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Robert Boyle Speaks to Modern Christians

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March 6, 2014 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now, Science as Christian Calling

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

Delight in Creation book cover

A few years ago, Calvin Theological Seminary undertook a major project, The Ministry Theorem, “committed to helping churches engage the wonders of science in the life of the church.” The resources they prepared are uniformly excellent, including a lovely little book, Delight in Creation, edited by Deb Haarsma (before she became president of BioLogos) and theologian Scott Hoezee. I gave a copy to my own pastor, who has read it with appreciation, and I urge readers to consider doing the same thing.

The book contains fifteen chapters, mostly written by scientists, engineers, and mathematicians about ideas and developments in their own fields. One exception is Andy Crouch’s chapter, “The Life of a Scientist.” Crouch is a writer, not a scientist, but his wife Catherine is a physicist at Swarthmore College, giving Andy much insight into his topic. The other exception is my essay, “Science and Faith of Robert Boyle,” in which I pretend to be Robert Boyle, presenting his own life and work to Christians today. As I tell readers at the start, I borrowed heavily and without attribution from Boyle’s writings, especially from two books I’ve already told you about, The Christian Virtuoso and A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature (here and here). This is my pastiche of Boyle, not Boyle himself. You will encounter many phrases lifted directly from his works, but also many passages that he did not actually write. Caveat lector: Anyone who quotes this work and passes it off as Boyle’s, is engaging in a fool’s errand!

Instead of telling you more about the essay, why not read it for yourself, here on our own site? We invite comments below.

Looking Ahead

Last year, I introduced readers some key ideas from one of the leading voices about Christianity and science, John Polkinghorne. I also helped BioLogos bring in another leading voice, Robert Russell. My next series will introduce readers to a third prominent Christian thinker, Lutheran theologian Ted Peters, a prolific and very thoughtful writer about many topics related to science and Christianity who serves as co-editor of the journal, Theology and Science. I’ll present edited excerpts from his classic essay, “On Creating the Cosmos,” about the doctrine of creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Although originally published 26 years ago in a book from the Vatican Observatory, it remains timely and important. Be sure to join us for the conversation!

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #84665

March 7th 2014

“Boyle” makes a good point.  Often we say that nature does something as if that is sufficient to describe it, but it is not.  

Evolutionists speak of “natural” selection as if that phrase means something but it does not.  No more than “nature” abhors a vacuum.

The phrase “natural selection” as used has no scientific content.


Ted Davis - #84715

March 10th 2014

Actually, Roger, when Darwin spoke of “natural selection,” he meant something quite specific. He was speaking analogously to “artificial selection,” namely human artifice, when farmers breed animals trying for specific results—faster horses, better meat in pigs or chickens, nicer wool from sheep, etc.

By analogy, “nature” can “select” unconsciously for certain traits that are advantageous in a given environment.

A further analogy that is implicit, not explicit, in Darwin’s theory, involves Adam Smith’s idea of the “invisible hand” of the competitive marketplace. Just as the “market” determines a fair price in what was called “the economy of man,” impersonally and without design, so “natural selection” sorts out the interactions in what both Paley and Darwin called “the economy of nature,” impersonally and without design.

His term means something specific, because he defined with with clarity.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84716

March 10th 2014


It seems to me that you are losing the importance of what Boyle said if you allow “nature” to act as a person if you put the word analogously in there.  Nature cannot do anything, because Nature cannot think or act.  

Darwin has been criticized correctly by non-believers (See What Darwin Got Wrong) in saying that selection indicates agency based on specific criteria, which is more characteristic of God than of nature.  The agency and criteria are implied by Darwin in that he said that Natural Selection was about the process of “the improvement of each organic being.” 

Darwin did say that Natural Selection based on Malthusian population theories would result from overpopulation which would produce conflict, which would produce “survival of the fittest.”  The problem with this point of view is that it has been largely rejected in the human sphere and has not been scientifically tested or verified in nature. 

Economics has become a science, although many are critical of it, because it has produced models to show how markets work under different situations.  Darwinians have not done the same for evolution, and if they did they would be dealing with ecology, which is my point. 

Evolution apart from ecology is half a science, which does not make much sense.  Ecology is the science of the future, because it can make predictions and solve problems, which evolution as currently constituted does not.  All it says is that organisms change.       



Ted Davis - #84738

March 12th 2014

I’m not losing sight of Boyle at all, Roger. Darwin used the term “natural selection” metaphorically—and he knew that. He also came to regret the term, b/c for some it seemed to imply a conscious choice by “nature,” the very type of thing Boyle objected to. Darwin also objected to that, for a different reason: where Boyle found it theologically objectionable because it was NOT meant in a sufficiently metaphorical manner, Darwin DID mean it metaphorically, and wasn’t happy when others didn’t keep stricly to metaphorical useage.

sy - #84724

March 11th 2014

“One doesn’t need to be a scientist to share in this  delight; the divine handiwork is plainly seen by everyone. All the greater,  however, is the delight of the scientist, for the works of God are so worthy  of their Author that, besides the impresses of his wisdom and goodness that are left as it were on the surfaces of things, there are a great many more  curious and excellent tokens and effects of divine artifice in the hidden  and innermost recesses of them—and these are not to be discovered by the  perfunctory looks of casual beholders. They require and deserve the most  attentive and prying inspection of inquisitive and well-instructed students  of nature.”

Ted, I love this passage (dont know how much of it is Boyle, and how much is Davis), and had good use of it today, when I was vainly trying to write a piece describing the incredible process of protein synthesis as an example of how every cell on Earth is continuously proclaiming the glory of God. I found it impossible to convey to a non biologist the sheer wonder of how cellular biochemisty can translate the chemical information stored in DNA to produce proteins, in a way that would capture the complexity and majesty of the process, without boring the reader with pages of technical details. I know that other writers have managed to this, and I will keep trying, but the point you (and Boyle) make here is well worth contemplation.

Speaking of writing quality, this chapter is nothing short of a masterpiece. I am not aware of ever having read anything similar (a modern author merging his own work with that of his subject) before. Congratulatons and thanks.  

Ted Davis - #84741

March 12th 2014

Thank you very kindly, Cy, for the kind comments.

The passage you quoted is partly based on this, from Boyle’s Christian Virtuoso:

But, tho’ it be true, that God hath not left himself without witness, even to perfunctory Considerers; by stamping upon divers of the more Obvious Parts of his Workmanship, such conspicuous Impressions of his Attributes, that a moderate degree of Understanding, and Attention, may suffice to make Men acknowledg his Being; Yet, I scruple not to think, That Assent very much inferior to the Belief, that the same Objects are fitted to produce in an Heedful and Intelligent Contemplator of them: For the Works of God are so worthy of their Author, that, besides the impresses of his Wisdom , and Goodness, that are left as it were upon their Surfaces; there are a great many more curious and excellent tokens, and Effects, of Divine Artifice, in the hidden and innermost Recesses of them; and these are not to be discovered by the perfunctory looks of Oscitant or Unskilful Beholders; but Require, as well, as Deserve, the most attentive and prying Inspection of inquisitive and well-instructed Considerers. And sometimes in one Creature, there may be I know not how many admirable things, that escape a vulgar Eye, and yet may be clearly discern’d by That of a true Naturalist; who brings with him, besides a more than common Curiosity and Attention, a competent knowledge of Anatomy, Opticks, Cosmography, Mechanicks, and Chymistry.

Ted Davis - #84743

March 12th 2014

Pop quiz for readers: how many marks of terminal punctuation did Boyle use in the passage quoted here?

When reading Mr Boyle in the original editions, it’s not uncommon to find even fewer such marks on a full page of text. I’ll let readers do that math. 

You see why the unedited Boyle is not often pleasing to modern eyes.

Jon Garvey - #84744

March 12th 2014

Perhaps he took punctuation lessons from John Owen, Ted…

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84750

March 12th 2014


We seem to be talking past each other, so I will ask a different question. 

Biology and evolution are about organism, living creatures, right. 

However when we say science today we mean primarily physical science following physical laws.  Darwin at the end of The Origins he compared his theory as similar to Newton’s Law of Gravity.  

My question is: Can we seriously expect inanimate matter to act by the same rules and laws of living organisms as most scientists seem to do?  Natural science means “physical” science. 

Natural selection as I understand it means by physical, non-rational processes.  While this may be true, if selection by humans is by a rational human process, why should not selection by “nature.”  If nature can selection by an unconscious process, it would still need to have a nervous to make a unconscious selection.

Furthermore there is no process discovered to make an unconscious selection, but now it cannot be denied that ecology does encourage organisms of all kinds to adapt to the changing environment.  The question is: Is the ecology physical and natural that is dead, or alive and animate, which would seem to make it metaphysical?

Now I understand that philosophers of his time saw organisms a machines, which today we do not although Dawkins is quoted as saying all organisms (including humans one would think) are “survival machines.”  Maybe our understanding of the nature of life has changed.  However machines are not “natural,” they are artificial. 

The question still is raised: How is natural selection “natural,” particularly if “natural” means strictly physical in a organic unnatural setting?  


Jon Garvey - #84755

March 13th 2014

That’s a potentially useful question, Roger.

The theory denies volitional agency either in organisms (especially wrt variation) or in the environment. All the constituent parts of “nature” are said to be “autonomous” in the sense only of being subject to true, efficient causation. But in the absence of volition, that only means they are passively subject (a) to natural laws and (b) to “random” contingency, which is a bizarre use of the idea of “freedom”.

The environment is treated as the solid ground against which random variation is tested, producing a facsimile, or an analogy, of selection. “Nature” doesn’t exist as an entity, and “selection” doesn’t exist as a choice. Never was science so founded on metaphor. But as Michael Polanyi pointed out, in the long term the environment itself is the object of random changes like vulcanism, climate, asteroid strikes etc: it is a randomly moving target for randomly moving variation.

So the interaction of two sets of stochastic processes (organism and environment) acting under basic physical laws is termed “natural selection” and deemed capable of the whole richness of nature. There is, therefore, no immanent “organising power” at work in the world, but it organises anyway. It’s nothing short of a miracle, except that it is the antithesis of miracle - the ultimate example of achieving great ends without sufficient means - it’s the perpetual motion watchmaking that the deist Leibniz attributed to God when criticising Newton’s theism.

Speaking now theistically, there has historically been said to be just such an organising, immanent power - God - acting concurrently with, and governing, the secondary causes of nature, which are not “autonomous” (aka ruled by chance and necessity) at all, but cooperative with their maker’s purposes. And the direction of such a God would be active within both organisms and the environment, their lack of volitional power being irrelevant.

In that light, selection would be real (not metaphorical) and the order of the cosmos coherent (and not merely accidental and apparent), but it would be “natural” only on an understanding that all that is natural is actually the fruit of God’s immanent will, rather than being in the Darwinian sense “cut loose from God.”

This would also make sense of questions like prayer - what is the point of making requests of God if the world is autonomous of him? One can’t arbitrarily divorce how the world works in evolution from how the world works when you’re on your knees.

There is a grandeur in this view if life… but it seems to have gone out of fashion since Boyle’s day.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84756

March 13th 2014


Thank you very much for your response.

Now I am going to take this process another step or two.

First of all, of course we believe that God created the physical world and continues to create the physical world.  [This of course is one problem of the 6 day creation and one that Jesus addressed.]  Therefore, regardless of what others might claim, when changes in the earth affect life that is the work of God shaping life on our planet, unless it is human produced.  It should also be noted that YHWH gave humans control over the earth. (Gen 1:28-30)

Second of all, we believe that God created the organic world, which is much more complicated and sophisticated than the physical world.  The organic world may have grown out of the physical world (we still do not know what and how it happened.  Science thinks it happened and Gen says the humankind was created from the dust)  Nonetheles YHWH created the organic chemistry that is needed for life.

Third, God created both this processes required to both have evolution and ecology.  Darwinian evolution requires both physical ecological change that governs “natural” selection, and Variation, which is organic change which allows new life forms to appear.    

God works in this non-linear manner as opposed to the linear Dawkins and Darwinian view.

Fourth, Dawkins created “memes” to replace the cognitive process and to take the place of what we used to call “instincts” in non-humans.  Instinctive behavior was once thought to be non-cognitive behavior, which non-humans exhibit.  Now we have learned that much of instinctive behavior is learned.  Much of growing up for humans and non-humans is learning by trial and error.

We know that animals have nervous systems of various levels of complexity.  They are not passive as supposed before and to a large extent is supposed by evolutionary thought.  Humans of course are able to fully think, although often we do not use these abilities properly.      

The fact is the old dualisms, Mind vs Body, Natural vs Supernatural, Human vs Nature, do not work any more.  God is not create the universe this way.  We live in a Cosmos, not a Dualos to try to invent a word. 

But the point is not that we must choose between false Monistic Materialism and false Dualistic Philosophy.  The point is God has given us the freedom and ability to discover and choose a third way.  Our choices are not limited by and to human traditions, but to seek God’s Way, the Logos, beyond the human.     




Jon Garvey - #84759

March 13th 2014

First of all, of course we believe that God created the physical world and continues to create the physical world.  [This of course is one problem of the 6 day creation and one that Jesus addressed.]  Therefore, regardless of what others might claim, when changes in the earth affect life that is the work of God shaping life on our planet, unless it is human produced. 

Roger, if I believed this was common ground amongst theistic evolutionists I’d have nothing to complain about. But careful, and prolonged, reading of TE literature, enquiries from writers in this site and discussion with others over three or four years leads me to think that creatio continua, in any real sense, is far from many TE minds. At most many believe that God sustains autonomous (that word is stressed, and its kindred terms like “freedom” and “self-creation”) natural processes in existence (what is called “mere conservationism”).

It’s a principle of faith with them that God wouldn’t “interfere” (the only kind of divine action you can have if you insist on conservationism over the biblical idea of concurrence) or he’d be “coercive” (which apparently molecules don’t like) and it’s taken as a sign of God’s failure if his initial creation wasn’t good enough to manage itself independently (check out the approbation of a relevant article in “First Things” on the latest (28th Feb) BioLogos Origins News Roundup.

The processes themselves, it is said, are open-ended, and you’ll have read countless times on BioLogos doubts that God intended there to be any particular outcomes including mankind (any old intelligent being would do).

For myself I don’t see how one can call any process “creation” in which God doesn’t “shape” life - and I’d support that specific word too, as very akin both to the biblical word “form”, the causal category of “formal cause” and the character of Christ as Logos, which has very much to do with God’s wisdom, rationality, and purpose.

As usual I glaze over when you start on about dualism, but I agree with this much - Cartesian Dualism is closely linked to the false dichotomy between “divine” and “natural”, as well as creating the mind-body problem and many other issues. But that’s a problem with modern philosophy, not with classical philosophy: as Ed Feser (for example) argues cogently, thinkers like Aquinas have no problem with nature’s containing true secondary causes that are also under the providence of God, likewise with God’s direction of nature from within, rather than through “interfering with the laws of nature” - and yet maintaining the transcendence of God that distinguishes between Creator and creation.

Darwin and Dawkins have no comprehension of that, but neither, it seems, does Howard Van Till, Ken Miller and some other TEs closer to home. It’s almost as if the only two positions are thought to be Young Earth Creationism and Semi-deistic Neodarwinism, and the idea is to get people from naively accepting the first into naively accepting the second.

Boyle at least breaks some of the stereotypes, but unfortunately has nothing direct to say about evolution.

sy - #84764

March 13th 2014


As you know I agree with your general complaints about the Deistic leanings of certain TEs. But we should keep in mind that there is as yet no actual consensus position of the role of God in continuing creation among all TEs. I believe there is an agreement that Darwinian evolution is real, and Dennis Venema’s continuing series on this site is a worthy educational tool to explain exactly what is meant by Darwinian evolution. BUT, there must be a point at which any theist rejects the evolutionist paradigm of pure accident and natural selection as sufficient explanations for biological reality. If nowhere else, that point comes when we examine the nature and characterization of humanity. Evolutionary psychology, which purports to “explain” human behavior in “scientific” terms is, quite simply, nonsense. It is very bad science, Gould rejected it, and I believe Darwin would have as well. So, at least in this case we must depart from purely naturalistic view. 

As for the rest of biological history, your point here and elsewhere about the environment is critical. Potts has presented his data on the extreme climactic variations that occurred in the Rift Valley at just the time of hominid evolution, when such variation could be seen to have a major influence on evolutinary advances. Lucky accident of timing? or the hand of God? I see no reason for any theist who is a scientist to dispute the latter explanation.  

Jon Garvey - #84766

March 14th 2014


As ever we’re in good agreement. Maybe, though, I can take up your last sentence for discussion:

I see no reason for any theist who is a scientist to dispute the latter explanation.

It’s possible for a theist to paint himself/herself into a corner either scientifically and philosophically or theologically, and it appears that many do, quite willingly.

Under the former head, one can (Like the “First things” article) insist that an omipotent being would set things up right to begin with so he didn’t have to tinker, and (the other side of the same coin) that natural law is inviolable even by him, and so he works entirely through the order and regularity of nature. In that case there is no way, Laplacian determinism having gone the way of phlogiston, that God could set up the initial conditions, laws and constants to ensure the essential climate change in question. The tools he’s been assigned are insufficient for such a purpose - it’s a square triangle, or making a weight he cannot lift, issue.

Under the latter head, if God is honour-bound to respect the autonomy of nature, it would be simply wrong for him to “interfere” by “coercively” “micro-managing” the climate of the rift valley just as much as if he inserted new information into DNA in progressive creation fashion. Conversely, if it’s ever OK for God to determine local climatic conditions sovereignly, there can be no logical objection to his determining the forms of species.

My own rephrasing of your sentence would be that those who dispute the latter explanation are pushing the boundary between theism well into deism, and well away from historical Christian doctrine. My project all along has been to find a theistic model that does actual justice to both theology and science without fudging or compartmentalising them. You simply can’t say “God leaves nature alone” and “God acts in nature” and be logically consistent. You’re also on impossible logical ground if you say “God would never micro-manage nature, but he does answer our prayers.” And of course, if God doesn’t answer prayer, what does the label “Christian” (or even “theist”) mean to you?

Positively, classical Christian theology allows both the regularity of nature and the ongoing providential government of God (sometimes even expressed as creatio continua, which is just Latin for continuous creation anyway). It does so by making God the active (not merely the sustaining) first cause of every event, whether lawlike, stochastic or voluntary, and refusing to accept the materialist’s absolute dichotomy between “natural” and “supernatural”.

Science then is the discipline of isolating and explaining the secondary efficient causes within the totality of God’s purposeful and ongoing management of the world. It’s a subset of theology, in a limited sense.

The whole thinks works fine, is coherent and honouring both to the Father and the Son as Logos in the John 1 sense - unless one insists that nature must be “autonomous” on scientific, philsophical or theological grounds. Then it inevitably becomes muddy.

Jon Garvey - #84767

March 14th 2014

I just need to add, on re-reading the above, that what I’m presenting as classical doctrine is called “concurrentism”, not to be confused with “occasionalism” in which God is the only true cause of anything and there is no true efficient causation in the world and human choice is an illusion.

GJDS - #84768

March 14th 2014

“Science then is the discipline of isolating and explaining the secondary efficient causes within the totality of God’s purposeful and ongoing management of the world. It’s a subset of theology, in a limited sense.”

This is the crux of the matter and also the problem - how does Science isolate and explain secondary efficient causes, unless it begins with the assumption that there is a causal chain commencing with God (primal cause) followed by causes associated with any and every scientific enquiry? Science (should) be indifferent to anything that cannot be subject to experimental examination, verification or falsification.

The attempt(s) by theoretical physics to come up with one or two equations that ‘summarise’ all of the laws and constants that are central to the Universe existing and continuing, may be a useful approximation to a beginning, and theists may then argue that this compels us the recognise the Universe is pointing to its Creator. But even this does not in itself (independent or scientifically affirmed) provide a scientific first cause followed by an ability to isolate subsequent causation.

 I agree with you that we may contemplate causation adn teleology on theological and to a limitted extent on philosophical grounds. I am not sure we can do so scientifically. An interesting approach to how we may reason from science may be what various people have termed ‘critical realism’, which (imo) examines the way we communicate knowledge between us and construct our version(s) of reality. But that is for another discussion (usual warning regarding my many typo errors as this window does not let me edit and correct).

GJDS - #84765

March 13th 2014

Jon and Sy,

I will begin by saying that the debate (at whatever level) on Darwinian evolution and the current thinking of prominent evolutionists has been valuable, for the following reasons:

1 – we now can see that scientists active in the bio-areas are, like all scientist, willing to examine and question their paradigm.

2 – a great deal of critical insights are provided by prominent workers in the bio-fields which allow any interested person to realize that fundamental notions of evolution, (such a random, chance, natural selection, without purpose) are not settled within the bio-community, and questions are formulated that convince me at least, that at some point in the future, a greater/better insight than that provided by Darwin will emerge from all of the research. This should be welcomed by theists and atheists, since my position has always been that sound science and faith are in harmony.

3 – I have at all times argued against any combination of the attribute of God as the Creator of heaven and earth, with any scientific description that would show us how God went about creating. This to my way of thinking makes God appear like a clever physicist and biologist – faith is required on this matter. 

4 – rather than seeking some type of theistic evolution theology, our time would be better spent understanding how Christians have considered reason (philosophy, sciences, community life and culture) in the past as part of our continuing growth in the faith. I suggest such an approach will open up a treasure of insights and wisdom that is the heritage of Christians, ‘piled up’ so to speak, over many centuries.

5 – I am convinced that point four is a continuation of the approach adopted by people such as Boyle.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84770

March 14th 2014

GJDS wrote:

our time would be better spent understanding how Christians have considered reason (philosophy, sciences, community life and culture) in the past as part of our continuing growth in the faith. I suggest such an approach will open up a treasure of insights and wisdom that is the heritage of Christians, ‘piled up’ so to speak, over many centuries.

I agree with you in one sense.  We need to spend more time and effort in using our best theological resources to understand this new world we live in, rather than keep going over the old ways of thinking about things.

One situation as an important example.  Researchers are discovering that the mind/brain is not organized centrally as we had assumed.  Instead the mind is organized around three or more decentralized centers which work together to give us consciousness and a mind. 

Scientists have noted that this organization protects us by giving us more flexibility in using our mind and giving us viable backup systems if one part of the brain is impaired.  God is a good Designer even or maybe especially since God’s ways are not our ways.

However if we follow Greek philosophy which puts a premium on the Oneness of God, we have a problem since here we see that our mind, which is part of our Image of God is both One and Many.  Fortunately Christians believe in a God Who is both One and Many, One and Three, a Complex/One Being. 

A world view based upon the Christian Trinity would do much to solve the problem of understanding the decentralized human mind and evolution which is also diverse and non-linear.        

sy - #84772

March 14th 2014

Jon and GJDS

I have previously lamented the inviolable autonomy of nature tendency among some TEs (and others) for exactly the reasons Jon cites. I think there can be general agreement that God created the laws and constants of nature, and also pronounced all of it as being good. I like to think (but a real theologian would need to address this) that “good” in this context could mean more like a good job (it actually works very well) than morally good, but that’s a side issue. Among the attributes of the creation is the primary importance of chance in many aspects of physics and biology. The role of chance in God’s plan for how the universe is supposed to work has been covered at great length by many others. One of the advantages of the uncertainty provided by quantum physics, random mutation, etc, is the freedom that God allowed Himself to act within the laws that remain fixed and inviolable.

There was a point on Earth when it must have become clear that the damn dinosaurs werent going to fit the bill as worshipful creatures, and they didnt seem to be going anywhere. They certainly werent allowing any other kind of animals to go anywhere either. Lucky thing that asteroid hit. That is the kind of event that could not have been predicted by any kind of front loading, was certainly not inevitable, (except by the most extreme form of whatever ism it is that claims that everything was preordained by clear causal chains) and opened a whole new set of possibilities for life on Earth. If I had to think that the asteroid impact was NOT an act of God, I would just as soon revert to atheism. And the good part is that by making that claim (as a matter of faith) I violate no law of phyics or nature. So thank God for uncertainty. Frankly, I am overwhelmed by the unfathomable genius of the design of our world, and to call it “intelligent” is a gross and insulting understatement.

Jon Garvey - #84773

March 14th 2014


I’m well up for joining the Unfathomable Genius Design Movement! Of wait, I see it’s already in existence under the name of “Christian Creation Doctrine.”

PNG - #84789

March 17th 2014

I suggested on another thread that just because someone has come up with an appropriate word (concurrence) shouldn’t lead us to think that that means we understand anything about how the thing is done. I assume by your non-response there and your remark here that you agree with me.

Jon Garvey - #84792

March 17th 2014

Sorry PNG

Didn’t think the remark on the other thread was a question! I think you’re being unfair in talking about “someone coming up with a word”, when it was a significant part of the extended discussion of Patristic, mediaeval and Reformed theology and philosophy. That’s like saying “Trinity” is a word we don’t understand - in some ways that’s true, but we know a lot more about it after studing the early church councils than before, and we still regard it as central to Christian orthodoxy.

When it comes to how God acts, I wonder if any of the possible alternatives are fully comprehensible - how, for example, does God sustain all things in being (as in concurrence) without also being involved in their actions? To that extent, like the Trinity, the Incarnation, grace, election etc etc we need to accept such things on faith, that faith being based on the revelation of Scripture.

Both Augustine and Aquinas, for example, examined the relationship of concurrence to free will in great depth, and the latter did so with regard to Providence. The work is all there to read online.

However, whether or not we can conceive of the “how” when we’re talking about the Almighty, the different positions have clear consequences for doctrine. Conservationism works with “libertarian free will”, but that causes its own batch of problems both internally and in relation to other biblical teachings, including that on free will itself. Concurrence requires a different conception of free-will, which is less tied to Renaissance humanist ideas of “autonomy”. Neither conception of free-will applies in any coherent way to “natural contingency”, to which it “freedom” can only be applied as a loose and emotive analogy.

So I answer, we can dimly appreciate aspects of concurrence, and especially its effects for our faith, as we can dimly appreciate other deep truths about God. We can act on it productively. But to pretend to understand God “as he is” is, in concurrence as in anything else, presumptuous.

Jon Garvey - #84793

March 17th 2014

To which I should just add that concurrence implies God’s working in accordance with whatever secondary causation is involved. When he’s working through natural law, the outcomes will be as predictable and reliable as natural law (which isn’t to say, of course, that it has to comply with our formulations of law!). When working through chance events, their distributions will follow statistical patters. And he remains at liberty to load the dice in favour of his chosen outcomes, only because he’s working from within the created order, he will in those circumstances be (by definition) “acting naturally” and not “coercively”.

Ted Davis - #84831

March 19th 2014

Let me note that “concurrence” might have been Boyle’s own view of divine action, vis-a-vis “laws of nature” (a term he didn’t hesitate to use). I discussed this with Eddie in the comments to an earlier column: http://biologos.org/blog/science-as-christian-vocation.

Jon Garvey - #84835

March 19th 2014

Thanks Ted - I missed that comment and was unwilling to stick my neck out re Boyle, but given his background I’d have been surprised if he hadn’t been a concurrentist.

GJDS - #84791

March 17th 2014


One of the wonders of the Christian faith is that ‘we should examine all things to come to the knowledge of what is true and good’. On freedon and law, I have spent a great deal of time contemplating these profound concepts and I feel convinced that these are gifts from God to His creation (and us). So yes, thank God for uncertainty and our ability to realise we know some things and do not know many other things. I too share in appreciating the endless intricacies and depth of Nature and see this also as a gift from God, that we may philosophise, and undertake scientific investigations, which I regard as the intelligibility of the creation (that it is accessible to human examination and understanding).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84838

March 19th 2014

I recently read a essay in the New York Times entitled something like “Nothing Is Really Alive.”  What the essay pointed out is that humans think of things as dead or alive, but we know that many non-living things have living characteristics and vice versa. 

Therefore it is hard to make the distinction between the living and the dead, which leads to the proposed conclusion that there is no real distinction between life and death and thus theoretically everything is dead. 

This is the problem of the world today.  The old dualism is almost gone and there is nothing to take its place.

Concernency as I understand it is the old dualism in spades.  Ocassionalism is where God determines everything.  Concernency is where God and people in particular work together to determine everything.  If God is in control, what is the freedom?  If people have a choice, then why does God need to be involved?       


Jon Garvey - #84844

March 19th 2014


I suggest you go back to the books and read what concurrence actually means, and why the Pelagianism your post implies, with its inherent bare conservationism, was considered heterodox by the historical Church of Christ.

“Why does God need to be involved?”

Sigh. Because in him we live, and move, and have our being, for a start. Because “without me, you can do nothing.” Because he is at work in us both to will and to do is good purpose.” And a number of other Theology 101 reasons that have nothing to do with dualism. Or monism. Or other isms.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84857

March 20th 2014


I must admit that I never connected Pelagianism with this issue, at least not directly.

The reason is because they are two different questions.  Pelagianism is the question as to whether humans make a right moral or spiritual decision based on solely human thought and human strength and the answer is No.  The other question is: Can humans make a good human decision based on human thought and human strength and the answer is Yes, although often they do not.   

Now of course God is involved, because God created us, God created the universe, and God created the RULES by which all this works.  This is what I think you mean by conservationism, and certainly there is nothing wrong with this.

However it is true that there is something more than this.  We need to understand to some extent how humans “interface” with God, which is the reason for the coming of the Savior.  This assumes that we do relate to God, and I know this is a serious issue, but Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Logos and is “God with us.”)

Traditional dualist and monist world views do not allow communication and communion with God as taught in the NT, which is the primary reason why they need to be replaced for a more adequate Christian, philosophical, and scientific world view.  


Eddie - #84869

March 21st 2014


Why do you write of “communication and communion with God as taught in the NT”?  Why not “as taught in the Bible”?  Do you not think that communication and communion with God are also taught in the Old Testament?  Is this another example of your driving a wedge between the Testaments?

I still don’t know what a “traditional dualist” world view is.  Did Luther hold to a “traditional dualist world view”?  Did Calvin?  Did Wesley?  Did Aquinas?  Did Augustine?  Which people of the past are guilty of this allegedly terrible error?  You’ve been raging against “dualism” for about two years now, and I very much doubt that a single reader here understands what the target of your rage is.  What is the point of going on and on about “dualism” if no one knows what “dualism” is or who the “dualists” are?

Have you ever considered the simple approach of “defining your terms”?  I’ll give you the first seven words:  

“By ‘dualism’ I mean the view that ...”

And after your have provided the definition, you could introduce some examples, in the following manner:

“Christians who have fallen prey to the error of dualism include ...”

And after that, you could show what specific teachings of each of the named Christians are “dualistic,” and why.

Perhaps this will assist you in getting your point across.  Then it would be possible for readers here to assess what you are saying.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84878

March 22nd 2014


Pardon me, but I thought that everyone knew about the Western dualist world view and most people knew what it was because most of us are dualists, to one extent or another.  Maybe you are different.  Maybe you are a monist.

In any case my rule here is that the blog is not a suitable medium for this type of discussion, so you will have to get my book.  Contact me by email if you are interested.       

Eddie - #84880

March 22nd 2014

It doesn’t take a book to define a term; it takes one sentence.  

Look in any dictionary, or any dictionary of philosophical terms.  Terms are almost always defined in just one sentence.  

Of course, one can amplify the definition with further discussion.  One can subdivide the term into different senses, one can give examples, etc.  But the basic meaning of the term should be conveyable in a sentence.

If an author can’t define a term in a sentence, and give any necessary supplementary backup to the definition in a single paragraph, it’s very likely that the author is using the term without knowing what it means.

It’s rather peculiar that when Jon, or myself, or Lou, or anyone else here, uses a term that people don’t understand, and people ask for clarification, we all define the term without making any difficulty, but when you are the one who is asked to clarify, you insist that people read your book.  You alone make this unreasonable demand.

I notice that my question about the exclusion of the Old Testament was not answered.  But I have a pretty good idea of what the answer is, given your quasi-Marcionite views.  Your interpretation of Christian faith seems to me to be most un-Hebraic.  Yet it’s the Hebraic aspect of Christianity that gives it its guts; without the Hebraic character, Christianity would be just another Hellenistic mystery religion, good for “saving” us and getting us to “heaven,” but with nothing to say about how to live a fulfilled human life on this good created earth.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84884

March 22nd 2014


You are mistaken.

Eddie - #84885

March 22nd 2014

A masterful work of argument, Roger:  “You are mistaken.”  No reasons given, just a conclusion, arbitrarily stated.  

What grade do you think such an answer would earn, if you offered it as the contents of a freshman philosophy paper?  Imagine a three-word essay, consisting of the words, “Plato is mistaken.”  Would your professor be impressed?

Roger, it is you who are mistaken—about what constitutes a refutation.

I will proceed on the assumption (a reasonable assumption, given your confused and inconsistent usage over the past two years here) that you have been using the word “dualism” without knowing what the term means.  You can disabuse me of that assumption by defining the term, and giving me examples of where it applies.  I will listen carefully and with an open mind to such a response.  Continued pitches for your book will be ignored.

It’s up to you.  If you want me to continue believing that you are confused regarding “dualism,” you can continue to evade my request for definition.  If you want me to believe that you have something important to say about dualism, you will define the term, and tell me who the dualists are, and what makes them dualists.  Thus, the opinion I have of your understanding rests entirely in your hands.  You will have only yourself to blame if I continue in my present opinion.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84888

March 23rd 2014

Edward wrote:

A masterful work of argument, Roger:  “You are mistaken.”  No reasons given, just a conclusion, arbitrarily stated. 

Edward, you are very slow to get the message.  There is no reason to give an argument in response to opinions and speculation.

Thus, the opinion I have of your understanding rests entirely in your hands.  You will have only yourself to blame if I continue in my present opinion.

As if I should have some reason to care?

Look, Edward, you can waste your time if you want to.  We have done things your way too long and I have decided not to waste my time doing things your way.

If you really want to discuss, read the book.  If you want to play your silly games, play them by yourself or at least without me. 

Eddie - #84889

March 23rd 2014


You obviously DO care about my opinion, since you have addressed scores upon scores of posts to me, in all of them trying to persuade me of one or more of your various hobby-horses, and you have begged me time and again to read your book, which you wouldn’t do if you didn’t want my opinion on it.

But you’re right; we are wasting time, because we will never come close to agreement.   Your “dualistic” approach to Christianity, by which you divide Biblical teaching into Old Testament errors and New Testament truths, is antithetical to my own approach.  It’s also heretical by any historical definition of the Christian faith.  But it’s clear that historical definitions have no hold over you, any more than do evidence, reason, or most of Scripture.  You make up your own religion as you go along, a religion consisting of three parts trendy modern ideas for every one part of Scripture.  That puts you in the “orthodoxy range” of John Haught, John Shelby Spong, and Teilhard de Chardin.  And that’s why I don’t need to read your book to know that I would disagree with the greater part of it.  

Best wishes, Roger.  And if you really want me to go my own way, without you, you won’t reply again, not even to complain one last time that I haven’t read your book.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84890

March 23rd 2014


I do care about how you think, but not how you imagine.

You will stand before God some day and even if you are saved by the Blood of the Lamb, (which I may question, but it is not up to me to determine,) I would hope that you would not be embarassed by the shoddy way you treated Truth in our exchange. 

You may be a “scholar,” but you are also the embodiment of Paul’s saying, “Knowledge puffs up, while Love builds up.”  You have plenty of knowlegs and plenty of pride, but little love.  

The fact is reading my book would not hurt you, and might help.  The problem is your pride  has convinced you that you know it all and even reading something new and different would be an admission that there maybe something wrong with your theology. 

You can go on dreaming about how my thinking is all wrong.  You might think ignorance is bliss, but I know better.  Maybe your friends will help you if I can’t.  

Eddie - #84891

March 23rd 2014


Your last words impute low motivation (pride, and lack of love) to me, and even speculate about my salvation.  If you choose to go out on that uncharitable note, so be it.

All along I wished to keep our disagreements at the academic and theological level.  But clearly you are unable to separate the academic and theological from the personal.  Apparently I cannot criticize you on the theological plane without unintentionally wounding you on the personal plane.  On the attack, you are confident and aggressive; but on the defense, you seem a delicate and easily damaged flower.  And I have no wish to hurt you in a personal manner.  So it’s time to stop.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84895

March 24th 2014

We need to understand to some extent how humans “interface” with God, which is the reason for the coming of the Savior.

This is a statement I made above before the blog was rudely interrupted by Edward’s demands.

How does God communicate with people without controling them, or does communication with God indicate control by God?  

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