God’s love as real love, his wrath as real wrath etc - whilst guarding against going beyond what is revealed to bring him down to our own level. “He is Yahweh - he will do what seems good to him.” “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”

Have a good Easter!


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