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Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 3

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November 20, 2012 Tags: Science & Worldviews
Science and the Bible: Intelligent Design, Part 3
Copyright 1977 by Sidney Harris, from American Scientist (November-December 1977). Source: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/science-light

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

Last time, I presented three Core Tenets of Intelligent Design. Today I present a final Core Tenet about something called “methodological naturalism.”

(4) Methodological naturalism (MN) is not a legitimate principle to employ, when it comes to understanding the origin(s) of objects exemplifying “specified complexity.” MN arbitrarily restricts science to finding only “natural” causes, when “intelligent” causes may actually be operative in some instances. Furthermore, MN is tantamount to “methodological atheism,” and to insist on it in each and every case leads to ontological (or metaphysical) naturalism—another word for atheism.

This might be the single most important tenet of ID, even more important than (2), that the universe itself, and some of the objects that compose it (both living and nonliving), exhibit abundant evidence of having been “designed.” This is also probably the most controversial of the tenets, and in order to see why, we need to understand the meaning of methodological naturalism.

A few years ago, when historian Ronald Numbers tried to determine who coined the term (“Science Without God,” p. 320 note 2), he tentatively credited it to philosopher Paul de Vries of Wheaton College, who had used it in a paper he delivered at an academic conference in 1983 and then published three years later (see the Print References). His article is not available on the internet, but one can get a good sense of his idea and what motivated him from a commentary written by Southern Baptist theologian Hal Poe and his former student Chelsea Mytyk. De Vries stressed that MN is simply a disciplinary method that makes no claims about God’s existence, while “metaphysical naturalism” is a wider philosophical position that denies a transcendent God. Many TEs endorse precisely this distinction, whereas I cannot name any ID author who likes it. This may indeed be the single most fundamental difference between TE and ID.

It’s worth noting in passing, however, that de Vries was not actually the first person to speak about “methodological naturalism.” Several authors since the early twentieth century have used the term, though not always with the same precise meaning. Perhaps the most significant of these was theologian Edgar Brightman, a student of Borden Parker Bowne, whose philosophy of religious “personalism” influenced some important modernist Protestants from the 1920s. Brightman discussed a form of MN on pp. 213-14 of A Philosophy of Religion (1940), a work that influenced Martin Luther King, Jr.

For our purposes, though, I’ll use the definition from an article I wrote with philosopher Robin Collins (who was at the time a Fellow of The Discovery Institute). We defined MN as “the belief that science should explain phenomena only in terms of entities and properties that fall within the category of the natural, such as by natural laws acting either through known causes or by chance.” This is to be distinguished from “ontological naturalism” (or “scientific naturalism”), “the claim that nature is all that there is and hence that there is no supernatural order above nature,” plus “the claim that all objects, processes, truths, and facts about nature fall within the scope of the scientific method.”

Ever since the Pre-Socratic philosophers, scientists and physicians have insisted on giving “natural” explanations for “natural” phenomena, leaving miracles explicitly out of science. Christians have done likewise, going back at least to the high Middle Ages if not earlier. It would be easy to cite many “big name” examples, including Johannes Kepler and Robert Boyle. Readers who want to know more about this are invited to consult the essays by Numbers and Davis & Collins in the appended list of references. I’ve also seen several more examples in an excellent essay on the topic of God and MN by a Christian philosopher (whose name does not appear anywhere in this column), but it would be inappropriate for me to cite it before it’s been published.

This doesn’t mean that no scientists believe in miracles; quite the contrary—probably tens of thousands of American scientists (including many TEs) believe that miracles are possible and that some have happened. They simply don’t believe that miracles can be part of scientific explanations. Even proponents of the YEC view don’t invoke miracles in what they call “operation science” (or “experimental science” or “ordinary science”), reserving them only for “origin science” (or “historical science”). (See my discussion of this distinction in "Galileo and the Garden, Part 2".)

According to mainstream science (including most advocates of TE), scientific explanations are “natural” explanations; they can’t invoke the “supernatural,” i.e., God or the gods or miracles. To some extent, I think that ID cannot entirely escape this problem, as I explained in my previous column. However, another important distinction poses “natural” causes vis-à-vis “intelligent” causes, which are not necessarily “supernatural.” We all know, for example, that skyscrapers don’t come about “naturally,” but they require “intelligent” causes to design them. The real question is whether any “natural” objects—such as galaxies, rocks, trees, or people—also require “intelligent” causes to design them and, if so, whether such causes should be part of any scientific explanations of those objects. Dembski’s idea of “specified complexity” and Behe’s idea of “irreducible complexity” come into play just at this point. ID proponents believe that the scientific toolbox needs to include “design,” an explanatory tool that includes rather than excludes intelligent causation as part of the explanation for how certain things came into existence. Their opponents think the scientific toolbox is large enough as is, without adding “design” to the set.

This is a difference of opinion about the nature of science itself. As a philosophical argument, it’s not likely to be settled by appeals to bacterial appendages or the Cambrian explosion or pseudogenes in humans and chimps. Prior to the Scientific Revolution, “design” was generally accepted or assumed within science. During the Scientific Revolution, a split began to take place, as some scientists argued that invoking design had no scientific benefit (design might explain why we have something, but now how it works), even though almost all of the early scientists were Christians who fully accepted the reality of a God who had, in fact, designed all of nature. By around the middle of the 19th century—coinciding with Darwin, who sought to make biology look more like physics and astronomy, disciplines in which unbroken “natural laws” already held sway—design largely disappeared from scientific discourse.

NOTE: Contrary to what is sometimes said, natural theology did not disappear after Darwin. Scientists themselves (not just philosophers and theologians) continued to contribute to it, right down to our own day (Polkinghorne is an obvious example). It’s simply that one no longer expects to find “God” or “design” (in the transcendent sense that is clearly meant by ID proponents) in scientific literature.

There are probably several reasons for this development, but I’m not confident that I understand them well enough to talk about it here. For our purposes, it’s enough just to state that ID proponents want to reverse this history. As William Dembski has written, “The scientific picture of the world championed since the Enlightenment is not just wrong but massively wrong.” What is the root problem? “Naturalism is the intellectual pathology of our age. It artificially constricts the life of the mind and shuts down inquiry into the transcendent.” ID, on the other hand, is “the only alternative” to naturalistic evolution, and in order for it to succeed we must “dump methodological naturalism. We need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of a full-blown metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism asserts that nature is self-sufficient. Methodological naturalism asks us for the sake of science to pretend that nature is self-sufficient.” (Intelligent Design, pp. 224, 120 and 119, his italics)

Advocates of ID challenge both forms of naturalism at every opportunity. In their view, MN is really nothing but “methodological atheism,” another term that rose to prominence in the debate about ID but also originated earlier. (It might have been introduced by sociologist Peter Berger in the late 1960s.) According to Phillip Johnson, the founder of the ID movement, “Methodological atheism and [the world view of] naturalism are identical.” (Reason in the Balance, note on p. 99, his italics) Thus, some ID thinkers—especially the evangelical philosophers Alvin Plantinga, Steven Meyer, and J. P. Moreland—have made the case for rejecting MN in favor of what Moreland calls “theistic science” or Plantinga calls “Augustinian science”. Another evangelical philosopher, Robert O’Connor, offers a vigorous defense of MN. Many other Christian scholars have weighed in on this; some examples are among the links assembled here. (In passing, let me note that most of these articles were published in the ASA’s journal. This belies the charge sometimes made by ID advocates that the ASA is unfriendly to their position; I think this simply reflects frustration that more ASA members have not found ID sufficiently persuasive.)

So—is MN in fact equivalent to atheism? That’s the rock bottom question here, and there simply is no consensus—neither among Christians nor even among atheists, for that matter. I defended it myself several years ago in a brief exchange with Phillip Johnson, who had written a letter in reply to my review of three ID books, including one of his, which ran as a cover story for Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

Let me give the final word to Loren Wilkinson of Regent College, whose short article, “Does Methodological Naturalism lead to Metaphysical Naturalism?” should not be missed:

“What is at issue, therefore, is not the fact of an elusive and ultimately unattainable scientific description [a complete scientific description of the origin and development of living things], but rather whether the ideal of such a description is incompatible with the loving, personal, creator God revealed to us in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Yet the ideal that complete understanding of a process excludes God from the picture contradicts our normal Christian practice. We regularly, for example, thank God for our food: rightly recognizing it as God’s provision. Yet we could, if we took the effort, trace the corn or tomato back through many manmade and ‘natural’ processes to its source. The practice of the ‘methodological atheism’ of going regularly to the store (or the garden) to obtain such food does not necessarily produce ‘metaphysical atheism’ in the eater, who still ought to thank God for his provision.” (Darwinism Defeated? pp. 169-70)

It’s your turn now to weigh in. I hope your comments will reveal some familiarity with the books and articles I’ve mentioned, but of course there are so many others that I failed to mention—in which case I hope you will introduce all of us to them. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to my American readers, and best wishes to all.

Looking Ahead

I’ll be back in about two weeks, to discuss some conclusions we might draw about ID.


Edward B. Davis & Robin Collins, “Scientific Naturalism,” in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, ed. Gary B. Ferngren (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), pp. 322-34.

William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology (InterVarsity Press, 1999.)

Paul de Vries, “Naturalism in the Natural Sciences,” Christian Scholar’s Review 15 (1986): 388-96.

Karl W. Giberson & Donald A. Yerxa, Species of Origins: America’s Search for a Creation Story (Roman & Littlefield, 2002). Readers seeking an accurate, objective description of ID and its reception should start with the (two) relevant chapters in this book, which has been enthusiastically endorsed by historian Ronald Numbers, theologian Alister McGrath, and mathematician William Dembski. It’s not an accident that I recommended it so strongly several months ago.

Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education (InterVarsity Press, 1998).

Phillip E. Johnson & Denis O. Lamoureux, eds., Darwinism Defeated? (Regent College Publishing, 1999). . The final chapter by Loren Wilkinson is a gem, but the whole book should be required reading for anyone with a series interest in the topic of this column. In addition to Wilkinson and the editors, contributors include several leading ID advocates (Meyer, Behe, Jonathan Wells, and Michael Denton) and (among others) two prominent critics of ID (Howard Van Till and Keith B. Miller).

Ronald L. Numbers, “Science Without God: Natural Laws and Christian Beliefs,” in When Science and Christianity Meet, ed. David C. Lindberg & Ronald L. Numbers (University of Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 265-85.

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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GJDS - #74987

December 5th 2012

Indeed, God “dialogue” with creation - not quite what is meant by the word. I have tried to get a deeper understanding of creation for many years, and I am still re-wrting the verse that may convey the meaning I think is found in the Bible. I think that Gen 1, John, and other sections, are conveying a ‘oneness’ to word-creation-movement. We are so used to thinking of the ‘background’ of time and space, that unless we venture into quantum physics, we cannot envisage ‘movement’ as itself as an act of creation (that is without the notion of time and space). For what it is worth, one version of my attempt is the verse shown below (space between lines is from this window):

Through destructive chaotic space                 

Moves the Prince of Grace                            

Mighty forces obstruct His way                    

With extended arm he holds them at bay

As the Word traverses to create                     

All calms to a peace                                       

As if extending an embrace,                          

To hold Him to that place.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #74988

December 5th 2012

Eddie, and GJDS,

Thank you for the references. 

While this may come as a shock to you I have been thoroughly educated in this area of history.  Even though I did not have any of these books at hand I do have the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.

Under Filioque the entry concludes with this statement.

“Since the time of Photius, a strong opponent, the filioque has been a central point of the controversy between the E. and W. Churches.  The Orthodox point to the original creed omitting it and for a single ‘fount of divinity’ (pege theotetos, viz. the Father) within the Godhead.  W. theologians emphasize instead the commonality of functions between the Father and the Son; but there are indications that the E. position is being increasingly recognized (e.g…..” 

I believe that this supports my position.

A word to the (hopefully) wise.  “Judge not that you be not judged.”  The more you accuse me of being incompetent, the more your competency is brought into question.


I hope that we can agree that God the Father is rational in that the Father creates through the Logos.  This being the case the Universe must logically must have a rational form and structure. 

According the analysis of Wilcox Darwinian evolution is random, rather than rational.  Based these statements there are three posibilities

1) If Darwinism is correct, then a rational God did not create the universe, so it must be selfcreated.

2) Darwinism is correct, and God, its Creator is not rational.

3) Darwinian understanding of evolution is incorrect, because evolution is NOT basically random, so both God and the universe are rational, based on the Logos. 

The position that Wilcox seems to accept, but I would reject although it could be a God of the gaps standby, is: Darwinism is right and we do not know how God used it to create.  

As you should know I accept the third position, which seems to me to be the only reasonable theological point of view. 

If you and others do not not want to accept my resolution of the evolution problem, that is up to you, but please do it on its merits rather than some preconceived position.    

GJDS - #74989

December 5th 2012


I have acknowledged that this is a point which has contributed to the West-East break in Christianity; my point has been that there were many factors that lead eventually to the split, and the background to the filioque aspect.

I think our differences stem from the application of the trinity by you to discussions on evolution. I understand your insistence on purpose in natural processes, and I have pointed out that purpose in nature has been recognised for some time. The scientific outlook does not use ‘purpose’ as part of its method, so I assume you may place this within your metaphysical outlook.

On your other points, I suggest we agree to dissagree.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74994

December 5th 2012


Your response has been duly noted.

I apologize in part because my response was directed primarily against Eddie.  However I think that if you look carefully you will find that I did say that the Filioque was not the only reason for the split, but the primary THEOLOGICAL reason for the split and the reason it remains.  Since theology was the topic we were discussing there was no reason to note the cultural reasons for the split of two important Commions. 

You mentioned that scientists accept natural selection as a filter, which is good.  Much better that what I had heard except someone did make that suggestion about a year ago on this blog.  This is a step in the right direction, but there are two questions.  What are the criteria for this filtering?  Since a filter is passive and life is active, how can natural selection as filter be an adequate understanding of the natural selection process?

Maybe I am out of step with conservative Christianity, but I was raised to believe that good Christians are good stewards of our own lives and of all that God has created.  If this is the case I do not see myself or members of my faith standing around doing nothing or speculating while humans are crucifying our planet. 

We need to find an answer soon and to deny that there is no answer or say there is nothing we can do denies the goodness of God and the fact that God gave humanity dominion over the earth.        

Jon Garvey - #74997

December 5th 2012


You originally started responding to Wilcox by acknowledging the importance of his distinguishing three possible things people mean by “Darwinism”, because people often confuse the three.

Now you’re doing just that by conflating them and apparently suggesting he believes in random evolution, when his whole point was to reject purposelessness and affirm a biblical view of God’s wise and sovereign creation.

I think most of us here are now pretty familiar with your solution of the evolution problem, and are assessing it on its merits rather than on preconceptions. But that has nothing to do with the points I developed above.

Your objection to Wilcox was that he maintained the sovereignty of God, claiming that it’s an Old Testament doctrine. You haven’t dealt with the New Testament quotations I gave you describing the Kingship and sovereignty of Father and Son, nor with the linguistic equivalence in the Bible of dabar and logos, and you haven’t given an answer to the question of how God can possibly create ex nihilo apart from divine fiat, or what place “dialogue” has in evolution.

And you certainly haven’t demonstrated any understanding of Reformed theology when you paint cartoon-pictures of Calvin’s nuanced teaching and expect us to take them seriously. Can you have read the Institutes without noticing his commitment to covenant theology - for goodness sake, it was the Reformers who virtually invented the term. It’s not conservative Christianity with which you seem out of step, but two thousand years of the apostolic faith.

Eddie - #74998

December 5th 2012


You do not understand what I was objecting to.  I did not disagree with you about the role of the filioque phrase in dividing East from West.  Indeed, some of the sources I mentioned discuss that in detail.  What I was objecting to was a number of other things you said along the way, things which indicate a broader confusion about the Trinity, Greek and Hebrew terms, and in general theological language about creation.  I’ve already noted a number of things in this line and won’t repeat them.

Sometimes your confusion extends to self-contradiction.  In 74881 you wrote, against Jon:

“First of all there is no evidence of such a thing as the Godhead.”

But now, in your most recent post, you quote, in another connection, a reference source which says:

“Since the time of Photius, a strong opponent, the filioque has been a central point of the controversy between the E. and W. Churches.  The Orthodox point to the original creed omitting it and for a single ‘fount of divinity’ (pege theotetos, viz. the Father) within the Godhead.” 
Yet you don’t object to your source when it takes for granted that there is “such a thing as the Godhead.”  The inconsistency is blatant.
You also accused Jon (74945) of “modalism” for using the term “Godhead.”  The charge is nonsense.  The term is of long standing in English-speaking Christianity, and no one has been accused of “modalism” for using it.  Here, for example, is a use from the 19th-century Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology:
“TRINITY:  the theological term for the union of the Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in one Godhead.”
and from the same source:
“Again, this doctrine [of the Trinity] is intimated in passages which teach the Divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, as compared with others which expressly state the unity of the Godhead.”
From such uses we can can see that “Godhead” (which is etymologically related to “God-hood”) means “the divine being as a whole” or “the divine nature”.  Christianity teaches that the divine being is trinitarian in nature, that the Godhead is trinitarian in nature. 
I would have thought that you would have learned about the Godhead in seminary.  And sheesh, can’t you recall, at this time of year, “veiled in flesh the Godhead see”?  By Charles Wesley, the brother of John, founder of your own Christian tradition? 
In any case, I would have thought you would take the time to look up the term before saying that there is no such thing, and before saying false things about it.
Finally, if the closest thing you have in your home library to a specialized source on early church or Eastern church doctrine is a general dictionary on world religions, that worries me.  I get the strong impression that there is a great deal of improvisation in your theologizing.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #75030

December 6th 2012


It seems that you have no idea about what Jon and I have been discussing. Therefore for you and others who also might be confused I will give a synopsis.

It began with the article by David Wilcox in which Wilcox claimed that the only valid Biblical model of how God created the universe was that of an absolute monarch who rules by fiat and used the Calvinist Westminster Confession to back up this statement.

I took exception to this claim. My main point, which possibly I did not expres as clearly as I might have, was that the Kingly, or what is also called the Monarchist model of God, is not the only Christian model of God, but is not the the dominant model of God in the West which is the Egalitarian Augustinian model, while the Monarchian model is dominant in the Eastern Church.

Now where I hope we are is the recognition that both the Kingly-Monarchical model of God and the Egalitarian model of God are both acceptable as Christian points of view. On the other hand it seems that Jon prefers the Monarchical which fits his theology, while I prefer the the Augustinian model for my own theological reasons.

The question then is not which is wrong in the sense that one is Christian and the other is not, but which one makes better sense concerning the world as we know it through the Logos. Thus the question is not how does one make the Creation fit one’s theology, but how does the Creation speak to the whole of the Biblical point of view, but in particular the Logos Jesus Christ, through Whom the Universe came into being. It is in this view that I find the Augustinian model of God most effective and I believe that this is the reason why modern science came into existence in the West rather than in the East or in the Muslim or Confucian worlds.

Now the Godhead controversy. Part of the problem is that it appears to be an antiquated word, which means it is prone to misunderstanding. As Jon explained it to me using Col 2:9 I could accept it as a technical term and the “Divine Nature,” but please note that modern Bibles do not use the term Godhead.

You noted however that the article in the Oxford Dictionary used the world Godhead. What you did not note that it used that term to define a view which I do not share, that is the Eastern Monarchical Trinity.

“for a single ‘fount of divinity’ (pege theotetos, viz. the Father) within the Godhead.”

This definition of the Trinity claims that the unity of God is based solely on the Father and hence the name Monarchical. It also suggests in my understanding that the Father is the only real God and the Son and the Spirit derivative, which thus absolutely subordinate to the Father.  This is what you suggested earlier when you suggeted that the Logos did not have an independent existence, but did exactly what the Creator instructed Him to do.  

On the other hand for the Augustinian Trinity, the unity of God is found not in the power of the Father, but in the Love of the Holy Spirit Who unites the Father and the Son, and God with humanity, and humans with each other. (See John 17:22-26)

Therefore as I understand Augustine the unity of the Trinity is not based the position of the Persons within a theoretical Godhead, but in their unified and loving relationships with each other as the Trinity performs its tasks of creation and salvation, which are different, but still closely related. The God Who creates and rules is the God Who saves.


Eddie - #75035

December 6th 2012


I appreciate the level and expository tone of your current post, which makes me sorry to say that I disagree with most of your views.

First, I know exactly what you were discussing.  I read the article by Wilcox.

Your statement about Augustine and an “egalitarian model” is bizarre.  We’re talking about theology here, not political theory.

Your discussion of monarchical versus egalitarian is misleading, if what you are really talking about—as you seem to be—is the difference between the East and West over the filioque.  I have the strong sense that your knowledge of that controversy is paper-thin.  I suggest you read the Sherrard book which I referenced above.  After reading it, I suspect that you will be embarrassed at some of the things you have said, not only about the filioque but about both Eastern and Western theology generally.

The emphasis on creation through the Logos is extremely common in Eastern theology. Here is an article by Florovsky, one of the leading scholars of Orthodoxy:


In the article, you will find (a) that creation through the Logos is stressed in the East; (b) that there is considerable agreement beween East and West on creation—Augustine is many times cited favorably; (c) that Florovsky freely uses the term “Godhead.”

You will also find other bona fide scholarly articles on the internet, if you use Google for combination such as “logos / Gregory of Nyssa” “logos / Maximus the Confessor” etc.  You will soon discover that the East/West polarization you are making is sophomoric and that the relations between Western and Eastern theology are much more complex and much more fluid than you imagine.

Regarding the reference passage you gave on “Godhead” you objected to the overemphasis on the Father, but not (at that point) to the term “Godhead.”  In any case, Western writers use the term Godhead (or rather, Greek terms translated by that notion) just as often as Eastern writers do.  That’s how it found itself in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”—a Western, not an Eastern, Christmas carol.

It is certainly not the Eastern view that “the Father is the only real God”—see my above comments your oversimplifications of Eastern thought.

I do not recall saying what you have imputed to me about the Logos.  Whatever I did say, I suspect you are taking out of context.  If you can find the spot where I said it, I will have a look at it.

Finally, what you are missing from Jon’s comments is this:  He is making a point about God understood in relationship to the created world.  You are talking about the internal relationships between the Persons of the Trinity.  You don’t understand what Jon is saying about Wilcox because you are substituting your questions for Jon’s questions and Wilcox’s questions.

You’ve got to get with the program.  The question is whether God (taken as a whole—all the Persons, in whatever internal relations they may have) is in control of nature, and hence in control of what happens in evolution, or whether he gives nature “freedom” to “do its own thing.”  Jon approves of Wilcox because he affirms divine control, whereas many TEs waffle on that question.  If you don’t understand this, you don’t understand a good number of the posts that Jon has written here over the past year.     

Jon Garvey - #75034

December 6th 2012

Roger, have you actually read any Augustine?

I ask because his writing on creation, and on everything else really, majors on the omnipotence of God and his sovereignty over all things, even the existence of evil. One can read that in the Confessions, in his works on Genesis, in the Pelagian corpus…

Then again, the supposed disagreements between Augustine and Gregory on the “monarchy” of the Father, don’t stand up to scrutiny. For example:

 For the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son. And according to this manner we can now understand that the Son is not only said to have been sent because “the Word was made flesh,” but therefore sent that the Word might be made flesh, and that He might perform through His bodily presence those things which were written; that is, that not only is He understood to have been sent as man, which the Word was made but the Word, too, was sent that it might be made man; because He was not sent in respect to any inequality of power, or substance, or anything that in Him was not equal to the Father; but in respect to this, that the Son is from the Father, not the Father from the Son; for the Son is the Word of the Father, which is also called His wisdom. What wonder, therefore, if He is sent, not because He is unequal with the Father, but because He is “a pure emanation (manatio) issuing from the glory of the Almighty God?” (de Trinitate Bk4)


 The Word of God, then, the only-begotten Son of the Father, in all things like and equal to the Father, God of God, Light of Light, Wisdom of Wisdom, Essence of Essence, is altogether that which the Father is, yet is not the Father, because the one is Son, the other is Father. And hence He knows all that the Father knows; but to Him to know, as to be, is from the Father, for to know and to be is there one. And therefore, as to be is not to the Father from the Son, so neither is to know. (Ibid Bk15)

 And this Word can never have anything false, because it is unchangeable, as He is from whom it is. For “the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do. (Ibid)

 It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator, the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity—to wit, the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.(Ibid)

For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.(Ibid)

And further, should any one be inclined to boast, not indeed of his works, but of the freedom of his will, as if the first merit belonged to him, this very liberty of good action being given to him as a reward he had earned, let him listen to this same preacher of grace, when he says: “For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His own good pleasure;” and in another place: “So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Ibid)

Just a random selection from his book on the Trinity alone!

GJDS - #75052

December 6th 2012

Reply to Roger #74994

The point of this dialogue is to exchange views and perhaps understand other various and differing points of view - in this spirit I will attempt to contine this dialogue with you.

I am not interested in the history of the split between the Western and Eastern parts of the institutionalised Christian organisation. On the theological issues regarding the Trinity, I think Eddie and Jon have provided sufficient information and I will not add to that.

On natural selection and neo-Darwinian thnking; the controversy continues. My main aim in this series was to point out, as a scientist, that this notion is riddled with uncertainty and has a long history of change and confusion. Consequently, some people have taken it to be ‘the foundation of science’ (and I dissagree profoundly with this) while other have continued to question it as an inadequate concept. I do not think your views will add much to this controversy, but that is your position. I have made my position VERY clear and sufficiently detailed - the Darwinian notion is inadequate. I leave it at that as it is not the field I am acitve in.

On ‘doing something’ to take care of the environment and our planet - I have spend over 20 years researching better and cleaner ways to produce enrgy from fossil fuels. Hopefully my work may be commercialised and then I and others would be in a position to see if I had made a useful contribution to a better world. Unitl then, I like many others, will try to do my best. The rest Roger, is truly in God’s hands - we human beings are too prone to err, argue, indulge in our intellectual fancies - so instead I prefer to hope that God may help us.

If you are actively engaged in work for the betterment of this planet, why not say so, instead of this confused and confusing theological-evolutionary-philosophical discussion you constantly indulge in, which frankly has gotten you nowhere.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75072

December 7th 2012


I commend and thank you for your work and hope that others will make good use of it.

As for the other I agree that this problem is very complicated and difficult.  I agree with your view that the Darwinian view is indequate. 

My problem is that you reject my efforts to clarify and analyze the problem while at the same time claiming it is outside your area of competence.   

How can you say that something is wrong without having some concept of what is right?

If you think that it is beyond the ability of humans to understand God’s handiwork, which seems to be your position, then that is what you need to say. 

GJDS - #75103

December 8th 2012

Reply ro Roger #75072

Roger, I do not think you understand my position; indeed I think you do not understand your own position. However, in view of your insistence on making comments on everything, from your unique outlook on Orthodox Christianity, to what seesm to be your very unique take on evolurtion, I again ask from you: “What is it that you have done that puts you in a position to make the outlandish comments that you do so often in this blog?”

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75075

December 7th 2012


The issue is not whether I understand Augustine properly or not.  The question is which traditional view of the Trinity/God, the Monarchical or Egalitarian, is better for understanding Creation and Evolution. 

Now I understand that Wilcox said that the Monarchial view is the only “Hebrew” (OT?) view of creation and you seem to say that this is the only valid Christian view.  As I have tried to point out, this rejects the Filoque tradition of the Western Church, so please do not criticize me, but criticize the Western tradition, which many are doing these days.     

Now to address the quotations form Augustine that you quote.  First of all there are two basic aspects of the Trinity, the Three and the One.  The Three are the deifferences or distinctions between the three Persons of the Trinity.  I think that almost everyone agreed on these which is the point you make.

The primary problem is the One.  The Monarchical view makes the Power of the Father the basis of the Unity of the Trinity, while the Egalitatian view make the Fellowhip of the Holy Spirit the basis of Unity for the Trinity, God is Love.

Now there is some basis for each of these positions in Scripture, the fundamental quetion in my opinion is subordination.  The debate over the Trinity in the early Church seemed to resolve the issue of the equality of the persons in factor to the view that they are all equal.

This concept of Three equal distinct almighty Persons without saying these are three Gods is difficult humanly to comprehend, but if we really believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each completely God, that they all have all of the qualities of God, then they are all equal.  The Augustinian model affirms this, the Monarchian implies subordination and inequality. 

 He was not sent in respect to any inequality of power, or substance, or anything that in Him was not equal to the Father;   

Here Augustine is affirming that the Son is absolute equal to the Father as in Col 2:9


the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity—to wit, the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.(Ibid)    

Here Augustine is affirming that God is the Trinity, and as the Trinity created the universe, not that Father is the Trinity. 

 For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.(Ibid)

 Again here God is the Trinity, not the Father.

The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, but collectively and separately they are all God. 

Eddie - #75084

December 7th 2012

“Now I understand that Wilcox said that the Monarchi[c]al view is the only “Hebrew” (OT?) view of creation”

Wilcox was speaking of the monarchy of God over nature, not the monarchy of one part of the Trinity over the others.

Jon said this to you right at the beginning of this discussion, a week ago (and umpteen exchanges ago):

“The mode of creation is in mind, not a division within the Godhead.”  (#74871, Nov. 30)

Why can you not understand such a basic distinction?

To emphasize:

Wilcox’s article does not champion any particular model of the Trinity.

Wilcox’s article does not even contain the word “Trinity.”

Wilcox’s article lays out three different ways of relating God to Nature, three different ways of envisioning God’s creation and sustenance of Nature.  The notion of God as “King” came up in that context, not in the context of the internal economy of the Trinity.

Check the article for yourself:


It is you, Roger, who keep dragging the discussion onto the subject of the Trinity, the difference between East and West, Augustinian egalitarianism, etc.  Wilcox was not discussing these things.  Jon was not discussing these things.  

You seem to be bound and determined to turn all discussions here, no matter where they start, into discussions of your own hobby-horses; often it’s “dualism”; other times it’s “ecology”; here it’s “egalitarian understandings of Trinity.”  Are you aware that this is your dialogical habit, to alter the subject to drive the discussion toward your own interests?  Or do you do it so unconsciously that you do not perceive that you are doing it?  And in either case, what can we do to persuade you to stop doing it?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75094

December 8th 2012

Eddie and whoever,

The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity is the Christian understanding of God.  If you want to understand Who God is, how God works, and what God does, you must start with the three Persons of the Trinity.  That is the way that good theology works.  That is not my doing, that is the way it is.

Now I understand that you and others do not appreciate my way of thinking, but you need to offer a better alternative, a better solution.  So far you have not, but keep trying.  Maybe you will find one.   

Eddie - #75096

December 8th 2012


You have completely avoided all the facts and the entire argument presented in my previous post.  Your motherhood statement about the Trinity is no reply.  But I have come to the sad conclusion that you simply do not have enough theological understanding to properly address the subject of Creation, and further, that you are incapable of perceiving the dialogical habits which cause you to so often end up in conflict with rather than in agreement with people.  So I will not prolong the discussion further.

Have a Merry Christmas.  Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #75145

December 10th 2012


I did overlook your statement about on the monarchical model of the Trinity.  I apologize.

You had a choice: 1) Admit that the Egalitarian Model of the Trinity exists but say that it is a mistake.  I found at least one article on the internet that took this position.  or 2) Pretend that the Augustinian Egalitarian model of the Trinity never existed, that it is a figment of my imagination.  Unfortunately for you the Filioque controversy exposes that lie.  However you took that position by trying to show that Estern theeology is the same as Western theology.  That shows you how much you know about thwe Eastern Church.      

There is an infinite distance between God and creation, and this is a distance of natures

.The best example of this is perhaps the sentence from the work of Father Florovsky indicates the dualistic nature of Greek thought.  The way they bridge the infinite gap between God and nature is to use God’s supernatural word to impose order on Creation.      

For Augustine the gap was not so wide.  He famously claimed that humans have a need for God to make them whole.  He made God the Holy Spirit, Agape-Love, the way that the Persons of the Trinity are One and the way God and the humans become one.  

God so LOVED the world that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life.     


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