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Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 1

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October 24, 2012 Tags: Design
Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 1
Old French Bible moralisée (c. 1208-15), Codex Vindobonensis 2554, fol. lv ,Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. (Source)

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

What’s in a name?

According to Merriam Webster, the term “intelligent design” has been used since at least 1847, in reference to “the theory that matter, the various forms of life, and the world were created by a designing intelligence.” That’s a decent definition, also consistent with those offered by today’s proponents of intelligent design (ID). For example, the leading ID think tank, The Discovery Institute (Seattle), has this:

Intelligent design refers to a scientific research program as well as a community of scientists, philosophers and other scholars who seek evidence of design in nature. The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

And in the opening sentence of a book he edited with philosopher Michael Ruse, ID theorist William Dembski said, “Intelligent Design is the hypothesis that in order to explain life it is necessary to suppose the action of an unevolved intelligence.” (Debating Design, p. 3)

On the other hand, while a recent contest on a prominent intelligent design (ID) website uncovered several other early uses of the term, it is important to note that it does not always mean exactly the same thing in each reference. The term itself has an interesting history, and while ID authors obviously did not invent the term “intelligent design,” they have given it specific content in recent years. Indeed, they have even removed content in some cases: a point I will return to later is that, though it seems the only viable candidate for such an “unevolved intelligence” is God, ID proponents sometimes seem to do cartwheels to avoid saying as much. When a term has such a complicated past, there simply is no substitute for looking at specific references in their own contexts as we move to seeing how ID plays out today as one of the 5 ways of relating science and the Bible.

Interestingly, many Protestant “modernist” scientists and theologians from William Jennings Bryan’s day (see my previous column) unhesitatingly endorsed the idea that a designing intelligence lay behind nature. At least one such person, Nobel prize-winning physicist Arthur Holly Compton, even used the very term “intelligent design” in an address he gave at a Unitarian church in 1940: “The chance of a world such as ours occurring without intelligent design becomes more and more remote as we learn of its wonders.” (Quoting his pamphlet from 1940, The Idea of God as Affected by Modern Knowledge, p. 13. For more about this aspect of Compton’s views, click here.) However, Compton regarded design as a philosophical and theological inference from science, not an explanation within science to be invoked when other explanations fail. He also accepted the common ancestry of humans and other organisms. This is a significant difference from the ID movement today, which offers ID as a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution and (at least in many cases) seeks to undermine public confidence in common ancestry (even though ID per se is not actually opposed to it).

If any ID proponents are sympathetic to the type of religious modernism that Compton and his friends embraced, I cannot tell you who they are. In a curious, ironic twist, ID is often used by conservative Christian apologists partly to defend a cluster of traditional theological and hermeneutical positions that none of the modernists would have defended. A further irony: the intellectual descendants of the modernists—those scientists and theologians who occupy the left wing of the modern “dialogue” of science and religion—exhibit a studied avoidance of the term “design,” disconnecting them on that score from the modernists of the 1920s.

Many other contemporary writers, including some evangelical TEs, are also reluctant to use the word “design,” precisely because in their view it has been co-opted by ID proponents and they do not want readers to misunderstand their position(s). They may agree with ID proponents that certain features of the universe reflect divine design, but because they do not see design as a scientific explanation they employ other language. (Likewise, the YECs have co-opted the word “creationism” to mean just one specific understanding of God’s creative activity, leading most advocates of other views either to provide their own definitions of the word or else to avoid using it altogether. Politics dogs this conversation at every turn.)

Core Tenets or Assumptions of Intelligent Design

With that bit of historical context for the term “Intelligent Design,” let’s now look at the first of the Core Tenets of this perspective in its current state, and as it is most often used by those associated with the Intelligent Design movement.

(1) The Bible is NOT to be mentioned (at least for now); ditto for “God” and “theology” as far as possible.

This is a deliberate strategy, adopted for political reasons to keep arguments at the level of philosophy and science. Here, “political” refers to the American political system, with its constitutional disestablishment of religion, not to partisan politics. Since the 1980s, federal courts have consistently ruled that “creationism” (which was specifically of the YEC variety in the relevant cases) is sectarian religion, not science, and therefore it cannot be taught in public school science classes. Anxious to avoid a similar fate, proponents of ID always want to ensure that they are not perceived as advocates of “creationism.” The less they mention God and the Bible, the reasoning goes, the less likely they are to fall afoul of those decisions.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, pertaining to the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press.
Source: http://www.rochester.edu/college/psc/images/Courses/Spring2008/FirstAmendment.png

Phillip Johnson, the former law professor who effectively began the ID movement some twenty years ago, has put it bluntly: “To put things on a more rational basis, the first thing that has to be done is to get the Bible out of the discussion.” He quickly adds, “This is not to say that the biblical issues are unimportant; the point is rather that the time to address them will be after we have separated materialist prejudice from scientific fact.” (“The Wedge: Breaking the Modernist Monopoly on Science,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, July/August 1999, p. 22.)

If God and the Bible are really to be left out for the time being, then why am I discussing ID in a series on “Science and the Bible”? It’s a fair question. I simply don’t see any way meaningfully to avoid talking about ID apart from the culture wars in which it is embedded (I’ll say more about this in a subsequent column), and the Bible is never far from the surface when the battle being fought involves origins. Conservative Christians sense that ID really is about God—Dembski’s “unevolved intelligence”. As Dembski himself has said, “no intelligent agent who is strictly physical could have presided over the origin of the universe or the origin of life”, and there aren’t a lot of candidates for that job. Many Christians also identify strongly with the ways in which ID seeks to confront the secular establishment, in an explicitly-stated effort to combat what Johnson calls “the modernist scientific and intellectual world, with its materialist assumptions.” (“The Wedge,” p. 23.) They see it as a way of getting traditional theistic perspectives and Christian values back into the academy, once “design” has become an acceptable academic talking point—and it isn’t very far from there to conversations about “science and the Bible.” If this were not so, then why would so much ID literature be published by Christian presses? Indeed, when I tell church audiences with a straight face that ID purports not to be about the Bible at all, I’m usually met with considerable skepticism.

When I’m back in about two weeks, we’ll look at further Core Tenets of ID—the ones that have even less to do with the Bible, explicitly, and more to do with the way we approach the study of the natural world.

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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HornSpiel - #73885

October 24th 2012

Ted, I think, you have  fairly characterized the ID movement in this article. I’d like to know if other readers dissent.
I’d suggest following the the link to Johnston’s The Wedge article. Very interesting read. Perhaps only a lawyer would devise such a strategy. A kind of partitioning of the intellectual debate designed more to win a debate than to come to consensus, to sow doubt rather that prove a point. Johnson knows how to influence the jury of public opinion. That’s his strategy
Nonetheless, I am amused at some of the claims Johnson makes in article. Statements like “My sense is that the battle against the Darwinian mechanism has already been won at the intellectual level, although not at the political level.” And ” When the claim that large-scale evolutionary changes occur is made specific, then it becomes testable. So far the claim is failing the tests.” Assertions that I do not think have held up very well in the intervening 13 years.
Ted Davis - #73887

October 24th 2012

Johnson’s specialty is criminal law. The chief role of the defense attorney is to sow doubt before a jury, as you put it. Johnson himself has been very sceptical about climate change, the HIV-AIDs link, and common ancestry; in recent years, he’s also been very friendly to certain young-earth creationist ideas that (IMO) he ought to have been much more sceptical about, including Barry Setterfield’s view that the speed of light has changed drastically in the past few millennia (http://www.setterfield.org/essays/speedo.html).

Most lay Christians entirely lack the competence to be as sceptical toward Johnson’s claims as he is toward various scientific claims. This is one reason, IMO, why ID is so much more popular among lay Christians than it is among Christians who are trained scientists—though I do not mean to imply that no Christian scientists support it (some certainly do). For many Christian scientists, Johnson’s arguments don’t sound as good as they do to other readers.

HornSpiel - #73892

October 24th 2012

Ironically its a strategy that uses skepticism as a wedge to force in a system where doubt, regarding the existence of an “unevolved intelligence or vital force,” is not allowed.

Eddie - #73963

October 28th 2012


I do not understand this comment.  I am not even sure I follow the syntax of the sentence.  Could you unpack this, in three or four sentences?

HornSpiel - #73986

October 29th 2012

Eddie, thanks for your reply. Let me see if I can unravel the semantics of what I said above:

First, I contend that the ID movement is primarily about the nature of scientific theory: Is a design hypothesis allowable or not?

Second, the goal of scientific theories is to explain natural phenomena beyond a reasonable doubt. This does not mean they do, but that this is what they strive to achieve. It is a high standard.

Third, one way that Science achieves this is by allowing one to question any theory—to always subject any theory to verification, to never dogmatically assert that a theory is complete or finished. (That is why the “Theory of Everything” is a misnomer.)

Fourth, the Wedge strategy uses Science’s self-questioning to justify it’s contention that there is “reasonable doubt” concerning the naturalistic theorizing of science. Moreover, Johnson is saying that scientists have an unreasonable prejudice against allowing an “unevolved intelligence” into the philosophical basis of science. Ipso facto an “unevolved intelligence” should be allowed in scientific theories.

However, and finally, I believe that the existence of an unevolved Designer, as described by ID advocates, is faith-based, not fact-based. This means you can’t prove the existence of the Designer beyond a reasonable doubt.

The “irony” comes in when the Wedge uses Science’s own self-correcting mechanism to force into scientific theories an hypothesis that is inherently not beyond a reasonable doubt.

I hope this helps.

Eddie - #73991

October 29th 2012

I agree that modern natural science, when it is behaving itself, regards all its theories as revisable.  Thus, Newtonian physics seemed to many for a time to be the final word on gravity, space, time, etc., but then Einstein came along and the theory of gravity, space, time, etc. were seen to need revision.  And later on, some of Einstein’s views would be challenged.  No problem here.  All ID persons agree that science is tentative.  (Which is why ID people protest so loudly when Dawkins and others treat neo-Darwinism as if it is unalterable fact, graven in stone, or when AGW people claim that their climate models are so perfect that certainty has been achieved.)  So ID, TE, and atheist scientists acknowledge the same principle here.
It’s a separate question whether or not design inferences should be part of science.  ID people obviously think they should be; TE and atheist scientists think they shouldn’t be.
It’s still another question whether or not supernatural causes should be admitted into science.  Unfortunately, Philip Johnson and some other people, early on in the ID movement, tended to conflate “design” with “supernatural actions,” and this continues to haunt ID people today, even though they ID has since made the necessary distinctions, because people keep bringing up old writings by Johnson and Dembski and things like the Wedge document.  But in fact ID today does not claim that science should bring supernatural causation into explanations of nature, nor even that science could infer supernatural causation if it happened.  It claims only that science can infer design.  The question whether the designer is natural or supernatural requires a further philosophical/theological argument which is not based on design theory, and therefore is not part of ID as an explanation of nature.
The same applies to inferring an “unevolved intelligence.”  Design theory proper can get you only to “intelligent agent.”  It can’t say whether the intelligent agent was “evolved” (e.g., aliens) or “unevolved” (e.g., God).  That requires a further philosophical/theological inference which does not employ the methods of design detection.
(It is of course very reasonable to infer that the designer of the universe was an “unevolved intelligence” but that inference is not part of design theory per se.)
So for ID, the inference to the existence of a designer is not faith-based, but is made via the methods of design detection; but the judgment that the designer is “unevolved” comes either from faith, or from philosophical reasoning, not from anything ID theory can say.  So also, any judgment that the designer must be the Christian God, the Jewish God, etc., proceeds outside of the bounds of ID theorizing.
As for the Wedge document, it is now extremely old, and official ID organizations, such as Discovery, do not today want to force ID theory upon society, or into schools.  They argue that the public schools’ job is not to promote ID, but to treat Darwinian evolution with the proper critical spirit—the one you mentioned— and let students know about existing scientific objections to it.  So I would submit that attacking the Wedge document is like attacking the use of typewriters in high schools; no one teaches keyboard skills on typewriters any more, so it is pointless to inveigh against that practice. 
If you want to criticize ID as it is now, not as it was in the pioneering days of Johnson, I would suggest you look at the comments of Kirk Durston on Dennis Venema’s latest column.  No Wedge document, no discussion of God, just mathematical and biological arguments for design.
HornSpiel - #74000

October 29th 2012


The only science I am interested in defending is well behaved science of course—not your sparrow minded Duxleys and Hawkinses. I don’t give a dove about their squawkings.

So let’s avoid the other questions and get down to the claim “that science can infer design” thus “for ID, the inference to the existence of a designer is not faith-based.”

For sake of argument I will accept your inferences.

However I wonder if you would generally agree to the scientific evidence for the great age of Earth (4Gy) and the universe (14 Gy), as well as the common descent of life, including humans, from some primordial life source? After all the evidence for this is at least as great as it is for a designer.

I do not see why not. Common descent does not mean that the Designer couldn’t have left evidence of his/her/its presence in the genome. For example putative irreducibly complex structures that defy evolutionary explanation. Wouldn’t you agree there is no evidence for the “spontaneous generation” of life, once life was already established on Earth?

As far as criticizing the Wedge. It may be historical and I may be flogging a dead horse. However I was responding to the original post. I am not equipped to respond to the detailed mathematical/biological arguments you mention. I’ll let Dennis do that. I really don’t understand either side of the conversation.

Eddie - #74004

October 30th 2012


I regard most claims in the historical sciences as necessarily more speculative and harder to confirm than claims in the experimental sciences, as they tend to rely heavily on theoretical extrapolations, some of which depend on shakier premises than others.  However, that said, I regard the argument for an old universe and old earth, and a length of time of human life on earth as much longer than 6,000 years, as pretty strong.  I also regard the arguments for common descent as reasonably strong.  However, I don’t regard the neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution as very convincing, and I’m pleased to see that many evolutionary biologists are now suggesting that evolutionary theory needs not just minor adjustments, to touch up neo-Darwinism, but a major overhaul.  We have never had any reports on these biologists’ work here on Biologos—and what that means is hard to say.  But I think serious students of evolutionary theory will not regard traditional neo-Darwinian population-genetics approaches as the last word, and will have a look at some of the Altenberg people, James Shapiro, and others.  

If you are asking me whether an old earth, an old human race, and common descent are compatible with a designer whose work displays some traces of his design, I say unhesitatingly, yes they are.  That is the position of Behe, Denton and some other ID folks.

As for spontaneous generation, I don’t think we can say one way or the other.  Nobody was there to witness the Cambrian explosion, and we don’t have nearly enough data to say how it happened.  Nor do we know where the Ediacaran fauna came from, etc.  But to me the question is not very important, if we envision God as active.  He can either create new life forms out of nothing, and let them evolve from there, or he can modify existing forms, at will.  He could have modified unknown predecessors to produce the Cambrian explosion, for example, so anyone who finds creation of new forms ex nihilo to be theologically or scientifically distasteful can picture God as a modifier of old forms instead.

Bilbo - #73894

October 24th 2012

Hi Ted,

Fred Hoyle was an ID advocate, even though he didn’t believe in the supernatural nor did he think we should worship whoever the designer was:


Historians should be cognizant of this.

Ted Davis - #73911

October 25th 2012

Yes, Bilbo. This historian is cognizant of this, and so are many others.

In part 2, I’ll explicitly identify some contemporary non-theists who are ID supporters. I don’t see how this nullifies anything I’ve said here, however.

HornSpiel - #73916

October 25th 2012


To be fair to Bilbo, the Philip Johnson discussion above is irrelevant to the case of Fred Hoyle (though Fred Hoyle might not be irrelevent to a discussion of Johnson). The question that Bilbo’s comment raises is: Is ID more than a socio-political agenda; is it based on fact?  I am curious what you might have to say on the subject.

Ted Davis - #73945

October 27th 2012

I do think that ID is more than a socio-political agenda, HornsSpiel (and Bilbo), and that should be very clear in my next column, where I’ll deal with some specific ideas associated with ID. The bottom line for me is that ID (at least as it is presented by its top leaders) is both a set of ideas (which some call “scientific” and others call “philosophical”) and a program for cultural renewal. As with my columns on each of the other views, I play the cards in my hand one at a time; more cards are coming. One of the major drawbacks of many web sites, including this one, is that editors aim for columns under 2,000 words, at least most of the time; whereas my comments on most of the 5 views we’re studying are much longer. If this were a print publication, I’d be able to say a lot more in one piece. Once my cards on ID are all played, readers should have a better understanding of my position in full.

In the meantime, however, I do intend for the socio-political aspect to be a topic for discussion. I cannot separate it entirely from the ideas in my analysis, any more than I could separate it from the YEC view. Indeed, as we’ll see in future columns, there are some obvious parallels in tone, not content, between ID and the YE variety of creationism.

Bilbo - #73920

October 25th 2012


Though you never come out directly and say, “ID is just a cloak for Creationism,” you seem to do your best to imply that it is.  Hoyle would be a counter-example to that claim.  When people in churches look at you skeptically when you tell them that ID purports not to be about the Bible, why not just tell them about Hoyle?

Ted Davis - #73946

October 27th 2012

If this column contained all I plan to say, Bilbo, your conclusion would be warranted. However, I do not believe that ID is “creationism in a cheap tuxedo,” as Leonard Krishtalka and others have put it (I’m not entirely sure who first used that phrase). I’ll discuss this later.

The decision by Judge John Jones in the famous Kitzmiller v Dover trial reinforced the perception that ID really is just stealth creationism. I dissent from that part of the decision myself, but I can’t criticize the judge himself (unlike many of his critics) b/c the evidence presented in his courtroom supported that decision. His Honor fairly connected unrefuted dots. To be frank: the defense needed an expert on the history of creationism to untangle the knots for them, but they didn’t have one. Also to be frank: some prominent ID people worked hand in glove with prominent YECs to write the book that was explicitly named in the statement read in Dover biology classes that led directly to the trial, and no historian could have untied that particular knot. In this instance, at least, seeds sown by ID leaders bore fruit they did not want.

In other words, it’s a very complicated mess. I won’t fully explore it, but we’ll get into it. And, the ideas as well.

Ted Davis - #73914

October 25th 2012

Incidentally, concerning Hoyle and the “big bang” (which he named), you might be interested in this article: http://www.scienceandchristianbelief.org/serve_pdf_free.php?filename=SCB+18-2+McConnell.pdf.

Bilbo - #73921

October 26th 2012


It just occurred to me that you may not have looked at the link I offered, which shows that Hoyle thought the first living cells on Earth had been designed.

Ted Davis - #73947

October 27th 2012

Thank you for the reminder, Bilbo. I appreciate your involvement with this series all the way through, and I don’t mean to sidestep your point about Hoyle.

Yes, Hoyle is a legitimate example of a non-theist who concluded that the universe is “designed” in some way. We could probably find a few other folks in this category, too. I’ll have more to say about the size of the “big tent”  of ID and who’s part of it in future columns, though I hadn’t planned to talk about Hoyle since he does pre-date the movement.

Nearly all of the information in the article you linked (http://telicthoughts.com/sir-fred-hoyle-and-the-origins-of-id/) was known to me, but I’d forgotten that his work was cited by Bradley et al. (I will discuss their book next time) and Denton. Please note, Bilbo, that the same article says, “After the defeat of the Creation Scientists in the courtrooms, Phillip Johnson’s more moderate group realized that something less religious than Creationism was needed. Comparing their views to Hoyle’s, it was clear that even though they differed on who the designer was, they agreed that life was intelligently designed. And so the movement was born.”

In other words, I take your point about Hoyle. Please take my point about political strategy. They are both part of the full picture of ID.

Bilbo - #73955

October 28th 2012

Hi Ted,

I’m putting my reply down at the bottom.  I hate the format here.

Ted Davis - #73949

October 27th 2012

Also, Bilbo, please see what I wrote to Eddie below at #73948, with the link to my article about the Dover trial.

Bilbo - #73956

October 28th 2012

And I’m replying to this down below, also.

PNG - #73896

October 24th 2012

I wonder if the book by Thaxton, Bradley and Olsen should be included as a predecessor of the ID movement, although it was of course focussed on the origin of life and not questioning positive selection as a mechanism.

Ted Davis - #73912

October 25th 2012

In part 2, I’ll call that book the first ID book. We agree about this, PNG.

Chip - #73900

October 24th 2012

Hello Ted,

Thanks to Bilbo for the citation.  Indeed, the article you refered me to a few weeks ago includes the following blurb: 

Now imagine yourself as a superintellect working through possibilities in polymer chemistry. Would you not be astonished that polymers based on the carbon atom turned out in your calculations to have the remarkable properties of the enzymes and other biomolecules? Would you not be bowled over in surprise to find that a living cell was a feasible construct? Would you not say to yourself, in whatever language supercalculating intellects use: Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule. Of course you would, and if you were a sensible superintellect you would conclude that the carbon atom is a fix.

Source:  http://calteches.library.caltech.edu/3312/1/Hoyle.pdf

Here, Hoyle simply seems to be doing the same things that more recent IDologues do:  proposing a superintellect as a designer because the data (overwhelmingly) supports it, even if the data cannot pinpoint his/her/its/their precise identity.  I’m not sure why this is such a awful thing—your framing of the issue as “doing cartwheels” notwithstanding. 

Kudos to Hoyle, who has the intellectual integrity to allow the data to drive his conclusions (Imagine…), in spite of the risks inherent in doing so (see Bilbo’s citation in which he acknowledges the “fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion.”)

Ted Davis - #73913

October 25th 2012

Where did I say this is such an awful thing, Chip? Please be specific.

Ted Davis - #73915

October 25th 2012

My use of the phrase “doing cartwheels” is intended to bring smiles, but I’m also conveying a perception that is very widely held outside of ID circles, including even among the YECs: namely, that everyone “knows” we’re really talking about “God.” OK, so it’s not quite everyone who “knows” that, but this is one of the starkest differences between ID proponents and opponents. IMO, the studied, deliberate avoidance of all “god-talk” doesn’t accomplish anything at all, except to generate snickering.

I’m not trying to “diss” ID by saying this, either in this comment or in my column above. I’m conveying a general perception. Like it or not, it’s what a lot of people think—including a lot of Christians, who’d much rather have the “god-talk” than the alternative language.

GJDS - #73906

October 25th 2012

I find this is a curios development. On the one hand, I like most scientists, observe and appreciate geometric patterns, and relate particular functions of almost anything in nature, with the way such entities are constituted. Thus I consider such things as obvious, and this aspect of design in nature has been recognised, it seems to me, forever. Philosophers such as Kant have stated as much; the modern view equates a distinctly recognisable (and scientifically characteristic) aspect of every molecule and indeed every entity and system in nature. These aspects in Nature can be generally referred to as design; it is human intelligence that recognises this, and science has quantified many of these matters by symmetry, structure and geometry.

So we have on one side, things that border on the self-evident, and against these, we have proponents who (somewhat similar to TE thinking) can see how God has done things. It is a simple extension in such thinking, to then say we humans have identified divine intelligence at work. The problem with this is that knowledge of God is given by God; the creation testifies to its creator – it does not take His place, nor is revelation itself.

I suspect the problem (or conflict) may be found within the overall problem, which is the belief that evolution (in whatever form it is believed) gives us a method by which God operates. If we accept this belief, I would think that ID would be ‘more scientific’ (if I can use silly language like this) than neo-Darwinism. However, an error is an error, in whatever context it is found.

I find something slightly different that intrigues me; why do we have an intelligible world. By this I mean, how is it possible for Nature to be accessible to human intellect to the extent that we can derive knowledge about it, which empowers us to change Nature itself, when we human beings decide to do so? How does this impact on design and intelligence?

I think this article has identified the folly in these matters - that folly is politics and conflict.

Merv - #73925

October 26th 2012

Here is an attempt to tie some of this together by comparing ID, TE, and YEC with a few generalizations  —given from a TE sympathetic perspective since TEs seem to take the brunt of commentor’s ire here.  Then again, since Biologos is TE ‘home turf’ somewhat, it is good and appropriate that criticism of TE is welcomed and encouraged.  Still, see what you all think of the following:

Regarding exactly how God works in our world it seems that much more is being asked of TEs than the other groups.  

YECs get to say:   ” ‘Shazzam’!  God created our world by fiat.  End of story.”

IDists get to say:  ” ‘Shazzam’!  This feature of xyz could only have arisen by the design of an intelligent agency.  End of [scientific] story.”

TE folks like to say:  “Hey folks!  Look how creation seems to work here and here and there.  Isn’t it cool how God made all this happen?  I wonder what else we can discover about how all this came to be!”

To which the other groups seem to reply:  “Hold on there!   Unless you all specify exactly how and where God acts in our world, and do this in complete unified agreement with each other regarding all aspects of history and how theology, history, and science interact (because you aren’t allowed to have factions in this even though we have factions among ourselves)—unless you can all run (as a single unified mass) and jump this bar that we set, then we can’t accept your “theological gloss” over what we find to be indistinguishable from atheistic science!”

Does this sum things up fairly?  How would all of you much less sympathetic to TE approaches tweak this to make it sound more sympathetic with your own approach?


Eddie - #73934

October 26th 2012


It’s reasonable that TEs are asked to specify more, because they are making a more specific claim.

ID people are making a very limited claim:  the organic structures we see could not have arisen by chance and necessity alone, but required the design of an intelligent agent as a real causal factor.  Therefore, ID requires only showing that random mutations plus natural selection, or whatever other “chance and necessity” scenarios are introduced, are incapable of delivering the organic systems that we see, whereas an intelligent mind is more than capable of arranging such systems.  That paves the way for possible theological claims, including Christian claims, but it is not in itself a theological claim.

TEs are making a much bigger claim:  (1) random mutations plus natural selection (with maybe some other assorted stochastic mechanisms thrown in) are adequate to generate all the organic forms that we see, and that chemical reactions of simple molecules sloshing around in a hot primeval ocean are adequate to generate a living cell; (2) that these explanations of origins are perfectly compatible with orthodox, traditional Christian notions of creation, omnipotence, governance, providence, etc.  TE’s claim therefore implies a particular understanding of the Christian doctrine of Creation and at least a minimal understanding of how divine action is connected with the physical actions of the evolutionary process.

Therefore, TE is rightly asked to produce:  (a) a demonstration of the capacities of Darwinian mechanisms and blind-search origin-of-life mechanisms; (b) an explicit statement of the Christian doctrine of Creation which is claimed to be compatible with such mechanisms; (c) at least a partial sketch of the relationships between divine and natural action.

If all that TE can say is:  “I believe that life originated when molecules sloshed around in a primordial soup, and I believe that a blind search by mutations could create hearts, eyes, brains, fungi, plants, worms, reptiles, birds, mammals, social insects, and man, but I also believe that God was responsible for the process somehow, in some way, in some capacity, and that the results, including man, were something like, more or less, what he had in mind when he decided to create”—then TE is simply a restatement on the scientific side of Sagan and Dawkins, and on the theological side, entirely vacuous, asserting nothing intelligible at all.  It therefore can hardly count as a means of “bringing together science and faith.”

So the questions will continue.  How does the God of the Bible and of the uncompromising Reformation tradition control the evolutionary process?  TEs can duck the question, and sink into a personal fideistic agnosticism that is intellectually and socially irrelevant, or they can answer the question, and live up to their bold claim to have made Christian faith intelligible in the modern scientific world.  I’ll stop asking my questions when TEs start answering them.   

So far I have two answers to my questions:  Russell—God guides evolution to specific results through invisible quantum interactions; Polkinghorne (whose view I know only by hearsay):  God doesn’t guide evolution to particular results, but wills only the general process, leaving the future—which even he doesn’t know—open.  One view is orthodox, the other is heretical.  The remaining 20 or 30 leading TEs of the world—to my knowledge—have yet to record any intellectually coherent answers.  I’ll apparently know how the Presidential candidates are going to balance the budget before I’ll know how most TEs think God is involved in the evolutionary process.

Ted Davis - #73948

October 27th 2012

I reply to this, Eddie: “Therefore, ID requires only showing that random mutations plus natural selection, or whatever other “chance and necessity” scenarios are introduced, are incapable of delivering the organic systems that we see, whereas an intelligent mind is more than capable of arranging such systems.”

This is one of the main reasons why I’ve often said that ID is not a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution. Rather, it is a philosophical critique of the explanatory efficacy of Darwinian evolution. (Here is one place where I’ve said it, perhaps the only place where I said it in print: http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/RINVol8no3/intelligent design on trial.htm). In other words, there (at least presently) no ID theory to teach as an alternative to evolution; there is a negative argument against evolution, not a positive alternative to suggest.

I also recommend this article to Bilbo: there you can get a preview of my views on the cultural aspects of ID, and a glimpse of why I am unable to separate them from the ideas themselves.

Eddie - #73953

October 27th 2012


I certainly agree with you that ID does not give an alternate historical account of the origin of life or of the transformations of species.  That is not its purpose—though sometimes ID proponents themselves confuse the issue by suggesting that it is.  The fact is that ID is compatible with a number of historical accounts, some evolutionary in the everyday sense (e.g., Denton and Behe and apparently Sternberg are all evolutionists), some “creationist” as that term is generally understood, i.e., involving discrete acts of creation with little or no evolutionary continuity.  What ID isn’t compatible with is the mainstream understanding of 20th-century evolutionary biology regarding the mechanism of evolution.

This makes it hard to line up ID with YEC, OEC, and TE.  In fact ID proponents can be YECs, OECs, or even “theistic evolutionists” like Behe (where “theistic evolutionist” does not imply some of the restrictions typically imposed by modern TEs, but means only “God created through an evolutionary process”).  

ID’s positive alternative is not an alternate history of life on the planet.  ID’s positive alternative is a causal analysis of organic complexity which involves intelligence as well as chance and necessity.  And in that causal analysis, more than efficient causes are brought into play.

I would say also that while ID’s critique of Darwinian evolution is partly “philosophical,” as you write above, it is also partly scientific, even in the narrowest modern sense—a point you leave out.  Many ID criticisms parallel those of leading evolutionary biologists such as Margulis, Newman, and Shapiro.  There is strong scientific (not merely philosophical) evidence that Darwinian mechanisms are seriously deficient in their capacity to produce the results claimed for them.  Of course, the defects of current theory don’t necessarily establish the existence of intelligent design.  But those defects are just what we would expect to find if intelligent design were true.   

Ted Davis - #73950

October 27th 2012


Wouldn’t it be better to withhold passing judgement on Polkinghorne’s views until you’ve actually read some of his works for yourself, rather than relying (as you admit) on hearsay?

(And perhaps, Eddie, some of that hearsay comes from others who haven’t read Polkinghorne, either? I don’t know your sources, so obviously I can’t be sure about this. What I do know is that sometimes people say things about Polkinghorne that reflect a total ignorance of his work—such as the claim that he’s a process theist, or that he doesn’t believe in divine providence, or that he doesn’t believe in miracles. I’ve heard all of those, and they’re all flat wrong. For me one of the most frustrating aspects of interacting with others about science and religion is the fact that many people who never read any contemporary theology, except for the most conservative authors, like to make generalizations about how those certain writers that they’ve never read approach various topics in science and religion. They obviously don’t know what they’re talking about, but they talk anyway. I’m not accusing you of this at all, Eddie, but far too many people do it. Sorry for the rant.)

Now, what I’ve said about him here is also (I realize) just hearsay for you, if you haven’t read him yourself. I have said that he’s an open theist, but there is more than one type of open theist, so one needs to read Polkinghorne for himself. I’ll let you fill in the blanks yourself, Eddie, after you’ve had a chance actually to read him.

The topic of God and the future is of course closely related to the doctrine of providence; it’s also related to eschatology. Polkinghorne writes a lot about both, in several of his books, though not always both topics in the same books. Let me suggest just these two books to anyone who wants to know more about Polkinghorne’s theology before they form conclusions about his orthodoxy: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Providence-Gods-Interaction-World/dp/1932031928 and http://www.amazon.com/The-God-Hope-End-World/dp/0300092113.

As I say, Eddie, works such as these are relevant to understanding Polkinghorne’s views on evolution and the rest of nature, too. It would not be a good idea to focus any conclusions too narrowly on second-hand impressions of a single question about evolution alone, rather than on first-hand understanding of the larger picture of God, nature, and humanity that he paints with considerable eloquence.

Eddie - #73952

October 27th 2012


Of course you are right that one should not comment in detail on, or make final judgments about, things one has not read.  So to forewarn the readers here, I indicated that I knew Polkinghorne’s view of “open theism” only by hearsay, since I don’t recall reading him on that subject in the essay or two of his that I have read, or in the interviews of him that I have heard.  But it seems to me that you yourself indicated somewhere here that he was an open theist, and that this was a theological difference between him and Russell, and I took you as a reliable guide.

As for whether open theism is heresy, it depends on your definition of heresy.  I gather that you take a minimalist approach to orthodoxy, i.e., if someone can assent to the Nicene Creed or the other Creeds, he/she is orthodox.  But most Christians, especially Protestant evangelicals, have a more extensive set of requirement regarding orthodoxy, of which holding to the historical creeds would be only the first requirement.  Orthodox Calvinists, orthodox Lutherans, and orthodox Roman Catholics all expect their followers to hold to more than just the Creeds.  Calvinists, for example, will uphold some form (varying from school to school) of predestination, which is not mentioned in the Creeds.

The same would apply to “open theism.”  It might have many forms, some of which are orthodox and some not; but as I’ve been given to understand it, it asserts that even God does not know the future, because he does not want to circumscribe the freedom of at least some of his creatures.  That view would certainly not be orthodox Calvinism, for example.  

In any case, my point was not to bash Polkinghorne—whose manner of speaking I rather like—but simply to classify his understanding of God’s relationship to the evolutionary process.  If the reports are right, he does not see God as micromanaging the evolutionary process, but as controlling it in only a very loose way, whereas Russell’s suggestion allows for a very tight control of even fine details of evolutionary outcomes (though how far Russell pushes that, I wouldn’t want to say without reading more of him).  So Russell’s view would be much more orthodox in terms of, say, a Calvinist understanding of divine sovereignty.

I certainly intend to read more of Polkinghorne and Russell some day.  I do wish, however, that they would engage publically with the biologist TE colleagues, because, let’s face it, while we can speak of cosmic “evolution,” the heart of the struggle is over organic evolution.  The question is whether God does anything to guide organic evolution, or just opens the gates and lets it run its course.  Most biologist TEs zip their lips when asked this question, even if they are asked to speak simply as individuals and not as scientists.  They will not say what they think.  That was my point to Merv.  And it is the biologist-TEs, you will notice, far more than Russell or Gingerich or the other TEs you like, who draw frequent charges of unorthodoxy in their Biblical and systematic theology.  There has to be a reason for that constant perception; I submit that the reason is the neo-Darwinian mechanism, which biologist-TEs seem deeply invested in.

Ted Davis - #73970

October 29th 2012


I don’t regard the ecumenical creeds as “minimalist,” not at all. They express the very heart of the Christian faith—that God became human, suffered at Roman hands, was raised again, and “now” (time for God and us is not adequately expressed by our terms) sits in a place where we will join Him someday. No minimalism there, unless “mere Christianity” is also minimalist. If one wishes to object too much about my definition of orthodoxy, then let him offer another definition—and let him defend it when everyone else offers theirs. I’m just not interested in re-starting theThirty Years War.

The modernists of the 1920s could not utter the ecumenical creeds without crossing their fingers. Nor can their modern descendants, the theological naturalists. This is a highly significant point, and if I were to insist on a less “minimalist” definition it’s significance would be obliterated.

Eddie - #73985

October 29th 2012


It doesn’t matter what you or I regard as minimalist; it’s what the American Protestant evangelical world regards as minimalist, because that’s the world in which this debate is taking place.  The ASA, BioLogos, Wheaton, Westminster, the Wesleyan colleges—none of these institutions would even exist were it not for American Protestant evangelical Christianity.

Do you recall an exchange on Uncommon Descent a while back, where you mentioned that something was orthodox or traditional on the grounds that it accorded with the Creeds?  Do you remember Caroline Crocker’s response?  She said something to the effect that she doubted that mere assent to the Creeds was an adequate expression of evangelical Christianity.  She was not attacking the Creeds; she was merely saying that Protestant evangelicals had other beliefs—in particular beliefs about the Bible—that are not mentioned in the Creeds, but which are at the heart and soul of what Protestant evangelicalism is about.  That is what I had in mind.  

For example, the Fall is central to standard Christianity, yet the Fall does not get one explicit line in any of the Creeds.  (Which is not to say that the Creeds deny the Fall, but only that their passing over it is striking evidence that the Creeds are not a fully adequate summary of the faith.)  

The Bible as such is not mentioned in any of the 3 great Creeds (though the Scriptures—meaning in context only the Old Testament prophetic books—are mentioned once).  Yet the Bible is the heart and soul of American Protestant spirituality.  A Martian, landing on Earth and reading the Creeds, would never guess that a large number of Christians on the planet have a reverence for the Bible that is close to their reverence for Christ and God themselves.  

I don’t contradict your remark about the modernists of the 1920s.  But they are all dead.  The world we live in is 2012.  And in 2012, the evangelical world is split seriously over the status of the Bible:  whether it is inerrant, or inspired, or is flawed due to its human component, etc.  I am pretty sure that Ken Ham and Karl Giberson both assent to the Creeds, but for all that, they have very different understandings of Christianity, because they have very different evaluations of the Bible.  And I’m not taking sides, as I disagree with both; I’m merely pointing out that even if Giberson accepts all the creeds his faith is minimalist compared with Ham’s, or, to take a more moderate example, with Crocker’s.

In other words, your appeal to the Creeds, while not unreasonable, is not uncontroversial—but you offer it as if it were.  In fact, it doesn’t settle very much to say that, e.g., Polkinghorne or Murphy will sign on to the Creeds, if they hold other doctrines which, in the eyes of most Protestant evangelicals, strike at the heart of Biblical faith.  No evangelical is going to be convinced by an argument that some view (say, open theism or kenotic creation) is good theology because it is not logically inconsistent with the Creeds.  They are only going to be convinced if they can be shown that such doctrines are Biblical.  That is the issue which TE must face if it hopes to win over more evangelical Christians.  There is a deep suspicion that TE is not fully Biblical, and deflecting attention to the Creeds (though they are good things in themselves) will only further arouse such suspicions.  Why, it will be asked, when TEs’ orthodoxy is questioned, would they take their stand on the Creeds as if all the rest of the Bible—the vast majority of it that never makes its way into the Creeds—is somehow less essential, and perhaps even non-binding?

Please understand that I am not accusing you personally of ditching the Bible for the Creeds, but only giving what I deem to be a realistic assessment of how Protestant evangelicals will react to a purely Creed-based defense of unfamiliar, non-traditionally-flavored doctrines.

Ted Davis - #74048

November 1st 2012

I will be frank in my reply, Eddie:

IMO, the sorts of inter-necine arguments among evangelicals and many other Christians, about baptism, the precise nature of biblical inspiration, the number and nature of “sacraments” or “ordinances,” the details of the atonement, predestination/free will (which closely parallels IMO arguments about classical vs open theism), the Fall (which is not always understood in the same way across various Christian traditions), and such things; all of those sorts of arguments, as important as they are to many Christians (including evangelicals), are a side show, when compared with the great question at hand in this matter of origins.

The great question is whether or not Christianity can even possibly be true, in light of modern knowledge—including evolution but hardly limited to it. I insist on using the ecumenical creeds to give specific content to “Christianity” in this matter. Asa Gray (explicitly) did likewise, and so (implicitly) did William Jennings Bryan. I’m fine with you or anyone else finding fault with the allegedly “minimal” content I’m inserting, but then IMO the burden of taking up that question in a different way is on you or anyone else who finds fault.

Eddie - #74076

November 2nd 2012

Hi, Ted.

I have nothing against an appeal to the Creeds if the purpose of the discussion is to find some broad consensus upon which the majority of Christians (from Eastern Orthodox through to Baptist) can agree.  But the discussion over TE, ID, etc. has a sociological context.  That sociological context is largely American and Protestant (even if it has echoes in Britain and elsewhere).  And while there are plenty of Catholics who believe in “theistic evolution” in various ways, and while one prominent TE, Ken Miller, is Catholic, overwhelmingly TE in its modern incarnation is a Protestant evangelical phenomenon.  One of the largest groupings of TEs is found in the ASA—of which most of the members are Protestant evangelicals, not Catholic or Orthodox.  The most prominent TEs, when one does a denominational breakdown, come from Methodist, Nazarene, Mennonite, Lutheran, Reformed, and various other Protestant groupings.  Orthodox, Catholic and even Anglican TE leaders are relatively rare.

Now, what is characteristic of Protestant evangelicals?  A deep commitment to the truth of the Bible, and more than that, a deep commitment to Christianity as founded on the Bible.  I would guess that 90% of active TEs have participated in small-group Bible studies at many points in their lives.  I would guess that only a relatively small number have got together in a monthly or weekly prayer-group to study the Creeds.  And I would guess that most TEs would find the Creeds pretty thin gruel as the main nourishment of Christian life.  

The fact is that American evangelical Christianity is Biblically-based.  Its adherents test doctrines, not only (not even primarily) by their compatibility with the Creeds, but by their compatibility with the teachings of the Bible.  Thus, statements by TE leaders, when they hit the denominations and churches and Bible-study groups and blog sites, are going to be judged by what the people involved consider to be “Biblical.”  I think that’s a sociological fact of American evangelical religion that TE leaders will ignore at their peril.   

Note that I am not defending the “Biblical” emphasis vs. the “ecumenical” emphasis.  In crude terms, I am giving a marketing analysis to the TE leaders.  I am saying that if they are “pitching” their product to an audience that is not receptive to it, they are not going to make the sale.  The evangelical audience wants to hear how evolution is compatible with the Bible, not how it is compatible with the Creeds.  And the evangelical audience is the only audience that TE has got.

Ted Davis - #74051

November 1st 2012

As a footnote to this comment of yours, Eddie, in which you mention Wheaton, Westminster, etc., let me point out that the statement of faith that I affirm annually when I sign my faculty contract is the Apostles’ Creed. Messiah College has large population of evangelical students. They and their families are presumably not bothered by the fact that our statement of faith is less specific than those at the other institutions you mentioned. Indeed, I regard it as one of our greatest assets. Unlike Wheaton or Westminster or most of the Wesleyan schools (Seattle Pacific would be an exception), Messiah has faculty members from each of the major branches of Christianity—Protestants (especially Anabaptists, since that is our heritage), Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. Only a handful of the so-called “Christian” colleges (I say “so-called,” because they are really evangelical and fundamentalist colleges, attracting mainly a subset of the world’s Christians) have similar faculty compositions. In our view, identifying the content of our beliefs in this way is hardly “minimalist,” since it very clearly indicates that a large majority of American academics are not appropriate for faculty positions here. And, I simply fail to see how an inclusive understanding of Christian faith is fairly called “minimalist,” simply b/c it fails to be specific about certain things that have often been used in the past to create divisions. Simply b/c we refuse to separate from other believers, is a poor reason to say something like that.

This is just one more reason why I’ve chosen the creeds to give content to my claims about evolution and “orthodox” Christianity. IMO, more Christians should do what we’ve done here.

Eddie - #74078

November 2nd 2012


I praise your college for its ecumenism, and I agree with you that many Christian colleges and seminaries are excessively narrow in outlook.  If I had to send a son or daughter to a Christian college, yours would be near the top of my list.  But that is not relevant to my point.

My point is that, whatever differences there may be among denominations, there is a common element among Protestant evangelicals, i.e., that everything is ultimately referred to and tested by the standard of the Bible.  Yes, different theological parties will read the Bible differently on this or that point, but there is a general agreement that the Bible is (a) entirely true in all matters of faith and morals, and in a good deal else besides; and (b) the only authority for essential doctrine.  Any assertion of evolution must get by this “gatekeeper” if it has any hope of winning widespread support among Protestant evangelicals.  To say, “there’s nothing about Adam and Eve in the Creeds, so evolution is OK,” is a losing argumentative strategy in the Protestant evangelical ethos.  I believe you know this (and all the facts I’ve mentioned) as well as anyone on earth, so I can’t pretend to be teaching you anything you aren’t fully aware of; yet somehow your presentation in your responses here seems to me to understate the “marketing” problem that I am addressing.

Jon Garvey - #73926

October 26th 2012


Not quite a fair assessment, IMO. YECs get to see how the evidence can be made to fit their literalistic interpretation of Genesis. Sometimes that means intellectual somersaults, but there’s some serious work by people like Todd Wood. They get slammed by all the other positions, the mainstream media, the science community. Tough game to play.

IDs [when playing the game straight!] (a) get to critique weaknesses in current evolutionary theory and (b) attempt to get a measure on what design in nature looks like, which is philosophically independent of the mechanics of the matter. In that sense, it’s orthogonal to YEC, OEC and TE, which is why it has supporters of all three positions in its ranks - the mechanisms involved lie outside the brief. they have their own problems from science, other positions, media etc, but surprising suppost from philosophers like Flew, Plantinga, Nagel.

TEs get to take evolution as a scientific given and see how that integrates with a specifically Christian (in the case of BioLogos) theology.  Strictly as TEs (rather than as students of biology) the mechanics of evolution are only of importance if they illustrate God’s creation well, or conversely if standard interpretations need critiquing because they don’t harmomise with God’s creative activity. On the “theistic” side they ought to be developing a science-faith interface that’s consistent and orthodox theologically and literate philosophically.

Opposition to TE is an interesting one: lots of friends in European churches, fewer in US, and friends with the science community sometimes, except when they despise them for bringing God into proper science… same criticism, strangely, comes from some TEs who seem to want God safely in church!

We’ve forgotten OECs, who vary a bit, but are trying to accommodate a less literal Genesis interpretation into an old-earth view that, as I understand it, challenges current evolution mainly on its lack of purpose, and therefore question whether the evidence for common descent holds water.

Ted Davis - #73971

October 29th 2012


I’m not convinced that the OECs are left out, b/c (as I’ve said before) many ID leaders (perhaps a majority) are in fact OECs opertaing under a different name. Many (certainly a large majority) reject common ancestry, especially for humans. If we did a thought experiment—change the mechanism of evolution to make it neo-Lamarckian or some other non-Darwinian mechanism (using the term non-Darwinian as the IDs use it, not as Darwin himself used it since he endorsed some neo-Lamarckian mechanisms himself)—and the ID movement would probably not exist and most of the ID leaders would be writing OEC books.

IMO—but based on what I read in their books, what I sense with my antennae (which are highly senstive to subtle nuances and slight changes of tone, from 35+ years of experience with Christian views of origins), and from direct (but private) conversations with a large number of ID proponents, including almost all of the most well known proponents.

Jon Garvey - #73980

October 29th 2012


I remember your mention of OECs related to ID on a previous column. I was just reminding Merv they weren’t on his list.

You may well be right about OEDs abandoning ID if evolutionary theory changes, but to be honest I’ve noticed a lot of interest, and not much hostility, from IDs towards the nuts-and-bolts science that points to internal teleology, such as James Shapiro’s and others.

There seems to be a genuine (science-based?) feeling that the actual mechanisms proposed, and actually discovered, make more sense than ND, though they still critique the lack of realistic means for the arrival of such self-motivated evolutionary systems. That’s where standard ID arguments come into play.

Conversely, there’s not much sympathy for emergence theories of evolution, because of the lack of other than vague suggestions that such things exist, without evidence. “If design emerged naturally, we wouldn’t need to postulate a designer.” Well yes, if.

So my alternative scenario would be that if neo-Lamarckian evolutionary mechanisms proved to be more persuasive than ND ones are, may IDs would start talking about primary and secondary causes in a more philosophical way.

And they’d have some grounds to do so, because the dilemma of Darwinian evolution is that it can be understood naturalistically only because it’s so intuitively simple. If it’s true, it can’t fail. If that simplicity is illusory, there’s a problem. The more sophisticated evolution’s mechanisms, the more they beg the question of design.

Merv - #73932

October 26th 2012

Commenting on your last paragraphs first…

I can see that OECs should/do merit their own category.  It’s tempting to lump them in a bit with YECs since the difference of their concordism is only one of degree.  (I.e. they are *less* literal, but somewhat literal still).  I have trouble resisting the temptation to think of OEC as only a transitionary stance between the others.

Regarding opposition to TEs ... or TE advocates who want God safely locked away:  I guess TE could be seen as its own big tent with regard to such a wide variety of approaches to theology.  But I suspect that “wanting God safely in church” is just a TE reaction against attempts to use God in explanatory ways purporting to be scientific.  It would be ironic if the people in the best position to see everything subsumed under  or encompassed by a robust theology should then do an apparent about-face and delineate where God can and cannot be active.  I mean, it’s one thing to state that we shouldn’t invoke God as our explanation for gravity, and quite another to say: “where gravity operates, God does not.”  TEs should be firmly against the latter notion, IMO.  

I also maintain that TEs aren’t interested so much in evolution “as a scientific given” as they are in letting the “evidences of creation” (a theologically oriented description of science) have a rightful place at the table in our quest to understand all of reality, be it spiritual, physical or both.  If better explanations came along that encompassed even more than what seems explained now by evolution, then TEs would or should follow on to new vistas of understanding.  ID proponents may claim to have potentially opened just such a new vista, but they have yet to convince other scientists of this or that it could continue to lead  to new scientifically productive programs.  Maybe they will (I’m open).  But I’m already convinced of the stronger ground they have on philosophical terms from my own already theistic perspective.

I do agree with you about the hard (hardest?) road to travel by those like Todd Wood.  It may be hard for many artificial reasons—i.e. the persistent biases of nearly everyone else against the YEC views.  But their road may be hard for reasons even more deeply entrenched:  Even without biased educational establishment opposition, the barriers from creation itself would not disappear.  To borrow a familiar phrase:  Even if you could silence all the evolutionists, naturalists, and exuberant followers ... the rocks, the trees, the ground itself would still cry out. 


GJDS - #73933

October 26th 2012


Your comment is: “Regarding exactly how God works in our world it seems that much more is being asked of TEs than the other groups.” 

I would suggest re-wording this to read, “By claiming that their view of evolutionary biology shows how God works in creating all life on this planet, TEs have take a unique position in claiming to bring to humanity “the language of God in life”.

The TEs make bold statements on ‘how God goes about creating’ which exceed even the boldest claims by Orthodox religion(s), who inevitably say that we have a limited understanding of what God does (or properly stated, our understanding of the attributes of God).

The position of TEs is further exacerbated when they make claims that even scientists (with or without a theistic outlook) find hard to accept, in that biological evolutionary theory/hypothesis is a brute fact of science. I have just tried to digest a paper on theoretical physics, and with all of the maths and super colliders, and the insights of physics, these authors too take a more modest stance than do TEs.

If you consider these matters carefully, you would probably see the merit in being very critical of anyone who makes such outlandish statements, proclaiming certainty that is unwarranted when promoting a theistic position based on limited understanding of an uncertain and changing hypothesis.

This does not negate comprehending the ‘Glory of God’ to which the creation testifies. It is putting forward a theology (knowledge of who and what God is and does) motivated by empirical understanding of created things, that is the problem.

I guess I tend to lump YEC, ID and TEs in one ‘grand tent’ in that they base their position on their limited understanding of the creation and than extrapolate this to the way they seem to understand the Faith in Christ. The point of these discussions is to show there is a firm foundation for faith, and this is not derived from controversies regarding the theories of science. No matter how much TEs protest, in that they look to relvelation for this, their language is clear enough regarding their theism and biological theories.

Merv - #73951

October 27th 2012

GJDS, to the extent that I understand what you discuss above, I still see it differently.  You see the TEs as making bold claims, but I’m under the impression that TEs are mostly faulted for not being bold enough (or specific enough) with their theology.  If boldness means a general deficiency of humility then that is a valid criticism for anybody of any camp.  What audacious claims do TEs make?    I do see their zeal for taking evidences from creation seriously.  


GJDS - #73954

October 27th 2012


My point is not that statements are bold or humble, but how we may equate statements, such as e.g. “God operates in such and such a manner,..”, with our understanding and belief in God. If I or you were to make a statement, (again as an example only to illustrate my point), “God uses natural selection to do such as such…”, theologically we must provide something very compelling to support this, with as much certainty as can be provided by human intellect and science. If we appear to do this, we are in fact claiming a status for such a statement that is equivalent to that of revelation. I simply cannot accept evolution in that context - it is a much modified hypothesis and has been for over a century.

I have provided examples of high level work by many people who have expressed various degrees of uncertainty regarding evolution (or neo-Darwinism). While such views are normal within any scientific discipline, they clearly show considerable uncertainty; IMO, this precludes or negates the confidence in evolutionary thinking that I feel is displayed by TEs adn IDs. I do not understand how this is interpreted as boldness of humility - it is simply uncertainty that promotes an agnostic response.

I agree that evolutionary thinking has captured the imagination of many people, and in many ways, its ambiguity and reliance on ‘time dependent or dynamics/phenomina over lengthy periods of time’ is partly responsible for this (i.e. the cosmos has evolved is a common phrase). My criticism is focussed on faith statements and not scientific speculation.

Merv - #73965

October 28th 2012

GJDS wrote as an example of a statement that TEs seem to equate with revealed understandings or beliefs about God:  

“God uses natural selection to do such as such…”, theologically we must provide something very compelling to support this, with as much certainty as can be provided by human intellect and science. If we appear to do this, we are in fact claiming a status for such a statement that is equivalent to that of revelation.

But this is just it;  TEs don’t look for any scientific basis for their theology because they don’t think there is anything inherently theological in science.  Claims of purpose or supernatural involvement aren’t scientific in the TE perspective.   The basis for our theology is entirely by revelation (from the Bible, from personal and historical testimonies, from the Spirit moving in our own lives and church communities.)  Science is just another mode of modern living that gets subsumed underneath or into all this faith-based intellectual life.  Trying to give science foundational status as if it’s going to compete with these other true foundations of our faith is a mistake.  But using science as a great tool to examine and learn from creation—that is what TEs and all Christians should be eager to do.


Eddie - #73967

October 28th 2012


I agree with this comment by GJDS immediately above:  as soon as a TE says “evolution shows us how God creates,” the TE is making a theological statement.  And is it a theological statement about a certain process: evolution.  It therefore implies a view about God’s relationship to this process.  My goal has been to evoke from various TEs what that view is.  I have not had much success in doing so.  I could not even get you to answer 73934 above!  And I and others have had no luck at all getting clear statements out of the BioLogos writers how they think God connects with the evolutionary process.  

To say “God creates through a process of evolution” is fine, but it is a statement containing very little information.  It is like saying:  “I got from one side of town to the other in a vehicle of some kind.”  Suppose you asked me whether I came by bicycle, motorcycle, skateboard, automobile, bus, hang-glider, or helicopter, and I answered with:  “I probably came by one of those means, but I can’t say for sure which; it’s not something I ever remember very well once I reach my destination; and does it really matter, since I’m here now?”  I think you would find such an answer unnecessarily obscure, and even artfully evasive.  

In fact, every TE on the planet has at least a tentative working picture of how God connects with the evolutionary process, even if he or she does not consider that working picture to be demonstrable scientifically.  All that the critics of TE are asking is for the TEs to share that tentative working picture (which the critics will gladly let the TEs modify as circumstances warrant); but the TEs, when asked, will not share it.  They dodge, feint, obfuscate, plead ignorance, and generally avoid making any statement.  But without some statement by a TE of what God actually does in evolution, the creation theology of that TE necessarily remains obscure.  And an obscure theology of creation contributes nothing to theology-science dialogue.

Eddie - #73968

October 28th 2012


Sorry, I should have said that the comment of GJDS was “immediately below” not “immediately above.”

Ted Davis - #73974

October 29th 2012


Your exasperation (perhaps even this is too mild a word) with TEs who won’t spell out their working pictures of divine action in natural history is clear to everyone reading these columns. One might fairly say that it’s your refrain.

Do you have a similar exasperation about IDs, who also (if we accept your premise, which I don’t, since one of my refrains is that divine action is a very high level question that has been answered in various ways by many theologians who write about TE, if not by most of the scientists who write popular books) won’t spell out their working pictures of divine action in natural history?

If not, can you at least understand my exasperation with ID critics of TE who can always find theological objections, while they can simply duck similar questions?

Eddie - #73988

October 29th 2012


Two wrongs don’t make a right.  If a question is intellectually pertinent to a writer’s position, the writer should answer the question.  If ID people don’t answer questions that they should answer, then they are rightfully criticized for it, but that doesn’t give TE writers an exemption from criticism.

My concern here is only to point out that it is impossible to even accurately characterize, let alone assess, any TE position if the TE in question will not answer the sort of questions I’m asking.  An answer that no one can understand, because it is so vague (or even worse, an answer that the writer refuses to provide), can hardly serve as the basis for reconciling theology with science.

For example, all of Dennis Venema’s columns on genetics and evolution are tacitly premised on the view that God never intervenes in the processes of inheritance; but when asked point-blank whether God sometimes intervenes, he appears to waffle.  But he can’t waffle—without endangering the whole structure of his reasoning.  He has to say either, “I don’t think God intervenes, and therefore all my back-projections based on pure naturalism are reliable” or else, “I think God sometimes intervenes, and I don’t know how much, so I have to admit that my back-projections are not entirely reliable.”

My question about whether and how God acts in evolution is not the high-level question metaphysical question you are making it out to be.   No one is asking for the magical secret essence of God’s power, or how spirit can affect matter, etc.  The question is simple:  God performs special actions to make evolution go in certain ways, or he acts only through natural causes, with evolution finding its way to targets—or not to any particular targets—on its own.  I would wager that every living TE has at least a provisional opinion on that, yet virtually all the leading TEs are cagey when asked the question.  And the reason isn’t the unfathomable nature of divine action.  The reason is the unwillingness of many TEs to publically state what they think on the subject.

I’ve granted you that Russell and maybe one or two others have answered the question, but what about the others?  Nor am I making you responsible for others:  that’s why I’ve engaged people like PNG and Merv here on their own.  I haven’t asked you to order the other TEs here to speak!  But I’m saying—for TEs own good—if TE won’t answer the question, it’s dead in the water.  Only liberal evangelicals will accept a non-answer.  Conservatives and moderates won’t.

By the way, what theological questions do ID people duck?  They certainly don’t duck the identity of the designer.  I’ve heard Dembski, Behe, Meyer and many others asked point-blank who the designer is.  They always answer that their personal opinion is that it’s God.  The design inference can’t show that, which is why they speak of aliens and Demiurges etc.  But they do give their personal opinion.  And that’s all I’m asking TEs for—their personal opinion, without any scientific or other “proof,” on the question whether and how God is involved in the evolutionary process, including the question whether he controls its specific outcomes, including man.  And frankly, they are mostly not forthcoming on these matters, and I’m not the only one who has noticed that.  But to please you, I’ll give it a rest for a while.

PNG - #73995

October 29th 2012

“And the reason isn’t the unfathomable nature of divine action.  The reason is the unwillingness of many TEs to publically state what they think on the subject.”

No Eddie, speaking for this TE anyway, it is the unfathomable nature of divine action. We don’t know how God achieves His purposes in the present or in history. Why do you think we should know how He did a billion years ago? Usually when someone demands that you be more specific, it is a demand that you give them something specific to attack. You say that if we allow the possibility that God tinkers, we can no longer draw any conclusions at all from the evidence. Do I get you correctly on that? My response (here’s a bit of theology for you) God doesn’t go around falsifying the crime scene, so to speak. If we draw conclusions from what is observable from genomes and fossils, it is because we don’t think that God deliberately made things look like something happened one way when in fact they happened some other way. If He did arrange genomes to fool us, it took a lot more than anyone could call tinkering. Does God tinker in subtle ways to get what He wants from evolution? I don’t know, but I can’t rule it out. But I don’t think He does the sort of total rearrangement (fabrication) of the evidence that would be necessary to create a false impression of common descent. I wouldn’t doubt that many YECs (and maybe IDs) think that we deserve to be deceived by God for the crime of interpreting the evidence without first determining that evolution is ruled out from the start, but I don’t think that kind of general deception is compatible with God’s character.

I can’t help but notice that you demand circumspection and restraint on a scientific issue where there is quite a bit of evidence like the origin of chloroplasts but you demand we take a definite position on a theological issue where there is no evidence at all. I can’t speak for other TEs for certain, but I suspect that they don’t say much on the nature of God’s action/providence because they know that we can’t know much.

Eddie - #73997

October 29th 2012


I will not argue with you about your own motives, since you know them best.  

I will, however, point out, that I (and many others who have asked the same question of TEs) have repeatedly stated, even stressed, that we are not asking TEs for a knowledge claim of any kind, still less for a scientific knowledge claim.  We have asked for their private opinion.  I would bet that 90% of the people who followed the O. J. Simpson trial had a provisional opinion about whether or not the man was guilty, an opinion which they would not call scientific, but which they held nonetheless.  That is all that I and others have been asking for.    And frankly, while you may be a very rare bird in suspending all judgment, I don’t believe that is true of most TEs.  I think they have an opinion, an inclination, a hunch, call it what you will—and don’t wish to air it.

I alluded to Dennis Venema.  All of his posts here on biological subjects presume, by their manner of reasoning, that only natural causes are at work in evolution.  Without that presumption, he could not with certitude draw the inferences he is drawing.  If God changed the mutation rate wildly, if God tinkered extensively with DNA thousands of times in primate evolution, Dennis’s inferences would be shot to pieces.  They assume naturalism, or at least, they assume so little tinkering that they are the practical equivalent of assuming naturalism.  

I think this is true of virtually every life-scientist-TE, at least, the leading ones who publish most of the books and the blogs and argue the loudest in ASA forums.  I will not say it is true of the physicist-TEs.  

You keep raising the point about God deliberating deceiving us. I’ve said nothing about that.  I’m not a YEC or OEC; my position is close to that of Behe who does not speak of deception at all.

I think there is enough genomic evidence, combined with other kinds of evidence, to make a strong case for common descent.  But not enough to say whether or not the pathway from one form to the other was exclusively naturalistic, or a combination of natural and supernatural causes.  That is why it is necessary for the Christian scientist to be frank about his working assumptions, whether he assumes naturalism until proven otherwise, or assumes some non-natural events.  I think that Venema, Falk, Lamoureux, etc., when discussing the evolutionary process, assume naturalism until proven otherwise.  Yes, they grant that God might have done X or Y, because they don’t want to limit the power of God.  But they behave (and one’s beliefs are always better determined by behavior than by words) as if God did not in fact intervene, or intervened only rarely and trivially, so that purely naturalistic causation is very close to an accurate picture.  And I’m not angry with them if they believe this; I just wish they would say it out loud.  

I demand restraint on chloroplasts because you and Tice claimed what you claimed as a matter of scientific knowledge rather than current speculation.  I was right to so demand it.  I do not demand restraint when I ask people to give their private theological opinion about how God acted in evolution, because in that case they would not be claiming to know anything.  So I’ve been entirely consistent.

I suspect that you, like most life-science TEs I have encountered, find it very, very hard to separate ID perspectives from YEC and OEC perspectives.  I think this is causing you to read much more into what I say than what I mean.  I mean only what I say, not all the additional things that a YEC or OEC might be hinting at if he said the same things.  And now, respecting Ted’s wish for a break from my theme, I will leave this topic.

Ted Davis - #74070

November 2nd 2012

PS for Eddie alone:

I infer from a couple of comments (I think) I’ve seen on other threads here that you are a big fan of professional football. This is indeed a fallen world.

Eddie - #74098

November 2nd 2012


Don’t be misled by mere examples drawn from the sporting world.  I’m not an NFL fan at all.  (And whatever interest I ever had, ceased decades ago, when all the players started profusely thanking Jesus every time they won a game.)  But, if we are going to make theological comments about sports, I think there is more evidence that the world is fallen in the fact that there are people who actually enjoy watching televised baseball (a snail race would be about as fast as 90% of what happens), or soccer games where, after two hours of tedious defensive sparring in the middle of the field, the score is only 1-0 and there have been only three or four even slightly dangerous kicks directed at either net.  But it is perhaps unwise to draw spiritual conclusions from people’s tastes in athletic contests.

beaglelady - #74083

November 2nd 2012

I alluded to Dennis Venema.  All of his posts here on biological subjects presume, by their manner of reasoning, that only natural causes are at work in evolution.  Without that presumption, he could not with certitude draw the inferences he is drawing.  If God changed the mutation rate wildly, if God tinkered extensively with DNA thousands of times in primate evolution, Dennis’s inferences would be shot to pieces.  They assume naturalism, or at least, they assume so little tinkering that they are the practical equivalent of assuming naturalism. 

Couldn’t you say the same thing about any natural science?  God could mess with starlight, radioactive rocks, or hundreds of other things to create misleading information. For that matter, he could function as a “Hunger Games” gamemaker  and this universe could be the arena.

Eddie - #74095

November 2nd 2012

“Couldn’t you say the same thing about any natural science?”

Of course!  That is why I don’t know why so many biologist-TEs are so guarded when they are asked if the evolutionary process proceeded entirely through natural causes.  I think most of the TE leaders who are in the life sciences (biologists, biochemists, paleontologists, etc.) believe that that the process was entirely natural, without tinkering, steering, or guiding of any kind.  All that I’m asking is that they say this out loud, instead of speaking in muddy and ambiguous language when the question is put to them.

I’ve never heard a TE say:  “Maybe God performs some special divine actions to keep the moon in its orbit, and maybe he doesn’t; I don’t claim to understand the mysteries of divine action, and it’s unreasonable of you to expect a clear answer to such a profound question.”  No, all TEs let it be known that they think the moon stays in its orbit due to wholly natural causes.  And given their own frequent parallel of evolution with natural events such as the orbit of a satellite, one can infer that they believe that the same applies to evolution.  But when they are asked point-blank if that’s what they believe about evolution, then the theological fog machine is turned on.

For some reason, a blunt statement such as “God does nothing special to keep planets in orbit, and in my opinion, he did nothing special to turn a bacterium into a man, either” is simply not allowed to pass a biologist-TE’s lips, even when it is in a biologist-TE’s heart.  I’m asking why.  And so far, no one has offered me a credible answer.  Nor am I expecting one in the near future.  So I’m not going to press the question any longer.

But maybe you would like to go on record, beaglelady, with your own opinion.  Do you think God did anything special in order to guarantee any particular outcomes of evolution?  (By “anything special” I mean particular divine interventions going beyond the initial creation of the universe and the sustenance of natural laws.)  Or do you think God let the natural world evolve entirely of its own accord? 

beaglelady - #74109

November 3rd 2012

I don’t see that God had to do anything special to guarantee any outcomes, except to fashion the world exactly in the way he did.   Evolution appears to be natural, so there is no way of knowing.    

And I don’t even like the word “tinker” to describe the divine actions of God.  We would never say that a master craftsman such as violin maker Antonio Stradivari “tinkers.” 

Maybe you could tell us specifically  what God’s goals were and what he did to achive them.  Do you think God does something special to keep the moon in orbit? Do you accept gravitational theory or are you a proponent of intelligent falling?


And btw, speaking of answering questions, you haven’t yet pointed to anything you have published although you have claimed to be a writer.  


Eddie - #74112

November 3rd 2012


You have skillfully evaded the question.

You say that you “don’t see that God had to do anything special to guarantee any outcomes” without straightforwardly giving your personal opinion whether he did do anything to guarantee those outcomes.  And then you throw in the usual TE “evolution appears to be natural, so there is no way of knowing”—the equivalent of “God may perform special actions, and he may not, and science can’t tell, so I plead the Fifth.”  But of course the question to the TEs was never whether God’s hands-on involvement could be proved through science.  The question was whether they believe personally that God in fact had some hands-on involvement.  And no biologist-TE leader will answer the question.  

Your example of the violin-maker is ill-chosen.  Violins don’t come into being by the outworking of natural laws.  They come into being through the special action of an intelligent agent.  Are you saying that the production of species was like the production of a violin?  

I’ll tell you what I think about the moon in its orbit after you tell me what you think on the same point.  I raised the example first, so it’s only fair that I get your answer before you hear mine.

beaglelady - #74166

November 5th 2012

Your example of the violin-maker is ill-chosen.  Violins don’t come into being by the outworking of natural laws.  They come into being through the special action of an intelligent agent.  Are you saying that the production of species was like the production of a violin?  

Hardly. Read what I wrote. I was objecting to the use of the word tinker to describe the works of God.  We wouldn’t use that word to describe the work of a master.  Or I wouldn’t, anyway.

Eddie - #74171

November 5th 2012


Actually, it is usually your TE friends who use the word “tinker”—and often with a sneering tone, as if ID people have an unworthy conception of God as a “tinkerer” who has to keep adjusting his creation because he didn’t do the job right initially.  ID people usually speak not of “tinkering” but of “guidance” in evolution.  And they ask TE people if there was any such guidance, in their opinion.  And TE people don’t answer.  Or they answer vaguely, and hedge their answer with escape routes.  As you have done above in 74109.

Finally, since you won’t answer the question above about the moon, I can’t proceed with my line of reasoning, so let’s call it a day on this one, beaglelady.  ‘Bye.


beaglelady - #74173

November 5th 2012

I was objecting to your use of the word “tinker” to describe the work of God.  It was one of your “correct answers” you suggested to PNG.  But tinkering implies incompetence: hitting the radio, pulling out wires, jiggling the handle—trying to get the thing working.  

Eddie - #74178

November 5th 2012

In “good faith” conversation, one gives one’s debating partner the benefit of the doubt, and responds to what one knows the opponent means, rather than trying to catch the opponent out on a petty matter of word usage.  

You have seen me, enough times, use not only “tinker” but “guide” and “steer” and other terms, to know that I am not wedded to the term “tinker.”  And you know perfectly well that the issue I was raising with PNG was not what term should be used, but over the reality—whether God does anything special in evolution beyond sustaining natural laws.  I don’t care what verb you use to indicate this special divine action.  I’m interested only in whether you think there was any special divine action.  Not whether there might have been; whether, in your opinion, there was.

I’ve made this crystal-clear in scores of conversations here, and unless you are less intelligent than I take you to be, you must understand what I mean by now.  And given that you do know what I’m driving at, quibbling over the term “tinker” is pure verbal gamesmanship, trying to score a debating point for no useful reason.  So why should I waste time replying to your trivial objections, when you won’t meet my serious intellectual challenges head-on?

So beaglelady:  no more maybes, might haves, no couldas, wouldas, etc.  Is it your personal opinion (no one is asking for scientific proof or even scientific evidence) that God did or did not do anything in evolution beyond sustain the natural laws?

Whether you call that “doing” of God’s an “intervention” or a “miracle” or “tinkering” or “steering” or “guidance” or anything else is all the same to me, as long as implies a personal, hands-on divine action that would not have happened under the operation of natural laws alone, and made a real difference in evolutionary outcomes.

Any answer that is even slightly evasive will be met with silence by me.

Ted Davis - #74069

November 2nd 2012


Regarding your comments about Venema’s position (as you describe it here), let me comment simply for myself; I can’t speak for Venema or anyone else.

Since at least the 1960s, when the ASA underwent a split in which the YECs exited en masse to form their own organizations, many evangelical TEs have treated miracles in natural history differently from miracles in biblical history. Two very important examples of this from the 1960s are Richard Bube (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_H._Bube) and V. Elving Anderson (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/SEARCH/SEARCHAnderson9-89.pdf). We could discuss the reasons for this at great length, but for my part I lack time to do it properly. One reason would be this: events occurring within human history (a skeptic would say, events alleged to have occurred during human history) are not on the same level with events we infer simply from what we know about nature. Thus, it’s not the same thing to conclude that the Resurrection or the feeding of the 5,000 was a genuine miracle, as to conclude (e.g.) that the Cambrian explosion involved the separate, miraculous creation of a couple dozen animal body plans. An OEC advocate would say that Genesis One strongly supports the latter, and science confirms it; a TE would say that Genesis One is not really biblical history, that it’s about refuting polytheism and pantheism rather than about biology, and that there is no biblical justification for concluding that miracles attended the Cambrian explosion. Many IDs (IMO) agree with the OECs, but they won’t speak “officially” for ID per se about the biblical part, so they’ll just stick with sticking it to evolutionary biology; some IDs will use this difference of opinion about the nature of the biblical narrative to state or strongly to imply that TEs are too quick to accept both methodological naturalism and a low view (in their opinion) of divine sovereignty and/or biblical authority.

I could write volumes about this, if this were heaven and we all had world’s of time to play baseball (which is undoubtedly one of the things God has been doing for a very long time) and write columns. Sadly, even though our world was made “in the big inning,” we fell into corruption and forgot that baseball was meant to be played in the daytime on real grass, and consequently it’s not an ideal world. I’ve tried not to oversimplify my summary of things here, but undoubtedly I’ve left too much out that needs to be discussed. I’ll have to leave that discussion mostly or entirely to others.

Eddie - #74080

November 2nd 2012


I believe I’ve sufficiently indicated my own personal belief—which is not universally shared by ID advocates—that certain stories in the Bible aren’t to be read as historical documents.  And I’ve tried to distinguish between those stories and stories that are basic to the “salvation history” of Israel and the Church.  I therefore agree that it is possible to read, say, Genesis 1, more flexibly than, say, the Gospel accounts of the miraculous deeds of Jesus.  But you seem not to be seeing my line of argument.

If there are Christians—and it seems there are—who are skeptical about a number of miraculous events reported in the salvation history of the Bible, then it makes sense that such Christians would be even more skeptical about the idea that God intervenes in biological evolution.  Someone who thinks that no miracle occurred even when the Bible says so directly is not likely to give much credence to the view that interventions occurred in situations (e.g., the Cambrian Explosion) that the Bible does not discuss.  

A reverse way of putting it is:  someone who is inclined to “theological naturalism” will reveal this inclination both in a leaning towards a “hands-off” evolutionary process and in a certain skepticism toward at least some Biblical miracles.

In fact, I know of prominent TEs who have given strong indications that they doubt miracles which occur in the “historical” parts of the Bible, e.g., the Gospels.  And I think you probably know of such TEs, too.

My point is not to condemn such people for unbelief; my point is that they seem to be motivated by a metaphysical position we can call theological naturalism.  And my point is that theological naturalism is by its very nature in tension with the mind-set both of the writers of the Bible and of the mainstream American Protestant evangelical tradition.  And my further point is that Christians strongly influenced by theological naturalism will be aware of these tensions, and therefore have every motive to guard their expressions when speaking to their evangelical brethren.  

This is where I think TE leaders go wrong.  They—especially the biologists—spend the bulk of their apologetic efforts writing about fossils and chimpanzee genomes and the allegedly creative powers of random mutations, when the resistance is coming primarily from the fact that Protestant evangelicals suspect TEs of being closet theological naturalists who lack the courage to identify themselves.  TE leaders would be better to bite the bullet, state their naturalism more frankly, and spend the bulk of their time in historical and theological research, trying to build up a Christian case for theological naturalism; for, as long as the majority of Protestant evangelicals regard theological naturalism as un-Biblical, TE has little hope of making any headway.   

GJDS - #73966

October 28th 2012


You state, “But this is just it;  TEs don’t look for any scientific basis for their theology because they don’t think there is anything inherently theological in science.”

I agree science is not theological - yet the statement that: God does .. or He acts...., or evolution shows us how God creates ..... by definititon are theological statements. Thus I am more than perplexed when you do not see anything inherently theological in science, and yet (shall I say TEs) expound what God has done. If you subsume science under revelation, that I am more than perplexed; just how is something subsumed without becoming part of the thing itself?

I will make another attempt at humour (note, attempt!). Do we have an equivalence in this with a virus subsuming bacteria, and if so, would it be theologically neutral?

Jon Garvey - #73984

October 29th 2012


Sorry I didn’t reply above - I found myself not able to post again.

“TEs don’t look for any scientific basis for their theology…” Is that really true? I can think of a few common theological choices that, if not based on current science, are astonishingly congruent with it.

For example:

A historical Adam and Eve are out of the question (and here’s the genetic evidence to prove it…).

God would not be likely to create supernaturally (and that accords with methodological naturalism).

God is not interested in specific outcomes in creation - he could have used any intelligent creature to bear his image (and Neodarwinism can’t produce specific outcomes).

Man did not fall from primaeval innocence, but built morality on to selfish animal behaviours (and just look at what those bonobos get up to).

Natural creation is far from good, and requires to be brought into redemption (for after all it was created to be red in tooth and claw).

God’s priority in creation is freedom (after all, it seems pretty autonomous if efficient causes are the only consideration).

Proof of the pudding: TE writers are often seen by religious commentators as compromising on theological issues pretty far removed from evolution as a creation mechanism. And that’s even if one ignores the roots of much academic TE thinking in panentheism, process theology and so on, as Ted has noted earlier in the series, which are not coincidental.

Bilbo - #73957

October 28th 2012

Hi Ted,

The article I linked to was written by me.  First I quoted Hoyle to show that he didn’t just think the universe was designed, but that the first living cells were designed.  Then I speculated on how Hoyle’s views may have lead to the Intelligent Design movement.  So yes, I agree that there is political strategy mixed in with empirical - if not scientific - discovery. 

As to whether ID should be considered science:  I think ID is more than just a negative attack on neo-Darwinism.  It is also a positive case for design.  Let’s try an example that is more obvious:  Clouds in the sky take the formation, “For God so loved the world….”  I think we easily conclude that this was designed by someone.  Part of our reasoning is that we don’t know plausible way for this to happen naturally.  Part of it is that it matches up very well with the sort of things that intelligent agents do; in this case, write meaningful phrases in letters and a language that can be understood by other people.

In the case of ID, part of the reasoning would be:  no plausible natural explanation has been given for the origin of life, or perhaps features of living organisms.  Part of the reasoning would be:  designing and constructing things where the parts are intricately integrated and work together to accomplish a specific purpose is the sort of thing that intelligent agents do. 

Should we call ID science?  I’m not sure.  Should we call it a reasonable hypothesis?  Certainly.  Should we teach it to public school children?  Why not?

Ted Davis - #73973

October 29th 2012


Sorry that I didn’t realize you wrote that article about Hoyle. Thank you for setting me straight. We obviously understand one another much better now. Your speculation about Hoyle and ID, in particular, the idea that ETs might be the putative “intelligent designer(s),” is very interesting and perhaps correct. At least you have some non-trivial evidence (Bradley and Denton) for it.

Paul Davies is a leading contemporary example of a non-theist (unless Platonism or pantheism qualifies as theism, which it might) today who pushes design inferences about the universe as a whole. (His ideas are cited sometimes by Polkinghorne, incidentally.) But, if you read Davies’ book, The Mind of God (http://www.amazon.com/The-Mind-God-Scientific-Rational/dp/0671797182), you see that he understands those design inferences as not scientific in the ordinary sense; at least that’s how he sounded to me, when I read him again most recently last winter. If anyone has a different impression, please chime in. He pretty much sees it as a situation in which highly informed, very intelligent people will just not draw the same conclusions: some will have excellent reasons for accepting design (as he does and I do), while others will not be convinced and also for good reasons. The science itself doesn’t answer the question.

Jon Garvey - #73982

October 29th 2012


I re-read The Mind of God at roughly the same time you did, I think. I’m not sure if Davies’ position is as defined as pantheism, but whatever it is it seems to resemble the spiritual position of Einstein: “There is Something Rational Out There”. Given his interest in fine tuning, that something seems to precede the Universe as well as just being it.

More generally, I don’t get the impression he wants to draw too sharp a line between science and metaphysics. He edited a symposium on Information and the Nature of Reality (subtitled “from Physics to Metaphysics”) in which information is by many seen as a fundamental component of the Universe, much as it is in ID, though no ID contributors). Is the Universe operating as a computer “science”, or “non-science” (or nonsense, maybe!)?

Ted Davis - #73978

October 29th 2012


I live in that part of the USA that is directly in the path of a weather system that many are calling a “perfect storm” scenario. My college is already closed for the day, and I expect the same tomorrow. I’ve been doing my best to keep up with the great conversation about this column, but I might be on an enforced silence for the next 48 hours or more, depending on the power situation. I suspect that most of the most active folks here will be unaffected.

Bilbo - #73981

October 29th 2012

I’m safe here in Michigan.  Hope all you Easterners remain safe.  Meanwhile, Hoyle was the one who was willing to speculate about ETs as the designers.  I don’t think Bradley and Denton would go there. But since Hoyle was willing not only to entertain but to actually promote the idea of the first living cells being intelligently designed, I think this may have had some influence on the origin of the ID movement. 

I’m willing to accept that ID is not science, but I think it is a reasonable hypothesis, especially for the origin of life.  That we aren’t allowed to say that in a public school classroom strikes me as unreasonable.

Ted Davis - #74052

November 1st 2012

And, Bilbo, as you’ll see if you read my article about the Dover trial, I also believe that biology students should be allowed to hear about aspects of ID: it serves secular educational purposes quite well, to examine the explanatory efficacy of Darwinian evolution in some detail. Just as it serves secular academic purposes quite well, to have students read parts of Darwin’s Origin of Species in biology classes—which you can’t teach properly, without discussing the idea of special creation (which Darwin compares with his own view numerous times). But, my ideas about science education are not the main topic here, so I’ll move on.

Jon Garvey - #73983

October 29th 2012

Prayers for all you folks on the East coast. Fortunately for me our daughter’s no longer resident in NY, but many of her friends are.

GJDS - #73987

October 29th 2012

Ted says, “Many Christians also identify strongly with the ways in which ID seeks to confront the secular establishment, in an explicitly-stated effort to combat what Johnson calls “the modernist scientific and intellectual world, with its materialist assumptions.” I may add that many Christians examine science critically, not so much to combat secular establishment, but rather to continue intellectually comprehending the advances in The Sciences, and by doing this to obtain deeper insights on Nature. The effort of people such as these (and Philosophers), stems from their discipline, rather than a reaction to materialism. 

I bring as an example, the work of Heller (astrophysics and maths, mentioned to me by Gregory). One may get a sense of his approach in, “The Work of Creation” (articles can be downloaded from The Templeton prize website) by statements such as “What is meant here by the effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences is rather obvious…. We model the world in terms of mathematical structures, and there exists an admirable resonance between these structures and the structure of the world. … the mathematical description of the world is possible owing to idealizations made in the process of constructing our theories….” He goes on to echo Einstein’s view that “the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility”. He also discusses and counters a view by materialists, that more or less, states that there are no laws in Nature, but everything is underpinned by chaos, probability and randomness. According to this view, scientists have an illusion that amounts to laws of Nature. Heller’s analysis is fascinating, and includes pointing to Platonic thought that includes a Demiurge constrained by a chaotic primordial stuff, and mixed up with the mathematical laws of probability.

I am beginning to read some of Plantinga’s work, who has developed an epistemological philosophy on ‘warranted belief’. I am not in a position to form an opinion, but I find interesting statements, such as “belief in God appears to be on a par (epistemically speaking) with belief in other minds.” I understand that he also shows the fallacy in evolution and naturalism.

I think I have made my views clear on both ID and TE - my criticisms apply to accepting an uncertain scientific hypothesis within a theistic framework. I have tried to be positive by showing that Science and scientists can provide much deeper (and sounder) areas of science that show Faith and Science are not in conflict, without being dragged into the endless turmoil present in neo-Dawinism.

I hope everyone in the path of this storm in the USA comes through unscathed.

Merv - #73998

October 29th 2012

Sorry I have been too busy to hold up my end here, and even now can only leave a brief reply, so I’ll try to make it count.  (I didn’t see your reply way above until today, Eddie—I didn’t ignore you on purpose.)

Okay, Eddie—here is my (an) answer to “how does God possibly interact with evolution.”

I think God does “intervene” (for lack of a desperately needed better word) and tweaks things, whether at the quantum level or at the larger level to get the results required for his plan.  I guess that sounds like Polkinghorne’s answer.  It seems apparent that such interactions are not routine enough for us to notice them unless they happen for the purposes of making a sign (like floating axe-heads or resurrected people).  I’m not as squeemish about admitting miracles—many of them even—but not enough that they become regularities for us to measure.  So if the evolutionary story is true, then I call it guided, and I don’t care one whit about the protesting screams of all those for whom phrases or words like “unguided” or “random=meaningless” seem so inextricably bound up with the whole notion.  For one thing I never bought into their premise that random=no God and think that all just so much silly nonsense from a whole lot of people who should know better.  They can state as a faith statement that all such things are meaningless—that’s fine.  But they try to give it the mantle of science:  not fine.  I don’t claim that my faith statements are scientific or verifiable as such which is the difference between their claims and mine.  So on the scientific platform that they think they stand on, we see their embarassing failure as they try to be theologians.  It matters not how prestigious or many “they” all are.  Nonsense is still nonsense whether it comes from Dawkins or some wayward TE who has bought just a little too deeply into materialism or philosophical naturalism.   

Sorry; that had a little edge on it.  But I guess you can see how deeply engrained this way of thinking has become for me.  It seems just too clear.  Though I do continue to be challenged by Jon’s assertions of how theology has impacted science.  I think I can agree with him that it does without that necessarily negating what I’ve pontificated on above—but you will be the judge of that.

GJDS you ask what I mean by science being subsumed under theology (and I am thinking of a broad definition of theology as being ‘all that which concerns us as relates to God).  I maintain this in the same way that a school day subsumes math class or music class.  That doesn’t mean all school is about math, but only that we find these subjects valuable enough to provide some structure for them within a school day.  As a Christian, it seems obvious to me that nothing escapes or is outside of God’s concern.  And God has allowed us to excel in many things, including science.

Our prayers go with all of you in the east coast states.


GJDS - #74001

October 30th 2012


If I presume to summarise your position, it appears to me as follows: You do not have any specific items that are theological within the context of our discussion, in the sense that you accept that God can and does what He wills. On this you and I are in total agreement. You regard evolution as sufficiently clear to yourself to accept (my term here) a non-theological view that it is the way bio-forms have come into existence. On this we dissagree.

On the broader issue of science and faith, I think you and I agree that there is no conflict (I however bracket out neo-Darwinism as ‘too uncertain’ to warrant a view within a theological setting, and overall-scientifically unsatisfactory theory because of significant uncertainty and cosntant changes regarding its basic tenets).

By the way, subsume is ‘to include or absorb in something else’. A school cannot absorb maths or any other subject, as it is a setting for activities, and these are activities that remain (unabsorbed) before one attends school, during, and after school has finished, and the next day they remain the same as before in the same setting (obviously my humour is not universally appreciated).

Jon Garvey - #74002

October 30th 2012

I like it, Merv!

One of the common catches, it seems to me, is the hangover from the Deistic clockmaker idea, ie that God set “the creation” working “at the beginning”, and shouldn’t need to “interfere” if he’s done a good enough job. There’s sometimes an attempt at mitigating that by saying God sustains everything (in existence), which sounds to me little more than acting as a mains electricity supply. But essentially it’s a creation at t=0 rather than the biblical idea of a Creator who dwells in Eternity and creates a whole space-time Universe, not just the beginning of a Universe.

But someone recently used the analogy here of creation being rather a music performance by God (or to think Trinitarian, a co-creation from the Father, through the Son he loves, by the Holy Spirit). In that case, the performance continues to be entirely an act of intelligent and loving creation throughout each moment, and those passages about God finding prey for the eagle, knitting us together in our mother’s womb etc are more than mere pretty metaphor meaning only “He built the first assembly line and provides the electricity for the current management.”

The music metaphor encompasses (probably better not say “subsume” or GJDS will be at me!) a high degree of patterned order, beauty from variation, constant input of creative energy with even a few surprises, improvisational passages (meaning enhancement of order, not simply barging across the structure of the piece). It even allows “creative” input from intelligent agents like men and angels (we usually forget them - they’re not amenable to scientific analysis!), without losing sight of the fact that there is a clear bandleader.

And that bandleader, the Father in Christ through the Spirit, is propelling the piece towards the finale that was always in his mind as its whole purpose ... but that’s another story excluded from science, though it is the explanation that makes sense of it.

Further thought for consideration: if scientific skills are applied to analysing a musical performance, are any aspects off-limits? For example, mathematical analysis shows a common-time beat, but does an occasional 3/4 bar have to be ignored? Is Bach more amenable to science than a live John Coltrane performance? Or to revert to the column’s ID theme, would scientific methods be intrinsically able, or unable, to distinguish, in at least some cases, musical features from natural or machine noise?

Eddie - #74003

October 30th 2012

Thanks, Merv.

My main goal here has been to gain clarity.  If one TE says that God works only through natural laws, and performs no special actions beyond sustaining those laws, that is fine with me; if another says that God works through subtle special actions all the time, that’s fine with me; if another says that God works through special actions only in certain cases (e.g., creation of life, creation of man) that’s fine with me, too.  I could imagine having a constructive discussion with a TE who held to any of those positions.  What I find problematic is that many TE leaders, especially the biologists, manage to sound like hardcore naturalists when they are criticizing ID for alleged God-of-the-gaps “interventionist” explanations, or when doing actual biology, but maintain that they are very open to divine guidance or steering on other occasions, even though that makes no sense in light of either their biological practice or their anti-ID arguments.  It’s as if they are playing to two audiences, either consciously or unconsciously—one of which would like to hear them say:  “no interventions” and the other of which would like to hear them say:  “God is deeply involved, and not merely by sustaining the natural laws”—and this double-sided position doesn’t make for clear explanation.  And if there is no “thesis” that a TE is advancing, it’s hard to agree or disagree.

You are saying here that you have no problem with terms like “guidance”—that you envision God as actively involved in evolution, even if in a way that’s hard to see or measure.  As far as I can tell, that is Russell’s view of evolution, so you have respectable company.  But as you’ve probably picked up, some TE leaders appear to regard terms like “guiding” or “steering” as bad notions, scientifically and/or theologically.  Even the term some of them use for guidance, i.e., “tinkering,” seems to have for them a negative connotation, as something only a dumb God (who didn’t set up things right in the first place) would need to do.

I find your notion more coherent, at least for any TE who holds to a basically Darwinian notion of evolution; because in the Darwinian process, you don’t get guaranteed results; a tiny change here or there can change millions of other results down the line.  If God just lights a match and starts off a Darwinian process, and then keeps his hands off, so to speak, it’s hard to envision how he can control any outcomes at all, let alone guarantee the appearance of man.  But if he is constantly involved, then any natural process he uses for his basic framework, he can adjust, and the more often he adjusts, the tinier and more subtle the adjustments can be.

That’s speaking purely logically and metaphysically.  Speaking theologically, the advantage of seeing God as steadily involved in a personal way is that it accords with the Biblical portrait of God, and can also be harmonized with some of the great systematic theologies—Calvinist, Thomist, Augustinian, etc.  The “divine hands off” model of evolution is much tougher to reconcile with Biblical and systematic language.  I think Jon Garvey is doing a great job of expressing this here and on his own web site.

Thanks for your answers, and best wishes.

Merv - #74008

October 30th 2012

Thank you all for your gracious exchanges and patience with me.

GJDS, maybe I should have checked the definition of ‘subsume’ before assuming I knew how to use it.  According to the first defintion at dictionary.com, it is:    to consider or include (an idea, term, proposition, etc.) as part of a more comprehensive one.

My intended thought on that was to think of theology as providing context and meaning for everything else including science.  This is something science cannot provide for itself.  But theology does provide that for all these artifically divided academic disciplines and everything else too.


GJDS - #74022

October 30th 2012


It is interesting that when we consider the two meanings of subsume (Oxford concise and Webster), both us end up being correct. I guess this small example highlights the importance of understanding each other and our use of language. On your previous post, I gather you view also includes the notion that there are things in neo-Darwinism (and indeed in Science overall) that we may not understand fully (I add greater uncertainty to evolution, but this is detail), but this need not ‘upset’ our faith position. On this, I think we are on similar ground, as I accept also the ‘overall’ view that greater ideas of theology (Orthodoxy) (and using the term in your way) would subsume (or encompasse when fully understood) the lesser ideas of all scientific thinking wth this overall view.

bren - #74012

October 30th 2012

Hi Eddie (answer to 74003),

I appreciate your hope to gain greater clarity from the proponents of the TE position, as well as your perspective that any failure to clarify the degree and manner of Divine interaction looks like playing politics by only using the materialist rulebook.  I get two major points from your post;

  1. Many of the representatives of TE are, by your interpretation of their motives, dipsuchos (i.e. they are trying to play the materialist game for the materialist audience and the godidit game for the theistic audience), and the main tool they are using in order to accomplish this goal is obfuscation and evasion.
  2. Even if they are somewhat agnostic about how God interacts and the degree to which he intervenes in creation, you would assume that they must, at the very least, have a private opinion on this subject which they (a) hold back for the wrong reasons and (b) should feel obliged to present publically since the dividing line between an interventionist God and a non- or barely interventionist God is in the same place as the line between the orthodox and the unorthodox.  In other words; it would be nice to know if you were conversing with a deist (mild-form heretic?) or not, and you rather suspect that you are (based on how unwilling they are to introduce anything but standard scientific reasoning into their accounts of the world).

Please let me know if I missed the substance of either of these points (since they are certainly reading extra information into your words at least a little bit!).

I think you’ll agree that the first point is an interpretation of motives and that it is possible, in maybe the smallest degree, to read the words of some of the most public TEs somewhat differently.  For example, is it possible that the majority of these writers have an extremely tentative opinion on the degree or manner of God’s interaction, since there isn’t any positive evidence to bolster any such opinion, and they consider it to be inappropriate to marshal unfounded opinions in the place of facts in any public forums?  Many of these TEs, when discussing scientific issues, very much have their “scientific hat” on and are unlikely to switch gears and offer an unfounded position on the nature of divine interaction.  They will go as far, maybe to the edge of what the available evidence implies and will usually stop there and check to see where and how it fits together with some, hopefully sound theological position.  Perhaps many are not so good at the (necessarily tentative and impossible to verify) later activity of matching up the limits of their scientific conclusions with the theology (as you often point out), but in stopping at the limits of the evidence in the former activity and refusing to make any more technical claims than are scientifically warranted (i.e. the nature and degree of divine interaction), they are right on.  You are asking TEs to now engage in a third activity, that of postulating, even in the form of a personal opinion, just how God acts in all of this and to what extent.  Does in necessarily follow that they would be comfortable working on this new project, even if you do personally find it to be critical to any assessment of their orthodoxy?  To them, it may begin to sound like they are being asked to make scientific-sounding statements (degree and mechanism) about subjects on which there is absolutely no data.  Sounds like something that will not sit very comfortably with their likely training or something that should make them positively squeamish, and I, for one, am not surprised if they “waffle” on the subject.

The way I understand most TEs, they are taking two “givens”.  The first is the standard (if that is even a good word to use), largely agreed upon scientific account of the world, circumscribed within carefully defined limits, and the second is the rich history of theological thinking of which they may or may not be adequately aware.  Their position tends to be defined by the fact that no third “given” is given for them to work with.

The second point is merely interesting, since it helps explain to me your drive to get a clear answer on a subject which doesn’t easily admit of any clear answers.  That said, I personally have trouble blaming anyone for being unclear on something that to them does not admit of any clear answers.  If you assume that they do have (unspoken) clear answers and a strong opinion, but are just playing politics to keep friends in the academy, then this is a whole other ball game.

Eddie - #74016

October 30th 2012

Thanks for your able discussion.  Overall, you understand my intent well.  I’ll add a few clarifying remarks.
1.  I think you are right that one of the obstacles I’m encountering is a certain timidity on the part of scientists to talk outside of their field of training, and discuss subjects where “knowledge” is more elusive than it is in their areas.  Yet the whole point of BioLogos (indeed, the whole point of faith-science discussions anywhere) is to seek an integration of thought, to bring together our thoughts about science with our thoughts about faith.  So the theologians have to make the effort to learn some biology, and the scientists to learn some theology.  There is no other way to make such discussions profitable.  If fear of error (in treading outside one’s specialty) is going to inhibit the participants, then the whole discussion might as well be abandoned.  Besides, the danger of error is reduced if people on both sides read good sources.  For example, Mayr, Dobzhansky, Gaylord Simpson, Gould, and Dawkins are all evolutionary biologists who have written lucidly about evolution for lay people; and nothing stops a scientist from opening a translation of Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, Augustine’s City of God, etc., and reading what is said about creation there.
2.  However, one problem needs to be faced, and that is that most of the biologist-TEs are very defensive of neo-Darwinian evolution.  The difficulty is that neo-Darwinian processes can’t guarantee any outcome, even given the most favorable initial position.  Too many slips can happen between the cup and the lip.  So for a Christian—at least an orthodox or traditional one—who must assert that God intended at least the major results of evolution, and man specifically—the neo-Darwinian mechanism is a problem.  A biologist who affirms neo-Darwinism has got to explain how God guarantees any outcomes.  This is not some unreasonable, imperious demand of mine; it follows from the two propositions that the Christian biologists hold:  (1) God had the end or purpose to produce certain life forms; (2) God produced them through a process (neo-Darwinian) which, understood as naturalistic (as TEs appear to understand it), is inherently not an end-directed one.  Any scientist who is unwilling to live with intellectual schizophrenia (scientific truth over here, theological truth over there, and never the twain shall meet) has to wonder how these two things go together.  He or she will therefore, consciously or unconsciously, work out some sort of creation narrative in which God’s plans and the Darwinian process cohere.  I’m simply asking for this narrative.  I’m not asking for a scientific proof of anything, just how the individual TE envisions what happened.  Otherwise I have no way of testing individual TE opinions for internal consistency.
3.  It is hard for me to tell motivations.  I find TEs decent people as individual Christians, but often very slippery as thinkers, and when there is slipperiness, the question of motivation arises.  It seems to me that the majority of life-science-TEs (I mean the leaders) believe that every step of evolution occurred wholly through natural causes, so that guidance or steering (often sneered at as “tinkering”) is not in their mental picture.  But not one of them will say that clearly.  It also seems to me that many (perhaps not the majority) think that God gives nature “freedom” (because in their theology God is not a “tyrant”), but whether this “freedom” means anything beyond matter obeying the laws of nature, it is impossible to tell, because clarification is never forthcoming.  If it means that evolution is partly out of God’s control, and can go in directions he did not plan, then I think the view is heretical, and that would explain why TEs would be vague about such a view, knowing that their home congregations are reading what they are saying.  I have some non-public communications from TE people indicating that certain TEs do sometimes watch what they say, with the conservative “weaker brethren” in their denominations in mind.  And I also have strong reason to believe, from both public and private statements, that many leading TEs believe in far fewer Biblical miracles than do many members of their congregations, and this explains a certain skirting on that subject.  So the hypothesis that some leading TEs are sometimes less than fully frank cannot be simply discounted.  In any case, that hypothesis can be dispelled—and I would gladly see it dispelled—by direct statements of the kind I’m requesting.
Ted Davis - #74053

November 1st 2012


I have strong reason to believe, from both public and private statements, that many leading IDs believe in far fewer Biblical miracles than do many members of their congregations, and this explains a certain skirting on that subject. To borrow someone’s words.

I’ll give just one very prominent public example: Bill Dembski, whose views about the Flood and the garden of Eden were flatly rejected by several other leaders in his own, very conservative, denomination (the SBC). I have to think that many ordinary members of his denomination are at least as conservative as those leaders. It’s worth remembering, e.g., that Dembski could not keep his position at Al Mohler’s seminary. Some ID leaders are more conservative than Dembski, but most are not. Many belong to very conservative denominations.

Two can play this game, Eddie.

It would be interesting to know just how many IDs accept (e.g.) the long day of Joshua as an actual stopping of the earth’s rotation, or (e.g.) that natural explanations make sense for the star of Bethlehem. A lot of ordinary Christians probably think of it that way, but (as I say) it would be very interesting to know what ID writers actually think. Many OECs do not think that way; they like (e.g.) something like Maunder’s view from a century ago. (http://ahooz.com/isom/Resources English/Christian Ebooks/E Walter Maunder The Astronomy of the Bible.pdf). Many IDs are actually OECs, and I’d be surprised if they wouldn’t be happy with Maunder, whereas many ordinary Christians would not accept Maunder on various astronomical matters.

In short, Eddie, one of the distinct differences between scientists of almost any position I’ve discussed (even in some cases, YECs) and lay Christians, is the way in which they approach many traditional “miracle” stories, ending up with far fewer actual “miracles,” as most folks understand that term. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions that might not be true.

Eddie - #74057

November 1st 2012


I didn’t intend to divert the discussion into an analysis of Biblical miracles and who believes in them and who doesn’t.  I mentioned the subject (a) because Merv had brought it up and (b) because as a reader of columns and comments written by TEs, I had noticed an overlap between ambiguity about whether or not Biblical miracles occurred and ambiguity over whether or not God did anything in evolution.  

I have not read Dembski’s theological writings.  But I would distinguish between the primeval narratives of Genesis 1-11 and, say, the miracles at the time of the Exodus, and the miracles recorded in the Gospels.  It would not surprise me if Dembski does not take all of Genesis 1-11 as historical; it would surprise me if he doubted the miraculous events of the Exodus, and even more if he doubted those of the Gospels.  Perhaps you could clarify:  has Dembski expressed doubts about the rescue at the Red Sea, about Jesus feeding the 5000, etc.?  And if so, has he expressed those doubts directly (in which case he would not fall under my criticism) or only in hints and allusions (in which case he would)?  Remember, my criticism was not of those who doubt Biblical miracles, but only of those who wrap their doubt in verbal ambiguity, while holding prominent positions as clergy, seminary professors, or leaders and educators of churches or Christians in theology/science questions.

I think that there are plausible literary reasons for arguing that the Flood and Garden stories were never meant to be understood as historical accounts.  I would say the same about the prologue to Job, and a number of other passages (I gave some examples).  But when we get to “core miracles” foundational to Judaism and Christianity—the Red Sea incident, for example, and the Gospel miracles—I think that someone who denies the historicity of these has some explaining to do.  If the denial springs from literary characteristics of the story, that is one thing; such denial could then be understood as respect for the intentions of the Biblical writer.  However, the denier would then have to provide an interpretation of the text which proves the non-historical intentions of the writer.  So if someone wants to do with the Gospel miracles what Denis Lamoureux has done for Genesis 1 and for the Flood, then I say, let him make his case.  (But note that Lamoureux himself does not make the extension, and declares that the Gospels should be understood as historical.)

But in most cases—and your objection confirms my point—the doubt about the historicity of the stories does not proceed from literary observations.  It is not based on the character of the miracle stories.  It is because of “science.”  Modern people with a “scientific” education, you say, are less likely to believe in the miracle stories than their scientifically untrained brethren.  But why should that be?  Has science, as such, got any proof that God cannot or would not suspend or break natural laws?  (No TE could say that, and then turn around and make a distinction between “methodological” and “metaphysical” naturalism!)  The question arises why the scientist, as such, has any more insight regarding the occurrence or non-occurrence of Biblical miracles than the most untutored lay person in his congregation.   

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that in the diaries of the famous physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who was apparently a pious Bible believer, we find a statement of his unequivocal belief that Jesus literally walked upon the water of the Sea of Galilee.  Let’s suppose, again for the sake of argument, that we find a modern scientist-clergyman evading the question whether Jesus literally walked upon that water.  The difference between the two stances cannot lie in Clerk Maxwell’s ignorance of the methods or conclusions of science, since Clerk Maxwell was one of the greatest physicists who ever lived.  The difference must lie in theological presuppositions about how God acts.  Risking a generalization from this hypothetical example—which is not entirely hypothetical, as I could provide actual historical examples corresponding to Clerk Maxwell and the modern scientist-clergyman—I would submit that differing theological presuppositions lie at the root of many of the disputes over Biblical miracles, and over many of the disputes between TE and its critics.

If I am right, it would be productive for us to get these theological presuppositions out in the open.  That’s what my questions have been aimed at.  

Ted Davis - #74154

November 5th 2012

Well, Eddie, in a column about ID it’s mighty difficult to “get these theological presuppositions out in the open,” unless we start talking about TE again rather than ID. I’m sure you see the problem here.

I don’t recall Dembski expressing a view on the Exodus or any New Testament miracle. My default assumption (just an assumption) would be that he accepts those in a traditional way. He did, however, question interpretations of early Genesis that, while they don’t necessarily involve doubting any miracles, certainly involve putting forth views of the biblical narrative(s) that were seen as highly questionable by some very important people in his own denomination. And, he put forth those views b/c of “science,” so he’s in the same boat as all of those TEs you are trying to “out.”

If you want to see theological presuppositions laid out bluntly, then I do recommend some of the same people I keep recommending to you, Eddie. Start perhaps with Polkinghorne’s Faith of a Physicist, his commentary on the Nicene Creed. I especially recommend the chapter on the “Crucifixion and Resurrection,” but really many chapters in many of his books talk about one’s theological attitudes and presuppositions. George Murphy is also good for this; ditto Robert Russell or Denis Lamoureux.

Eddie - #74175

November 5th 2012


I’ll gladly concede that Dembski and other ID proponents read Genesis less literally than most Christians of the past. And when it comes to the age of the earth, yes, I think they are influenced by contemporary science. On the other hand, the ID people wouldn’t accept any old interpretation of Genesis, out of sheer desperation to find a reading, however strained, that is compatible with an old earth. They would demand a reading that is sustainable philologically and in light of the historical context of Genesis, and also in line with the overall teaching of the Bible.

I have in fact read some of Lamoureux’s writing, and he tries to provide such a reading, and offers plausible alternative interpretations of several early stories in Genesis. I would guess that many ID leaders could go along with many of Lamoureux’s readings.

The question is whether Lamoureux’s methods should be extended to other parts of the Bible. Lamoureux vehemently denies that they should be applied to the Gospels, which he takes as genuinely historical in intent. I presume he would say that about most OT miracles as well.

So if some TE, going beyond Lamoureux’s remarks on Genesis, says or strongly implies that Jesus did not walk on the water, that TE has two responsibilities: (1) to publically state why Christians should doubt that the passage was meant historically; (2) to provide an alternative exegesis of the passage. And that would apply to any and all miracle stories that the TE does not accept as historical.

I’m not forbidding any TE to engage in such literary activity or saying that the conclusions would automatically be heretical. I’m merely saying that if the activity is a sincere attempt to understand the Bible from within the Protestant evangelical tradition rather than from within the Enlightenment, i.e., if the TE is not trying to “sneak anything by” his fellow believers, then both the argument against historicity and the presentation of the alternate reading should be given out in the open.

I think that if the arguments against the historicity of certain miracles were presented out in the open, it would become clear to all readers—as I’ve suggested above—that theological presuppositions about how God acts are a very big motivating factor where doubts about miracles are found.  And those theological presuppositions need to be tested for soundness against the overall teaching of the Biblical text—which is (or ought to be) the final court of appeal for Protestant evangelicals.

Eddie - #74176

November 5th 2012


I still do not understand your earlier contention that scientifically trained people are more likely to believe in fewer Biblical miracles than scientifically untrained people. If the scientist believes that the causal nexus is unbreakable, even by God, then the scientist will rule out all Biblical miracles; but if he believes that God can break or suspend normal causality at will, then there is nothing in his science that should cause him to reject any Biblical miracle. So “more” vs. “fewer” miracles shouldn’t be an issue for the scientist at all. For the scientist, as for the lay believer, it should be “all” or “none.” Yet you seem to be suggesting that  a scientist could very responsibly accept the Resurrection, in spite of what he knows from science (about biological death), yet have serious doubts—because of what he knows from science (about gravity, surface tension, organic chemistry, conservation of mass and energy, etc.) —that Jesus walked on water or turned water to wine or fed the five thousand. I don’t see how science could have anything to say about the historicity of any of those events, and therefore I don’t see how science could provide any intellectual basis for accepting some of them while rejecting others. Could you clarify?

beaglelady - #74084

November 2nd 2012

Yes indeed, Dr. Dembski once claimed that he took Genesis figuratively.  I heard him say it myself at the “Great Debate” (This was in 2002).   

Later on, when he got in trouble with his employer for his book “The End of Christianity”  he wrote,

“In a brief section on Genesis 4–11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part,” Dembski wrote. “Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do. In any case, not only Genesis 6–9 but also Jesus in Matthew 24 and Peter in Second Peter seem clearly to teach that the Flood was universal. As a biblical inerrantist, I believe that what the Bible teaches is true and bow to the text, including its teaching about the Flood and its universality.”

So follow the evidence wherever it leads, as long as it doesn’t lead to the unemployment line!

Eddie - #74096

November 2nd 2012


If I understand you correctly, you are saying that Dembski equivocated in his position, in such a way as to sound more orthodox with his lips than he was in his heart, and that he did so with prudential considerations in mind.  I have not read Dembski’s book, so I will withhold judgment on that point; but supposing for the sake of argument that it were true, do you think all TEs are so spiritually pure that they are above all prudential considerations, and that they would never offer a somewhat obscure theological position out of a need for self-preservation?  For example, if there were a TE-clergyman who did not believe in certain miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments, do you think it is inconceivable that such a clergyman might write or speak ambiguously about the historicity of those miracles, for a variety of reasons (not to make the weaker brethren in his congregation stumble, not to get fired by his congregation, etc.)?  And if you would condemn Dembski for “not speaking straight,” would consistency not require you to offer the same condemnation of a TE such as the one described—supposing that such a TE existed?  Is it only ID people that should be condemned for lack of full disclosure?  Do TEs get a free pass if they do the same thing?      

beaglelady - #74104

November 3rd 2012

In other words, let’s forget about what Dembski did and merrily go on our way smiting TEs.  Take that, you wicked TE!

Eddie - #74106

November 3rd 2012

You didn’t answer my question.  But that is par for the course for you, beaglelady.  You never answer the hard questions—except when you reply to them with other questions!  You prefer always to be the interrogator, never the one on the hot seat.

Ever heard of “dialogue”?  That is where both people answer the questions they put to each other.  You should try it some time.

Eddie - #74107

November 3rd 2012

P.S.  You didn’t answer my question in 74095 above, either.  (See the response to your 74083).  I guess it wouldn’t do to commit yourself.  It’s easier to attack others if your own beliefs are unknown.

beaglelady - #74108

November 3rd 2012

We have proof that Dembski did an about-face when his job was on the line, and now you want to pester me with more questions about the integrity of hypothetical TEs?      

I suppose you like to answer hard questions—as when I asked you to show us something you have written (not a blog post), since you have billed yourself as a writer.

Eddie - #74111

November 3rd 2012


The TEs in question aren’t hypothetical.  The biologist-TEs who doubt the occurrence of major OT and NT miracles are quite real.  I just chose not to name them, out of respect for Ted who will not want his column turned into a combat zone.  But if you follow the books, the articles, and the online debates involving leading TEs, it will become pretty clear to you that such people exist.  (And I would be surprised if you didn’t share their view of miracles, but that’s a side-point.)

In any case, nothing is stopping you from answering the hypothetical question.  If there were such a TE, e.g., one who concealed, for prudential reasons, his belief that Jesus did not walk on the water, would you condemn that TE as you condemn Dembski?  But you don’t want to answer that question.  And that’s your conversational trademark.  You answer only the questions that you want to answer (which in practice means almost none), while demanding from others that they answer everything you ask.

I will answer any questions about my views.  I will not answer questions which would inevitably lead to the discovery of my private identity—which is plainly what you want to know.  And this from someone who conceals her private identity under the name of “beaglelady”!

I’ll look for your answer to 74095 above.  But I’ll be shocked if I find an unambiguous answer, instead of a rhetorical question fired back at me.

beaglelady - #74158

November 5th 2012

You’ll have to give me details about the TE you want me to condemn.  Or should I condemn a hypothetical TE?  I know you don’t like to name TEs except when you do name them, which is often.

 I have evidence about Dembski’s sudden slide to the right which coincided with his employment issues.  And you can hear him say that he takes Genesis figuratively (this was in 4/23/2002) here: 


Eddie - #74163

November 5th 2012


Philosophers reason about hypothetical cases all the time.  One can apply principles without dealing with particular examples.  One could decide, for example that breaking into someone’s home, plundering his valuables, and killing him is wrong, without giving an example of where this has happened in the USA in the past 12 months.

In fact, that’s the basis of modern natural science.  Science deals with general laws of nature.  Ever heard of F = ma?  Or E = mc^2?  Do you think the correctness of such formulations depends on the particular value you substitute for m?

In light of this, you shouldn’t need any examples.  It should be easy for you to commit yourself on the general question whether a TE who holds unorthodox views is right to conceal them in order to keep a job or avoid conflict in his home church.  However, it’s evident you don’t want to answer the question.  Perhaps you, too, are skeptical about a number of Biblical miracles, and are therefore sympathetic to those TE leaders who have directly or indirectly indicated a similar skepticism?  Maybe the question cuts a little too close to the bone.

The issue of course, is not whether belief in this or that miracle is required to make someone a genuine Christian.  I’ve made no comment on that at all.  The issue I’ve raised is whether some TE leaders have been less than frank in speaking about the subject of Biblical miracles, and if so, whether their lack of forthrightness should get a free pass from beaglelady, whereas Dembski’s similar action warrants such a harsh condemnation from her.   

But why need I ask this question?  It’s clear from your pattern of public positions on this site that you are highly partisan, and are not going to judge both sides (ID and TE) by the same standards.  You will invoke whatever principles you need to condemn ID proponents, in an ad hoc manner, and ignore any application of those principles to the TEs.  (In another exchange here, for example, you’ve invoked an alleged lack of publications against someone on the ID side, while ignoring the same “fault” for people on the TE side.)  Your goal is not to ascertain the truth through the give and take of dialogue with people who think differently from yourself; your goal is political victory for TE over ID.  This is why I’ve been unwise to engage with you again.  Best wishes.

beaglelady - #74169

November 5th 2012

Why talk about hypothetical cases?  Shouldn’t we be talking about actual cases here, since you want me to condemn somebody?  

Do you really thing you are not highly partisan?  Ted is the one who first brought up Dembski, and that was only after you started ragging on TEs.

Merv - #74033

October 31st 2012

Just a comment on Bren’s observation that TEs tend to believe in far fewer miracles ...

Here is where science can and does influence Biblical hermeneutics for better or for worse.

Some miracles in the Bible are presented as non-negotiable—the central one being the resurrection.  Others are presented in such a way that to question them is to question apostolic testimony to such a serious extent as to undermine the Biblical witness overall.  YECs, of course, put all literal miracles described into this category.  But that is only because they decided in advance that the only correct hermeneutic is to take everything literally unless it is explicitly labeled as a parable or a vision by the Bible itself.  This is a questionable theological practice at best even without the scientific issues.  But let’s leave that aside for the moment.  Then we arrive at the category of miracles that are presented in a straightforward enough narrative manner that, with all due respect to the YEC disagreement over this, we seem to have more choice.  I would put stories like Jonah and the whale into a category like this.  Even though it isn’t labeled as a parable as such, it isn’t far-fetched (or theologically unfaithful) to read it that way.  Many feel the same way about the story of Job with its carefully chosen numbers and Satan strolling around in Heaven.  Trying to insist on historicity of such things raises more theological problems than it solves.

So, is it any surprise that people who study and observe the astonishing regularity of natural phenomena would be influenced by that (among other considerations too) to lean towards not taking all apparent miracle stories as being literal history?  Some see this as a dangerous slippery slope, but I see it as a necessary work for each believer to engage in if truth is of paramount importance.  Finding Truth may involve having some of our western doctrination pried away in which we think that only a journalism-style historicity counts when we’re speaking of truth.  If science itself helps relieve us of that faulty (and I think unbiblical) notion, then we’re that much better off.  Will that lead to unbelief in some cases?  It sadly has.  But insisting on blanket application of our western notions of truth to ancient texts is, IMO, the larger culprit robbing many of their faith.


Merv - #74034

October 31st 2012

What I wrote about miracles above needs more clarification.

Some will note that because N.T. figures refer back to Job or Jonah, that this becomes an automatic endorsement of their modern notion that truth = historicity.  But that assumption is no more than circular reasoning:  i.e.  “Jesus spoke of Jonah in the belly of the whale”; “Jesus would never use a teaching device that wasn’t true”; and finally:  “Jesus conception of truth = my western notion that only literal truth counts.”  And we see the obvious circular assumption about all this.  I may be unfairly singling out “modern western” notions in this since the early disciples already were wrestling with some of the same issues, so the problem was not new with western European heritage.  Jesus was often figurative in his lessons (and didn’t always announce:  “okay now this is a parable.”)  And they were mightily confused sometimes.  Jesus had to jar some stubborn mindsets loose in order to teach them that he was the “bread of life” or that they must be “born again” (Nicodemus).  Jesus obviously had no problem using highly figurative language and poetic scenarios (think of the Rich man hollering across the uncrossable chasm for  Lazarus to have mercy)  in order to teach Truth—truth that we dare not demean by saying “well, Heaven and Hell probably aren’t really situated like that; so we don’t have to listen to the point he was making.”    

All of this is where I see *biblical* evidence that we had better be questioning our still-lingering and still-stubborn assumptions that literal understandings should always be the default hermeneutic.   This needs repeated mentioning because so many think that if Jesus or Paul make reference to somebody or some event that this becomes a magic bullet to confirm all of our own present opinions of how that event should be understood.


Eddie - #74038

October 31st 2012


I agree with much of what you say.  Obviously I don’t take every past tense statement in the Bible as historical, or I would be a YEC.  Certain passages appear to me to have a non-historical character.  Nonetheless, even if we subtract a score or two of passages —e.g., parts of Genesis 1-11, the prologue to Job, maybe the passage about the sun stopping for Joshua (could be poetic license), maybe some passages about Jesus that relate things out of the public eye—such as Satan’s taking Jesus up a mountain and showing him all the kingdoms of the world (which can be understood as a dramatization of Jesus’s inward temptation)—I think that most Christians of all denominations, for most of Christian history, have taken most of the New Testament and Old Testament miracle stories as at least roughly accurate historical accounts.
However, my point was not to take sides regarding the historicity of any particular miracles, but only to say that a certain elusiveness of some TE leaders about Biblical miracles fits in with an evasiveness about whether God directs the course of evolution.  A Christian who is inclined to deny the historical character of a good number of Biblical miracles stories is not very likely to believe that God directly guides evolution.  And if the home congregation wants to know what their TE pastor or TE Biblical scholar thinks about Jesus walking on the water, and the TE in question is inclined to doubt that the event ever happened, one can see why ambiguous language might well be the strategy for avoiding intra-church conflict.  Similarly, if most people in the TE’s denomination assume that “theistic evolution” means that God actually guides or steers (i.e., monkeys around with natural causes to produce certain results), whereas the TE thinks that hands-on steering indicates a primitive idea of God that is no longer acceptable to an enlightened mind, the TE may find it prudent, and a concession to the intellectually “weaker brethren,” not to be too direct in denying that God does anything special, and may speak instead in vague general terms about a “strong view of providence” (which, in the absence of a definition of “providence,” does nothing to clarify what the TE actually believes).

I’m really not offended by any view a TE might hold, whether about miracles, or about the status of the Bible (flawless, or divine truth mixed with human error?), or whether God directly steers the course of evolution or just lets it run itself.  I do, however, find it very hard to carry on a conversation with a TE (or for that matter with anyone talking about theology) when I sense an implied position, yet, when I ask outright about it, the implied position is neither confirmed nor denied.  And I do think that at least in some cases, the cautious, guarded answers are motivated by fear:  fear of what one’s religious fellows will do to one if they know the full extent of one’s views:  “Will they fire me from my teaching position at the college?”  “Will the elders ban me from teaching Sunday school or leading youth groups, because of my unconventional opinions?”  “Will churches and individual donors cut off grants to our organization if we do not give the appearance of moving to a more traditional position?”
I certainly understand and even sympathize with the fear of practical consequences; ID people live with it all the time.  Their outspokenness has cost them dearly.  I would guess that at least some TEs don’t want their churches and denominations and colleges to do to them what the secular science world has done to the ID people.  But when we consider that in Ancient Rome some Christians would rather be thrown to the lions than sacrifice a pinch of spice to Caesar, I wonder if modern, middle-class comfort hasn’t made some Christians too fearful of consequences.  I’d like to see caution thrown to the winds more often.  If a pastor doesn’t think Jesus walked on the water, I’d rather he said it than hinted at it; and if a TE doesn’t think that God did a blessed thing in evolution other than establish and preserve the laws of nature, I’d rather he said it than hinted at it.  (And of course, you’ve told me your view of God’s role in evolution, so I’m not including you in this last remark.)
Joriss - #74036

October 31st 2012

If Jonah, the son of Amittai, mentioned in Jonah 1:1, is not historical, then how can the men of Nineveh rise up in the judgement with the generation of Jesus’ days and condemn it as Jesus said in Luke 11? I am very glad these men repented at the preaching of Jonah and consider it a living example of God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is not just “making a point”; it is God’s goodness in dealing with sinful citizens and to teach a lesson to a stubborn and selfish prophet and to us. But I suppose you think this is a magic bullet too, to confirm that a historical reading of Jonah is the only right one?
I really cannot understand we won’t see the men of Nineveh again with Jesus as He said. And also I cannot understand that Jesus is greater than the historical Salomon and than the imaginary Jonah, both mentioned together. Seems odd to me!
In 2 Kings 14:25 Jonah, the son of Amittai is mentioned, speaking the word of the Lord God, that the coast of Israel would be restored, which happened by the second Jeroboam, king of Israel.
So Jonah was a historical person and Jesus knew that of course.
Suppose the book of Jonah is not historical but a symbolic story, a parable or something like that, then there are two options.
1* Jesus knew.  
2* Jesus didn’t know
1 Jesus knew. Then it is very likely his listeners knew this as well. He refers to their  knowledge of the scriptures. Then he could not have said to them that the men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgement and condemn their generation.
2 Jesus didn’t know. Nothing in the book of Jonah gave Him the impression that it was not real history, although he knew the scriptures as no one else did! He knew what was in man, He didn’t need anybody to explain the inner man to Him, the reason why Peter said: Lord, You know all things. So if Jesus did not know the book of Jonah was historoical, how can we know?
So to me it is evident that the book of Jonah is historical and that it will loose much of its power when it is only a parable to teach us a lesson. Jesus did not deal with it like that, why would we?

Merv - #74037

October 31st 2012

I’m not insisting that Jonah or the people of Niniveh and their repentance are all non-historical.  What I am suggesting is that if elements of that story are taken to be figurative or moral narrative without the obsession over its literal history, then this may be closer to understanding the truth being taught than we get by imposing our modern assumptions on it.   Jesus also says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  He is appealing to a story that is common knowledge to all his listeners to make his point.  If elements of the story are figurative, its power and truth are not affected at all.  Just as we can take his conclusion also as figurative (in fact we may be required to) in order to get at Jesus’ deeper teaching here, because while I won’t presume to know all the depth of what Jesus was getting at, I’ll nevertheless presume he wasn’t teaching that he will be descending through the crust, mantle, and into the iron-nickel core to stay at the center of this globe for 72 hours.  While you can insist on that literal belief if you want to, surely you also realize that others can take his words to mean something else deeper, and if so, shouldn’t we attend to that rather than our own obsession with absolute historicity?

I will acknowledge that this is too much for many people of faith who have instilled in them that to take one point non-literally is to question everything.  So they see here nothing but a slippery slope where they finally reject all miracles and salvation itself.  I don’t want to rock anybody’s boat to the point where it tips over.  Nevertheless, even if I or others were silent about these issues, the Bible and creation itself won’t be, and studying both is perilous for those who want to maintain simple literal approaches as the only valid understanding.  Better to have your boat get a few unnecessary things shaken off of it than to try maintaining it as a huge floating edifice with all manner of awkward protrusions for the enemy to grab onto and capsize you completely.  

Of course, if you’re in a fairly hulking cruise liner ... I’ll get my little canoe out of the way.


Jon Garvey - #74061

November 2nd 2012


If taking figurative passages too literally is a modern failing, isn’t seeing miracles as a problem just as much so?

Joriss - #74047

November 1st 2012


“What I am suggesting is that if elements of that story are taken to be figurative or moral narrative without the obsession over its literal history,”—-

I really don’t understand. I feel it much more as if TE’s have an obsession to make us doubt the historicity of parts of the bible that present itself as history. I have never been obsessive about these parts, I just believe them, because they are recorded in the OT and refered to in the NT as real events. Does accepting the figurative elements of a narrative and holding to the reality of the events in that narrative make a person obsessive? Are not in the bible mostly the figurative elements in a narrative stemming from the real events in that narrative?

“then this may be closer to understanding the truth being taught than we get by imposing our modern assumptions on it.”

I think that’s an artificial contrast. You can not make the historicity of an event a counterbalance against the truth taught by it, and vice-versa. They work together and the reality of the event reinforces and deepens its spiritual lessons. Or rather: the spiritual lesson itself derives its power from the reality of the event. A multitude of examples all over the bible.
Abraham really was prepared to offer his son and God, seeing his faith swore a real oath to Abraham, and now he is our father in faith. Here we can see how God is dealing with a real person, and we can say: Ah, this is God, He acts in this way, He will deal with us, believers, in the same way as with Abraham, his oath is as relevant for us as for Abraham, as is said in Hebrews. And at the same time the event is a marvellous prophecy about God who really gave his Son for us, He was the Lamb that God would provide Himself as Abraham said to Isaac (Gen. 22:8). So here event and spiritual truth are unseparably one. And many more: Joseph, Exodus, Moses, Daniel, Elijah, David, etc.

”———- I’ll nevertheless presume he wasn’t teaching that he will be descending through the crust, mantle, and into the iron-nickel core to stay at the center of this globe for 72 hours.  While you can insist on that literal belief if you want to, surely you also realize that others can take his words to mean something else deeper, and if so, shouldn’t we attend to that rather than our own obsession with absolute historicity?”

Again this artificial contrast. I, just like you, don’t pretend to understand the full depth of Jesus words here, but at least I realize that this depth is not jeopardized at all by the reality of Jonah’s having been in the whale, but rather by his not having been in the whale. Just like the fish swallowed Jonah, Jesus was swallowed by the earth. Jonah “rose from his death”, and Jesus rose from death and we with Him. Jonah was a sign to the men of Nineveh, Jesus was to become a sign to his generation. The men of Nineveh repented after Jonah’s “resurrection”; many Jews and others repented after Jesus’resurrection.
So? Jesus was in the heart of the earth, just like Jonah was - not really, but in a story - in the belly of the whale?
God swore - not really, but in a story - an oath to Abraham, and we are also part of the promise in that oath (in that story)?

What about the figurative sense of being in the heart of the earth: everyone of 10  years and older understands this without a problem, so going to the core of this globe…..saying that we must think so, if we insist on a literal reading of Jonah…   ...everybody with normal brains has a common talent to distuingish between figurative and literal speaking in general. I cannot think you seriously mean this. I think this is a kind of TE strategy? Exaggerate into the ridiculous the way creationists hold to a literal reading of some parts of the bible by saying: “so? and can you take this or that literally?” and then an absurd example is following: Jesus going down to the centre of the earth through the earthcrust; that we should cut our hand or foot off because Jesus said so; that Herode was a real fox because Jesus said so, etc.  “So why don’t you believe this, if you want to believe in that literal way: this is the ultimate consequence of your literal way of believing.”  Well that’s nice, and is in order to smile of course, but as an argument it doesn’t need refutation.

What about the boat, I think there is one good boat, with Jesus as the captain and commander. So I assume, although we have different opinions, and are in different temporary sub-boats, we are eventually in that same boat, bound for new heavens and a new earth with Jesus. So all own build sub-boats whether it is a huge floating edifice or a little canoe, will - I mean it figuratively - capsize earlier or later. And that’s all right.

Merv - #74055

November 1st 2012

First of all—thanks, Joriss for calling me to account for falling back into caricature of how others think on this.  I shouldn’t belittle anybody in any other camp.  If I do or my language even just appears to do that, then I want to address that (or at least try not to do so in the future).  

One of our disagreements I think stems from my using the term ‘literal’ in a more strict sense than you seem to be.  I.e.  You note the importance of us believing that “Jesus was swallowed by the earth” which you take as a literal truth.  You and I could probably together study Jesus’  statement and maybe have a lot in common as we discussed it.  Apparently you wouldn’t insist this means literal transport down into the globe, and in fact find this to be a condescending caricature of what literalists really think.  Whereas I want to point to your same conclusion above (if indeed I understood you correctly) and reply:  “see—you already are accepting figurative interpretation!”  But you take that same understanding to still fall within the realm of what you mean by “literal”.  Fair enough.  

I do have a question for you:  As Jesus taught with explicitly labeled parables, should any lack of actual historicity in those parables disturb someone and then cause them to question the other truths being taught?   This may not be so far-fetched an example as you might think.  I do know someone who when she heard it suggested that the prodigal son was a story not intended to be a literal history—she recoiled from that notion seeing in it an assault on all Truth that Jesus teaches.  The other conversant wisely (and in surprise) dropped the subject, not wishing to cause distress to her faith.  Don’t you agree, Joriss, that it would be tragic if this extreme literalist were to ever have her faith shipwrecked because of a brittle inability to shed a notion that not only is unnecessary, but almost certainly false?  As much as we may find things to admire about her seemingly staunch faith, it still strikes me that her spiritual (biblical) diet consists more of milk than of meat.  I don’t mean this as a condescending statement, though I can’t prevent anyone from taking it that way, and if it helps such a criticism to be more palatable, let me freely admit that I remain a babe in Christ probably in too many ways, and that this is still infinitely preferable over being dead to Christ.  But we Christians really need to take to heart *both* sides of Jesus exhortation to retain the innocence of doves while being shrewd as snakes.  I see this issue as one such context in which too many of us gravitate too far to either side and fail to find the balance.


p.s.  And regarding SKL’s objection below to our more diversity-friendly metaphor, we might also consider John 10:16 as a confirmation.

Merv - #74056

November 1st 2012

clarifying my post script above:    ...we might also consider John 10:16 as a confirmation *that an admiral can have more than one boat in His fleet!*.  —Merv

Joriss - #74075

November 2nd 2012

Thank you too, Merv, for your openness which I can learn from. I was glad you were not offended by my reply.
“see—you already are accepting figurative interpretation!”

But of course there exists figurative interpretation, who would deny?
 “Jesus was swallowed by the earth”. Is that literal? Figurative? I think both.
Jesus was in the grave and literally surrounded by the the earth just like Jona was surrounded by the fish. That’s literal.
The earth has no mouth and can not swallow. It’s a way of speaking. That’s figurative.
So figurative sense and reality are twained together here and I think in many other cases in Scriptures. By the way Jesus Himself didn’t say He would be swallowed, but that He would be in the heart of the earth. Here again literal and figurative. He was really in the earth, but the earth has no heart or core, where He was in the grave. Could it mean He entered into the core of our earthly existence, even in our death and being part of the earth, for the moment held down by its power, just like us, before that power was broken by His glorious resurrection?

 “As Jesus taught with explicitly labeled parables, should any lack of actual historicity in those parables disturb someone and then cause them to question the other truths being taught?”
Well, I can only be short: Not at all.
Yes, I’ve met that kind of persons too, as you described. I think such a person is naive in some way, and some ideas have installed themselves comfortably in her mind and as far as I can see won’t do any harm, as long as she is not stubborn, only naive. Of course I don’t know this woman, so I don’t know which of the two options it is. But I think our perception of God and his words are in balance with what He can teach us and adapted to our possibilities both emotional and rational and I think the person who talked with her was wise indeed to drop the subject, in order to not jeopardize her faith. That’s what Christ teaches us that we ought to bear the weakness of our fellow-believers Romans 15:1. If He wants her to know it is not a literal story, He will find his time for it, and if not, why would we? By the way, I am not sure, but I think the prodigal son is one of the few if not the only parable without that lable, but nevertheless we can recognize it easily as a parable.
Well, I also have to admit I could have been more of an adult in Christ by now, I really don’t know in which phase of my youth I am, but I hope I will grow up in Him.

Yes, I agree that an admiral can have more than one boat in his fleet, Merv. Of course also this metaphor has its shortcomings. But I think Skl is right to say that there is but one real churh, however I have a different opinion about where in this world the outlines, the contours of this church are to be seen.

Skl - #74054

November 1st 2012

To Joriss,

You wrote: “What about the boat, I think there is one good boat, with Jesus as the captain and commander. So I assume, although we have different opinions, and are in different temporary sub-boats, we are eventually in that same boat, bound for new heavens and a new earth with Jesus. So all own build sub-boats whether it is a huge floating edifice or a little canoe, will - I mean it figuratively - capsize earlier or later. And that’s all right.”

I think that’s not all right.

I think the one good boat is the Barque of Peter. It has never capsized, and it never will. I’ll book passage on that boat. Christ did not intend a floundering flotilla.

The fullness of the Truth and of the means of salvation subsist in only one Church. (For a change of metaphors, see Mat 16:18; 1 Tim 3:15.)

Joriss - #74072

November 2nd 2012


The one good boat I meant is the Barque of Peter and is the only one church which is the worldwide body of Christ. However: not Peter is the captain of this ship, but Jesus is. Of course these are metaphors.

Let me leave metaphors behind and directly say what I mean to avoid misunderstanding.
There is only one church, which is, in my opinion, not identical with the Roman Catholic Church, or with another orthodox church, a protestant church, an evangelical church or one of the hundreds of other christian churches all over the world. It is the body of Christ into which all true believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. Although these believers are divided over many denominations, God sees them as one organism. You can simply not be a true believer in Jesus without the Holy Spirit dwelling in you and without being part of Christ’s body, it is not by organisation but by spiritual birth that we belong to Christ’s church. Of course it would be nice if all christians had stayed together in one “church”, but history has proven it was not possible.

If I understand you well, you think the members of other churches are unsaved as long as they don’t return to the Catholic Church. You should a look into the book “Operation World” to see how many millions of believers in Jesus are spreading the gospel under temptation and persecution, suffer like Paul for being a discipel of Christ, in workcamps and prisons, just because they don’t want to deny Christ. Only true believers can do that, because the Spirit in them supports and comforts them. They are not only Roman Catholic or orthodox, but also baptists, pentecostal, reformed, methodists, brethren, and all these are in the body of Christ, of which Paul says:
1 Cor. 12 : 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

So how can we do that if we can’t see through the walls of our church and don’t recognize one another as part of Christ’s body, which is the true and real church?

And to return to metaphors:
Our particular boats with those labels such as: reformed, roman catholic, presbyterian etc. have to capsize one time, I mean we have become aware the church of Christ doesn’t stop at the walls of our denomination. Ofcourse we can stay in our church and serve Christ there. We should. But these walls disappear in Christ. Also labels as TE or YEC are legitimate to indicate our point of view, but should eventually have no separating power in Christ and be subordinate to Him.

Joriss - #74073

November 2nd 2012

There is, beside the book, also a website www.operationworld.org which gives a more updated recent view of the worldchurches today. I can recommend.

GJDS - #74067

November 2nd 2012

Ted, says (#74048).. “The great question is whether or not Christianity can even possibly be true, in light of modern knowledge—including evolution but hardly limited to it. I insist on using the ecumenical creeds to give specific content to “Christianity” in this matter.”

I think this is the crux of the matter, and why a historical treatment of the subject of Faith, Science, and socio-political events since the Enlightenment, is required, so that we may begin to appreciate this ‘great question’.

The response to questions and doubt by established religion hierarchies however, has been mixed, because IMO a great deal of so called theological (liberal) effort has been directed at seeking ways to make an understanding of the Faith “fuzzy” and even undermine Orthodoxy. By this, I mean that instead of seeking to obtain a deeper understanding of the purpose of Christianity, and the centrality of Christ as redeemer and as the Son of God, an enormous effort has been directed over the last century or more, at scholastic analysis and archaeological examinations; these have been taken and used as a measure of the truth of Christianity. Evolution, with geological time scales and fossils, has been added to these, to add a scientific dimension. I have been surprised, and at times, appalled, as I listen and read scholars and others, change their narratives time after time, but in each instance, their public stance has continued to be one of ‘speaking with authority’.

I suppose I should give examples to show the uncertainty and fuzziness that can be found in many of such pronouncements, but my experience here has shown that when I do, such matters (uncertainty and doubt) do not bother experts who have assumed their set position.

A pleasing development has been an increasingly vocal input by Christians who are experts in the various disciplines, and are able to examine science and other areas of knowledge in a clear headed manner. (Unfortunately this is not apparent in the TE, ID, YEC, CE, OEC, groups). Such effort may help people understand, and accept, that in many things, we people are not able to readily obtain ‘THE TRUTH’ on many aspects of nature, and also about ourselves. This should occupy our thoughts, before we follow such uncertain ideas and proclamations. WE should avoid being convinced that Christianity may need to be revised and its truths be recast (or disbelieved) in light of such uncertain modern knowledge 

Take for example the evolution of the Universe; the big bang theory seems to have lost its novelty for some ‘knowledgeable’ experts, and now they are proclaiming ‘new’ insights that I predict with be provided to the public as new and exciting truths of science regarding the origin of the Universe. Such proclamations are untrue, but such experts will not admit this – in their view, speculation is what science does.  Contd…....

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