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Evolution, the Enlightenment, and Worldviews

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February 8, 2013 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's video features N.T. Wright. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In the video above, N.T. Wright discusses how the Enlightenment worldview -- which clearly separates God from the world -- has impacted our view of Scripture, and why cleaning the "spectacles" through which we view the world can help us see both Scripture and the world more clearly. In contrast to the Enlightenment, most other worldviews present a more fluid and messy interrelationship between God and the world. According to Wright, we need to learn how to navigate this fluid, messy relationship in order to learn how to read the Bible.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

N.T. Wright is a leading biblical scholar, former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and current Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of St Andrews. He studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and was ordained at Merton College, Oxford. Wright holds a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford University in addition to several honorary doctorates. Wright has also written over fifty books, including the multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God and his two most recent books Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters and How God Became King.

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Bilbo - #76590

February 14th 2013

In a deterministic universe, one can understand how God could front-load all desired events into the initial Big Bang.  In an indeterministic universe, such as the one that most physicists tell us that we live in, if God wants very detailed events to happen at the molecular level, then I see no other alternative than for God to make those specific events occur.  Now whether we want to call this “intervention” , or if we prefer saying that God made certain events happen differently than He usually made them happen doesn’t really matter to me.  The point is that BioLogos and Roger don’t think that God needs to do either in order for the history of evolution to have occurred the way that it did.  And this is the Enlightenment view, plain and simple.

If you wish to deny that you hold this view, Roger, please do so, and I’ll withdraw the accusation.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76591

February 14th 2013


I do not believe in a deterministic universe, especially the way it is usually understood.  However certainly God did create the universe, which means God gave the universe the structure that it has.  God also created us and basically made us the people who we are.  That in my understanding does not mean that God micromanages the universe.  Certainly God influences the words I am writing right now, but God does not dictate these words.  

On the other hand while the universe is not determined, it is not micromanged, it is managed and it does have purpose and meaning.  Now exactly how God does this is beyond me and I expect beyond the understanding of all people. 

I have given one explanation concerning the Logos and ecological evolution, which no one wants to seriously consider, but that is their problem, not mine. 

Yes, I believe that God created through the Big Bang just as John 1 says and God the Father and the Son continue to create and sustain the universe just as Jesus said in John 5:17 says.

Did God time an astroid hit and other events to finish off the dinosaurs so mammals could flourish?  I do not know for sure, but quite possibly.  When? How? Who knows?  Who cares? 

“All things work for good for those who love God,” even those things that happen before they love God.  This is not an accident, but is it planned or is it the result of God’s love which “overcomes a multitude of sins?”      

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76611

February 15th 2013


Bilbo accused me of having an Enlightment position because he said that I thought that the idea of God intervening in evolution is repugnant.  I think that Bilbo is ID and he was accusing me of being Darwinist.  Again if you have a problem with identifying intervention with ID I think you need to talk to Bilbo and not me.

Regarding your contrast between ID and Logos-theology, Bill Dembski, a leading ID theorist, would beg to differ; he thinks that ID is easily translatable into such a theology, and vice versa.

As I tried to say, I am not opposed to ID per se.  I disagree with how they present and defend their position.  If Bill Dembski thinks that Logos-theology translates to ID fine, let him or you or someone else do so and we can talk.

I want to know what you think on this issue and not someone else.  If ID wants to accept my position as an ID position, that is fine with me.  Just don’t put words in my mouth and thoughts in my brain like Bilbo did.     

Do you think that Logos theology calls for the clear separation between God and Nature? 

Eddie - #76615

February 15th 2013

The point is that your writing was sufficiently unclear that a reader could not tell whether you were (a) rejecting Bilbo’s argument that you agreed with the Enlightenment, but accepting his characterization of ID, or (b) rejecting Bilbo’s argument that you agreed with the Enlightenment, and also rejecting his characterization of ID.  From the words, it certainly looked as if you were doing (a).

Given what you are now claiming was your meaning, in order to avoid ambiguity, you should have written something like:  “I don’t know whether you are correct to connect ID with the idea of “intervention,” but regarding “intervention,” my view is…”

As for Logos theology, how can you “disagree with how they [ID people] present and defend their position,” if you have not read their position?  Dembski’s remark on the Logos theology is famous:  Google “Dembski” and “Logos” and you’ll find a hundred references to it, e.g.:

“Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.” (“Signs of Intelligence: A Primer on the Discernment of Intelligent Design,” Touchstone Journal, Volume 12, Issue 4, July/August 1999.)

This is one of the most quoted statements ever issued by an ID proponent, and if you have never encountered it before, it is doubtful that you have carefully researched the ID position.

By the way, regarding “intervention,” Dembski is quoted as saying:

“Intelligent design requires neither a meddling God nor a meddled world.”  (The Design Revolution, p. 25)

But back to the Logos:  I have no idea what you understand by Logos theology, since you have not offered any expositio of classic texts on the subject.  From where I sit, Logos theology does not alter the relationship between God and nature; God is still Creator and nature is still creature.  Logos theology pertains to intra-divine dynamics, to what role each of the three Persons plays in the divine activity.  Creation is accomplished through or by (depending on which metaphor you prefer) the Logos; but creation is not identified with the Logos.  It could not possibly be.  What is created—what we call nature or the universe—is tangible and perishable and created; the Logos is intangible and eternal and begotten.  There is therefore a clear separation between God and nature in orthodox Christian theology.  Any blurring between God and nature is heretical.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76616

February 15th 2013


It seems to me that you have an argument with Dr. Wright, because he says that there is no separation between God and nature. 

Are you accusing him of being a heretic?

Eddie - #76617

February 15th 2013

I’m saying that any doctrine that does not clearly distinguish between God and the world, in the sense of making clear the difference between Creator and creature, including the absolute independence of the one and the absolute dependence of the other, is not Christian.

I did not interpret Dr. Wright’s remarks about God’s interaction with the world to entail any blurring of the ontological differences between God and the world.  It is one thing to say that God interacts with the world in close and intimate ways (as opposed to a distant, Deistic way); it is another thing to slip into pantheism or some other non-Christian understanding of the created world as divine or quasi-divine.  I would hope that Dr. Wright, as a clergyman, would not fall into the latter error.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76653

February 16th 2013


The problem is that there can be no meaningful interaction between one who is absolutely independent and one who is absolutely dependent.  Slaves have no rights against their masters.  If they did, they would not be slaves and the master would not be master.

Christians are not called to be slaves of God, but citizens of God’s Kingdom.  Jews and Christians are called to be members of a covenantal community, which means that we are not slaves, but people with rights and responsibilites.

Now your philosophy is based on a Greek dualistic ontology, not a Biblical covenantal theology, which leads you into error.  Jesus Christ could not be completely God and completely Human if being God and human were completely antithetical. 

There are clear similarities between God and humans, because God created humans in God’s image, thus the line between the Creator and created is not absolute.  Indeed both God as Love, and humans as capable of love are both relational, and the whole of Creation as the product of the Logos is relational.

The world is not divine, but has a relational or spiritual component.  The world is not divine, but has a Logical or rational aspect.  The world is not divine, but has an independent or physical aspect.  God is the Source of the universe, but the universe is not an extension of God or of God’s will as your point of view would have it.               

Eddie - #76661

February 16th 2013


My “philosophy” is based not on “Greek dualistic ontology” but on the Bible.

You obviously have not read the story of Abraham.  Abraham understands himself to have no rights against God.  He yields to the demand of God to sacrifice Isaac.  And though God in the end withdraws his demand, the obedience of Abraham—an obedience as absolute as that of a slave to a master—is praised by God.  And Jesus Christ, the perfectly just man, surrenders himself to the violence of unjust men, at the command of God.  He no more wishes to die than Abraham wished to sacrifice his son.  But he goes willingly to his death nonetheless.

You, in typical post-Enlightenment sentimentality about “love,” are softening the Biblical teaching.  Like a child who cannot take the aspirin unless it is crushed up with some sugar, you want your God sweetened. Yet God is Holy and his demands are absolute.

I did not say that God and humanity were completely antithetical.  Insofar as he bears God’s image, man is like God; but insofar as man is creature, he is unlike God.  I merely insisted on an important metaphysical distinction between God and the created world, insisted on equally by all orthodox theologians from the start of the Church.  If Methodists don’t learn that in seminary any more, then shame on the Methodists.

I never denied that the world had a logical or rational aspect.  I never denied that the world was “relational” in the sense of “related to God.”  I can grant both of those things while affirming that the line between Creator and created is “absolute.”  As created, the world is absolutely distinct from God.

Your final comment above is not logically coherent with the rest of your argument.  In the end, you say:  “the universe is not an extension of God or of God’s willl as your point of view would have it.”  I certainly did not say that the universe was “an extension of God,” and if I had, I could not also have said that God and the universe are radically distinct.  Do you exercise even a modicum of logical thought before you write?  If not, do it now:  you slide here from accusing me of a monarchical monotheism to accusing me of pantheism.  So either you wrote incoherently, or you think monarchical monotheism and pantheism are the same.  And if it’s the latter, you have just flunked Religious Studies 101.

Roger, read what people have actually written, and stop reading into their words things they never intended.  And learn the terminology of the tradition before you employ the words in argumentation.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76672

February 16th 2013


Too bad you did not read the story about God telling Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah must be destroyed.  Abraham bargains with God to spare the city even is only 10 righteous people are found there. 

How can a slave bargain with a master?

You say that Abraham obeyed God and was rewarded because he did.  James 2:21-22 says that Abraham was rewarded because he TRUSTED in YHWH, which to me is more accurate.    

In the Semitic tradition there was a tradition of sacrificing the first fruits to God.  That included sacrificing the first born.  Thus Abraham probably expected the call of YHWH to sacrifice his firstborn son, even though it had been promised to him. 

However since Abraham also expected YHWH to keep His promise to give him an heir, he doubtlessly expected YHWH would make things right even if he sacrificed Isaac.  Abraham was rewarded for his faith in God, not because he had no choice, and YHWH fulfilled his faith by not taking Isaac as Abraham hoped. 

Hebrews 11:17-19 says that even if Isaac had died, Abraham expected YHWH would resurrect Isaac to keep the promise of an heir.

When Jesus said, “Not by My will, but Your will be done!,” was He acting as a slave who had no choice, or as the Son in love and trust?

Eddie - #76676

February 16th 2013

The point is that both Abraham and Jesus were willing to give up everything they had, for no other reason than that God commanded it.  They didn’t sit down and argue that they would only obey God if they thought his commands were reasonable or good or just by human standards.  And Abraham didn’t say:  “I’ll do anything you say, God, except give up the son whom I need to have the descendants you promised me, which are my right as part of the covenant between us; I’m not your slave, I’m your covenant partner.”  Abraham gave unconditional obedience.

Yes, I know the Sodom and Gomorrah story.  In fact, I have translated it from the Hebrew.  And yes, Abraham bargained with God.  But if God had told him in no uncertain terms that he would brook no more discussion, Abraham would have gone silent.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76673

February 16th 2013

Eddie wrote:

I certainly did not say that the universe was “an extension of God,” and if I had, I could not also have said that God and the universe are radically distinct.

Just because something is radically distinct does not mean tha it can be an extension of oneself.  This computer system and the Internet that it is hooked up with are radically  distinct from me.  Yet they are an extension of me as I am able to communicate my thoughts, febble as they might be to you and to others. 

If as you say the universe is absolutely dependent upon God, it must logically be absolutely good because God is perfect and good.  It would an extension of God.  Now it isn’t an extension of God, because your logic is faulty.   

Eddie - #76677

February 16th 2013


I suspect you left out a “not” in your first sentence.

I grant you the point about the computer and the internet.  You are using a different sense of “extension” than what I took you to mean initially.  So let me restate my point with an example:

An elephant’s trunk is an extension of its body.  The natural world is not an extension of God’s body.  Orthodox Christian theology has always understood this difference.

Part of the problem is that you obscure all discussions about creation and nature with your liberal democratic polemic against the “monarchical” conception of God, which you clearly despise.  But the monarchical conception is in the Bible from start to finish.  God’s rule over the created order is total.

And if you respond, yes, but humans have free will—I grant it.  God does not coerce the will.  But he still gets the results he wants, over the long run.  And non-human things—what power do they have to resist God’s will?  Can you give me an example of when a wind, a lightning bolt, a protein, a comet, has been able to resist God’s will?

Apparently you think it is a bad thing that God imposes his will on nature.  In that you agree with some of the TEs.  But God is not required, in order to respect human free will, to respect the free will of molecules and asteroids.  This is what Jon Garvey has been saying over and over again, but no TE on the planet will answer him, even though a good number of them have invoked human free will in order to hint strongly that God does not control all evolutionary outcomes because that would be a tyrannical violation of nature’s freedom.

Your own contributions here add to the theoretical murkiness, by giving the impression that nature and God blur into each other and that God does not rule nature as something distinct from himself.  And no great Christian theologian—not even your Wesley—has ever held such a view.  You are inventing your own personal Christian theology here, Roger, and Jon Garvey and I aren’t buying.  Nor will any orthodox Christian of any stripe.

Merv - #76691

February 16th 2013

Eddie wrote:  

But God is not required, in order to respect human free will, to respect the free will of molecules and asteroids.  This is what Jon Garvey has been saying over and over again, but no TE on the planet will answer him, even though a good number of them have invoked human free will in order to hint strongly that God does not control all evolutionary outcomes because that would be a tyrannical violation of nature’s freedom.

I wonder if there isn’t some “figurative speech miscommunication” involved in this perception.  TEs do refer to such freedom, but I don’t invest much confidence in it as any kind of technical claim—not least because of the difficulty of defining freedom in the human sense much less what sort of “freedom” non-living things could be said to have.  Nor do I think the TEs using the phrase have invested much in saying it, and should probably rephrase their claim if they were aware of people stumbling over the comparison.  The essential understanding they are attempting to convey is probably just this:  Nature is astoundingly (even dependably) regular in how it behaves so far as we can see.  So if God has nature depart from that regularity, He apparently doesn’t do it very often (or at least not in any way that we can frequently observe).  So in that sense ... nature seems mostly “free” to keep doing what it does…. which is a trivial claim in the extreme, and yet even so will still be packaged with the ‘mostly’ caveat by TEs around here I imagine.  

If any balk at that characterization, feel free to pop in and correct.  


Eddie - #76708

February 17th 2013

Merv (Part 1 of 2):

As always, I appreciate your gentle and constructive approach.

There is some evidence— some —that the use of “freedom” can be explained by linguistic confusion.  In one exchange I witnessed—I can’t even remember now where it was, or who the questioner was, or whether it was with Darrel Falk or Dennis Venema—in which, when the notion of “freedom” was objected to, the TE involved said more or less what you’ve suggested—“Well, I didn’t actually mean ‘freedom’ in that way ...”  But then, the logical question is:  “For the love of Pete, if that isn’t what you meant, then why did you use the word?  If all that you meant was “God does not interfere with the natural laws that he has established,” then why didn’t you say that?  Everyone would have known what you meant then.”

Natural laws in fact produce the opposite of “freedom” for the bodies and entities that they govern.  They do not liberate things; they bind them.  Gravity and inertia keep the Moon in orbit; the Moon is not “free” to go where it wants (supposing it could want anything).  Electrical attraction compels an electron to leap from one atom to another.  It is not as if the electron is being given a choice to leap or not leap.  To say, therefore, that by not “intervening” God gives nature its “freedom” is contrary to normal usage in a way that produces not merely verbal but substantial confusion.

Further, it also suggests the very Deist notion that the TEs are always lambasting the ID people for allegedly harboring:  if God “leaves nature to its freedom,” that suggests the “normal case” of a self-running nature, a nature not “interfered with” by God except for special revelatory purposes —which is exactly the notion of nature that so many BioLogos columnists have rejected, because, according to them, if fails to acknowledge that God acts everywhere and always, and in a positive way, not merely in the aloof way of setting a machine in motion.  Not “nature left to its freedom” but “God active in the normal course of nature” is what the TEs are, in accord with their own lectures to ID people, supposed to be endorsing. 

In short, this language of “the freedom of nature” produces intellectual hash, and confusion for the reader.  And, given that the philosophical and theological tradition of discourse about God and nature already offers non-confusing alternatives to this language, why use it?



Eddie - #76710

February 17th 2013

Merv (Part 2 of 2):

Now, it could be that the TEs who use this confusing expression are simply inept at philosophical and theological exposition.  After all, many of them have spent their academic lives in labs, not writing essays, and for many of them, systematic thinking about general notions such as freedom, law, necessity, contingency, teleology, etc. has never even been attempted, or was attempted maybe in a long-forgotten undergrad  elective in philosophy.  But I think it is more than that.  I think there is a very real theological agenda in the language of freedom.

When answering the question whether or not God determined that the evolutionary process would produce certain results, many TEs show a sudden tensing, a sudden resistance.  And they begin to talk about “free will.”  Why, the puzzled onlooker asks, is the TE suddenly talking about free will?  We are talking about whether atoms and nucleotides and muscles and organs, not human wills, are being compelled to transform in certain directions.  Human free will is not undermined even if God micromanages every single event in the universe up to the creation of man— as long as man is, at his creation, endowed with free will.  But this argument is offered to the TEs in question to no avail.  It does not cause them to relax and say “Oh, then I guess fixed outcomes for the evolutionary process are OK.”  Instead, they raise further objections.  If they are Ken Miller, they talk about how God is not a “tyrant” and gives nature a co-creative freedom, or how God treats nature like a loving child, meant not to realize a plan of the parents but to have its own autonomy.  If they are Darrel Falk or Dennis Venema, they raise up the spectre of Calvin vs. Wesley, as if an evolutionary process with fixed goals would be offensive to the “Wesleyan” emphasis on freedom of the will.

The latter line of argument invokes a misconception of traditional Wesleyan teaching.  Wesley’s overall view on creation was identical to Calvin’s.  Wesley did not entertain for a minute the notion that nature had any “freedom” to be violated when God shaped it to his ends; and if Wesley could have been persuaded to accept evolution, he would have assumed that the evolutionary process was such that matter had no choice but to evolve into the things ordained in advance by God.

These reactions indicate some sort of deep romance of certain TEs with a notion of “freedom”—that not only human beings but even inanimate matter must be “free”; Christianity is, many say, pre-eminently a religion of “freedom” of “creativity” etc.  I would submit that this emphasis on the freedom of individuals (including individual stones and atoms and genomes and amoebas etc.) in relation to God is yet another feature of TE which can be chalked up to the Enlightenment and its departure from Biblical understanding, since in the Bible, freedom, while a good, is nowhere near the master good.  Far more important, to name just one example, is obedience.  And if we made obedience, rather than freedom, the model for nature’s relationship to God’s creative activity in evolution, we would envision evolutionary outcomes quite differently.

Jon Garvey and I have been complaining about this for month after month.  We get no responses.  And I’m puzzled.  In the theological circles I usually travel in (quite remote from the ASA, BioLogos, etc.), everyone finds these matters quite straightforward.  I cannot grasp why the TEs seem to go out of their way to make simple matters complex and clear thoughts into muddled ones.  God is in control of the outcomes of creation —that’s not some partisan Calvinistic doctrine, but standard Christian theology since the Bible and the Church Fathers.  And it doesn’t matter whether God created by direct fiat or through a process of evolution, he still has to be in control of the outcomes—or he is not the Biblical or traditional Christian God, but a God of process theism or open theism or something else.

Merv - #76714

February 17th 2013

You [Eddie] wrote that Wesley would not have entertained any idea of nature having freedom, and you later write, “God is in control of the outcomes of creation…”, and that this is a mainstream traditional Christian doctrine.

I think I’m pretty much in agreement with all this.  And even so, I must admit that I wrestle with the notion of God ‘predetermining’ everything (not just our ultimate salvation status, but every last little event everywhere), and this struggle of mine against this notion is not fueled by anything scientific, but entirely by theology and Scriptural understanding.  All the passages about God being in charge (sovereign) over things both big and small are indisputably clear both in old and new testaments, and yet we as humans are implored still to “choose life” or “do good to all ...”  again both in old and new testaments.   Nowhere do we read “well, I would tell you to not worship other gods and to look after the poor and so forth, but it won’t make any difference because I [God] have mapped out your life for you anyway and you’re already going to do (and not do) a whole lot of this stuff anyway—because I’m making you do everything you do.”   No—instead of that we get Scriptures saturated with exhortations for us to be obedient, and to choose to follow God (at the very least ‘as if’ we could make real choices.)  If this is all clear and sorted out among everybody except TEs, then I’m dying to know what these ‘clear’ answers are because I don’t see Scriptures (taken as a whole) offering any on this question.  I certainly accept free will for humans because it would be pretty depressing not to, not to mention ignoring the multitude of passages calling us to make real choices.

My take on the TE reticence that you observe is that they themselves have been all too preconditioned to anticipate where an argument is going whenever somebody begins to speak of God controlling evolution—they think to themselves:  “Oh here it comes ... now science is going to be enlisted to demonstrate some alleged deficiency in natural processes to account for an observeable living process, and this will be showcased as proof for God as the intervener who must step in and make it happen.”  And their mental reflexes go rigid even if the proponent showing such deficiencies was only trying to make a case that natural selection and ‘unguided’ randomness must be getting help from other as yet unknown mechanisms (or designers!).  By the way I totally accept that latter conjecture.  I balk whenever I hear presumably secular narrators say things like “...and natural selection accounts for all this…” as if they have just explained everything with that one concept.  Even if I didn’t have any additional mechanisms to postulate about I would still be a skeptic about their claim to complete and exclusive  allegiance to this one mechanism, so I’m guessing I’m with you on that.  But it seems to me that the TE over-reaction has not been entirely unearned.  There is considerable historical inertia for intelligent people jumping on one or another amazing phenomena as the missing evidence needed to finally get through to stubborn atheists, and of that evidence then evaporating as time goes on. So surely TEs can be forgiven for remaining skeptical of the whole enterprise to begin with?  —-not skeptical about faith aspects or God, but skeptical about our ability to get a scientific handle on all these things.


Eddie - #76726

February 17th 2013


You wrote:

“And even so, I must admit that I wrestle with the notion of God ‘predetermining’ everything (not just our ultimate salvation status, but every last little event everywhere), and this struggle of mine against this notion is not fueled by anything scientific, but entirely by theology and Scriptural understanding….”

Believe me, I am sympathetic to your concerns in your paragraph.  If I had to choose between the stereotypes of the “Calvinist” and the “Arminian” positions, as they are usually presented, in their historically inaccurate forms (since it turns out that the differences between the view of Calvin and Arminius are not as great as popular notions makes them out to be), I would side with the Arminians.  But even in the crudest, most extreme version of Arminianism, it was always freedom of the human will the Arminians were fighting for, not the freedom of sub-human nature.

Thus, it drives me crazy when I see TEs, when they are supposed to be answering a questions about God’s control over nucleotides in the evolutionary process, start mumbling a vague argument to the effect that he wouldn’t have controlled such details, or he would be violating the “freedom” of nature, and in the same post adding a remark to the effect:  “I’m not a Calvinist” or “I’m an Arminian”—as if their position on Calvin versus Arminius has anything to do with the point being debated!  Such remarks reveal either subtle intellectual dishonesty, in trying to dodge certain conclusions by introducing an illegitimate context, or they reveal incompetence in systematic theology.  As I don’t like to accuse TEs of dishonesty, I’d prefer to believe the latter; it would not be surprising if someone who had spent most of his waking hours for 30 years studying cells and population genetics equations and the like was not the subtlest or most accurate of theologians.  But in the  latter case, then at least such TEs could accept correction from someone who does understand the theological tradition, instead of digging in their heels and repeating an inadequate defense.  But you can show them texts and say, until you are blue in the face, “I’m sorry, but that’s NOT the Wesleyan tradition ...” and it doesn’t make a blessed bit of difference.  Not the historical Wesley, but the Wesley of their imagination, is in charge of their theological thinking.

I’ve found this over and over again with TEs.  They attack natural theology, bad-mouthing it as a great mistake made by Paley and others who were (so the TEs say) too much under the spell of the Enlightenment understanding of nature and God, and then you show them a passage from Calvin—who was certainly no toady of the Enlightenment—which clearly endorses natural theology, and they go dead silent.  No attempt to refute the interpretation, or explain the passage by other means; nor on the other hand, is there any concession of the point.  There is just dead silence.  Or they say something foolish about providence, and you show what it wrong with it, and they go silent.  No refutation, no quoting from classical statements in the theological tradition, no further discussion; and no concession of the point.  Just dead silence.

I get the very strong impression that a certain theological position has a hold on many of the leading TEs, and it is not negotiable for them, and therefore examining its foundations is just too painful and difficult an exercise for them.  But if we are to seriously assess whether or not evolution can be put together with orthodox Christian theology, understanding just what orthodox Christian theology teaches is essential, and that means that these textual discussions just can’t be brushed aside.

Merv - #76716

February 17th 2013

addendum to our thoughts above…

It has also occurred to me how presumptuous we are when we lightly use words like “mostly” or “frequently” or “infrequently” in regard to how often it is that God steers some natural phenomenon in a different way than we would expect.  Of all the observeable events that occur and have occured in our universe, the ones that were under our direct scientific scrutiny (so that we could ‘catch God in the act’, so to speak) are such an infinitesimally small portion, that any declaration we may give about the frequency of such things is like a search party walking into a palatial mansion, opening the door to one tiny closet, selecting one box from that closet, lifting its lid a bit to peak inside, and then declaring that there is no jewelry anywhere in the mansion because they didn’t find any in the box.

One thing TEs do hammer on that I really appreciate (and agree with) is that God is not uninvolved just because something is following what seems to us to be its natural course (sun rising in the morning).  With God appreciated everywhere in the mansion, it becomes less of an imperative to be sending out search parties all the time to be searching for Him. Perhaps that too can help explain their reluctance to jump on board when somebody seems to be going in the direction of “searching for God’s fingerprints”.  Because, after all, we should be seeing God’s fingerprints everywhere; yes, even on the mosquito and all the diseases it can carry!   Again—not that everyone who challenges the notion that natural selection plus random mutation must be sufficient to account for everything—not that they are trying to turn science into some form of creationism.  I think those challenges ought to be encouraged and discussed within science and even beyond that when they go on into philosophy/theology/religion or things that are well beyond science.  The discussion ought to be robust and encouraged at every level.

-Merv  (ramble #2 for the afternoon)


Eddie - #76727

February 18th 2013


I agree with you that God is not “uninvolved” when nature takes its natural course.  But I must say, it irritates me when TEs make that point over and over again.  I do not know who the target of the observation is.  Are there some YECs, for example, who treat nature a nothing but great mechanical device that keeps on running on its own, unless God breaks in with a Red Sea or a Resurrection incident?  If so, maybe that remark needs to be heard by such YECs.  But the ID people I have met (and I’ve had the good fortune to meet a number of them, including some of the leaders, and, taken overall, a very fine bunch of Christians and human beings they are) don’t think of nature in that way.  They certainly believe that God is involved in what we call “natural” events—sustaining them with his eternal power and wisdom and so on.  They certainly believe that God is present to all natural events, witnessing them and presiding over them with loving care—not that God is off on the beach somewhere, soaking up the sun, while some angelic foreman monitors the machines to make sure they are working.  So the little sermon about God’s constant involvement seems unnecessary, from where I sit, and I don’t like hearing it over and over again, from columnists here, or essayists in the ASA journal, etc.  (In saying this I’m not objecting to your making the point here; I’m just remarking on the wearying frequency of it.)

To me, the ID perspective—as a theoretical perspective —ignoring for the moment how certain ID arguments are employed in the culture-war arena—is best seen in the second book by Michael Denton, Nature’s Destiny, a book which I wish more TEs would read.  For Denton—who does not endorse miraculous interventions in evolution—we do see God’s fingerprints everywhere—the whole universe is designed from top to bottom.  It is not, for Denton, as if “well, most things could have been created by accident, but that feature of nature required design”—he sees the whole universe as a seamless unity, with the design in one part absolutely necessary to all the other parts.  

I think, on this point, that the TE critics of ID—who have frequently on this site and elsewhere argued as if ID people think that God really needed to design and execute only a few things, and chance and necessity could have produced the rest—have mistaken an argumentative strategy of ID for the ID theoretical position.  As an argumentative strategy, it makes perfect sense to concentrate on a few things that, it seems, had to have been designed—couldn’t have come about by solely chemical or biological randomness etc.  For if even one such case stands, then the neo-Darwinian narrative becomes at least partly false.  But to say:  “I can show that A, B, and C were designed” does not imply “D through Z are not designed.”  It may be that they were all designed as well, but that there is at present no formal argument to demonstrate it.  And indeed, I suspect that if you go through the writings and personal faith statements of a good number of the leading ID figures, you will find indications that they think that much more in the universe was designed than the bacterial flagellum, and that some of them suspect that every last hair on a donkey’s back is designed—even if no scientific argument for that claim is available.

Based on this and other examples, it seems to me that there is a kind of willingness, on the part of some TEs (I don’t mean you) to understand the ID position in the worst possible light, and very little effort by those TEs to imaginatively project themselves inside the ID proponent’s mind and try to see how the ID view, interpreted charitably, might actually be a sensible one, and might actually be in more agreement with TE than they previously suspected.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76721

February 17th 2013

Eddie wrote:

The point is that both Abraham and Jesus were willing to give up everything they had, for no other reason than that God commanded it.

That is no really true.  First of all, as a Christian, you need to think like a Christian, which means trinitarianly.  We have God the Son communicating with God the Father.  God does not command God to do anything.  

Second, Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” (Mt 26:39)  Jesus was not arguing about the goal of His life, but if there just might be another way of achieving that goal.  What He was accepting is God the Father’s judgement that the Crucifixion was the only way as difficult as it was.  How can God die?

Third, do you really think that God wanted Abraham to kill Isaac?  Particularly, because in the end God spared Isaac’s life.  Maybe Abraham knew that God did not want him to kill Isaac, which is what Hebrews suggests.  Did God promise Abraham a son only to take that son away from him?  Is that the kind of God you believe in?  And if not, is that the God that Abraham believed in?  

As I said, Jesus and Abraham obeyed God because 1) They knew that God (the Father) knew better than they and 2) they knew tha God (the Father) cared for their well being.  This is not blind obedience as you are trying to say, this is rational understanding and obedience. 

 And yes, Abraham bargained with God. But if God had told him in no uncertain terms that he would brook no more discussion, Abraham would have gone silent.

You said that God is absolutely independent of the universe and the universe is absolutely dependent on God.  The best synonyms for absolutely are totally or completely.  Absolute allows for no exception.  As a philosopher you know this.

If God had decided to destroy Sodom and Gommorah and all their inhabitants, how could God be persuaded to change the divine Will if God’s Will was truly absolutely independent af all things human? 

Absolute does not mean that Abraham can bargain with God if God allows it.  Absolute means that Abraham cannot bargain with God, no exceptions. 

Absolute independence means that God carries does whatever God does without any reference to human beings and our universe.  If humans disobey God, that is fall into sin, then we need to be eliminated, for that is what we deserve.     

If humans are totally dependent upon God, this means means that people cannot do  anything unless God initiates it.  This is not how Christians think.  We do agree that the unieverse is dependent upon God, which means that nothing can happen unless God ALLOWS it, which is very different.   

God is not absolutely independent of the universe.  God is Love which means that God is interdependent with God’s people and God universe. 

People are created in God’s Image, so we are not absolutely dependent on God, not because we are so good or powerful, but because God is so good and powerful and wise.         

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Eddie - #76729

February 18th 2013

Roger, you wrote:

“That is no[t] really true.  First of all, as a Christian, you need to think like a Christian, which means trinitarianly.  We have God the Son communicating with God the Father.  God does not command God to do anything.”

This is a very grave misunderstanding of the Trinity.  It smacks of Docetism.  Christ was not only God, but also man—wholly man.  That is the classical Christian understanding.  And insofar as Christ was wholly man, he could receive divine commands, and obey them.  And it was his job to be wholly obedient to God, as Abraham etc. had been.

The story of Gethesemane makes it clear that Christ did not relish the mission he was assigned.    And while Abraham does not speak to us about his feelings, it is very unlikely that he relished sacrificing Isaac, either.  But he was willing to do it, if God insisted.  Not my will, but they will, be done.  That is the Christian teaching.  If I were a pastor, I would preach on that sentence over and over again, because it is something that modern Christianity, in its love affair with rights and freedoms and creativity and self-actualization, needs to be reminded of.

No, I do not think that God wanted Abraham to kill Isaac, and only the most careless and/or unsympathetic reading of my post could have led to that question.  If God had wanted Abraham to kill Isaac, he would have had Abraham go through with it.  But he did not.  The point is that Abraham was willing to do it—even at the cost of his promised inheritance.

Abraham doesn’t even try to plead with God:  “But God, if I kill Isaac, I will not have the descendants you promised me, and therefore you will be in violation of our covenant” which on your interpretation (he was a partner, not a slave) he should logically have done.  He put obedience to God ahead even of his covenantal “rights.”  

So I reject your argument based on “covenant.”  Yes, there was a covenant, but Abraham did not become the model of supreme faithfulness by insisting upon his covenantal rights. 

Abraham’s action in Genesis 22 is the paradigm of obedience.  And the similarities between the story of Christ and the sacrifice of Isaac are not merely coincidental.

And if in the case of human life, the supreme acts of the Bible are acts of obedience, how much more so must natural objects, having no free will by which they could defy God, obey his will?  And if that is the case, why are so many TEs unwilling to say that God directs the evolutionary process to certain ends?  Why do they constantly hint that maybe God didn’t intend all the results, maybe he would have been satisifed with a smarter porpoise as his image-bearer, maybe he valued the “creative freedom” of nature to “do its own thing” above the obedience of nature to his will?  Why does the very idea of a divine Will which make demands on creation—human and non-human—rub so many TEs the wrong way?  What do they dislike about authority and obedience?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76722

February 17th 2013

Eddie wrote:

An elephant’s trunk is an extension of its body. The natural world is not an extension of God’s body. Orthodox Christian theology has always understood this difference.

An elephant’s trunk is part of its body, not an extension.  If an elephant grips a stick with its trunk, and uses it to knock down a fruit out of a tree, the stick would be an extension of its body. 

What you are saying by usiing the word absolute is that the world is an extension of God’s Will.  If the universe is absolutely dependent on God and God is absolutely independet of the universe, it means that communication can go only one way, from God to the universe, and thus the universe is absolutely the product of God’s will.  

Apparently you think it is a bad thing that God imposes his will on nature. In that you agree with some of the TEs. But God is not required, in order to respect human free will, to respect the free will of molecules and asteroids. 

Clearly you are mistaken.  Clearly you have no idea what I think, because I know that God manage and control nature.  You are so caught up in your dualistic point of view that you are unwilling to consider a view of reality different from your own.

The issue with both humans and nature is their God given integrity.  God made humans in God’s image.  God respects the integrity God gave us. 

God created the universe and recognized it as good.  If it is not good, if it is not right, then God would need to start all over again.  However since the universe is good, its goodness needs to be respected.  Yes, the universe needs to be redeemed from sin, but this is the fault of humans, not of the universe.

Your own contributions here add to the theoretical murkiness, by giving the impression that nature and God blur into each other and that God does not rule nature as something distinct from himself. 

Well, first of all, if you read the essay above, N. T. Wright, a very distinguished theologian, wrote that ther is no separation between God and Nature.  I responded that there is separation, but no total, absolute separation.  Your argument is with Wright, not with me. 

I agree that God does rule nature as something distinct from God.  The question is how does God rule nature, directly or indirectly.  If God rules the universe directly, there would be no sin in the universe, nothing which is outside of the Will of God.  However this is  your position as I understand it.  Please correct me if I’m wrong.                 

Eddie - #76728

February 18th 2013


Let’s not quarrel over the meaning of the word “extension.”  Yes, I grant you that the trunk is part of the elephant’s body, but note that it can “extend” to different lengths beyond the body.  And a car’s antenna is part of your car, but it can “extend” upwards to catch radio signals.  What I meant was that God’s divinity does not “extend” outside himself like a trunk or an antenna; it does not extend to include Arcturus and Mars and a granite block and a tumbleweed.  These things are not part of God’s body; they are not divine, or part of the deity.  (That is why, in the Bible, the worship of them is forbidden.)  They are creatures of the deity.  In that sense, nature is separate from God.

That does not mean there is no interaction between nature and God.  I am separate from my wife, my friends, etc.; that does not mean there is no interaction between me and other people.  I never argued that God and nature are in hermetically sealed compartments and have nothing to do with each other.  But you have, throughout most of this discussion—until your very last paragraph above—failed to concede to me a very simple point—one which would be insisted upon by all the mainstream theologians—that God and the world are distinct, that the one is divine and the other not divine, the one eternal and the other perishable, the one Creator and the other creature.  There is an ontological gulf between the two.  But a gulf does not preclude all communication.  It means only that the communication that takes place will be of the kind appropriate to two entities that are so ontologically different.

I hope we can now agree at least on what I have written above.

Merv - #76723

February 17th 2013

Roger, I think you’re misunderstanding Wright’s objection to the enlightenment notion that would separate God and nature.   Those of the enlightenment period embraced any sort of materialistic claim or process so long as it made no reference to God.  In this way it attempted to make all nature self-referential and independent of God or any notion of God.  Wright is right to object to this, of course.  And to embrace instead the Christian notion of a God that is intimately present with all of His creation should not be mistaken for a claim that nature is God.  When Paul says in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the Love of God, he isn’t claiming then that everything *IS* God’s love—only that we should not view ourselves as *separated* from it.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #76733

February 18th 2013

Merv and Eddie,

I think that you are caught up in the dualistic nature of Western thought.  If there are only two kinds of Reality, God and Nature, then it follows that each excludes the other.  But this is not true.

Instead there are three kinds of reality, the physical, the rational, and the spiritual.  God is primarily the spiritual, nature is primarily the physical, and humanity is primarily the rational.  Thus all three art triune and all three can work together.

Merv, thank you for bringing up Romans 8, because it is a key passage for this discussion.  Please note that I did not say that I had a problem with what Wright said, but that Eddie had one because eddies thinks that there is an absolute separation between God and humanity.   

Of course Paul is talking about love, the spiritual aspect of reality.  Love unites me and my wife.  Love unites the Church in koinoia/Love.  Love/Holy Spirit unites the Father and the Son, and the Son with the elect, those saved by grace through faith in Jesus in a very special and eternal way, as 1 Cor 13 says, that precludes the absolute dichotomy that Eddie claims is the only orthodox Christian point of view.

Paul is not talking about everyone, Paul is talking about “us.”  That is why it is important for Eddie to know who we are.  His reference point seems to be ontology rather than faith. 

Theology is Faith seeking Understanding, not Understanding seeking to explain Faith.


Eddie - #76736

February 18th 2013


I continue to be astounded by your apparent unwillingness to read carefully and/or and your apparent inability to retain what you have read.

In your most recent reply, immediately above, you write:

“Eddie ... thinks that there is an absolute separation between God and humanity.”

Which is clearly an inaccurate characterization of my view, in light of the careful distinction I made above (76661):

“I did not say that God and humanity were completely antithetical.  Insofar as he bears God’s image, man is like God; but insofar as man is creature, he is unlike God.”

Thus, there is an absolute separation between man and God in some respects; but in other respects, there is a very great closeness between man and God.  

Why do you continue to make statements that greatly oversimplify the views of the people you are conversing with?  

And why do you say silly things such as:  “His reference point seems to be ontology rather than faith?”  It should be clear to you by now that the ontology I’m employing comes from the Bible itself.  The ontology is the rational exposition of the faith, but the faith is the one delivered in the Bible.  It is the Bible, not some philosophy textbook, that teaches the distinction between Creator and creature, and the radical “otherness” of God.  Ontological or metaphysical reflection merely clarifies and exposits in a more panoramic way the implications of the Biblical statements and stories.  

The whole paradox of man is that he is on the one hand part of the created order, and hence infinitely beneath God, and on the other hand the only part of the created order that is in God’s image, and potentially capable of eternal life, and hence has an intimacy with God that is impossible for any other part of nature.  The Bible captures well both the smallness and the greatness of man.  But you insist on emphasizing the greatness rather than the smallness, just as you emphasize the similarity of man to God rather than the difference between man and God.  You tell half the story.  I’m trying to counterbalance that with the other half.

Merv - #76734

February 18th 2013

I think that you are caught up in the dualistic nature of Western thought. 

Could be.  Maybe even probably so.  It’s difficult/impossible for anyone to self-diagnose what sort of philosophy or world-view they have so completely bought into that they can’t even see it because they are too busy being inside it.  

That said, I do believe in the Trinity, Roger.  As does most of Christianity I would think.  But with all due respect to Dorothy Sayers, I don’t press the Trinitarian analogy so far as you seem to want.  I am glad you use the limiting word “primarily” so that you at least aren’t absolute about trying to lock aspects of God into one or another category.

If we want to make our home with analogies for picturing our relationship with God, then we can’t go wrong by using Paul’s picture of us as members of Christ’s body with Christ as  our head.  And the head of Christ is God.  Now Paul could never be accused of saying that any person IS God or even just part of God  (excepting Christ, of course).  So we need not rehash yours and Eddie’s quibble about elephant trunks or sticks.  I think what Eddie and I share a concern about here is that you seem to want to blur God’s identity in with ours.  That “blurring” or merging is appropriate to discuss about Jesus, of course, but is dangerous for us to try to include ourselves in as it verges on idolatry of one of the most seductive kinds:  attempting to deify oneself.   Paul even speaks of Jesus (who did not consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped) as resisting this urge, even though Jesus did not mince words with the Pharisees or his own disciples about just who He was.  If anybody had a claim, it would be Jesus.  But if Jesus wouldn’t leverage that power or identity for his own pleasure, how much less should we think in those terms for ourselves.  For those who want a glimpse of Jesus’ (and therefore God’s) face today, they have only one kind of place they need look:  in the faces of the lowest, most powerless, most oppressed faces to be found in the world today.  And those aren’t likely to be claiming any “God status” for themselves.  But God identifies with them, nonetheless.  I’m not saying you are succumbing to this temptation, Roger.  Only you would know that; but I do acknowledge the difficulty of trying to confidently sort all this out with definitive and confident clarity.   If such certainty existed straight out of Scriptures then the church wouldn’t have been struggling (with some success—-witness the ‘trinity’ doctrine as you well have) to try and get this all clarified over the last couple thousand years.  But anybody who puts themselves forth as now having confidently landed on new, better, or more complete understandings of this (understandings that eluded Luther, Aquinas, Augustine, and indeed beyond what the Scripture writers themselves give us) is going to have a long run ahead to convince anyone that they merit more attention in this than their forebears.


Merv - #76735

February 18th 2013

By the way, Roger, I really like your last line:

Theology is Faith seeking Understanding, not Understanding seeking to explain Faith.

I don’t know if you were quoting someone else there or not.  But I thought that was nicely put.  May use that myself.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #76738

February 18th 2013

Eddie wrote:

This is a very grave misunderstanding of the Trinity. It smacks of Docetism. Christ was not only God, but also man—wholly man. That is the classical Christian understanding. And insofar as Christ was wholly man, he could receive divine commands, and obey them. And it was his job to be wholly obedient to God, as Abraham etc. had been.

You are mistaken again.  Jesus had two natures, both human and divine, but Jesus was One Person.  That means that the two natures acted together, not separately.  If the role of the human nature of Christ was to obey God, was the role of the divine nature of Christ to obey the human nature? 

The two natures of Jesus Christ are strongest evidence against the dualism that you are trying to sell.  There was no inherent conflict between God and humanity in ther Person of Jesus Christ, which means that there is no inherent conflict between God’s Creation and God.  They are distinct, but they are not in conflict.   

Eddie - #76742

February 18th 2013


You argued that Jesus could not be described as obeying a command of God, on the grounds that God could not command God.  That is false, both Biblically and in terms of systematic theology.

Your posts, in line with a good deal of modern “Wesleyan” theology (which often enough isn’t Wesleyan at all), contain a shocking number of heresies and errors.  Please tell me that you no longer operate in any teaching capacity in any Christian church or organization, and that what you write here is nothing more than your own private theological speculation.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76741

February 18th 2013


Theology is Faith seeking Understanding, not Understanding seeking to explain Faith.

The first part of this sentence is taken from Augustine, as most good quotes are.  I suggest you look up the original befire using it yourself. 

As for the second part this is an accusation aimed at persons like Aquinas who seem to depend more on traditional philosophy than the living Bible for our understanding of God. 

Now what you say is true, it is hard to look beyond our traditional world views to see what is true and what is not.  That is primarily in my view why we have the Bible, but of course we interpret the Bible through our world views also.

That is why we need to dig deep into Bible to try to understand what it really says before we began to look at God through Western eyes, which of course are not completely wrong, but are also not completely right either.

Today’s science, as opposed to yesterday’s modern Newtonian science, particularly shows us that the distinctions that we used to make are not as clear as we thought.  We thought that energy and matter were absolutely different, but they are not.  That does not mean that they are the same as many people want to say, but they are not absolutely different. 

Of course some people are still stuck in the Newtonian absolutist scientific world view.  Still others are caught up in the mistaken relativist view, which is maybe your concern about my thinking.  Let me be clear.  The only alternative to dualism is not monistic relativistic thinking.  The triune world view is the road less traveled, but worth the risk.

Eddie’s whole argument is based on the word “absolute,” and the whole concept of modernism is based on “absolutes.”  However absolute in its technical meaning is not a Biblical term, it is a Greek philosophical term.  I do not think thatg it belongs in our theology, pure and simple.

If God like Humans, Eddie says absolutely not, in no way are they similar.  Yet the Bible says that God created humans, both male and female, in God’s own Image. 

Now there are conservative Christains who say that humans lost the Image of God through the Fall.  That is an interesting argument, but not the claim that Eddie makes.  He makes the statement that humans and all creation are absolutely different from God because the universe is absolutely dependent and God is absolutely independent.

Another way of seeing this is, for Eddie the role of humans is to obey God, while for the Biblical perspective the role of humans is to love God, which includes loving one’s self and others.  This of course comes from the Great Commandment which Christianity shares with Judaism, also at the time of Jesus Judaism the Jewish faith has become a legalistic faith which is primarily why most of them rejected Jesus as the Messiah.  

Eddie wants to go back to the old legalistic point of view.  I hope that you want to go with him.  

Jesus did not call on people to obey God or to love God. Jesus called on people to “Repent,” that is to give up their old ways so they could trust completely in God.

I think that Jesus is calling us today to give up our old ways of thinking, so we can trust completely in God and follow God’s Triune Way as revealed in Jesus Christ.  Try it.  You might like it.



Eddie - #76745

February 18th 2013

Roger wrote to Merv:

’ the whole concept of modernism is based on “absolutes.” ‘

Dubious.  Provide quotations from major “modernist” writers, please.

“absolute in its technical meaning is not a Biblical term, it is a Greek philosophical term.”

The word “absolute” comes from Latin, not Greek.  Its earliest known English usage is 14th century.

“I[s] God like Humans, Eddie says absolutely not, in no way are they similar.”

This is either an out-and-out prevarication, or a statement which shows a lower-than-high-school reading comprehension level.  I explicitly granted that man is similar to God, and I’ve said it more than once.

“He makes the statement that humans and all creation are absolutely different from God because the universe is absolutely dependent and God is absolutely independent.”

I did not argue that the dependence of the universe upon God meant that nothing in the universe was similar to God in any respect.  That is Roger’s misconstrual.  I can build a computer that will play chess in my own style; the computer is therefore like me; yet it is absolutely dependent upon me, because I called it into existence and can wipe it out of existence at any time; whereas I have no similar dependence upon it.

“for Eddie the role of humans is to obey God, while for the Biblical perspective the role of humans is to love God,”

Loving God is not incompatible with obeying God—or fearing God—from the Biblical perspective.  It is only modern thought—the very thought that Roger say he is opposing—that exalts love and downplays obedience and fear.

“Eddie wants to go back to the old legalistic point of view.”

False.  And in any case, I was not talking about legalism vs. non-legalism.  I was talking about the metaphysics of Creation doctrine.  But if Roger wishes to know what I want “to go back to,” it’s to the era when one could take for granted that an ordained Protestant teacher would have a good Classical and theological education, and would not utter heresies, solecisms, and logically invalid arguments on virtually every occasion that he spoke or wrote.

Merv - #76772

February 18th 2013

Roger wrote:

Another way of seeing this is, for Eddie the role of humans is to obey God, while for the Biblical perspective the role of humans is to love God, which includes loving one’s self and others.  ...  

Eddie wants to go back to the old legalistic point of view.  I hope that you want to go with him.  

I don’t think you understand Eddie’s argument if you think it can be distilled down to “Eddie’s going back to old legalism”.  But Eddie can speak for himself;  I’m not sure I’m going with him, but if you really want me too, he doesn’t seem such a bad sort to learn from!  (I expect that was a typo on your part—I better not throw stones over such things.)

It is unwise Roger to try to divorce love and obedience.  As much as many of us Christians want to do that we simply cannot pretend that one is Biblical while the other is not.  Both come as part of the package deal.

Thanks for the reference on the quote.  However, from my brief web perusal I saw it  attributed to St. Anselm.  If Augustine said it centuries earlier, I shouldn’t be surprised, but if you have any references for that, I’m curious to know them.  In any case I appreciated your whole sentiment (not just the first part).  It just goes to show that if you lean on earlier church fathers, inspiration probably isn’t far away!

I do think you fail to realize, Roger, how many people are already in the “trinitarian” room with you (most of Christendom, I expect!)   You seem to think you are all alone calling for crowds to come and join you while failing to notice the patient and silent crowd that was already there long before you!  


Roger A. Sawtelle - #76743

February 18th 2013


The whole paradox of man is that he is on the one hand part of the created order, and hence infinitely beneath God, and on the other hand the only part of the created order that is in God’s image, and potentially capable of eternal life, and hence has an intimacy with God that is impossible for any other part of nature.

As long as you have not adjusted your thinking beyond thinking that God is Absolute, there are no paradoxes, only Black and White.  You continually frame the question in a Greek manner, rather than a Biblical non-ontological manner.

As David wrote:


(Psa 8:1 NIV) O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens.

(2)  From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise because of Your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

(3)  When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place,

(4)  what is Man that You are mindful of Him, the son of Man that You care for him?

(5)  You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [or God] and crowned him with glory and honor.

(6)  You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet:

(7)  all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,

(8)  the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

(9)  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

The paradox is not about humans, it is about God, YHWH.  Why does YHWH care about humanity and the Creation?  The issue has nothing to do with absolutist ontology and everything to do with the GOD Who RELATES, the GOD Who LOVES, and Who is not totally independent of the universe as you and the Deists propose.



Eddie - #76746

February 18th 2013


“You continually frame the question in a Greek manner, rather than a Biblical non-ontological manner.”

My argument here has been based on the characterization of God found in the Bible.  I have discussed Genesis, Abraham, etc.  I have not spoken of Plato, Arisotle, etc.

And the Bible is not “non-ontological.”  All religious traditions have an ontology, explicit or implicit.  What you mean—or would mean, if you knew what the word “ontological” meant—is that the Bible’s ontology is not set forth in systematic philosophical terms.  But it is still there.

You then proceed in the typical manner of “proof-texting”—you go through the Bible digging out statements which support the high view of man.  What you neglect to do is provide a parallel list containing all the Biblical statements which affirm God’s transcendence and otherness, the impermanence and dependence of the created universe upon God, etc.  This sort of cherry-picking would earn you a “D” on an undergraduate paper in religion.

Finally, you close with:

“the GOD Who RELATES, the GOD Who LOVES, and Who is not totally independent of the universe as you and the Deists propose.”

Here, once again, you misuse a crucial term.  God is certainly “independent” of the universe (in the sense that he can exist without it), but that does not mean that he does not relate to the universe.  You are making a false linkage between “independent” and “unrelated to,” and then imputing that false linkage to me, and lambasting me for it.  But I am too well-trained in philosophy and theology to have made such an error.  The intellectual error here is yours.

As for the charge of Deism, it is tossed out so often by TEs and others that soon the “boy who cried wolf” situation will apply—no one will take the charge seriously when someone is actually guilty of Deism.  Already you have degraded the word “dualism” by inappropriate overextensions of the term, and false charges against people who are not in fact “dualists”; now it is the word “Deism” that you want to adulterate.  What term will you next evacuate of its power through irresponsible usage?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76766

February 18th 2013

Eddie wrote:

All religious traditions have an ontology, explicit or implicit. What you mean—or would mean, if you knew what the word “ontological” meant—is that the Bible’s ontology is not set forth in systematic philosophical terms. But it is still there.

Ontology means the science of being.  Philosophy is based on the concept of “being,” which is a Simple monistic concept.  What you and many others believe is that you can impose the Greek concept of Being, ontos, on the Judeo-Christian views of the Bible.  I have come to the opposite conclusion, and thus have evoked your wrath.

Part of the difference is that God/YHWH is the basis of the Bible and YHWH is Triune and Personal.  Being is the basis of Philosophy and Being is simple and impersonal.  If you remember way back when this was the basis that I suggested of impersonal Greek philosophy and the personal Hebrew God.  There is a conflict and you cannot sweep that under the proverbial rug.

If you want to consider God to be Absolute, that is your priviledge, but please do not say that and also say that God is personal, because the Absolute is not relational.  Do not say that God is absolutely independent and then say God is just independent. 

Don’t play games with the Absolute.  Do not confuse Being with God. 

Eddie - #76773

February 18th 2013


It is not that your views disagree with mine that have evoked my “wrath.”  What has evoked my “wrath” as you call it—and actually, “vexation” would probably be a better word; I find it hard to be truly angry with you personally, because I think you are probably a very nice guy in real life, unlike a couple of other people here—is your frequent display of philological, historical, philosophical and theological confusion, and your unwillingness to accept correction from people who are trained in these areas.

You have correctly defined ontology.  And you are also correct to say that the Biblical approach to things is, on the whole, different from that of, say, Aristotle.  That is not where we differ.  But ontology in the broad sense means the description of ultimate reality, an itemizing of the fundamental components of reality, their rankings and their relationships to one another.  In that sense, every theological tradition and every religious tradition has an ontology, implicit or explicit.

It is part of the Biblical ontology that only God is eternal, and only God is Creator.  All else is non-eternal, and created.  It is also part of Biblical ontology that God is independent (not “without relation to”) of the world he creates; he could send it back to non-being without himself being diminished.  It is also part of Biblical ontology tha the world is not illusion, but real.  Etc.  

The statements I have been trying to get you to accept as part of the Biblical ontology are things like the above, and they have been accepted by all the Church Fathers, Reformers, etc., and are accepted by secular scholars of today who study the Bible and Christianity alongside other religious texts and traditions.  So in trying to deny these things, you are setting yourself up against all flags, and for no constructive reason that I can see.

Nothing that you are saying—that man is in the image of God, that man has a special relationship with God, etc.—is incompatible with the Biblical/Christian ontology as I have sketched it.  I’ve told you repeatedly that I am not denying these things.  Yet you stubbornly keep saying that I do, trying to polarize things, trying to group me with the Deists, etc. when in fact I’m simply stating truisms of standard Christian theology and standard academic Biblical studies.  Why you want to do this to my words, I don’t know.  

You are hung up on this word “absolute.”  I could write a thousand pages of theological reasoning without ever using it.  Notice that I haven’t used it in my description of Biblical ontology above.  I don’t know why you want to keep making it our reference point, and quarrel about it.  There is of course a sense in which there is an “absolute” distinction between Creator and creature, but if you find that language objectionable, then simply grant me that God existed before the world and that God could exist again without the world; he could dissolve it and still be God.  The world’s existence is contingent upon God’s will—that is one of the classical ways of putting it in Christian theology.  Can you grant this?  If so, we need not quarrel over “absolute.”  

Best wishes, Roger.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76774

February 18th 2013


Thank you for your comments and support.

Forgive me if I took some of my frustration with Eddie out on you. 

Sadly there is a long history intemprate attacks by him against me and my understanding of theology.  Please look at 76742 above.  I don’t like to be defensive, but that comment is clearly outside the limits. 

And what happened to Bilbo after he promised to withdraw his accusation(!) if I proved that I thought that God is involved in evolution?       

I do not mind a real argument, but to be accused of Docetism for no real reason?  If he is willing to make all kinds of statements that he can’t back up, he had better expect me to make statements that I can and will back up.

Anyway, I understand the relationship between obedience and faith.  I prefer Paul’s position, but James makes a good point too. 

Legalism was real problem in the time of Jesus and it is a real problem today.  So also is being judgmental.  Certainly we all need to be careful about how we treat others. 

Thank you for your encouragment.   

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76775

February 18th 2013


We weree not arguing over the absolute.  I was just poinmting out that the Biblical view of God and reality was inconsistent with yours, especially when you specifically use the term absolute.

If you want to back down from the term absolute, that is great. 

Now what form is your world view?  Is it monistic, dualistic, or as I prefer triune?  

Eddie - #76777

February 18th 2013


I have not “backed down” on the use of the term “absolute.”  Insofar as I used it—though I think you’ve used it more than I have—I have used it in the standard way in the context of discussions of God and the world.  What I’ve conceded is that I can make the same points without it, and so, since it seems to be a “red flag” word for you (the way “communist” was for many Americans in the 1950s, when it connoted not merely an economic or political system but the Devil himself, complete with red horns and tail), I’m willing to express what I’m trying to say in other ways.

You are now asking me a question, when you haven’t yet answered my questions above.  So you go first.  Do you accept that the Biblical and Christian God can exist without the world?  That he did once exist without the world?  That he may choose to do so again?  Do you accept that the existence of the world is radically contingent as opposed to necessary?  That its origin and continuation hang entirely upon God’s will?  That it has no “rights” against its Creator?  That its Creator is Sovereign over it?  Do you agree that all of this is the teaching of the Bible and the Church Fathers and the magisterial Reformers?

Let’s see how far we get on these basis Biblical and Christian teachings before we wander into the nebulous area of “world views.”  

You have the floor.  The questions are above.  I await your answer. 

Best wishes.

Merv - #76776

February 18th 2013

I’m glad you found some of my reply encouraging, Roger; as you should!

There were other parts of that reply that still challenge you to also see and acknowledge other points of view or responding to a potentially mis-attributed quote.  Part of the ‘give and take’ of positive exchanges here is a willingness to grant points if and where they need to be granted—be willing to accept correction as much as give it.  We are surrounded by very knowledgeable people here and can learn a lot.  What you have to offer may be much better received if you (and others) can avoid the pitfall of defending intellectual pride that so strongly wants to be right all the time.  We all struggle with that.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #76789

February 19th 2013


God is Absolute or God is not.  You think that God is and I think based on my understanding of the Bible that God is not Absolute.

As far as I am concerned that is fine.  We have an honest difference of opinion.

However you want to make it more than that.  You want to make me a heretic and an incompetent fool because I do not agree with you.  That is not only bad argumentation, that is judgmental and unChristian.

Let me tell you what I think your problem is.  You take a simple truth, namely God created the heavens and the earth, and try to make a whole metaphysical system out of it. 

Now that might have some merit, but God reveals Godself as YHWH, “I AM WHO I AM,” not Who you want Me to be or Who philosophy or science makes Me out to be. 

God, YHWH, has said that God is not absolute.  God is not absolutely independent and humans are not absolutely dependent.  God is Love and Love is interdependent.  God created humans with the ability to love which also makes them interdependent.  To do this YHWH made the universe also interdependent. 

It is not about ontology, it is about God, Who God is and how God structured the universe.  If you want a good ontology you don’t look at the universe, you look at God Who is Triune.  God is the Source of all, including our knowledge of God and the universe.  When you look at the “being,” whatever that is, for the source of our knowledge you are looking in the wrong place. 

There I have said my piece.  I do not expect you to agree with me, which is fine, but I do expect that you will stop making personal attacks on me, my education, my theology, and my tradition.  If anyone wants to know more, they can read my book.    

Eddie - #76797

February 19th 2013

You are astounding.  I tell you I am willing to bracket the word “absolute” out of the discussion, in order to accommodate you, yet you return to it, determined to fight about it.  Did you read what I wrote?
Just as an aside:  you might want to read Aquinas’s discussion of the “I am who I am” passage before speaking so confidently about what Christian theology has to say about it.  But let’s get back to the main point.
It is not a question of whether or not I agree with you, Roger.  The problem is that your post above is intellectually incoherent.  Some individual points I may agree with, and some I don’t, but overall I can make no sense of it, because you are “all over the map,” and therefore what you write does not constitute an argument or position capable of affirmation or negation. 
For example, you have done above what you have done before:  confused the internal dynamics of God with the structure of the created universe.   Jon Garvey and I spent what seemed endless hours trying to untangle your confusion on this matter, and you resisted our efforts.  You did not even try to listen to what we were saying.  Should I attempt to help you again now?  Would it do any good, Roger?  Would you listen?  Somehow, I don’t think so.
Roger, I don’t mean to pick on you personally.  I think you mean well, unlike some other people who post here.  But you seem to have a huge problem with accepting criticism of any kind.  You cannot—as a previous interminable discussion about Jews and Greeks showed—bring yourself to retract even a simple historical error, let alone any opinion about larger matters such as the nature of God, creation, etc.  Do you feel threatened when someone points out an error, or even a bit of expository confusion, in your writing?  Do you interpret all corrections as hostile in intention?  If so, please understand that I don’t intend them so.  And please understand that the impatience that I have shown comes not from the fact that your conclusions differ from mine—I have no problem with that—but from the way you conduct yourself in argument. 
As for your tradition, well, I have nothing against Wesley.  I do think that most of the leaders of modern Wesleyanism are liberals (in every sense of the word), and I’m sure that Wesley wasn’t a liberal, and I think he would condemn much of the theological teaching and institutional and social behavior of the churches which now operate under his name.  What is not generally appreciated is the great respect for, and broad range of agreement with, John Calvin, that Wesley had.  I would be very surprised if Wesley’s theology was not closer to mine than to yours.  But you are free to dig up texts of Wesley’s to support your understanding of God and creation —if you can find them.
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