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B.B. Warfield, Biblical Inerrancy, and Evolution

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August 22, 2011 Tags: Biblical Authority

Today's entry was written by Mark Noll. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

B.B. Warfield, Biblical Inerrancy, and Evolution

This post is drawn from Mark Noll's book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. In this excerpt, Noll describes the legacy of the American theologian B.B. Warfield. Warfield developed a powerful and enduring legacy in American evangelicalism for his belief that the Bible communicates revelation from God entirely without error. Yet while he defended biblical inerrancy, Warfield was also a cautious proponent of the possibility that God could have brought about life through evolution. His basic stance was a doctrine of providence that saw God working in and with the processes of nature, rather than completely replacing them. In Warfield’s mind, a high view of biblical authority was fully compatible with a divinely guided process of evolution.

A Case Study: B.B. Warfield, Concursis, and Evolution

A case study that shows how profitable it can be to approach scientific issues with Christological principles is provided by the career of Benjamin B. Warfield. In chapter 3 [of Noll's book], when discussing the doubleness of classical Christology, we saw how Warfield forcefully affirmed “this conjoint humanity and divinity [of Christ], within the limits of a single personality.” It was precisely this regard for the Chalcedonian definition of Christ’s person and work that enabled Warfield to handle with relative ease the knotty questions about evolution that arose during his lifetime.

From his position at Princeton Theological Seminary, Warfield wrote steadily from the 1880s until shortly before his death in 1921 about many aspects of his era’s developing evolutionary theories.1 These writings included major essays devoted to Darwin’s biography (“Charles Darwin’s Religious Life” in 1888 and “Darwin’s Arguments against Christianity” the next year); several substantial articles directly on evolution or related scientific issues (“The Present Day Conception of Evolution” in 1895, “Creation versus Evolution” in 1901, “On the Antiquity and Unity of the Human Race” in 1911, and “Calvin’s Doctrine of Creation” in 1915); and many reviews of relevant books, some of them mini-essays in their own right.

In these works, Warfield repeatedly insisted on distinguishing among Darwin as a person, Darwinism as a cosmological theory, and evolution as a series of explanations about natural development. Of key importance was his willingness throughout a long career to accept the possibility (or even the probability) of evolution, while also denying Darwinism as a cosmological theory. In his mind, these discriminations were necessary in order properly to evaluate both the results of disciplined observation (science) and large-scale conclusions drawn from that science (theology or cosmology). Crucially, a Christological perspective was prominent when he applied these discriminations to evolutionary theory.

For positioning Warfield properly on these subjects, it is also vital to stress a conjunction of his convictions that has been much less common since his day. Besides his openness toward evolution, that is, Warfield was also the ablest modern defender of the theologically conservative belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

During the late nineteenth century when critical views of Scripture came to prevail in American universities,Warfield was as responsible as any other American for refurbishing the conviction that the Bible communicates revelation from God entirely without error. Warfield’s formulation of biblical inerrancy, in fact, has even been a theological mainstay for recent “creationist” convictions about the origin of the earth.2 Yet while he defended biblical inerrancy, Warfield was also a cautious, discriminating, but entirely candid proponent of the possibility that evolution might offer the best way to understand the natural history of the earth and of humankind. On this score his views place him with more recent thinkers who maintain ancient trust in the Bible while also affirming the modern scientific enterprise and mainstream scientific conclusions.3 Warfield did not simply assert these two views randomly, but he sustained them learnedly, as coordinate arguments.

In the course of his career, both Warfield’s positions and his vocabulary did shift on the question of evolution. But they shifted only within a fairly narrow range. What remained constant was his adherence to a broad Calvinistic conception of the natural world — of a world that, even in its most physical aspects, reflected the wisdom and glory of God—and his commitment to the goal of harmonizing a sophisticated conservative theology and the most securely verified conclusions of modern science. To state once again his combination of positions, Warfield consistently rejected materialist or dysteleological explanations for natural phenomena (explanations that he usually associated with “Darwinism”), even as he just as consistently entertained the possibility that other kinds of evolutionary explanations, which avoided Darwin’s rejection of divine agency, could satisfactorily explain the physical world.

In several of his writings, Warfield carefully distinguished three ways in which God worked in and through the physical world. The most important thing about these three ways is that Warfield felt each of them was compatible with the theology he found in an inerrant Bible, if each was applied properly to natural history and to the history of salvation. “Evolution” meant developments arising out of forces that God had placed inside matter at the original creation of the world-stuff, but that God also directed to predetermined ends by his providential superintendence of the world. At least in writings toward the end of his life, Warfield held that evolution in this sense was fully compatible with biblical understandings of the production of the human body. “Mediate creation” meant the action of God upon matter to bring something new into existence that could not have been produced by forces or energy latent in matter itself. He did not apply the notion of “mediate creation” directly in his last, most mature writings on evolution, but it may be that he expounded the concept as much to deal with miracles or other biblical events as for developments in the natural world.4 The last means of God’s action was “creation ex nihilo,” which Warfield consistently maintained was the way that God made the original stuff of the world.

On questions relating to evolution, orthodox Christology became relevant when Warfield invoked the concept of concursus. By this term he meant the coexistence of two usually contrary conditions or realities. In speaking of the person of Christ he had used a closely related term, “conjoined.” For broader intellectual purposes, the key was to apply the same sense of harmoniously conjoined spheres to other domains.

As we will see with somewhat more detail when taking up Christology in relation to Scripture, Warfield held that the biblical authors were completely human as they wrote the Scriptures, even as they enjoyed the full inspiration of the Holy Spirit.5 This principle, grounded in Christology and exemplified in the Bible, was also his guide for positing an (evolutionary) approach to nature where all living creatures were thought to develop fully (with the exception of the original creation and the human soul) through “natural” means. Warfield’s basic stance, expressed first about Christ and then extrapolated for Scripture, was a doctrine of providence that saw God working in and with, instead of as a replacement for, the processes of nature. Late in his career, this same stance also grounded Warfield’s opposition to “faith healing.” In his eyes, physical healing through medicine and the agency of physicians was as much a result of God’s action (if through secondary causes) as the cures claimed as a direct result of divine intervention.6 Concursus was as important and as fruitful for his views on evolution as it was for his theology as a whole. It was a principle he felt the Scriptures offered to enable humans both to approach the world fearlessly and to do so for the greater glory of God.

Warfield’s strongest statement on evolution came in 1915 when he published a lengthy article on John Calvin’s view of creation.7 Although he never stated it in so many words, it is clear that the convictions he ascribed to Calvin were also his own. He summarizes what he read in Calvin: “It should scarcely be passed without remark that Calvin’s doctrine of creation is, if we have understood it aright, for all except the souls of men, an evolutionary one.” God had called the “indigested mass” into existence ex nihilo, with a full “promise and potency” of what was to develop from that mass. Yet, according to Warfield’s summary of Calvin, “all that has come into being since — except the souls of men alone — has arisen as a modification of this original world-stuff by means of the interaction of its intrinsic forces.” Warfield went on to affirm a robust doctrine of providence, whereby “all the modifications of the world-stuff have taken place under the directly upholding and governing hand of God, and find their account ultimately in His will.” Critically, however, he saw these later modifications taking place through “secondary causes.” And once “secondary causes” were viewed as the means by which the original creation was modified, we have, according to Warfield, “not only evolutionism but pure evolutionism.”

Warfield makes clear that Calvin did not himself explicitly embrace evolutionary theory since Calvin “had no conception” of “the interaction of forces by which the actual production of forms was accomplished.” Thus, lacking the information provided by modern students of nature, Calvin did not advocate a “theory” of evolution. But, Warfield insists, he did teach “a doctrine of evolution” that pictures God as producing the material stuff of the world “out of nothing,” but then “all that is not immediately produced out of nothing is therefore not created — but evolved.” Warfield then translates Calvin’s notion of “secondary causes” into what he defines as “intrinsic forces.”Warfield’s summary repeats a second time: “And this, we say, is a very pure evolutionary scheme.”

The point where Christology enters is where Warfield explains the deeper theology at work. In his summary, “Calvin’s ontology of second causes was, briefly stated, a very pure and complete doctrine of concursus, by virtue of which he ascribed all that comes to pass to God’s purpose and directive government.” For readers of Warfield in the twenty-first century, it is frustrating that he did not go further in expounding on this theological basis. He does say that the “account” of how “secondary causes” work is “a matter of ontology; how we account for their existence, their persistence, their action—the relation we conceive them to stand in to God, the upholder and director as well as creator of them.” But for his purposes with this essay, Warfield does not explore those ontological issues. The regret now is that, if he had taken up these ontological questions, he may have considered the Western tradition of univocity that had, in effect, dispensed with concursus in explaining the physical world.

As it is, we still have a most intriguing contribution to theology, science, and science considered in connection with theology. Warfield’s discussion of Calvin on evolution certainly indicated that he thought his very high view of biblical inspiration was fully compatible with comprehensive forms of evolutionary science (as distinct from evolutionary cosmology). Whether Warfield interpreted Calvin correctly or not, whether Warfield understood correctly his era’s scientific discoveries (in which he was well read for an amateur), or whether his own efforts at bringing together his era’s scientific knowledge and his interpretation of the biblical record were correct — these are all important but secondary issues. The main point lies elsewhere. The Scriptures that Warfield trusted implicitly revealed a God to him who created the world, providentially superintended the world, and gave human beings the capacity to explain the world naturally (in terms of “secondary causes”). The key theological principle that enabled Warfield to draw these conclusions was his belief in the classical Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon.

Warfield’s writings on evolution, the last of which appeared in the year of his death, 1921, cannot, of course, pronounce definitively on theological-scientific questions at the start of the twenty-first century. They can, however, show that sophisticated theology, nuanced argument, and careful sifting of scientific research are able to produce a much more satisfactory working relationship between science and theology than the heated strife that has dominated public debate on this subject since the time of Warfield’s passing.

This excerpt was drawn from chapter 3 of Mark Noll's book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. If you would like to read the whole chapter, entitled "Come and See: A Christological Invitation for Science", click here.

Notes

1. Most of these works are reprinted, with editorial introductions, in B. B. Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings, ed. Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).
2. For the direct use of Warfield on the inerrancy of Scripture, see John C. Whitcomb Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), xx.
3. For example, Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954); Russell L. Mixter, ed., Evolution and Christian Thought Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959); D. C. Spanner, Creation and Evolution: Some Preliminary Considerations (London: Falcon Books, 1966); Malcolm A. Jeeves, ed., The Scientific Enterprise and Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1969); Donald M. MacKay, The Clockwork Image: A Christian Perspective on Science (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974); Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology and Scientific Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Davis A. Young, Christianity and the Age of the Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982); Charles E. Hummel, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986); J. C. Polkinghorne, OneWorld: The Interaction of Science and Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); Howard J. Van Till, The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens Are Telling Us about the Creation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986); John Houghton, Does God Play Dice? A Look at the Story of the Universe (Leicester, England: Inter Varsity Press, 1988); Philip Duce, Reading the Mind of God: Interpretation in Science and Theology (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998); Alister McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998); Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (New York: Free Press, 2007); Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2008); and Karl W. Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (New York: HarperOne, 2008).
4. Warfield deployed a similar vocabulary in a discussion of miracles that he published at about the same time; see “The Question of Miracles,” in The Bible Student (March-June 1903), as reprinted in The Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, vol. 2, ed. John E. Meeter (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973), 167-204.
5. See below, 130-32.
6. See Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York: Scribner, 1918).
7. ForWarfield’s complete essay, see “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Creation,” in The Works of Benjamin B.Warfield, vol. 5, Calvin and Calvinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 287-349. The quotations that follow are taken from Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture, 308-9.


Mark Noll is a historian, essayist and professor specializing in the history of American Christianity. Since 2006 he has been the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. His books include America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln; God and Race in American Politics: A Short History and The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which has been widely recognized for making a strong appeal for a better approach to intellectual life among American evangelicals.


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Jon Garvey - #64148

August 22nd 2011

Warfield would appear to be a “must read” for Christians interested in the evolution/theology interface. Yet I see that Mark Noll’s collection of his writings on it, Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings, is out of print so maybe the Christian world isn’t that interested. I wish I could get hold of a copy.

Jay Richards, however, has an interesting review at http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=14-08-044-b, which is worth reading. Whether or not he is right in aligning Warfield’s views to ID’s, I believe he is right in saying that they are, sadly, diametrically oposed to much contemporary theistic evolution. Where nowadays can one see his nuanced mix of reverence for the truth of the whole Biblical text, robust critique of the claims of science, and a coherent view of God’s sovereign control of natural processes?

It would be refreshing to see his position developed in the modern context, but I fear there may be too many entrenched sociolological groupings for it to happen, particularly on the polarised American scene.

Thankyou, Mark, for another excellent post (even if it is quoted from your book!)


Peter Hickman - #64161

August 22nd 2011

Jon,
Addall appears to have several copies of Noll’s Evolution, Science, and Scripture: Selected Writings.
http://used.addall.com


Jon Garvey - #64162

August 22nd 2011

Peter, you’re a star! A Transatlantic transaction in the offing, maybe.


Random Arrow - #64163

August 22nd 2011

Mark, I’m having a hard time getting into this.

The basic summary is a case example (Warfield) of reconciling evangelical faith to then-Darwinism. Not yet the neo-Darwinian synthesis. It’s not like Warfield’s so-called Christology has any parametric value or acts as a parameter rather than as a mere concept. There’s nothing in concursis that isn’t better covered by DeMorgan’s laws (not (P and Q) = (not P) or (not Q)) and with no theology needed. There’s nothing in Warfield that can’t be interpreted (admittedly: interpreted) as an after the fact rationalization to embrace science. And there’s an open door for special pleading by theology as somehow synthetic in the way Maxwell created a novel synthesis – except that theology is contributing nothing. It’s a bit too like trying to give Lemaître credit for merely guessing about BB when Hubble did the work. I consider Lemaître a genius. But credit goes where credit’s due.

Finally, if Warfield is such hot cheese, where’s the reception? Where are the long lines of consensual followers? Where’s the approaching-consensus in the wake of magesterial Warfield? Why revive what isn’t consensually received? Why does this feel almost (not quite) like poster-boy-ism?

My comments aren’t fair to Noll’s patient work. Except that patience here really is in service of special pleading ends.

 

Jim


Darrel Falk - #64171

August 23rd 2011

Let’s be clear. According to Noll—evangelicalism’s leading historian—one hundred years ago, one of the leading proponents of biblical inerrancy held the following position.

i> ”In several of his writings, Warfield carefully distinguished three ways in which God worked in and through the physical world. The most important thing about these three ways is that Warfield felt each of them was compatible with the theology he found in an inerrant Bible, if each was applied properly to natural history and to the history of salvation. “Evolution” meant developments arising out of forces that God had placed inside matter at the original creation of the world-stuff, but that God also directed to predetermined ends by his providential superintendence of the world. At least in writings toward the end of his life, Warfield held that evolution in this sense was fully compatible with biblical understandings of the production of the human body. “Mediate creation” meant the action of God upon matter to bring something new into existence that could not have been produced by forces or energy latent in matter itself. He did not apply the notion of “mediate creation” directly in his last, most mature writings on evolution, but it may be that he expounded the concept as much to deal with miracles or other biblical events as for developments in the natural world.”

o:p> The point here is not, whether Warfield would have held an ID view today if he were alive. It is not to beatify Warfield as though he were suddenly “hot cheese.” The point is that in the early days—before the water got muddied—one of evangelicalism’s clearest and most profound thinkers expressed views that mirror a biologos way of thinking about divine action in the natural world. If ID can embrace the above paragraph, Jon, then that would be fantastic because we would have identified a common ground from which we can work upwards. Jim, as followers of Jesus, we’re not terribly interested in who gets credit for what. However, we are interested in clearing 100 years of muddied water so we can get to the heart of what it means to be an evangelical while also leaving foundational principles of geology, physics, astronomy, and biology intact. We love and appreciate our young earth/sudden creation brothers and sisters. May the waters be cleared so that Jesus alone once more becomes our common vantage point. We want to see the day when we can join hands together as a unit celebrating the Lordship of Jesus Christ and we don’t want our young people thinking that they have to choose between the Christian life and what they perceive to be scientifically established reality.

o:p> 


Random Arrow - #64196

August 23rd 2011

Falk - “Let’s be clear. According to Noll—evangelicalism’s leading historian ....”

Falk - “Jim, as followers of Jesus, we’re not terribly interested in who gets credit for what.”

See what I mean?

It is “terribly” important “who gets credit for what” by crediting Noll as – “evangelicalism’s leading historian.”

It is terribly important for Noll (“evangelicalism’s leading historian”) to make sure that Warfield “gets credit” for his place in evangelical intellectual history.

That’s what historians do.

Perhaps I’ve taken too seriously, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, wherein Noll (“evangelicalism’s leading historian”) pins the tail of anti-intellectualism onto the tail of the evangelical donkey?

I agree with Noll. And said, “My comments aren’t fair to Noll’s patient work.” I do agree with Falk’s clarification. I see no animus in Noll or Falk. I agree that if Noll’s retrieval of Warfield helps a single evangelical reconsider a pro-science reconciliation of faith and science, then it’s worth it. And more. I don’t think Noll needs to be judged the consensus Noll commands. Any more than Warfield deserves to be judged by the consensus Warfield failed to command. Which means that even if one single evangelical – did not – come to reconcile faith and science, then Noll’s project is still worthwhile for setting the record straight. Since truth-telling is an act of worship (in my book) no matter who is listening. The questions I don’t see addressed (in Falk’s response) are my questions about consensus? Or maybe Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, is the prophetic portent that evangelicals are anti-intellectual enough that evangelicals will never approximate a consensus? How can you have a consensus if you’re not thinking? Is my problem an ignorance of Noll or of taking Noll too seriously?

Falk - “.. we don’t want our young people thinking that they have to choose between the Christian life and what they perceive to be scientifically established reality.”

I think this summarizes why I could not get into this. And why I said so. I’m not one of the evangelical, “young people.” Perhaps I’m excluded from this component of – evangelical worship? I take Falk’s comment as an act of repentance on behalf of the parents to the children of the next generation. Repentance for, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Perhaps I too should repent? Repent for not being raised in an evangelical family? Or repent for studying history with Martin Marty rather than with Noll, that is, since Marty holds the view that evangelicalism (fundamentalism too) might do well to die to its “ism” just enough to view its religious destiny as serving the larger public in the larger public quest for a larger publically accessible truth? Perhaps I should repent of the view that seeking truth across the larger public is itself an act of worship? Or maybe we’re really stuck with “worship” parochially defined and balkanized?

Beats me.

 

Jim


Random Arrow - #64199

August 23rd 2011

Please forgive my poor copy editing in that fast draft. I cut off a short paragraph about Ken Miller. I’m not into ID. I’m thoroughly Darwinian. I don’t think Miller’s exegesis of the many caricatures (false images) of God which anti-science theologies and anti-Darwinian theologies produce is an exegesis of theological grotesqueness limited to evangelicals. Miller catalogues God as a Charlatan, a Magician, a Mechanic, and the Gods of Disbelief – all of these caricatures of God are results of anti-science theologies. There’s nothing uniquely evangelical about these caricatures. Evangelical oddities in theology might contribute unique impurities to the crystalline forms of these caricatures. Just like natural crystals too suffer impurities in their particulars. But I seen nothing – nothing – uniquely evangelical about these caricatures of God. Those raised in atheist families (like me) instead of in good evangelical families – and those who come to know the Love of God without the courtesies of evangelical anti-intellectualism – ask these same general questions – despite a lack in background of evangelical crystalline impurities. Evangelicals might join the larger world one day – seeking non-proprietary truth.

Jim


Jon Garvey - #64173

August 23rd 2011

Hi, Darrel

I’ve not yet read Warfield’s original stuff (though it’s in the post from your side of the pond), and I can’t speak for ID supporters, but from my reading of their views I can think of several points where many of them would agree with that paragraph:
(a) An inerrant Bible
(b) A role for evolution involving natural mechanisms (though the natural c1930 Modern Synthesis mechanisms of RS &NS as sufficient might be less acceptable - but ID’s not unique in that)
(c) A role for providential mechanisms in producing predetermined ends (eg Big Bang frontloading, quantum mechanisms, genomic frontloading as per Dembski or Mike Gene, though the latter doesn’t self-identify with ID)
(d) A non-exclusion of mediate creation a priori (I feel pretty certain that Warfield retained that for some aspects of human origin, if not for the physical).

If those things are BioLogian, let the dialogue continue! However, there do seem to be a large number on the theistic evolution side who have problems with:
(a) an inerrant Bible
(b) the existence of predetermined ends (ie teleology) and,
(c) consequently, of any particular proposed mechanisms for them (eg frontloading, which would be detectable in principle but excluded by methodological naturalism)
(d) allowing for mediate creation (in Warfield’s terminology) in, say, the “ensoulment” of mankind, or OOL - or indeed, in any stage of evolution, in some cases icluding human behaviour and spirituality.

I agree with you that there has been a century or more of muddied waters, which seems to me to go back even as far as the secularist agenda of people like Huxley and the construction of Darwin as scientistic myth (which was the result of many of the same forces that drove the agenda of theological liberalism); to the subsequent negative reaction of the original Fundamentalists; to the predominance of anti-intellectual revivalism and Arminianism is American Evangelicalism and, of course, to the subsequent rise in literalist Creationism and the present political polarisation.
 
It seems to me (and maybe to you, from your post) that Warfield predates a lot of that stuff intellectually and theologically, which may be why his approach got buried in the mud somewhere. I’d have to say that it seems a lot more plausible to many of us over here, maybe because our pond has been stirred a bit less this side of the Atlantic.


Open Circle - #64323

August 28th 2011

Hi Jon,

To the best of my understanding (someone more knowledgeable please correct me if I’m wrong), theistic evolution in general (which aligns most closely with BioLogos) affirms ultimate teleology (from God’s standpoint), but denies that it can be detectable through scientific means as opposed to philosophical and theological argument. The reason for making this distinction is partly pedantic (methodological naturalism is in fact the operating principle of science), but also partly because ID has so far failed to make its case in peer-reviewed academic literature - i.e., it has failed to produce data that cannot be accounted for using naturalistic explanations, and thus it has (so far) been ruled out by Occam’s Razor. I think that is the key difference. If ID can really come up with a compelling non-ambiguous example of design, then by all means they should submit it to peer-reviewed biology journals, because so far everything that I’ve seen from ID so far is just arguing from analogy which, to be frank, is not sufficiently intellectually rigorous.

I do not think that BioLogos has an inherent issue with Scriptural inerrancy (though it seems to welcome writers who are of this view), God’s ends-oriented providence through natural means (it would not be detectable through scientific methodology, though it would be a valid topic for theological discussion), or even the a priori non-exclusion of mediate creation.

Cheers,
-Open Circle


Jon Garvey - #64330

August 29th 2011

Hi, OC

Two posts I’m afraid - one on ID, especially on “analogy”, and one on Biologos.

Origin of Species is, of course, an argument from analogy from end to end, whether that’s analogy from selective breeding of from Malthusian sociology. Most of the data was promised, but never produced. But more relevant today, the Modern Synthesis itself depends on the analogy from population genetics generalised to speciation and above, with real problems from the evidence.

Looking at two flagship ID cases, I question your premise. Behe in Black Box suggested that molecular evidence made Neodarwinian development of the flagellum vanishingly improbable. His analogy of a molecular machine was purely illustrative but nevertheless valid. The strongest response has been the description of theType III secretory apparatus that may have been a precursor of the flagellum (if it wasn’t in fact derived from it). Though the structure exhibits the same complexity problems as the flagellum at a lower level, the argument is that (by analogy from population genetics) it must have arisen by RM & NS, and therefore must have continued in the same ill-defined way to the flagellum. That’s not persuasive to me. The particular response at Biologos was to show that, since one can discover the self-assembly mechanism for the flagellum in cells, by analogy that leads us to understanding its development - to use my own analogy, if you can run Windows you can write it. I’m not persuaded.

Stephen Meyer’s Signature argued from mathematics, information theory and lack of a plausible scientific theory on the origin of life. First consider that the standard overview runs from the analogy that pop. gen. can explain speciation to the analogy that biological evolution must have an equivalent in the chemical realm, though there’s no shred of persuasive evidence.

But Dennis Venema’s response at Biologos took this further. Because Lenski’s E. coli work showed a small number of non-categorised random mutations over 50K generations that produced adaptation to a citrate medium, together with maladaptation to the glucose medium, he deemed this “an increase of complex specified information”. Though CSI is notoriously hard to define, Meyer had tried hard to specify what he meant by “information”, but Dennis used it in a different sense analogically.

His argument from this, though, was that since CSI was now seen to be produced by RM & NS at this trivial level, by analogy it could be seen as an adequate mechanism for all biological information, and by analogy to the origin of life (though to be fair Dennis did not address OOL at all, preferring to argue that since Meyer appeared to apply his thesis to biology in one or two places in his book by analogy, it was valid to argue back analogically to refute the original thesis.  Curious.)

So when you say “[ID] has failed to produce data that cannot be accounted for using naturalistic explanations” it seems to me that more often than not the argument is like Darwin’s on the fossil record, which runs like this: “My theory is plausible, and I intend to present lots of evidence that I have to hand later on. Granted, the fossil record speaks against my proposals, but if you accept my suggestions about why that evidence might be wrong, you have to admit that my theory is correct.” Somewhere along the line, his ttheory skipped the need to provide evidence for itself before refuting its opponents’ evidence.


Open Circle - #64389

August 31st 2011

Hi Jon,

(My response to your BioLogos posts is below.)

It appears that you have read more thoroughly into ID than I have so I will not be able to give you a point-by-point response, but I think the points that I make should be sufficiently general to cover most if not all of your main arguments, so here goes.

What exact problems do you have with the modern synthesis with regards to speciation? It is my understanding (I am currently an undergraduate at a major US research university, so I have a bit of contact with graduate students doing cutting-edge work in evolution) that speciation is still very much a ongoing topic of study. That said, the biological processes underlying reproduction are not much different from that of any other physiological process. There is an abundance of pre- and post-zygotic mechanisms that prevent the production of viable, fertile offspring between two different species, and an even greater number of ways by which these mechanisms may evolve and work either individually or in concert to enable speciation.

You are correct in saying that understanding sequence homology and self-assembly (in the case of the type 3 secretory system) is not equivalent to understanding evolutionary development, but the fact that presumed “irreducibly complex” structures can actually be reduced strongly detracts from the ID claim, because it enables a plausible mechanism by which evolution could have taken place. While that may not have been the actual means by which evolution did take place, to argue that ID is therefore valid because no comprehensive evolutionary explanation has yet been found is, to be frank, argument from ignorance. You see, ID’s entire case for its plausibility was based on the supposition that specific examples of biological complexity exist that were impossible to be “decomposed” and explained through evolutionary means. Now that recent data has turned up showing that these complex structures and processes can actually be reduced, to claim that ID is still in the running because thorough evolutionary explanations are not yet available is to engage in fallacious reasoning.

Regarding the purported application of information theory, I honestly find the notion to be a huge smokescreen because as it stands, information theory really is not a useful means by which we can model genetic information. Just off the top of my head, I can think of two ways by which genetic information can be increased: through nucleotide insertion or through sequence duplication followed by mutation. Done.

I agree that the origin of life is a much murkier topic (and it is an area of active research), but it is important to distinguish that field from biological evolution, which strictly speaks to the diversity and complexity of life once the first life has begun. I have not read the BioLogos materials on this matter, but I believe that the RNA world hypothesis is still the prevailing paradigm by which a single molecule could both exhibit catalytic activity and carry genetic information (even though there are obivous issues with this hypothesis, such as the instability of the RNA molecule). Rudimentary selection “forces” - obviously not through population genetics mechanisms since genetics didn’t exist back then - may have played a role, but they would be operating primarily at the biochemical level, instead of also involving a genetic component as evolution does now.

So in summary, I think that with the way the evidence currently stands, ID is basically an argument from ignorance. It has not poked fundamentally unresolvable holes in evolution because most of the “irreducible complexities” can actually be reduced upon further investigation. If something really turns up that the modern synthesis can’t explain, I’m sure the scientific community will welcome it (do you realize how much fame there is to be gained for the scientist who can legitimately overturn evolution - he or she would essentially be the next Einstein in biology), but until that happens evolution has so far been extremely successful in explaining biological diversity.

(As a side note, I don’t think that cosmological fine-tuning is a valid argument for the theistic worldview for the same reasons - it’s pure argument from ignorance. BioLogos appears to disagree since they continue to cite it on their website, but sooner or later it will come back to bite them in the rear end. I think that basing our arguments on something much more substantial such as the intelligibility of the universe provides a much more solid philosophical ground on which to discuss possible pointers to God’s existence.)

Cheers,
-Open Circle


Jon Garvey - #64402

August 31st 2011

OC

I’ll try to shrink, rather than escalate, post length in my reply.

My problems with speciation (which I probably share with ID people and “post-darwinists”) is that shifting gene frequencies and slow gradual change appear inadequate. There are roughly as many differences within the human gene pool as between us and chimps, yet the former don’t even amount to biological races, yet the latter change the world.

Specifically, I read examples of speciation involving changes in chromosome number or division of chromosomes, hybridisation, symbiosis, genome duplication and other necessarily rapid transitions, but am unaware of any actual demonstrated examples from gradual shift of gene frequency over time alone.

As for IC, AFAIK Behe compared the flagellum to a moustrap. The argument was that as a mousetrap it could not develop gradually - all the bits are necessary to have a selectable machine. Type III secretory apparatus shows that you can use a spiked piece of wood for something else. Doesn’t answer its formation, its incorporation into a new mechanism - nor if it developed later from the flagellum does it say much at all.

To avoid getting too long I’ll just reply to “argument from ignorance”. To be valid, that must be contrasted with the argument from knowledge. Regarding IC, “we’ve seen a few partly-adaptive mutations to E coli - so we can guess that (not how!) the flagellum would evolve” is not knowledge. Regarding genetic information, “if there were sequence duplication and a series of positive mutations, new genetic information could be added” is not knowledge. In the case of OOL, “if everything came together in ways we’ve not been able to duplicate or explain, RNA life might be able to form” is not knowledge.

A promise that one day evidence will emerge is not knowledge - it’s living on credit, which is a habit Charles Darwin himself practised.

In contrast “what we know so far shows fine tuning in the Universe, and there’s not yet a viable alternative on the table” is an argument from knowledge, subject to revision (but less so as the hadron collider rules out some of the more ambitious alternatives).


Open Circle - #64468

September 3rd 2011

Hi Jon,

Apologies for the delayed response, I’ll try to keep my reply concise as well.

Unfortunately, your information is incorrect. The genome-wide nucleotide divergence between humans and chimps is on the order of 1.23%. On the other hand, the divergence between individual humans is around 0.5%, and that includes structural variation (which do not represent nucleotide divergence) as well as single nucleotide polymorphisms (which only make up 0.1% of the genome). So, chimps are far more different from us than we are from each other, genetically speaking.

Exactly - the supposition is that “all the bits are necessary to have a selectable machine.” But the homology with the type 3 secretory apparatus shows that an individual bit could very much be a selectable machine. I agree that we don’t understand the apparatus’s formation, mechanism of incorporation, or phylogeny (my personal guess is that the flagellum and the secretory apparatus share a common ancestor), but its existence is significant evidence against the Behe’s premise that all the pieces must simultaneously “fall into place” in order for the machinery be selectable.

Mutation following sequence duplication and nucleotide insertion are not hypothetical mechanisms - genetic information is invariably added when they occur. This happens all the time in somatic cells with the formation of antibodies in the immune system, which undergoes their own kind of selection (I like to call it pico-evolution) to prefer antibodies that bind best to target antigen. Also, I should remind you that the extent of positive selection is still a matter of debate in evolutionary biology. Kimura’s hypothesis of neutral evolution is still valid in many genomic contexts. All that evolutionary biology needs is differential selection, not necessarily positive (relative to current baseline) selection.

You raise interesting questions about mechanism, but have you forgotten the evidence that comes from - say, the presence of telomeric sequences in the centromeric region of human chromosome 2? Most of the evidence for evolution did not come from proposing complete mechanisms, but looking at end products and observing the patterns of similarity between them.

Your post suggests that you do not understand how theory choice works in science - once we have as much empirical evidence for a theory as we do for evolution, gaps in our understanding of its details and mechanisms are not considered as weaknesses, but as open research problems. Scientists are conservative by nature - we will not reject a theory once significant evidence for it has been established unless valid fundamental objections showing its internal or external inconsistency arise. Gaps in knowledge just mean that we don’t know everything, not that the theory is in crisis. (By the same token, the multiverse hypothesis is not yet valid because no such evidence for it exists, empirical or otherwise.)

Cheers,
-Open Circle


Jon Garvey - #64470

September 3rd 2011

Hi Open Circle

The chimp/human genome point came from some of Dennis’s posts. He gave the figures at 5% and 2%, obviously using different parameters, but it’s the same order of magnitude. His point was about how little difference there is between apes and humans genetically, considering the variation in human genes, but unfortunately he didn’t answer my question on the qualitative differences that make such a relatively small change so profound. You’ve answered that to an extent.

But still it seems to me that a change like chromosome fusion is going to erect a species barrier more or less at once - I can’t see how that could be subsumed under the heading of “gradual change in gene frequencies”.

It does seem to me that a good number of scientists consider openly that the Modern Synthesis can’t be stretched to include the current (and likely) understandings of speciation events. That includes people coming from very diverse angles - such as Koonin in genomics, Chen in Cambrian palaeontology, James Shapiro in molecular biology and others considering themselves within the Darwinian camp, quite apart from the outliers like Margulis and those sympathetic to ID viewpoints. It seems to me that what they have in common is the increasing conviction that plausibility alone is no longer sufficient, in the light of the unfolding complexities being discovered, to claim Neodarwinian mechanisms for big changes. “We had situation A - we now have situation Z - therefore there must have been a Neodarwinian pathway between the two.” That’s fine until someone suggests reasons why those the mechanisms wouldn’t do the job. Then it becomes inadequate to say, “But we have A and we have Z!” Saying that we also have M doesn’t add much.

The article I quoted in #64403 crows that the near simultaneous appearance of all these exotic mutations shows that Behe is wrong in saying that something like the flagellum could not have have arisen, irreducibly complex or not. But I think Behe is saying that it can’t be produced by shifting gene frequencies, and that saltational events are outside the envelope of the Modern Synthesis, whilst gradualist solutions need to be demonstrated in detail rather than assumed.

“Scientists are conservative by nature.” Goes for people in general. That means there are always going to be young bloods backing new losers, those ahead of the curve in ditching old ones and those continuing to back them after they’re dead. Whether we’re professionals or outside observers, we’ll occupy somewhere on that spectrum. I’m not a fan of J B S Haldane, but his famous quote does seem instructive: “Theories have four stages of acceptance. i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.”


Open Circle - #64474

September 3rd 2011

Just a brief comment: changes in gene frequency are gradual (i.e. continuous), but aren’t necessarily “slow.” Depending on the selection coefficient of an allele and the degree of genetic drift, it can happen in a very short period of time.

Example: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/276/1656/543/F3.large.jpg

The solid lines represent yeast populations that are exposed to strong sexual selection while the dotted lines represent  those exposed to weaker sexual selection. Sexual selection is controlled by varying the number of available mating opportunities - few opportunities to generate high selection and many opportunities to generate low selection. Notably, all 12 populations have the same genotype, but depending on the selection coefficient generated by interaction with the environment, drastic changes in gene frequency can very easily occur.

Cheers,
-Open Circl


Jon Garvey - #64332

August 29th 2011

“I do not think that BioLogos has an inherent issue with Scriptural inerrancy (though it seems to welcome writers who are of this view), God’s ends-oriented providence through natural means (it would not be detectable through scientific methodology, though it would be a valid topic for theological discussion), or even the a priori non-exclusion of mediate creation. “

Scriptural inerrancy: as you say, BL welcomes writers who don’t hold to it. More tellingly it commissions long series directly criticising it. As a generalisation, most of the voices raised in favour of it are visiting YECs or, sometimes, ID supporters. In the background is an idea that Scripture can be affirmed 100% without claiming inerrancy, which as it has so far been presented in contradistinction to “fundamentalist” as far as I can see, hasn’t really exposed itself to critical appraisal. Somehow that idea needs to counter the suspicion that it means “I rely absolutely on everything you say, except when you’re lying.”

Ends orientated providence: the predominance of Open Theism at BioLogos, with its stress on creations’s freedom, appears to militate against this. The line between God’s not being seen to interfere and not being allowed to interfere is very fine, and is certainly pressed hard by atheists here and outside. “Interfere” is in fact one of those words that maybe ought to appear as hatches - but I accept that for many, God’s providence need not imply interference. But the problemss come when one tries to pin down that providence.

I can think of three levels at which that could work in the natural world, and one extra in the human.
(a) Achieving ends by front-loading. In other words, by material determinism. But this raises hackles because it limits creation’s supposed “freedom” and because, inevitably, it is detectable. Cosmic fine tuning has been observed, and is an embarrassment to metholodical naturalism. But in practice too it is unacceptable: Behe’s own thought about irreducible complexity is that it is the product of fron-loading at the level of physical laws, ie it is a deterministic result of fine tuning. But BioLogos gives him no support at all for that.
(b) Achieving ends through random events: this is thoroughly Biblical mechanism for providence, God being said to direct contingency. But it is directly excluded by Open Theism’s insistence that randomness is a feature of creation’s freedom. God would be wrong to direct chance - and in evolution, loading the dice would be no better than creationism. So it’s not popular on BioLogos. Besides, it too would be detectable: if 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats toss coins, and the former all get heads and the latter tails, the statistical distribution is random but the result is not: loaded dice can be detected by other means than bell-curves.
(c) Achieving ends through mediate creation. Not ruled out a priori, ‘tis true, and often affirmed positively in salvation history. But comes directly up against the “non detectable” criiterion, because it’s a non-scientific mechanism. And hence unpopular at BS. On another thread I set up a thought experiment of a lab population of animals that, overnight, acquired multiple DNA changes resulting in offspring of a new, radically different, species. My intention was to test the limits of methodological naturalism. I got a lot of stick for being ID, some comment on how real scientists would investigate further and produce hypotheses. But, on a theistic evolution website, not one response (as far as I recollect) that, in that case, one would legitimately admit the possibility of “mediate creation.”

So if God does guide providentially, how exactly could he do so? No one on BioLogos has ever answered that without trying to have their cake and eat it, ie by affirming that he’s a providential God, whilst simultaneously excluding any specific means by which providence could act - and in many cases, by denying that God would limit himself and creation by any actual action one might propose.

One more post - sorry.

 


Jon Garvey - #64333

August 29th 2011

In the human realm, clearly one other way God could act would be by influencing the choices of people. But although the Bible spells out such influence quite clearly (eg Gen 45.45, Acts 4.27-28), Open Theism denies it on the grounds that it would limit human freedom, which is an absolute. In any case, God’s own ability to plan is dependent on free human choices, so that his hands are tied.

The Christ event, and its influence on humanity, is an oft-expressed locus for God’s decisive action in the world - and that’s true, and the central fact of history to the Christian. But it is clearly of limited direct relevance in the biological story of the world, and in the unfolding of human history before the incarnation.

So my first question remains - how many at BioLogos would feel comfortable basing their understanding on Warfield’s approach? It hasn’t had resounding endorsement on this thread, has it?


Random Arrow - #64338

August 29th 2011

Jon, great post. This is a quick response only. I may take this up more fully here or on my own blog. I don’t know good blogging manners or preferences for where to reply. Here, for now. I’m coming from a neo-Darwinian perspective as a theist with a robust sense of God’s intervention in praxis (this is not my focus in this post). I don’t want to argue any of that in this present example. Save to say I’m not making an ID or SC case. And I have more questions than answers. Moving on. Your examples “(a)” and “(b)” overlap on a Venn where dice are front-loaded and I’m not clear yet whether “c” deserves stand alone treatment or better fits to knowing initial conditions at a roulette table in order to cheat (front loading knowledge). Correct my mistakes here. Jon, my bias (for the moment) is that Darwin’s dangerous idea is a great acid wash for just about all theology in ways potentially beneficial to future efforts to derive empirical theologies stitching together revelatory traditions and natural theology. I agree strongly with your impression (or was that a conclusion?) that no one at Biologos is addressing the question of divine intervention – not directly via method. Nor too well indirectly. With the caveat, “according to my knowledge.” I don’t consider nor style myself the pariah of BioLogos. The hosts deserve their niche. And I can forage here along the edges. I have my many other private reservations. Just a note to say that your mind experiment is profoundly interesting. Chewing, more later! ~ Jim


Jon Garvey - #64350

August 29th 2011

Thanks RA. A quick clarification of my three mechanisms and why I think they’re separate, based on where I suppose Warfield would have started.

(a) BBW would be thinking of pre-relativity/pre-quantum natural law. Human babies come from natural laws, but yet are God’s creation and each “known by name”, so why could not the process of evolution involve chemistry or physics? Now we know that those mechanisms aren’t alone adequate to explain life, let alone lives, but we can speculate on unknown law at a deeper level (? extreme fine tuning of the cosmological constants), or maybe something unknown about the LUCA genome (biological front-loading). It’s front loading in either case in that the world is set up to produce interesting results deterministically. If the Universe inevitably produces rocks it’s interesting. If it produces philosophers it’s spooky. But it’s only a problem if for some reason you think God’s work shouldn’t be visible.

(b) Dice are only loaded if there’s a house rule that they’re supposed to be uncontrolled. But God has never said he’s handed the keys over to chance - we just assume it from the unpredictability of events. BBW was unaware of statistics, but knew that dice aren’t predictable, stone chips fly at unexpected angles and people get lucky sometimes. He knew his Bible taught that these were ultimately God’s choices. Statistically I can view it like my recording a piece of music - overall the stereo mix is balanced, frequencies balance out and volume is normalised. But within that, I can make pretty patterns or surprise people. In fact I always do because it’s music, not noise - I’m not loading the dice, just trying to do art.

(c) BBW was thinking in the category of miracle, I think. So he would not believe that any natural process would make a human soul in communion with God, any more than the Holy Spirit could be reduced to physics or chance. Maybe there are times when God gets his hands dirty in evolution.

Extending the music analogy, a creative artist could use a deterministically constrained rhythm pattern (law), write and record the piece itself as a complex information chain (“chance”) and then improvise live over the top. If you want to include freedom (in my book, only coherent if appled to intelligent beings) then the artist could give others a chorus to play - or even bounce ideas off them and respond to their responses or mutual interaction. A good bandleader might even keep out of view, but if he stopped doing his thing you’d realise pretty soon why his name was on the label.

Helpful?


Random Arrow - #64373

August 30th 2011

Jon, excellent. Please forgive this terribly brief reply. A sketch. This compositional approach to faith is not just an analogy but also a direct application (imho). One problem with pure science (yes, I think there’s a relative purity in science) is that it gets perverted quickly. Say in 30 seconds. Like maths for biological predation applied by economic game theorists – discoveries (in this case, the maths fit to behaviors) work two ways. To expose fraud. To cover fraud too – see ‘control fraud.’ Even if harmonic composition is homeopathic (and it’s not), then predatory permutations on pure compositions are not homeopathic – there’s no escaping allopathic differential diagnoses. Jesus – “what’s that to you? .. you follow Me.” Theologians seem generally ill equipped for this task. BBW set a good table for it. I thank you for helping me see that. Much better! More later ....

 

Jim


Open Circle - #64390

August 31st 2011

Hi Jon,

Interesting points. (My response to your ID post is above.)

Your criticisms about Open Theism are certainly well-warranted, and I in fact agree with them in general. In part, this is because I lean towards Reformed (Calvinist) theological views, and thus am perfectly fine with the non-existence of “free will” - to me it is not clear if human will is even free of naturalistic determination, but even if it was, it is most certainly not independent of God’s sovereignty. Honestly I find ideas like Open Theism to be quite wishy-washy, conjured to make ourselves feel better about the existence of free will, even though there is substantial biblical support (e.g. Romans 9) that “true” free will does not actually exist. So no disagreements there.

I also find myself essentially agreeing with your three proposed mechanisms for how God’s providence may act. In fact, I had independently arrived at the exact same ideas in my personal musings (prior to reading your thoughts). Several comments:

a. It is still not really known whether the universe is truly non-deterministic at the fundamental level. Quantum mechanics is certainly probabilistic, but (last time I checked with my physicist friends) we don’t really know at this point whether that is mere phenomenology (since complex deterministic systems can appear probabilistic) or actually reflects the properties of nature at a fundamental level. If it turns out that the universe is actually fundamentally deterministic, then only front-loading is necessary. Otherwise, God can be providential through direction of contingency.

b. One challenge with mediate creation from a scientific standpoint is simply that there are no credible and validated accounts of it documented since the advancement of modern science. However, I personally believe in it because that is how I think about the “mechanism” of miracles. Another challenge with mediate creation is that humans can’t really elucidate the precise nature of any act of “mediate creation,” so it remains in large-part a theoretical concept that is empirically unprovable. By definition these are not the regular workings of nature, so we don’t really have much of an opportunity to study such events in detail. That is an issue that we may have to deal with if we wish to formalize this proposal. A third challenge is that mediate creation by definition is an extraordinary claim, so in order to really “demonstrate” mediate creation we would have to exhaust all plausible known and unknown (but conceivable) alternate naturalistic explanations, because otherwise we would be making an argument from ignorance, rather than applying Occam’s Razor and attributing the lack of a known naturalistic explanation to gaps in our current knowledge. As you can see, the intellectual barrier for “establishing” mediate creation is unfortunately quite high - that does not mean I don’t believe in it though. It’s just that proving that it actually happens is much harder than it appears on first glance.

c. I’m actually not sure there is substantial biblical or intellectual basis for the existence an immaterial “soul” in humans that is separate and distinguished from the physical brain in order to explain thoughts and behavior. I have heard that this view (which seems very widespread) is more the result of Greek philosophy that has permeated Western thought, as opposed to based on biblical or philosophical justification. To me, the supposition that soul = mind = brain seems to be sufficient. The providence of the Holy Spirit can just as easily be achieved through front-loading and/or direction of contingency that originates at the biological level and results in changed outward thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. With the way that modern neurobiology is going, we may very well have to abandon the existence of the immaterial “soul” by Occam’s Razor if a reasonable prospect for the biological description of all of human psychology turns up in the future. If you then ask how our identities would be preserved for Christ’s second coming and the final judgement under this scenario, I can simply propose that some form of information transfer (not necessarily naturalistic) may very well exist to enable it. After all, this is the final judgment (a very important occasion!), so I wouldn’t expect the mechanisms involved to necessarily be limited to natural ones. Just saying.

Cheers,
-Open Circle


Jon Garvey - #64403

September 1st 2011

Agree with all, really. I’ve been trying to pin down how Open Theists actually allow God to have any freedom of action at all, and the answer seems to be somewehere out in the nebulosphere.

I’m not personally proposing “mediate creation” in nature, just extracting it from BBW, but of course one can’t see it if one doesn’t countenance it, especially if the view you have of biological mechanisms is as general as the modern synthesis is. For example, http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/05/on-the-evolutio-1.html#comments shows a remarkable series of funny mutations well above what might be expected usually (this paper was the partial inspiration for my thought experiment). Statistical outlier, or mediate creation? Metaphysical presuppositions decide all.

Finally, I used “ensoulment” for convenience since I expect BBW would think in those terms. But would agree with him that the spiritual is not accountable by the natural - and many in the human and social sciences would violently contest the ability of neurobiology to account exhaustively for the phenomenon of humanity.


Jon Garvey - #64539

September 7th 2011

OC
 I’m actually not sure there is substantial biblical or intellectual basis for the existence an immaterial “soul” in humans that is separate and distinguished from the physical brain in order to explain thoughts and behavior. I have heard that this view (which seems very widespread) is more the result of Greek philosophy that has permeated Western thought, as opposed to based on biblical or philosophical justification.

Here’s a useful comment from Edward Feser:
SPAN style=“LINE-HEIGHT: 115%”>“Soul” on this view is just a technical term for the form of the living body.  And the view is dualist, not because it affirms the existence of the soul (plants and non-human animals have forms, and thus “souls,” but are purely material) but rather because it takes human beings to have certain special capacities that do not involve a material organ – namely, their intellectual capacities.  There is no “interaction problem” for hylemorphic dualism, though, because the soul is not (as it is for Descartes) a distinct substance which needs somehow to get into contact with a material substance via efficient causation; it is rather only a part of a complete substance – the formal cause of the substance, of which the matter composing the body is the material cause.  The relationship between soul and body is therefore not like that of two billiard balls, one of them ghostly, which have to find a way somehow to knock into one another.  It is more like the relationship between the shape of a triangle drawn on paper and the ink which has taken on the shape – two aspects of one thing, rather than two things.  Or it is like the relationship between the meaning of a word and the letters that make up the word, or the relationship between the pictorial content of a painting and the splotches of color that make up the painting. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64392

August 31st 2011

Jon wrote:

The Christ event, and its influence on humanity, is an oft-expressed locus for God’s decisive action in the world - and that’s true, and the central fact of history to the Christian. But it is clearly of limited direct relevance in the biological story of the world, and in the unfolding of human history before the incarnation.

Not so!  Please read John 1 again.o:p>


Open Circle - #64395

August 31st 2011

Hi Roger,

I just read John 1 again and I do not see how it argues against the notion that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are not of direct connection to the biological story of the world. I would not quite say that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are not of direct relevance to the unfolding of human history, as it seems to me that much of the Old Testament was to set up the need for (i.e. the Fall) and “pave the way” for the arrival of Christ. However, the “life” discussed here is clearly spiritual rather than biological in nature, so I’m not quite sure what your objection is. Please let me know.

Thanks,
-Open Circle



Jon Garvey - #64404

September 1st 2011

OC

Words out of my mouth. Christ’s work in history can be expressed in the teleological sense, but that’s not what the discussion is about. “Precisely how does Christ work in history before his incarnation?” is the same (unanswered, so far) question as “How does God act in history?”


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64409

September 1st 2011

Open Circle and Jon,

John 1 says that nothing was created without the Logos, Jesus Christ.  All things including life and especially life are created through Him.  The events recorded in the NT reveal Who Jesus the Messiah and Logos is, rather than somehow created Who Jesus is.

The missing factor here is the Relational Character of Reality.  This was revealed by Jesus the Logos, although this has not been accepted by philosophy and theology.  Ecology and Einstein’s theory has recognize this fact, but it has not penetrated the main stream of science. 

If the basis of relational reality and cosmology is the Logos, then Jesus is the basis of all that is.  If the basis of Life is relational ecological evolution and interdependence between God, humanity, and the universe, then the Logos, Jesus is the basis of all that will be.    


Jon Garvey - #64410

September 1st 2011

That Jesus is the agent of creation I take as a given - one expression of that in Scripture is that he is the wisdom of God, through whom he (the Father) creates. Colossians tells us all things were created by him and for him (which is yet another reason I detest this demiurge of an independent natural realm).

But it’s the nature of his relationship to creation that needs to be spelled out to make for understanding of the biological processes (and of human history, which we have used in comparison). Colossians also tells us that the purpose of it all was so that in all things, Christ might have the supremacy. It’s not an egalitarian relationship.

How does Jesus relate to nature in the gospels? To the storm on the lake? To the unfruitful fig tree? To the fish in the lake? To the water that became wine? Do these not match his activity in nature as Yahweh in the Old Testament?


Open Circle - #64472

September 3rd 2011

Definitely agreed with Jon here ... unfortunately Roger, your notion of
“relational ecological evolution” strikes me as
an unclear and confusing concept. The relationship between us and God is most
certainly not egalitarian - just because God constantly shows his mercy
and love to us (and we to him) does not mean that renders us at all
equivalent in any means to Him.



Could you elaborate more on your definition of “relation” because otherwise, I fail to see what exactly philosophy and theology have been missing out on.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64710

September 14th 2011

Jon wrote:

That Jesus is the agent of creation I take as a given - one expression of that in Scripture is that he is the wisdom of God, through whom he (the Father) creates. Colossians tells us all things were created by him and for him (which is yet another reason I detest this demiurge of an independent natural realm).

First of all I question whether one can do basic theology in this venue.  You need a longer medium to do justice to this question.  I have directed people to read my book, and I will send it to you if you are interested.

Second, Jesus is not the Wisdom of God as the OT says.  Jesus is the Word of God as the NT says.  The Word is uncreated, while Wisdom is created.

Third, the question is how God works as you say.  Does God tell everyone and everything exactly what to do, or does God create systems and processes that direct things and people, which God makes sure like a shepherd that these systems and processes work properly.     

Let me try a sports model for example.

The coach, Bill B., and his staff prepares the team for the game, but he does not play the game on the field.  The quarterback, Tom B., uses the plays and game plan the coach has prepared, but he and the rest of the team must execute the plays on the field to win.  The team itself, including the coach, is put together by the general manager based on the guidance of the owner, Robert K., who pays for all of this. 

Thus we have three elements which make the team work, the coach, the players, and the owner.  They correspond roughly with the Trinity, Father - Owner, Coach- Son, and Players- the Holy Spirit acting in and through nature and humans.  This I would say is the model for true Trinitarian order.  It is not just top down as Dennett justly criticizes, but also bottom up and middle both ways.    

Evolution, which of course is not really understood by science, is one of the basic plays or processes put in place by the Coach, Jesus Christ, in order to carry out His Purpose of perfection of Life and Creation through the Holy Spirit under the supervision of the Owner, the Father.         

But it’s the nature of his relationship to creation that needs to be spelled out to make for understanding of the biological processes (and of human history, which we have used in comparison). Colossians also tells us that the purpose of it all was so that in all things, Christ might have the supremacy. It’s not an egalitarian relationship.

We are created in the Image of God and we are intended to be like God, loving in all we do.  The supremacy of Christ is He is our Telos.  If Christ were truly not like us, we could not be like Him.  When Jesus became fully human, He became like us, but not the same as us.  We are to become like Him, but this is not possible if He is superior of a nature to us.  We are called to interact with God, so that we may grow in the Holy Spirit.       

How does Jesus relate to nature in the gospels? To the storm on the lake? To the unfruitful fig tree? To the fish in the lake? To the water that became wine? Do these not match his activity in nature as Yahweh in the Old Testament?

YHWH and Jesus are on one accord, when we see the OT through the lens of the Logos, the Word of God.  YHWH brings cosmos out of chaos.  Jesus brings God’s Kingdom out of divided humanity.  Jesus ordered God’s Creation to support His ministry of reconciliation between God and humanity, humans with themselves, humans with others, and humanity with the ecology. These relationships are the key and fulfill the Biblical fact that God is Love.


Jon Garvey - #64713

September 14th 2011

“First of all I question whether one can do basic theology in this venue.” Well, we’re doing it! And if it isn’t appropriate to BioLogos then neither is basic science, and we may as well go home.

“Second, Jesus is not the Wisdom of God as the OT says. Jesus is the Word of God as the NT says. The Word is uncreated, while Wisdom is created.”
Much worth saying on this false dichotomy. Kidner’s little commentary on Proverbs is helpful (and he was a good neighbour to me!) Wisdom in Prov 8 he regards as a literary personification, rather than a hypostasis, yet the idea is developed in Jewish literature, combined with that of “dabar”, God’s word through the prophets (Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom of Solomon) and so carried over into Philo, whose “logos” is strongly linked to God’s wisdom. And, as I said, John seems to have used at least the Jewish aspect of Philo’s usage in his gospel.

Second, Prov 8 is clearly alluded to in the NT (Col 1.15-17; 2.3; Rev 3.14), and Jesus is called the wisdom of God (eg 1 Cor 1.24,30).

Thirdly, Kidner considers “possessed” to be better than “created” in Prov 8, and shows how the best understanding is “born”. He also points out how the idea of God having to create wisdom (he lacked it before?) is nonsensical.

Fourthly, D H Johnson in the IVP Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels demonstrates that the use of logos throughout John shows the vital link to dabar, “that prophetic word which goes forth from God’s mouth to accomplish creation, judgment, redemption and renewal.” Relationship is axiomatic to it, because logoi communicate, but its nature, both in salvation and creation, must be understood by careful exegesis of John, and of the Scripture he himself used in order to understand Jesus. I intend to develop that link on my blog in the near future, because it matters to how the Christian theistic evolutionist sees the role of Christ in nature.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64725

September 14th 2011

Jon,

I do not see where basic science is done on BioLogos.  It is clear that the site has based its concept of evolution on the neo-Darwinist view, even though this view is in disarray and does not review current studies to back this view up.   

Then too BioLogos rejects any theology which does not correspond to its version of evangelicalism. 

I do not say that we should not try to discuss theology and science, but sound bites do not seem to inspire much serious thought, or so it seems.

In terms of Wisdom and Logos, ideas and events have both elements of continuity and change.  You appear to concentrate on the continuity, but unless Christianity is really a Jewish sect, it seems that the discontinuity is more important without denying our vital Jewish heritage.

If Wisdom is a personification of an aspect of God, and the Logos is the Second Person of the Trinity, that is an important difference in itself.

Wisdom and Wisdom literature is identified closely with King Solomon, whose Golden Age brought visions of grandeur to Jews, but whose reign marked the end of the United Kingdom.  His autocratic, absolute rule seems counter to the prophetic ideal and his tolerance of pagan worship in his palace brought judgment. 

He did not pass on his wisdom to his son Rehoboam despite the Proverbs.  I much prefer the style of Jesus and David to the style and “wisdom” of Solomon.       


Jon Garvey - #64730

September 14th 2011

“I much prefer the style of Jesus and David to the style and “wisdom” of Solomon. ”   

If Jesus is the prophetic logos of God, then he inspired Proverbs as much as any other Scripture, and in any case personal preference is of zero (or actually, negative) value in building theology. Since the New Testament uses Proverbs to establish its teaching, and specifically alludes to ch8 with reference to Christ, then such a dichotomy is invalid.

The continuity element relates not just to the Old and New Testaments, but in this thread’s context to the fact that God’s wisdom/logos had 14.8 billion years of involvement in the Universe before either was given.

The discontinuity of the New and Old covenants is a different matter and that, too, arises clearly from the logos-inspired prophetic writings predicting and explaining it, particularly in the second halves of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Suffice it to say that whilst the incarnation makes every difference to us in terms of grace and truth, and ultimately inaugurates a different set of relationships in the (new) cosmos, it doesn’t alter Christ’s ongoing and eternal role in creation.

Neither does it alter the need to understand that role from the whole body of what the logos has revealed.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64747

September 15th 2011

Jon,

You cannot make Wisdom superior to the Logos and you cannot make Proverbs or any other part of the Bible superior to Jesus Christ.  The foolishness of God as represented by Jesus Christ is superior to the wisdom of humans, including King Solomon.

Love, cooperation, and harmony found in the Logos are at the heart of the Gospel and the core of Creation.


Jon Garvey - #64749

September 15th 2011

But there’s absolutely no reason why you should not recognise wisdom as an attribute of the logos, and Proverbs as part of what the logos of God utters.

If you’re against dualisms, then one dualism to get rid of is that between the divine and the human in Scripture. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And what God utters is logos.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64755

September 15th 2011

Jon wrote,

If you’re against dualisms, then one dualism to get rid of is that between the divine and the human in Scripture.o:p>

I am against dualisms, but I am against monism also.  The Bible is both human and holy, not either human or divine.  Christian theology supports a complex/one triune world view.  Jesus Christ, the Logos, is God, Who transcends Scripture.  See Hebrews 1:1.  Colossians says Jesus is the exact Image of the invisible God, which is not true of Wisdom.

While wisdom may be an attribute of the Son as well as the Father, your referring to Jesus as Wisdom/Logos gives the attribute first billing and seeming equality with God the Son.       


Jon Garvey - #64791

September 17th 2011

“While wisdom may be an attribute of the Son as well as the Father, your referring to Jesus as Wisdom/Logos gives the attribute first billing and seeming equality with God the Son. “

John: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God…”
Paul: “Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.” “...a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”

Seems pretty equal billing to me (and equally so if one enumerates all the Scriptural references to Jesus as “logos” and Jesus as “sophia.”)

Your hermeneutics mystify me. You accept the “logos” of John (cf Jn 17.20), (a Galilean fisherman privileged as an apostle by the word of Christ) about the “Logos”.

You accept the “logos” of  Paul (a rabbinically trained Roman citizen called as an apostle by the word of the risen Christ) about the foolishness of God, and about Christ as his exact image.

You accept the “logos” of the writer to the Hebrews (an anonymous Jew whose authority rests purely on his letter and its acceptance by the Church) about the superiority of the incarnate Christ over the prophets. He is, no doubt, one of the leaders who spoke the “logos” of God (Heb 13.7).

Yet you reject the “logos” of Solomon, a man to whom the “logos” of God came (1 Kings 6.11) and whose wisdom was a supernatural endowment by God’s word (1 Kings 3). Also a man whose proverbs are cited as an authority twice by Paul, whose “logos” you cite yourself.

“Christ transcends Scripture” - that is a truism. Yet your entire governing concept of Christ as Logos depends entirely on 18 verses of  Scripture, where the word “Logos” occurs just three times. Your conclusion can only be valid if the Logos himself gave his authority to those first 18 verses of John - in other words, if the word of God spoke through John as he did through the prophets. Otherwise, you’d simply endorsing John’s human opinion for no very clear reason.

If you accept those 18 verses as normative, by what principles do you accept them and yet reject Proverbs? Or make preferences between different parts of Scripture? Do you not understand how the identity of Jesus as the word of God who spoke through creation, through Torah, through the prophets and who now speaks to his Church through his apostles and through his Spirit, is at the forefront of his concept of “Logos”. To John, separating the Word from his words, or trying to rank them in relative importance, would be meaningless.

God is greater than his creation, but is shown to be God through the logos he speaks to bring it into being. Jesus is more than Scripture, but is shown to be Christ by the word of salvation he speaks (and the deeds he does by the same divine word of power and wisdom).

Jesus Christ is superior to Scripture as a visit from a writer is superior to a letter from the same writer - but far more so in Christ’s case because in his incarnation he reveals the nature of God not only by his teaching but by his death and resurrection. yet that does not diminish the importance of his teaching, his rhemata, his logoi, his commandments, his grammatoi, etc, all of which he tells his disciples to teach believers in turn. That is what Scripture does.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #64798

September 17th 2011

Jon,

Thank you for your comments.

“Yet you reject the “logos” of Solomon, a man to whom the “logos” of God came (1 Kings 6.11) and whose wisdom was a supernatural endowment by God’s word (1 Kings 3). Also a man whose proverbs are cited as an authority twice by Paul, whose “logos” you cite yourself.”

The wisdom that Solomon prayed for and received from God was the wisdom to govern God’s people wisely and properly.  Without putting this kind of wisdom down, it is political wisdom or worldly wisdom, not spiritual wisdom.  If the book Ecclesiastes is a reflection of the theology of Solomon as it seems to be its intention, it is far off base.  Then too his spiritual leadership of Israel was s disaster according to the Bible.

As for Proverbs, while his name is on the book, it appears to be collection of popular wise saying collected by him or more likely one of his minions.  While the editor deserves credit for separating the wheat from the chaff, the true author of these sayings which offer much practical wisdom I believe is the devout people Israel. 

Now I cannot say exactly from where the section in Proverbs on Wisdom came.  It is the only “philosophical” discussion in the book and is intended to emphasize the importance of wisdom and philosophy.  It is a precursor for passage in John, but when the superior idea comes, the inferior needs to give way.  Part of the meaning of Logos is God’s rational Word, which means that humans need to practice discernment when there is apparent conflict between aspects of the Bible as with Genesis 1.

John 1 is definitive.  If it is not true, then Christianity is not true.  If it is true then it follows that the Logos, Jesus Christ, defines how we understand the whole Bible and how we are to understand the world.  Thus God’s foolishness of Jesus Christ defines the true wisdom of life, not the wisdom of Solomon.                o:p>


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