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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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Roger A. Sawtelle - #76791

February 19th 2013


Eddie wrote:

That he did once exist without the world?

You should know that there is no time outside of Creation, therefore it is not true that there was time when God existed and the Creation did not. 

 That he may choose to do so again?

If human beings are a part of the world and human beings live with God in glory in a New Heaven and a New Earth as the Bible teaches, it is hard to see God going against God’s Word. 

Eddie - #76795

February 19th 2013


Don’t waste time with sophistry.  I am fully aware of the relationship between time and the world.  Notice that I did not use the word “time.”  Nor did I even use the word “before.”  I said that God once existed without the world.  It is hard, with our limited human imaginations, to grasp the sort of existence God has, outside of time and in the absence of the world.  But it is the Christian teaching that God did have such an existence.

The alternative is that the world has existed alongside God always.  In that case, either God wills the world to exist always (always to be co-present with himself) or the world exists always as a matter of necessity.  The latter is a violation of Christian teaching, which has always understood the existence of the world as contingent upon God’s will.  So it would have to be the former.  Aquinas considered the possibility of the former.  He said it was metaphysically possible that God would eternally will the existence of the world alongside of himself, and that reason could not settle the question.  He said we had to go to revelation to get the answer.  And revelation—the Bible—provided the answer. The world did not exist eternally.  At one time it was not.  God once existed without the world.

Aquinas was not inventing some new doctrine of his own, but simply reaffirming the doctrine that had been held by Augustine and everyone else.

Before you speak, Roger, learn the classic discussions of the tradition.  You simply have not studied them sufficiently to pose as an expert on such matters.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76798

February 19th 2013


I will try one more time.

To the best of your understanding, Is God Absolute or not absolute?

Please no more beating around the bush and no self justifications.

Eddie - #76800

February 19th 2013

Define “absolute.”

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76814

February 20th 2013

To Eddie with love,
Definition of Absolute, online Merriam Webster Dictionary 
“9: being self-sufficient and free of external references or relationships.”
“The term stands opposed to the relative, and frequently means the negation of the relative, i.e. that which is independent of relation.  The term carries the sense of the fixed, the independent, the unqualified, the completed.” p. 2 
from the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion by William Reese: Humanities Press, 1980
Eddie - #76815

February 20th 2013

Oh, that’s easy to answer.

Regarding the Webster definition:

In the Christian tradition, God is self-sufficient, but he is not free of relationship to his created world.  So he is “absolute” in the first sense given, but not in the second.  The parts of the definition thus do not cohere.  It’s bad to rely on general dictionaries for philosophical and theological terms.

Regarding the Reese definition:

This is slightly better, because he puts in the qualifier “frequently” which the Webster omits.  In the second sentence, “independent” is a good qualifier for God.  “Independent” does not mean “unrelated.”  God is “independent” of the world he has created, but he is still—not by necessity but by choice—related to it.  But the second sentence is still carelessly expressed.  It should begin with “In various contexts, the term may carry one or more of the following senses:  the fixed, ...”

Now, I’ve answered your question.  Please answer my questions from the previous page. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76817

February 20th 2013


Thanks for your response.

I do not think that you are in a position to criticize either of these two definitions.

However I think that you have answered the question.  God is related to the world that God has created and therefore God is not Absolute in terms of both of these definitions.  If God is not Absolute, then clearly God is relational, because as you say God relates.   

Now the distinction that God relates to humanity and the universe by choice, not by necessity is moot.  God does nothing out of “necessity,” and everything out of choice.  However that does not mean that God is arbitrary, because God is One, God has Integrity of Purpose and Will as the Bible clearly states.  [The main problem with the Greek gods is that they did not relates to humans and they were arbitrary. They are were absolute.] 

This means that God’s actions are not based on what God is capable of doing or God’s nature, but God’s purpose and plan.  God’s “necessity” is an inner necessity and a relational necesity, because God is Love. 

What we know about God is based on God’s actions, the expression of God’s Love and God relational character, not by God’s “being” which is not relational and is unknown. 

You are clearly right , God is independent and God is dependent in that God responds to the needs of others.  God is interdependent as I have said and that settles the question.     


Eddie - #76818

February 20th 2013


Yes, I am in a position to criticize the definitions.  I’m a well-trained philologist.  And I too have published in a philosophical dictionary.

I did not raise the question whether or not God was arbitrary.

Your statement about the Greek gods is erroneous, if you are using the phrase “the Greek gods” in the normal fashion, and not employing some bizarre “Rogerism.”  The Greek gods did relate to humans, and they were not “absolute.”  I’ve translated parts of Homer and Hesiod from the original, and taught courses specifically on the Greek gods, so I’m familiar with the primary sources.

Aquinas would disagree with your statement regarding “what we know about God.”  So would many other Christian theologians, who, unlike Pascal, do not force a choice between “the God of the philosophers” and “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

In your last paragraph, you misuse the word “dependent.”  God is not “dependent” when he responds to the needs of others.  You have forgotten the meaning of agape.  A popular account that might help jog your memory is C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

Most of my previous questions and comments you have left unanswered.  You have also failed to apologize for falsely imputing views such as Deism to me.  

The best part of your answer above is:  “You are clearly right.  God is independent”  That was my point all along.  And also that God is Sovereign—and can boss around any part of the universe any way he likes.  He leaves the human will free, but he does not leave the evolutionary process free, as certain TEs have claimed.  Evolution had no choice but to produce what he ordained.  It is the fact that some TEs are cagey about admitting this that has raised my theological ire.  There is no need for you to get caught in the theological crossfire, but if you take their part, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76822

February 20th 2013

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:45

Eddie - #76825

February 20th 2013

And this quotation proves—what?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76827

February 20th 2013


It does not prove anything, but it means alot.  If you do not understand what it means, then you had better find out.

Suggestion: Ask your pastor, if you have a pastor.


Eddie - #76832

February 20th 2013


First of all—and I say this not to pick on you in particular but as a general statement, based on my long-suffering experience in a wide variety of churches—the last person on earth I would ask for the meaning of a Biblical verse is a Protestant pastor.  (I would except a few Reformed-trained ministers, and a few special individuals such as Jon Garvey, who I believe has had some pastoral roles in various congregations and organizations.)

Second, I happen to have studied Mark carefully in Greek, and in any case, to anyone with any Christian upbringing, the general purport of the verse is clear even from the English translation.  My question was not what the verse means in the context of Mark.  My question was why you have introduced it into our current discussion.  But clearly you have no wish to explain.

Third, “a lot” is two words, not one.

Evidently you are not going to answer my other questions, or apologize for the misrepresentations of my thought that you made, so I think it’s time I exited this discussion.

As I said before, Roger, I think you are a genuinely nice guy, and I know you mean well, but we are just light-years apart on the way we understand the Bible, historical Christian theology, philosophy, and the history of ideas, and we cannot even agree upon a common working vocabulary.  Thus, though we are both trying to articulate constructive truths for the benefit of the modern world, our conversations lead to frustration and friction.  So let’s agree to disagree, and part ways without personal hostility.   

Best wishes.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76848

February 21st 2013

After some thought I have decided to take up Eddie’s challenge.

 That he (God) did once exist without the world?

As I pointed out that statement is not acceptable.  Yes, the universe has a beginning, while God does not, but the beginning of the physical universe coincides with the beginning of time and space, so that it is impossible to say that there was a time when the universe was not. 

“Once” clearly refers to time, therefore ontology does not help us determine that God is independent of the universe.  Theology does.  This is what Aquinas said. 

Now even though the physical universe did not precede time and space, I will go into uncharted territory here and claim that the rational universe preceded time and space.  Logos is both the Second Person of the Trinity and rational foundation for the universe as we see in John 1. 

We know through revelation that the Logos preceded time and space and so this aspect of God and the universe is eternal.  We know that the Holy Spirit which gives the universe its relational aspect preceded the universe, so this aspect of the universe is also eternal. 

The physical universe has a beginning and logically an end, but the universe is much more than the physical.  This is the fatal flaw in Western dualism that could well destroy Western civilization, the view that the universe is purely physical and thus contingent. 

Both theists and atheists suffer from the same problem, which means that theists have the same need to solve it as do atheists, even though they have no intellectual need to solve it.   


Eddie - #76849

February 21st 2013

Roger, if you read 76795 carefully, you will understand that I am fully aware of the difficulties of speaking of the time before the world, and that I deliberately avoided the language of time.  Yet you continue to try to catch me out as if I made an undergraduate error, and intended the word “once” as a time reference.  Since I already told you not to understand the word in this way, it is your dialogical obligation to read my question in the way I intended it, not to seize upon a word and try to catch me out.  

The question is whether God can exist, if he chooses, without any world at all.  The Christian tradition says yes, God can exist without the world.  God is “always” (don’t try to catch me out on time language, please) and the world was not “always.”  God has existed without the world.  That is the Christian teaching.  That is the teaching of Aquinas, and of all orthodox theologians known to me.  I already explained that the alternative is that both God and the world have existed eternally.  I already explained that Aquinas rejected that option, and why.

You have misreported Aquinas’s view, again due to the distortions of your idiosyncratic, non-traditional language.  Aquinas does not make it a difference between “ontology” and “theology.”  He makes it a difference between reason and revelation, with reason unable to say whether or not the world is eternal, and revelation settling the question by teaching that the world is not eternal but located within a limited span of time.  

There is nothing “uncharted” in your assertion that the “rational universe” precedes time and space.  (Though note that if I wanted to be as silly-picky as you were over “once,” I could bicker about your word “precedes.”)  The idea that the thought of the universe existed in God’s mind (or if you will, in the Logos) before the actual universe goes back almost to the beginning of Christian theology.  This notion is not original with you!

“The universe” refers to the totality of matter and energy, and that totality at one “time” did not exist.  God was alone.  Even if you include immaterial beings such as angels in “the universe” the result is the same, since the angels are created beings and not eternal.  Only God is eternal.  Only God is not contingent.  The world is contingent.  

You can wriggle and you can evade, but the fact is that all orthodox Christian theologians have acknowledged that God does not need the universe, can exist without it, and has existed without it.  If you do not know this, you do not understand the most basic proposition of the theology of creation.  And if you do know this, but are saying that all of Christian theology has been wrong since the beginning to conceive of a God who can exist and has existed without the universe, then you need to present your revolutionary thesis in a peer-reviewed article in a scholarly theological journal, not in a self-published, non-peer-reviewed popular book which no scholar will ever read, and not on a blog site such as this.

Read what you wrote in your last paragraph:  “theists have the same need to solve it as do atheists, even though they have no intellectual need to solve it.”  Do you realize that this sentence is either blatantly self-contradictory, or else wholly unclear?  

Once again, Roger, we are not going to get anywhere talking about these things.  I have tried hard to compensate for your inadequate philosophical and theological understanding by instructing you, but your personal attitude—your unwillingness to accept any instruction, or indeed even to accept simple corrections to factual errors—makes the task hopeless.

If I thought it was just me that was the problem, i.e., if I saw that you were learning from others here, but not me, I would chalk that up to a teaching failure on my part.  But I observe from your conversations with others that you do not learn from them any more than you learn from me.  You are not in a learning frame of mind.  You are in a preaching frame of mind.  You see yourself as having a great message that the world needs to hear.  But I see you as someone who is trying to handle the most advanced questions of theology before he has mastered the rudiments of the subject.  That is the most charitable way that I can express my estimation of your arguments.

I have already indicated that I think it best if we leave off discussing theological matters.  I am not angry about any particular disagreement you may have with my theological conclusions, but I am getting more and more angry with your stubborn attitude; and since your attitude is not something that is going to change in the near future, if I continue to converse with you I am eventually going to let you have it with both barrels (metaphorically speaking, of course), and that will not advance civil discourse on this site.  Best wishes.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76851

February 21st 2013


As per usual you read my argument wrong and accuse me of not understanding what you are saying.

You wrote:”‘The universe’ refers to the totality of matter and energy…..”

My point is that the universe is not just the totality of matter and energy.  The universe is more than the material.  It is the physical and the rational and the spiritual.   

If it is true that the universe is only, absolutely matter/energy, then the physicalists are basically right.   



Eddie - #76855

February 21st 2013


If you used the word “universe” the way everyone else in the English language uses it, instead of employing your own idiosyncratic meaning, you wouldn’t generate misunderstanding.

I did not say that the whole of reality was nothing but matter and energy.  I was merely pointing out the normal usage of the term “universe.”

And in any case, as I made clear, even if you include incorporeal substances (get out a good reference work and find out what that term means), the whole universe, corporeal and incorporeal, is still created, and contingent, and God can do without it if he so pleases.  You cannot bring yourself to admit this.  And when you won’t grant such a fundamental premise of Christian theology—the freedom of God to create or not create, as he chooses, and the independence of God from his creation—there is no point in continuing to talk.  (And when an ordained pastor won’t grant such things—well, that is sufficient to explain my remark about Protestant ministers in 76832 above.)

Roger, I am not a “physicalist.”  Nor am I, as you classed me above, a “Deist.”  Nor am I a “dualist.”  I have been arguing from the classic monotheistic position (which is broad enough to include a Trinitarian conception of God as well as the unitarian conception of Judaism and Islam) concerning creation.  The problem is that you do not like the classic monotheistic position.  You wish that Christianity were other than what it historically has been.  You think that Christianity needs a new theology.  This is why you aren’t making any headway with Jon Garvey, myself, or others.  Fare thee well.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76857

February 21st 2013


If you do not think that the totality of the universe is composed of matter and energy, then what is rest of it composed of?  If you meant to include “incorporeal substances,” why didn’t you say so?  Can God tell a lie?  

Yes, God can do whatever God chooses to do whenever God chooses to do it, but God does not.  God is NOT abritrary.  God rules humanity by moral law.  True or false?  God rules the universe by GOD’s natural law.  True or false? 

Does God violate God’s moral law?  Not that I know of.  Does God violate God’s natural law?  Possibly if necessary.

Now if ontology teaches us that God can do whatever God wants to do, fine.  However theology teaches us that God is not arbitrary and indeed God has integrity and God’s nature is Love.  If you want to concentrate on the ontological freedom of God, like Islam does, that is your prerogative.

As a Christian I prefer to concentrate on God’s relational nature by which God makes covenants with humans which depend upon God’s ability to keep God’s word and not act arbitrarily. 

If you think that the classic Christian monotheistic position is the last word in theology, that is fine, but doesn’t that place the human on the same level as the divine?  Was Aquinas really an angelic doctor? 

The early Church was not perfect, nor was the Midieval Church, nor the Renaissance Church, not the Protestant Church, nor today’s Church.  God’s Salvation Hiastory moves on, and we all need to hurry to catch up.  




Eddie - #76858

February 21st 2013

It makes no difference whether or not the universe is composed entirely of matter and energy, or whether there are also incorporeal beings such as angels.  The point is that everything that is created, is, by virtue of being created, contingent, and revocable at God’s pleasure.  But God is not revocable at the pleasure of anything in creation.  In that sense God can be said to be “absolute” and the world “relative.”  God would exist even if the world did not, but the world would not exist even if God did not.

I am not taking the Islamic position against the Christian.  I am saying that in both Islam and in Christianity, and in Judaism as well, creation is contingent and God is independent of it (which does not mean that he does not enter into relations with it).  Therefore, if a Muslim theologian says that God did not need to create the world, I can agree with him.  I do not, however, agree with everything that, say, Al-Ghazzali says about creation or God’s relationship to nature.  The Christian tradition disagrees with many Islamic statements about God, largely due to the way that Christianity incorporated elements of Greek thought, especially Plato’s.

There is nothing in anything that I have written that speaks against God’s relational nature or God’s love or denies covenants, revelation, inspiration, Incarnation, etc.  But one does not need to deny God’s independence from creation to affirm those things.  This is where you have consistently gone wrong.  You think you have to deny core metaphysical understandings of God in order to maintain that God loves his creation.  You think the theology of creation needs to become “personalistic.”  Yet the balance between the God who is above and beyond his creation, and the God who loves and relates to it, was already achieved by the great theologians of the tradition.  No innovation is necessary.  

I did not say that any Church of any period was perfect.  However, I do believe—no, I KNOW—that the theologians of the first 16 centuries of the Church were on the whole deeper, more intellectually balanced, and less inclined to follow trendy fashions than Protestant theologians have been since the Enlightenment.  

Regarding your remark about “catching up”—over the past two hundred years, it is precisely the theologians and clergy who think that Christianity needs to “catch up” with the world who have been doing all the damage—both to Christianity and to the world.  Their liberalism has given us the wholly secularized society, and it has produced high school graduates who love to “dialogue” in discussions about “inclusive values” but cannot write grammatical sentences, and could not tell you who Plato or Cicero were to save their lives.  And their theological liberalism (Jesus Seminar, etc.) has emptied the mainstream churches, driving those Christians who have not become atheists to become fundamentalists or Pentecostals.  “Catching up” has caused mainstream Protestantism to self-destruct.  It is not “catching up” that Christian theology needs.  What it needs is the recovery and re-appropriation of what has been forgotten because it has ceased to be studied.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76863

February 22nd 2013


Whether you know it or not, there is a huge gap between Muslim and Christian morality and theology because the Christian understanding of God is relational and the Muslim understanding of Allah is Absolute, non-covenantal, non-relational, ontological if you will. 

Now I am not arguing against traditional theology per se.  I am not arguing against traditional philosophy per se.  I am trying to explore the relational core of the Christian understanding of God indicated by the fact that God is Love, the Trinity, and Jesus Christ the Logos. 

Now I know that this way of doing theology is very different from your way of doing it, so I have been very patient with you.  Your way is looking to the past, but from my perspective I see no evidence that looking to medieval past will work. 

I am looking to build a bridge between the Biblical and Augustinian Trinitarian theology and the present.  Because we are both concerned about the present state of the Church we agree that change is needed.   

Now you have said that God is not bound to an eternal physical universe, and the Bible clearly indicates that some say the physical universe will disappear, but God and God’s Kingdom will remain.  However your radically ontological position leads you to say that God could destroy not only the physical universe, but also the incorporeal universe, by which I take to mean the realm of incorporeal angels and souls both in heaven and in hell (even though Paul says that in heaven the saved will have a spiritual body or corpus.)

If God promised the faithful eternal life, can God really take that life away from them? [Allah does not have any similar promises in the Qur’an except for those who die during jihad, which accounts for suicide missions.] 

You can argue that “with God all things are possible,” but I will argue that God has an internal necessity to be Loving and Good and to keep the divine Word.  Both are true, but the second trumps the first and this is my basic point, as opposed to yours. 

My God is responsible to Godself if to no other.  Your God, as you present God, is only free. 

You make the mistake of thinking that you can separate one aspect of the definition of absolute from the other.  You cannot.  To be absolute God must be both radically self sufficient AND devoid of relationships.  Since God is not devoid of positive relationships, God is not absolute. 

Why you refuse to use the word interdependent is beyond me. It is a perfectly good word and appropriate to Who God is and how God acts, but that is your problem.        

Eddie - #76865

February 22nd 2013


1.  I stated clearly that I was not equating Islam and Christianity, or defending Islamic teaching overall.  I merely indicated a point on which Islam and Christianity agree, i.e., that it was not necessary for God to create the world.

2.  I never said that God would fail to honor any of his promises to man.  What I said was that God never had to create man in the first place.  Obviously if God had chosen not to create man, he would not have made any promises to man, and therefore would not be breaking any.  So many of your objections (about heaven, the kingdom, etc.) in the note above are not relevant to the claim I was making.

3.  I agree that God is responsible to himself to honor his promises to man, just as a parent, having brought children into the world, will feel responsible to take care of them.  But prior to having children, the parent is free to travel the world, gamble away private fortunes, engage in risky extreme sports, etc., because he or she has no children to be obligated to; and so God, had he not undertaken to create and maintain a world, would feel no responsibility encroaching upon his absolute freedom.  The “natural” (so to speak) state of God is one of absolute freedom.  God has put himself voluntarily into an “unnatural” (so to speak) state by creating a world and taking on the responsibilities of its well-being.  He will live up to those responsibilities, as you say.  But he need not ever have been in that position in the first place, just as no parent is obligated to marry and produce children.

4.  I have already explained in what sense God’s reality is “absolute.”  In that sense (are you aware of this function of italics?  you seem not to be), the notion is accepted (whether the actual word “absolute” is used or not) by every orthodox theologian in the history of Christianity, including your Wesley.

5.  I do not use the word “interdependent” for God because it is incorrect.  In God’s “absolute” (i.e., pre-creation) state, there is no world and therefore nothing he could possibly be “interdependent” with.  And even once creation has occurred, and there is a world, “interdependent” is still the wrong English word for the notion you are trying to convey.  “Interdependent” does not mean merely “in mutual relations with.”  When two things are “interdependent” they need each other.   But God does not need the world, as the world needs God.  The dependence works only one way.  The relationship is two ways, but the dependence is only one way.  I have never denied relationality between the world and God.  I have denied only the dependence of God on the world.

6.  You say you want to build a bridge between the Biblical and Augustinian trinitarian theology and the present.  That task has always been undertaken, and often successfully carried out, by those Christians who have soaked themselves in the tradition (in preference to chasing after current intellectual novelties, trying to “catch up” with the world).  For example, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams—have you never read any of these people?  What Biblical and Augustinian truths have you preserved for the modern world that were not preserved by these writers?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76870

February 22nd 2013

But God does not need the world, as the world needs God. The dependence works only one way. The relationship is two ways, but the dependence is only one way. I have never denied relationality between the world and God. I have denied only the dependence of God on the world.


Of course God does not need the world as the world needs God.  They are different.  Just because God is different from the world and humans does not mean that there cannot be relationship between them.

Indeed with God all things are possible.  How can you say that God can’t love the world if God can do anything God chooses to do?  Yes, it is contra-philosophical that God can be interdependent with the world and humankind, but the reality of God is not dependent on philosophy, or what Eddie thinks or what I think. 

The reality of God is that God so loved the world that God the Father sent God the Son so that the universe might be redeemed through Him. 

I do not think that you understand love.  I love my wife.  Does that mean that if she dies or heaven forbid leaves me, that I am going to shrivel up and die?  No, but still I want her love and in that sense I need her and her love. 

Do you really think that God, Who knows us better than we know ourselves, does not care, is not affected by what happens to you and me?   

Relationships are mutual.  The Jesus the Logos demonstrates that God cares about us, even though God does not have to give us a second thought.  Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love others as we love ourselves.  No God does not “need” humans to love and serve God, but God wants us to do so for our own good and God does care about us.    

Yes, God could destroy the universe and everything and everyone involved in it in a wink of an eye, and has no real reason not to, except God loves humans and has not given up on us.  This is the “necessity” behind Who God is.  God determines Who God is and what God does, not ontology. 

Eddie - #76875

February 22nd 2013


I am going to ask you to read this reply with more than usual care.  I think it should summarize and clarify everything I have said to the best of my ability.  I would prefer not to make any future replies on this subject, though I will read any reply you write, if it does not continue quarrelling but offers a similar summary statement.


Roger:  “Of course God does not need the world as the world needs God.”

Thanks for finally acknowledging a point I have been trying to make for the past several days.  Why you couldn’t acknowledge it at the outset, I have no idea.

Roger:  “Just because God is different from the world and humans does not mean that there cannot be relationship between them.”

I said over and over again that I did not deny relationship between the world and God.  I denied only that God was dependent upon the world.

Roger:  “How can you say that God can’t love the world…”

I didn’t.

Roger:  “it is contra-philosophical that God can be interdependent with the world”

It is not just contra-philosophical; it is also contra-theological and contra-Biblical.  God is not “interdependent” or any other kind of “dependent” on anything.


Roger: “God so loved the world”

I never denied it.  Did you not read my example of children in Point 3 in my previous note?  Of course God, having created the world, loves the world as a parent, having begotten children, will love the children.  But one cannot love one’s children if one has no children, and God would not have a world to love if he had not first created a world.

Roger:  “I do not think that you understand love.”

Gratuitous remark.  You are not the only person with loved ones, Roger.  And in any case, it is not a failure to understand love if one refuses to misapply the notion of love. One who goes around kicking dogs and cats does not understand the love of animals; but a farmer who kills the rats that are eating all the grain in his silo is not necessarily without the love of animals.  There is a time and a place for the expression of love.  And one cannot love beings which do not exist.  If God had not created the world, he would not love the world.

Roger:  “I love my wife.”

But you are not God, in the situation prior to the creation of the world, so all your remarks following are not to the point I am making.


Roger: “Do you really think that God, Who knows us better than we know ourselves, does not care, is not affected by what happens to you and me?”   

No, I don’t think that, and I never said that.  I’ve granted many times that once the world is created, God comes into relationship with it and loves human beings and so on.

Roger:  ”Relationships are mutual.”

Which I have already granted.  But in the case of the God-world relationship, the dependence is not mutual.  You still have not grasped the meaning of “dependence.”  It comes from Latin de-pendo—“hang down from, hang upon.”  The world hangs upon, requires, God; God does not hang upon, require, the world.  By using the word “dependent” as a synonym for “in relationship with,” you are confusing both the theological and the philosophical discussion.


Roger:  “Yes, God could destroy the universe and everything and everyone involved in it in a wink of an eye, and has no real reason not to, except God loves humans and has not given up on us.”

I agree with this.  And nothing I have argued so far should have given you any reason to think that I wouldn’t.


Roger:  ”God determines Who God is and what God does, not ontology.”

Again, your use of terms confuses the issue.  If you mean, human thinkers working in the field of “ontology” can’t change what God is by their speculations, I of course agree with you.  But I explained to you above the broad sense (one employed by many theologians, philosophers, historians of ideas, etc.) in which I was using “ontology.”  In the “ontology” of God as conceived in the Bible, God’s will is a central component of what he is.  God’s will is radically free; he doesn’t have to do anything.  So yes, God determines his actions, and, prior to creation, that determination is absolute—he is answerable to no one and nothing external to himself.  And even after creation, he is answerable to things outside of himself (such as the sustenance of the universe and the needs of man) only because he has voluntarily bound himself to care for what he has created. 

An alternative ontology is possible.  One can argue that God had to create the world, out of some necessity of his inner nature.  One might even find Biblical verses (though one will not find many) that can be construed to support such an interpretation.  But by and large the “voluntarist” rather than the “necessitarian” conception of God became the standard Christian one.  It’s certainly the conception of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, etc.


OK, let’s summarize.  In this discussion, as often, you have shown a tendency to react to something I say as if I am attacking something that you believe.  That is, when I affirm A, you jump up indignantly and shout, “How dare you deny B?!?”  But to affirm A is not to deny B, unless B is incompatible with A.  And in the case here, what you are affirming (B) is not incompatible with what I am affirming (A).  

I have said that God is by nature independent of his creation.  He does not have to create; and, once having created, he can undo the creation at any time.  Nor, while creation endures, does he need it for his own survival.  He remains God, unchanged in power and wisdom and foreknowledge etc. during the whole course of the world’s existence.  On the other side, the world, including man, remains dependent upon God for both its origin and sustenance.  None of this contradicts your position, which is that God loves and helps the world he has created, especially human beings; that God makes promises and keeps them; that there will be something awaiting human beings at the end of their normal mortal lives; etc.  So your prolonged display of indignation at my affirmations has no basis.  Nothing in my “theology of creation” contradicts anything in your “theology of love.”

So if you wish to continue denying the things I am saying about God, nature, and creation, please stop objecting on the grounds that I am attacking your beliefs about God’s loving care.  I am not.  If you object to my claims, object to them on other grounds.  Get out the primary texts of the tradition concerning God’s divine nature, and his action in creating the world, and show me where I am interpreting them wrongly.

As I said before, Jon and I are criticizing certain TEs for their softness on the omnipotence, omniscience, providence, and governance of God.  There is no need for you to get caught up in the conflict.  You can stand on the sidelines and chant that God is love, God is relational, etc., and Jon and I will leave you alone.  But if you take the side of the aforementioned TEs, and make God into a sort of wimpy Demiurge who lacks entire control over the outcomes of the evolutionary process, and who might have been satisfied with a more sophisticated dinosaur or octopus as the bearer of his image, then you will become a target of our theological attack as well.  The choice is yours.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76873

February 22nd 2013


You asked for it.  Remember when you and Jon would not accept the validity of the “Egalitarian Trinity” until I quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.

Well I opened up this resource book again and this is what I found under the title:

Impassibility of God.  The belief that God is immutable, unchanging, and unchangable (expressed in Art. 1 of the Anglican Thirty Nine Articles by saying that he is ‘without body, parts or passions’) he cannot cannot suffer or be affected by what happens in, e.g, his creation.  This view which has dominated Christian theology for most of its history was strongly influenced by philosophical considerations which insisted that God be absolute and perfect, he cannot be changed by effects from , so to speak outside himself, e.g. by prayer or cries of those who suffer.  However this is far from the biblical picture of God who feels and responds, and who can hardly be unaffected by the crucifixion of Jesus, if Jesus is the Son of the Father.”  

Emphasis added.  Please be advised that the word passions is not part of Article 1 of the AMEC Articles of Religion.    

Isn’t it strange that the scholars of the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions agree with me as to the meaning of absolute and its non-Biblical, philosophical character and not with you when you claim to be the expert in this field?   

Eddie - #76876

February 22nd 2013


I don’t disagree with the main point that is being made in the paragraph that you quoted.  I agree that the word “impassible” poses problems for a Biblical understanding of God.  (Remember that, while I agree with Thomas Aquinas on many things, I am not a Thomist and more generally not a Christian Aristotelian, and one of my objections to Aristotelianism, as opposed to Platonism, is that I think it is much harder to harmonize with Biblical thinking.)

Note that I never argued that God was “impassible”—and certainly not that he was “impassible” in relation to the world once he has created it.  But note that you, relying too much on your brief religion dictionary entry—dictionary entries are necessarily oversimplified summaries of complex theological discussions—jump quickly to link “impassible” with “absolute”; I already explained that it was only in a certain sense that God could be described as “absolute” as opposed to “relative.”

Your dialogical problem continues to be that you impute the connections arrived at by your understanding to the minds of others who have a different understanding.  Thus, for you, “absolute” and “impassible” are virtually synonymous, or at least implicate each other; but I was not understanding “absolute” as you were.  And once I sensed that this was a problem, I agreed to stop talking about “absolute” (as this was a red flag for you) and to employ other terms, such as God’s “independence” from the world (which does not exclude relationship with the world).  But this did no good, because once you get an idea in your head about what someone else believes, it is incredibly hard to dislodge it.  One can deny, explain, illustrate, restate—it’s all in vain, because you continue to charge the person with believing what he says he doesn’t believe.  

This makes dialogue with you extremely difficult.  A discussion that, with someone else here, would clarify matters in 10 minutes, because most other people would then say “Oh, now I see what you meant—sorry for misreading you,” with you can take hours and hours of writing spread over a week or more, because you will not let go of a notion you have about what someone believes, no matter how many times they deny that you have understood them correctly.

I do not know how, where, or when, you acquired the habit of not listening to what people are saying, and of substituting your divination or hunch about what they mean, and making your construct, rather than what they actually claim, the basis of the discussion.  But I wish you could unlearn this habit, because it’s a bad one.

And now, I consider the topic of whether God is “absolute” closed, and won’t address it further.  I’ve fully explained in many posts—without need for the term “absolute”—what I actually believe about creation and God’s relationship to the creation.  You can agree or disagree with my understanding, but if you return to the term “absolute,” I intend to meet it with “absolute” silence. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76880

February 23rd 2013


First let me say that the topic that we are discussing, the relationship of God to creation is not a simple or easy one.  There fore it should be not be a surprise that rational informed people should disagree with each other.  As I see it, I do listen to you very carefully, I just disagree with what you are saying.

The question is whether God is absolute which is a very clear traditional view of God being absolutely independent of the universe and the universe being absolutely dependent on God.  From this view of God comes the understanding of God as impassible. 

You are right, dependence is only a one way street.  For human beings that means we are totally dependent on the will of God, because we have no independence and thus no independent will.  Absolute dependence means absolute control, so our will would be an extension of God’s will.  Of course you protest that that is not true, but you have not given any way to reconcile reality with your ontology.

This is what we argued ad nauseum when we discussed Jon Absolute Monarchy view of God, so this is not a new idea or discussion.  You want to have the best of both worlds as you see them.  You want to have God as an Absolute Monarch, but people to have free will.

The problem with that is 1) the Bible does not depict God as an Absolute Monarch and 2) the theoretical foundation for this view does not hold water.    

Your problem is that you assume you know what I think, because you lump me in with some group that you look down on.  I offered to send you my book some time ago so you could find out for yourself what I think and how I think and you flatly rejected this. 

It is my conclusion that you are so full of yourself that there is no room in your world for any other point of view.  That is your right, but a sad way to live.  

Whether you talk about God being absolute or totally independent of Creation or the Creation being totally dependent on God, it is all the same, and according to current theological thinking you are mistaken. 

You are not interested in developing a new theology which best describes the Biblical understanding on this issue, but I am.  Please do not attack me for trying to understand the Bible in its own light, rather than based on some foreign understanding of God and being.        

Relationships, particularly


Eddie - #76882

February 23rd 2013

Thank you, Roger.

I have no doubt that, in your mind, the summary you have offered of our debate is an accurate one.  I do not consider it so.  

One thing that is noticeable is that neither now, nor at any time in our discussion, have you acknowledged any misrepresentation of my views.  I have noted these misrepresentations dozens of times, but to no avail.  Your summary is as oblivious to my protests as your earlier posts were.

About the “A” word, I maintain “A” silence, as I promised I would.

I did not reject your book.  I said I would look at it if you would provide for me the names of competent (in my judgment) scholars who have endorsed the book.  You were unwilling or unable to meet this condition.

I wholeheartedly approve of trying to understand the Bible in its own light.  However, if you are sincerely trying to understand the Bible in its own light, then you should start by learning Hebrew and Greek, so that you can do exegesis based on the original text rather than translations.

And if want to offer the world a “Bible-only” theology, you would be foolish to ignore the work of those who have gone before you who have attempted the very same thing; in particular, the work of Calvin, with which you do not seem very familiar. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #76885

February 25th 2013

Thank you, Eddie.

You have a very selective memory.

However I will let the record speak for itself.

I would like to thank the BioLogos community for its support in my efforts to protect both the Integrity of the Gospel and of Science. 

Eddie - #76893

February 25th 2013

Thank you, Roger.  I do, however, a very full memory.  But I agree with you that the record will speak for itself, because its memory is also full.

I, too, wish to protect the integrity of the Gospel and of science.  That is why I have defended the sovereignty of the Biblical God against un-Biblical notions about nature’s “freedom,” and have denied false historical statements attributed to the Gospels but not found in them; and that is why I have criticized neo-Darwinian speculations as falling short of the demands of rigorous science.  For doing the first, I have raised your hackles; for doing the second, I have earned the eternal enmity of certain verbally aggressive neo-Darwinian thugs who gather to this site like flies to honey whenever it offers a chance to say something nasty about ID people.  I have regretted the conflict with you more than that with the others, because I can sense, underneath your often-difficult dialogical stance, a decent Christian individual, many of whose thoughts and aims I agree with.  Against you, I would much rather employ a garden hose than heavy artillery.  Still, I think I have to publically disagree with theological and historical statements that could seriously mislead readers here, and that is why many of your claims have evoked stout resistance from me.

I may be out of commission for a while, for medical reasons, so if you don’t hear from me again, rest assured that, despite my criticism of your theological formulations, I have never doubted the sincerity of your faith or your desire to make this a better world.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #77036

March 2nd 2013


Thank you for your response.

While I do think that it would be helpful if we could clarify the issues which we have been discussing, which as I have said are fer from easy, I do think that this is a good time and place to take a break.

Please get a good rest and take care of yourself while you are taking care of your medical issues.  God bless.

When and if you want to resume the discussion, let me know. 

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