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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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Ted Davis - #74828

November 29th 2012

I decided to create ex nihilo a few hours to respond to Eddie’s challenge in #74735. I can’t do this for every such challenge, whether from Eddie or anyone else. I already respond to more comments than I probably should, but I very much appreciate the interest and response of my readers so I do what I can. In coming weeks I will of necessity respond significantly less often, for a combination of reasons that I won’t enumerate, except to say that one of them involves the fact that this series on “Science and the Bible” is about to conclude naturally after having run much longer than originally planned.

Eddie challenged me to “name me one biologist-TE, in the ASA or anywhere else, who has said that in his or her personal view, God guides or steers evolution.” I responded quickly with the first example I always think of—Asa Gray, the first post-Darwinian TE in the USA and a major scientist of his day. Not a trivial example, but Eddie basically trivialized my reply. So, I’ll answer him with some contemporary examples and then drop out of that conversation. I’ll leave it to readers to adjudicate for themselves whether my response is fully adequate and to the point, but I am convinced that it is nothing less.

Let open with an epigram from a British psychologist who has been very influential on many evangelical scientists:

”God, to the theist, while being the cause of everything, is in the scientific sense the explanation of nothing. Scientific knowledge in itself no more proves the existence of God than it disproves it.”

Malcolm Jeeves, The Scientific Enterprise and Christian Faith

This doesn’t qualify as an answer to Eddie, but it will help readers understand the answers I will offer. A central point of my presentation of TE relates to this quotation: Most (maybe more than most) of the TEs I am presenting do not believe that Christians should do science differently from other scientists. They all believe that science is not the sole way of acquiring genuine knowledge and that science fits into a larger picture of truth that doesn’t come solely from science. Thus, “random” processes in science (and “science” here is not limited simply to evolution) are subject to multiple philosophical and theological interpretations that are themselves not part of science per se. One can of course fairly dispute that approach, and partly the ID/TE conversation is about that dispute. But, one cannot fairly expect advocates of TE to present an alternative form of evolutionary biology when they don’t object to  the science itself, given their overall approach. The kinds of statements that Eddie challenged me to find are (from the TE point of view) not scientific statements; they are philosophical or theological in character, and much more likely to be dealt with explicitly by scholars in the humanities whose views are then embraced by scientists, who might or might not discuss those views explicitly themselves.

Having said this, I hope that my readers will now understand more fully why I think that Eddie’s restriction on “biologist-TEs” is arbitrary and unhelpful, as I’ve said before. I could list many leading TE thinkers who are all probably better known than the people I’ll cite below, but none of them comes out of biology.  In addition to Robert Russell or Owen Gingerich, whom I’ve mentioned several times before, I could (e.g.) talk about Cecelia Deane-Drummond or Jurgen Multmann or Peter Enns or Keith Ward or Joseph Zycinski or Niels Gregersen or even Pope Benedict XVI. They don’t all conceive of the divine role in evolution in exactly the way Eddie is calling for, whether or not they use either of his key words (guides or steers), but they all believe in divine guidance of evolution in some way, and in some cases perhaps close enough to Eddie’s words to count.  (Russell counts fully, and Eddie agrees, but he’s still not a biologist.) However, none of them is a biologist so I’ll leave them out. They would all count for understanding TE, but Eddie wants a narrow set of people. I’ll stick with the ASA or its close proximity, in keeping with Eddie’s challenge, and I’ll offer two genuine biologists (twice the number he asked me for) and two more people that ought to count as well, even though technically they aren’t biologists.

Eddie - #74835

November 29th 2012

Thanks, Ted, for all this.

I did not meant to “trivialize” Asa Gray!  I think he is a great example for your point!  But he lived 150 years ago!  What I was driving at was the “sea-change” that would allow Gray to speak without embarrassment of God as “leading” evolution along beneficial lines (a view which Darwin rejected, as Lamoureux also does today), whereas words like “leading” “guiding” “steering” etc. are studiously avoided by contemporary TE leaders.  Even when they are confronted with such terms directly, they squirm rather than say yes or no to them.  There has to be a reason for that uneasiness.  It’s that reason I’m trying to dig out.

Jeeves’s quotation is useful:  God is the “cause” of everything, but the “explanation” of nothing.  Well, if God steers evolution in certain directions, and it wouldn’t have got there without such steering, then he would be part of the explanation.  (I’m not concerned with the question whether the steering is scientifically detectable or not, but simply with whether any biologist-TE will affirm that it exists.)  On the other hand, if God is the “cause” of everything only in the sense that he creates the first matter and energy and then sustains natural laws, then no special action of his would be the “explanation” of why the first cell formed, or why mammals came into being, etc.  There would be no explanation beyond chance and natural laws.  And my sense is that most biologist-TEs think that chance and natural laws are all you need.  God may be the “remote” cause of every event, but he is the “local” cause of none.  He delegates local causality to chance and natural laws.  That’s what I think most biologist-TEs believe.  

I add that I don’t demand the actual words “leading” or “steering”—I just want to see the notion that those words represent.  “Special divine action” would be OK, as would “intervention,” “miracle,” “local personal action of God”—I’m not particular about the words, as long as I have a clear conception of God “pushing” or “pulling” something (however slightly or subtly) in a direction that it would not (if natural laws alone were operating) otherwise go.

Finally, I add that it is noble and generous of you to undertake this effort, Ted, on behalf of your biologist colleagues, but frankly, I think they should be giving you a heck of a lot more help.  The fact that you are doing this, rather than they, is in itself very puzzling.

Ted Davis - #74829

November 29th 2012

Here then are my first two answers.

ONE: “God could guide the evolutionary process by mutating some gamete or even adding new information to the gametes, thereby resulting in one organism giving rise to significantly different offspring.”

Robin Collins’ chapter in Keith Miller’s book (http://biologos.org/resources/books/perspectives-on-an-evolving-creation), p. 497. Collins isn’t a “biologist-TE,” but he knows as much or more about the underlying issues than perhaps any “biologist-TE” I could name. He also uses Eddie’s key word “guide” in exactly the context Eddie specifies, and he does so in a book that is mostly ASA authors (Collins himself is not an ASA member.)

TWO: ”[Richard] Bube speaks of ‘recognizing beyond the scientific description the activity of God.’ This implies that God directs and determines the outcomes of the lawful events of nature. He governs nature. However, [Stephen] Meyer does not seem to allow for that. In his postscript, he differentiates ‘Potentia Ordinaria’ and ‘potentia Absoluta,’ but even here, the ‘potentia Ordinaria’ is viewed as sustaining only, not as directive governance. Thus, nature remains semi-autonomous, and Meyer’s view remains semi-deistic, i.e., the form which I previously termed ‘legal deism’ (Wilcox, 1986). Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes (Wilcox, 1987).Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes (Wilcox, 1987). Unlike [Stephen] Meyer’s view, theism denies autonomy to natural law, even in its direction. God is free to make and direct the world any way he likes. He can not be boxed to fit neatly into our debates—or kept from mucking about in our laboratories. Theistic evolution (governed cause) is a possibility, and so are theistic singularities (governed absence of cause). In both cases, equally, God is the Primary Causal Agent!!”

David Wilcox, whose letter (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1994/PSCF9-94Wilcox.html  I quote here, is a biologist (population genetics). As a former ASA president, he’s also an influential voice among evangelical TEs. Clearly he qualifies as a “biologist-TE.” Neither of Eddie’s key words is used, but we do have a God who “directs and determines” the outcomes we describe in terms of natural laws and who “governs nature.” Equivalent to Eddie’s words, I would say. I lack time to investigate whether Wilcox’ analysis of Steve Meyer’s position (in the cited place) is fair and accurate; I leave that as an exercise for my readers and I don’t plan to comment on it myself. It’s Wilcox’ own position that I’m presenting in response to Eddie’s challenge. Although I could explain in depth the conceptual background of Wilcox’ use of the term “deism” in this context, that’s another topic I must forego for lack of time, as helpful as that conversation might perhaps be.

For more from Wilcox, see http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1987/PSCF12-87Wilcox.html. I especially want to emphasize this passage: “The concept that God is King over all natural events naturally includes mutations. Although unpredictable by us, they are still completely obedient responses of nature to God’s providential commands, part of what He is doing as He builds His kingdom. ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD’ (Proverbs 16:33). Mutations may or may not appear to be of utility to human observers, but that is not surprising. We do not often know the mind and purposes of God.” As before, we find neither key word, but equivalent language is evident. Wilcox doesn’t explicitly say that this is his own view here, but a careful read of the full article leaves the reader with a very strong impression to that this is his view, and I know it to be his view from knowing the author.

Eddie - #74840

November 29th 2012

Thanks, Ted.
I don’t question Robin Collins’s understanding of the issues.  But he says that God “could guide” mutations, without indicating whether, in his belief, God “does guide” mutations.  But even supposing he believes the latter, I’m looking for a biologist-TE who will say “does guide.”
Regarding Wilcox, I’ll ignore the views he imputes to Meyer (which strike me as confused about what Meyer argues) —and to Bube, and concentrate on what appear to be his own views.
He says “God directs and determines the outcomes of the lawful events of nature.”  Now, the first part of the sentence sounds like steering or guiding.  But what about the second part?  The “lawful events of nature” don’t involve “steering” or “guiding.”  When a rock falls off a cliff, we don’t say that anyone is “steering” the rock downward; we say that it falls in accord with the law of gravity.  When a chlorine atom strips an electron from a potassium atom, we don’t say that God is “leading” the electron from one atom to the other.  We say that the laws of electro-chemical attraction (albeit laws created and sustained by God) compel the electron to move.  No scientist would speak of guiding or steering in such cases.  Why then would one speak of guiding or steering evolution, if one believes that it, too, is governed by natural laws?  Wilcox’s language is not theoretically clear.
Wilcox writes:  “Theistic evolution by definition —note that he sets himself up as the dispenser of the official definition, without consulting any other TEs who might define TE differently—means the directed realization of God’s eternal decress by his absolute control of all natural processes.”  Very interesting.  I have never heard a definition that precise offered before.  I would guess that many of today’s TEs, including Lamoureux, would not like the word “directed.”  But let’s go with it for the moment.  If God is in control of all natural processes, can he override their normal operation?  Does he “direct” evolution by doing so?  Or can he “direct” evolution while remaining within the boundaries of natural processes?  I need a clearer picture.   
I note, having been admonished by you not to throw around the “deist” charge, that this is exactly what Wilcox does here.
I certainly agree with Wilcox (and so does Meyer, and so does every ID proponent) when he says that God can make and direct the world any way he likes; but the point is that most biologist-TEs appear to believe that what God “likes” is for origins to occur through natural laws.  So what does Wilcox believe that God “likes” when it comes to origins?  To act exclusively through secondary causes, or to act directly in some cases?  It would be so easy for Wilcox to say; but he doesn’t.
As for the other quotation you give from Wilcox, I’m sorry to say that I don’t find its language clear at all, either on the scientific or the theological level.  As I said above, I don’t care what words are used, but I don’t find even the concept of steering, guiding, etc. unambiguously present here.  I’ll take your word about Wilcox’s private view, but if TEs want to be understood by the public, they are going to have to learn to write more explicitly.
Jon Garvey - #74855

November 30th 2012

Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes (Wilcox, 1987). 

That is indeed interesting, Eddie, and reading Ted’s other quotes from Wilcox I’d be inclined to be more sympathetic to his position than you seem to be, especially when he talks about the providential oversight of mutations, which is a clearly teleological view of evolution.

What strikes me is not so much that he has exceeded his authority with this definition, but that by it he seems to have defined many prominent ECs out of theistic evolution altogether.

Eternal decrees, directed, absolute control, of all natural processes.

The first, of course, leaves uncertain the exact nature of God’s decrees with specific regard to nature, but would strongly suggest, for example, that God intended man kind, since we do know from Scripture that it was his eternal decree both that Christ should die for men and that believers were included in him before the foundation of the world. Personally, at least, the oft-posited idea that God was happy to interact with man as the first intelligent species to evolve fortuitously seems inconsistent with that.

But the other three terms leave little wriggle room, and are thoroughly biblical theologically and thoroughly theistic philosophically. But are they compatible with the challenge made to me here by a prominent Biologian about whether God is really responsible for the details of viral pathology? Are they compatible with the columnists who have spoken here of “egregious errors” in genetics, or the series confirming that much DNA is, indeed, junk? Does God’s absolute control of all natural processes produce junk? (I’d say it might in theory - but then one must affirm a creation theology incorporating it in God’s decrees, rather than deny God’s control of it.) Does Wilcox’s definition of “absolute control” leave any room at all room for the post-process “freedom of nature” that has been the focus of my contentions on BioLogos for well over a year (to which I have never received the slightest answer, I suspect because separated from process theology it collapses into incoherence)?

Checking the search facility, I see David Wilcox quoted here, but (unless I’m mistaken) not writing here. So does that mean:

(a) That Wilcox is out on a limb in TE with his definition?

(b) That BioLogos is out on a limb in TE by its apparent wholesale departure from his definition?

(c) That theistic evolution is a Humpty Dumpty term that means whatever anyone chooses it to mean?

Eddie - #74863

November 30th 2012

Jon (and also Ted):
I’ve had a look at the Wilcox article.
Wilcox’s position is clearer in the context of the larger article than it was from Ted’s quotations.  The quotations couldn’t do justice to Wilcox’s overall position, which was not set forth in answer to my question, but for another purpose.  I don’t blame Ted for this, of course.  Nor, I hope, will Ted blame me for not immediately going back to the original article, since he had given me a fistful of other material (from Miller, Collins, and Berry) to deal with, and I can’t read everything at once.
Looking at Wilcox’s position now, I agree that his position seems to put God in the driver’s seat much more clearly than the TEs that you and I have been complaining about.  I still have a number of criticisms of Wilcox’s article, where I think it lacks theoretical clarity regarding some important questions, and I may address those in some subsequent posts that I’ve started, but at this point I think it is more important to first agree with you (and with Ted) that this is a much more promising understanding of theistic evolution than we have generally seen on this site.
The interesting sociological question is how Wilcox’s view came to be drowned out by the “God is no tyrant, but loves nature so much he sets it free” notion that seems to be prominent in TE circles these days.  I’m tempted to guess that in pre-ID days, theistic evolution had a stronger Calvinist base, and that since then the Wesleyans, Pietists, etc. have moved in and “taken over”; such a takeover would be made easier by the fact that, once ID came along, many Calvinists, including some who accepted evolution, could find a natural home there.  But that is doubtless too simplistic an analysis of the religious forces at work.
I’m looking at the date of the article—1987.  That’s pre-Behe, pre-ID.  In the context in which it was written, the TE/ID combat did not yet exist.  Wilcox’s target, then, would have been the various forms of creationism of the day.  Certainly many of the charges he lays against the creationists would not apply to a number of leading ID proponents today, many of whom have spoken against exactly the same evils in theology that Wilcox has spoken against.
As for your final question, I would say that (b) and (c) each contain part of the truth.  Indeed, (c) is almost inevitable, given the general nature of both “theistic” and “evolution”:  people have a great deal of freedom to play around with various possible meanings of the phrase.  As for (b), Ted would know past understandings of “theistic evolution” better than I, but if Wilcox’s understanding was a very common one back in 1987, then, yes, that would suggest that TE, at least in its main public expressions, has moved in a new direction since then.
Ted Davis - #74867

November 30th 2012

I appreciate your further thoughts here, Eddie, very much. I didn’t think you were giving credit to authors where it was due. I hope that you will indeed explore a wider range of TE authors than those you have found so problemmatic.

For a recent example of a “popular” pro-TE book that is highly similar in tone to Wilcox, see this: http://biologos.org/resources/books/origins. The first edition of it is even more “Reformed” in orientation that the current edition—ironically, b/c the publishers (associated with the Christian Reformed Church) actually wanted the authors to tone down the “Reformed” distinctives somewhat, in order (they hoped) to widen the potential audience for the book. I recommended against that—I liked the first edition a great deal, just as it was—but it took place. The result is still awfully good, and I still recommend this as my first choice book on origins for most evangelical readers, as I did in an earlier column (http://biologos.org/blog/galileo-and-other-good-books-about-science-and-the-bible).

If I may be so bold, let me suggest an alternative interpretion of the situation. I gather that you are strongly pro-ID. Quite possibly, your “reading list” of TE authors has been shaped a bit too much by your experiences as an ID supporter, such that you’ve taken a certain group of TE authors as the sum total of the TE position. I’ve emphasized that TE is, like ID, a “big tent,” except that ID likes to define its essential idea(s) in very precise, explicitly non-theological ways, whereas it’s hard to get a good working definition of TE, a view that is obviously highly theological in essence but in practice often “broad and hazy,” to borrow a line from an old joke about Episcopalians.

Perhaps you just haven’t read all that widely, in terms of the types of TE you’ve encountered.

This is a common problem among commentators I’ve seen on Uncommon Descent (e.g.), a leading ID web site where they think they understand “the TE view,” when in fact there actually is no one such animal per se. They improperly generalize from those authors they don’t agree with—several of whom they also don’t like very much as human beings, judging from the things I’ve read there. Those folks are caught up in an ideological culture war that I’ve tried hard to stay out of, for various reasons.

Quite a few TEs are also involved in that sort of conquest, and (frankly) truth is often one of the first casualties when either TEs or IDs (or Dawkins and company) start promoting ideological agendas that they must “win” at all costs.

Eddie - #74869

November 30th 2012

Well, Ted, I would have thought that having read a number of TE books, including the widely influential treatments of Francis Collins and Ken Miller in the USA and Denis Alexander in Britain, and including the Perspectives on an Evolving Creation collection, and having read the TE articles in the Ruse and Dembski collection, and scores of BioLogos columns by probably 20 different TEs, and also having read hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails from various TEs posted on the old ASA web-site, and a number of articles from the ASA journal, and having watched or listened to a number of podcast and television and radio interviews and/or debates featuring Darrel Falk, Ken Miller, Denis Lamoureux, John Polkinghorne, Stephen Barr and others, that I had a rough idea of the range of TE views and of the main types of argument typically offered by TEs, and the main positions on divine action typically offered by them.

Of course, I would not claim that my “net” has caught every TE, or even every important TE, but I would think that I’ve encountered a representative sampling of TE as it has existed in the past 10 years or so.  And the ones I apparently have missed (for example, Berry) appear to have been “missed” by many TEs themselves (I have never seen Berry’s work discussed or even cited by other TEs until you mentioned him).

I freely confess that I did not know about Wilcox, and I’m glad you indicated his existence.  I echo Jon Garvey’s curiosity about why a former ASA President has not been invited to write a column here.  

Why not, Ted, publish a book of your own on TE, to counterbalance those writings that you think are not representative of TE at its best?  It wouldn’t have to an original composition; it could be a collection of essays or excerpts.  Maybe something like “Theistic Evolution from Darwin to the Present: An Anthology, Edited by Ted Davis”—containing essays from Gray, Warfield, Russell, and others you approve of, from 1860 right through to 2012.  Slap on an introductory historical and critical essay, indicating your views on the missteps some recent TEs have made, and where you think TE should be going, and you’d have a winner.  I’d buy it.  Think about it.


Ted Davis - #74947

December 3rd 2012

If you know Barr, Eddie, then you probably know that his view of TE is highly orthodox—contrary to what is said about him by certain commentators at Uncommon Descent. For example, here is the final paragraph of his most recent essay, “Chance, By Design,” First Things (Dec 2012):

“By itself, the doctrine of divine providence only tells us that everything unfolds in accordance with God’s plan. It does not tell us what that plan is, either in its general features or in its particular details. It does not tell us the mixture of law and chance, or of necessity and contingency, that God chose to use in his plan. Evolutionary history may have unfolded entirely in accordance with natural laws, natural randomness, and natural probabilities, as the great majority of biologists believe, or there may have been some extraordinary events along the way that contravened thsoe laws and probabilities. In either case, evolution unfolded exactly as known and willed by God from all eternity.”

No “guides” or “steers,” but I don’t see the need for those words, given what Barr says here. Of course, Barr isn’t a biologist himself, but he knows at least as much about what “randomness” means in science as any biologist.

And, Eddie, since you know the excellent book, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, I’m surprised that you’ve not noticed Bob Russell or Robin Collins before I brought them to your attention in these columns. I gather that they do meet your criteria, without being biologists? And, what do you make of the essay in that volume by Loren Haarsma? Or of the theological attitude of Terry Gray (if we pass over his negative assessment of ID)? David Campbell, who also writes in that volume, holds views identical to those of Wilcox, as far as I know, although that isn’t the focus of his chapter.

Eddie - #74950

December 3rd 2012


I don’t object to Barr’s statement.  But given several chances to affirm the equivalent of Barr’s last sentence, when asked by a commenter—who, I believe, went by the handle “crude”—a number of biologist columnists here wouldn’t give such a clear statement.  They left the door wide open to the possibility that God did not will exactly what happened in evolution, and when asked to clarify, spoke about nature’s “freedom” and cited Wesleyan or kindred theologies as justification.  That is certainly not Barr’s position.  Nor, I believe, would Barr agree with the view floated by Ken Miller, that if evolution had, in its freedom, produced a more intelligent dinosaur, instead of man, God might have endowed that creature with his image and an immortal soul.  

I notice that you pass over Barr’s words, “entirely in accordance with natural laws ... as the great majority of biologists believe.”  Yes, and I think that is what the great majority of TE biologists believe, as well.  And I’m not talking about the older generation of TE biologists like Berry and Wilcox.  I’m talking about the majority of leading TE biologists of today, who actively write about TE today.  

I do remember Russell’s argument from the PEC book, but it struck me that he was the only one in the entire volume who affirmed a clear, unambiguous personal belief that God performed special divine actions in the evolutionary process.  Others said God maybe, might have, could have, etc. performed such actions.  Still others seemed to imply that God would not have needed to, since Darwinian and other stochastic mechanisms are adequate to produce man from slime, without any direction beyond that given by natural laws.  So Russell stood out, in that collection, from all the others.

Ted, I am not going to debate the essayists in PEC with you, one by one.  I’ve read the essays, and I believe that if we hammered over them, we would come to the same impasse we’ve come to over Keith Miller, Berry, etc.  I’m looking for something much more precise verbally, and much more committed existentially, than what you are willing to settle for.  And that is not going to change.  I suspect that the difference here is partly personal, and partly the difference between a philosopher/theologian and a historian.  To a philosopher or theologian, a very small difference in wording can make a very large difference in meaning.  What you see as picky, I see as a necessarily rigorous critique of inadequately expressed theological positions.  

So I’m exiting now, but I wish you would seriously consider my suggestion of a historical anthology, edited by you, of TE views that you consider worthy of consideration.    

Ted Davis - #74866

November 30th 2012

Regarding Wilcox’ use of “deism” in reference to Meyer, Eddie, I’ll point toward what he means and let you fill in the blanks if you wish. Wilcox has been influenced by the notion of “semideism,” a term used by the late Reijer Hooykaas, in his book, Natural Law and Divine Miracle (1959), where it’s the heading of a whole section; he used it again in his contribution to New interactions between theology and natural science, a superb course reader from the Open University Press (1974), where it is part of a section heading; and also in what is probably his best-known book, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (1972). You are apparently a scholar of intellectual history, and if so you might be familiar with these works.

If you listened to the interview I linked at the start of this series months ago (http://biologos.org/blog/introducing-ted-davis), you may have detected some influence of Hooykaas on my thinking, although it would have been in reference to early modern science rather than evolution. To see his thoughts on “semideism” and evolution, check the first two of the books cited in this comment.

In order to see whether I agree with Wilcox’ application of the term to Meyer, I’d have to dig further and I’ve indicated that I’ll pass on that. You’re right to echo my own admonishment about charging folks with “deism” when it might not be so. I have never made up my own mind about Hooykaas’ use of that term. As I’ve said in various places, we could benefit from a full, well-researched history of “deism”, and until we have that it’s not always helpful to use the term at all. I still will use it sometimes, but only when I think it’s very clearly applicable.

Eddie - #74886

November 30th 2012


Hooykaas is a respectable scholar, and if I get a chance I will look at the 1959 book you mention—which is not exactly the sort of thing one would pick up in Borders, and may take some time to acquire through interlibrary loan.  (If I had enough money to buy all the books you’ve recommended in this series, I’d be a very rich man!)

I want to drop the discussion of Wilcox and make a more general statement on Deism.  

The most common criticism of Deism made by Christians is that Deism’s God is “remote”—he creates the universe, leaves it running by natural laws, and then  retires, leaving human beings with nothing but wonder at the wisdom of his creation, and perhaps some innate sense of goodness, to guide them.  In other words, the Deist God is seen as “noninvolved” in his creation, from the moment the creation is completed.

I have read many TEs (even on this site) charge ID people with “Deism”—meaning that the ID God is an engineer who sets up the universe as a great machine, and leaves it running, but is not “present” in the workings, which go on of their own accord.  But this is an odd charge for at least some TEs to make; for ID people, in addition to believing in Biblical miracles (and my impression is that, on average, they believe in more Biblical miracles than TE leaders do), and in addition to believing in ongoing miracles today (at least as much as TEs, in my estimation), tend to see God as personally involved in Creation over a much longer period than many TEs.  For many TEs, all God has to do is start off the Big Bang, and afterward “concur” with natural causes, and natural causes will generate stars, planets, life, and man.  For most ID people, God is involved in the creative process in a personal and direct and special way (beyond merely concurring with the natural laws) at many points from the Big Bang to the production of man.  In other words, most ID people see God as more hands-on, and therefore less remote from his creation, than many TE leaders do.

And as for the possible TE response that TEs don’t believe in a clockwork universe, but see God as continuing to cause natural events even after creation is done—so do ID people.  I know of no ID people (at least, no Christian ID people) who think of God as building and winding up a clockwork universe, then leaving it alone until it’s time to interact with Adam, Abraham, etc.  They would all affirm that God sustains the whole universe in existence by his ongoing Will, is the ongoing Power and Reason behind all the natural laws, etc.

So when you add it all up, the God of most ID people is less “Deistic” (if Deistic means remote, operating through independent natural laws rather than up close and personal) than the God of many TEs.

My point is that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  If a particular TE, who states clearly his belief that God acts in a special and hands-on way in nature (beyond the initial creation of matter and laws and later concurrence and sustenance) wants to criticize a particular ID writer for a “Deistic” view of God, and show the passages wherein this Deistic view can be found, that is fine with me.  But for a TE writer to condemn ID writers generally on the charge of Deism is presumptuous, when for all the world can tell, the particular TE making the charge doesn’t think that God performed a single special divine action between the time of the Big Bang and the events narrated in the Bible that occurred 14 billion years later.

Thus, I would propose the following general rule, which should be binding on ID and TE writers alike:  All charges of “Deism” (a) should be preceded by the writer’s definition of Deism; (b) should be documented from passages in the writer being criticized; and (c) should be shown, again by the use of passages, to be non-applicable to the writer doing the criticizing.

Ted Davis - #74949

December 3rd 2012

I agree that Hooykaas’ books are not readily found outside of academic libraries. He was however (IMO) one of the truly great Christian historians of science of the last century, so when I hesitate to accept his term “semideism” it is not without giving it much consideration.

The open university reader gives historical examples of thinkers he places in this category. He connects that category with a predilection to talk of “divine intervention(s), and I’m sure that’s where Wilcox gets his caution about using that word (intervention).

You might also appreciate a further historical digression. Hooykaas befriended the late Donald MacKay, and shared with MacKay his very high view of divine sovereignty over nature. Many of the British evangelicals involved in science took their aversion to “intervention” language either directly from Hooykaas or indirectly from MacKay; American evangelicals like Richard Bube (one of the most influential ASA people ever, perhaps the single most influential before Francis Collins) also probably got their attitudes from Hooykaas and/or MacKay.

Ironically, I know that Steve Meyer is a big fan of the type of historiography Hooykaas brought to the Scientific Revolution, with its emphasis on divine freedom and the limits of human reason. (Among other things, Steve has said several times that he admires my essay on Newton, which is basically Hooykaas-type analysis of Newton.) So, it’s ironic to see Wilcox take an idea from Hooykaas and use it vs Meyer, though (as I’ve said) I have not done the work necessary to evaluate the validity of Wilcox’ point.

Eddie - #74952

December 3rd 2012

Whatever Wilcox’s objection to Meyer was, that was back in 1987.  I wouldn’t assume that Meyer’s thought is completely unchanged over 25 years.  So I don’t see much value in rehashing the debate, any more than I see any value in rehashing Lamoureux vs. Johnson from 10 or 15 years ago.  It is current ID and current TE positions that need to be assessed.  If Wilcox has reviewed Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, I’d read the review.  Just let me know where I can find it.

Regarding divine freedom, ID people are every bit as much insistent upon that as TEs are.  There is no theoretical difference between the two camps here.  The difference is practical.  TEs tend to say, “Yes, God could set aside the natural laws that he has ordained, and act in a special way in the origin of life and in evolution, but such arbitrary action does not seem likely in light of the regularity of nature and does not seem befitting of God’s character as revealed in the Bible.”  But of course the first argument is irrelevant if God acts differently during the period of creation than he acts later; and the second argument is merely the theological opinion of the given TE, and requires textual proof—which is almost never offered.   So I see TEs as commanding no high ground on the question of divine freedom.

In fact, on this site, whenever the question of special divine action in evolution, to guarantee particular outcomes, has been put directly to biologists, we have heard more about nature’s freedom than the divine freedom, and more about randomness than Providence.  We’ve even heard that Gould’s view of evolution (Gould’s!) goes hand in hand with “a high view of Providence.” (?!?!)  And no matter how often you raise the examples of Barr and Russell, you cannot erase these other statements.  And you cannot pretend that some TEs have not argued that God might have been satisfied with a smart octopus if that is all the the random mutations had kicked out.  I would feel far more comfortable with your endorsements of Barr and Wilcox if I also heard from you a repudiation of such statements.

In fact, I’d like to hear Barr and Wilcox and Russell repudiate such statements.  TE as a movement would go greatly up in my estimation if they did.  But when it comes to commenting critically on what is said on BioLogos, these TEs are all missing in action, as are all the others you named from the PEC book.  Any respectable intellectual movement or theory engages in self-policing, and I don’t see that happening much in TE.  BioLogos is the premiere TE web site on the planet, and the TEs you hold up as the “good” ones don’t appear to have made the slightest effort to correct its typically defective theological claims.  It’s just as if the Leninists made no comment on a website run by Trotskyites—utterly incomprehensible if the “good” TEs care about Christian theology as much as the Leninists cared about Communism.   

Ted Davis - #75006

December 5th 2012

I’m not into repudiating, Eddie. Disagreeing, of course; repudiating, only rarely. At times, Eddie, you seem to be for ID and forms of TE what Jerry Coyne is for evolutionary biology: the one who polices the territory, ensuring that no one strays from the particular orthodoxy in question without receiving a stern rebuke. I can’t help but to recall what Sam Westfall once said so perceptively about Derek Whiteside—that he was “the Lord High Executioner” of Newton studies.

I claim no monopoly on truth. There is just so much that we do not know about God, the world, and ourselves. It’s enough for me simply to agree, to disagree, or to suggest alternatives. I will leave the repudating to others.

Eddie - #75013

December 5th 2012


I’d be happy even if you “disagreed” with the forms of TE I mentioned, Ted.  You don’t have to “repudiate” them if you don’t want to.  If you say that you personally think it’s nonsense to argue that God wouldn’t control the outcomes of evolution (on the putative grounds that such control would violate nature’s “freedom” and God would never do such a tyrannical thing), if you say that you don’t consider such a “democratic” conception of God to be in line with the Bible or the tradition, then you would be on public record as disagreeing with some of the columnists here, and that would be very encouraging to people such as Jon and myself.  

Ted Davis - #74830

November 29th 2012

And here are two further examples.

THREE: “The recognition of God’s providential control over all of creation leads inescapably to a dualistic understanding of causation. A ‘natural’ or scientific explanation of events, no matter how complete, does not negate God’s complete control over those same events. There are thus two independent causal explanations that can be given for any physical or historical event. Scripture presents just such a view. Behind all natural causes is the omnipotent hand of God (see Amos 4:6ff). The redemptive history of God’s people is presented both as a series of cause and effect historical events, and as a direct manifestation of divine power. The death of Ahab by a randomly shot arrow (1 Kings 22:17-38) is particularly illustrative. All events, even random ones, are under the direct control of God. Such a dualistic understanding is, in fact, the fundamental basis for our confidence in prayer. For example, though the formation of rain can be described as a consequence of a series of proximate ‘natural’ causes, we can still pray for rain to end a drought, recognizing God’s control and authority over those natural processes. It is peculiar that we implicitly recognize in our prayer what we otherwise frequently deny - that is, God’s action is expressed in the everyday events of our world and our lives. We have bought into the ‘wisdom’ of our time, cloaked in scientific authority, which states that natural causation excludes the divine. In this, the Church needs to find its prophetic voice.”

Keith Miller, “Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (1993) 45: 150-160. Miller isn ‘t a biologist, but he should count anyway. He’s a paleontologist, a field that is no less relevant to the issue at hand than genetics or biochemistry. (Is a biochemist a “biologist”? Does Behe count as a “biologist-ID”? If so, then Miller counts as a “biologist-TE”.) Miller is one of the leading TE voices in the ASA. He edited a terrific volume of essays several years ago (http://biologos.org/resources/books/perspectives-on-an-evolving-creation) and is now on the ASA Council. He doesn’t use either of Eddie’s two key words (guides or steers) in this passage, but who can read it without also reading between the lines and finding those words?

For a substantially abridged electronic version, see http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1993/PSCF9-93Miller.html. Readers will note, e.g., that the electronic version of this paragraph is shorter. Unfortunately, some older issues of the ASA journal (which began publication somewhat sporadically in 1949) have been digitized only partially, a fact that I learned only today when I sought to link this splendid piece. As I keep saying here and elsewhere, often to deaf ears: Print. Is. Not. Obsolete. Do. Not. Assume. That. It. Is. Sorry for the rant, but the next generation is being misled about this by powerful economic forces.

FOUR: “In this context [mutations and evolution], it is worth making the point that ‘randomness,’ as used of a scientific event, is nothing more than a confession of ignorance. … A Christian who believes that God is both creator and sustainer of the world (Colossians 1:16-17) but also outside the space-time fabric of it, must necessarily accept also that He is in some sense in control of all mutational events.” In the paragraph immediately after this, Berry directly opposes his view to that of Jacques Monod (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chance_and_Necessity), adding that “no committed Christian should be prepared to admit that even such a random event as a road accident is necessarily outside God’s purposes for him or her.” This should be sufficient to answer Eddie’s challenge.

This is from a leading British geneticist, R. J. “Sam” Berry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._J._Berry), who is an influential member of the ASA’s sister organization, Christians In Science (http://www.cis.org.uk/). He said this in his little book, God and Evolution (2001), p. 89. Again, we fail to find “guides or steers,” but an honest reader surely thinks that Berry places God at the wheel of the automobile called genetic mutation.

Eddie - #74842

November 29th 2012

Regarding Keith Miller, I gladly count paleontologists as biologists, and in fact I’m happy with anyone in the life sciences—biochemists, physiologists, botanists, etc.  (And by the way, I thought Keith’s recent series in death and pain was good on a number of points.)
Miller’s passage is the closest to an affirmation of special divine action that you have provided.  In particular, his remarks about prayer seem to suggest the possibility that God might alter what would otherwise happen by direct divine action.  (Though, as you know, many Christian analyses of prayer do not understand God as “tampering” in that way, so I’m not 100% sure that this is what Miller has in mind.)  But notice that all his examples concern cases of human needs.  So we are back to the exceptions I’ve already granted—TEs will allow some Biblical miracles and some post-Biblical miracles—but is there any evidence that Miller thinks that such special divine actions happened during the creation of life, species, etc.?  I don’t see it from this passage.  In fact, his insistence that natural law explanations don’t exclude divine involvement—which I agree with—may indicate that he thinks that evolution was caused by God, but exclusively through natural laws, and without any special divine action.  Without a direct statement, I don’t know what he thinks.
Now for Sam Berry.  He says God is “in some sense” in control of the mutations.  In what sense?  Does he engineer them by special divine action?  Or does he leave their production to natural laws?  And what does “is necessarily outside God’s purposes” mean here?  That some seemingly random events might be outside God’s purposes, but that all seemingly random events aren’t necessarily so?  Again, the level of commitment is vague.  A good Calvinist would say outright:  “No event is ever outside God purposes.”  I expect that Aquinas and Augustine would say the same.  But what does Berry say?  Who can tell?
If you think I am being too picky, Ted, consider the context here.  There are columnists on this site who have said things very much like what Berry says, and, upon questioning, they appear not to believe that God determines all the detailed outcomes of evolution.  At least, they are extremely vague about whether he does.  They speak of “freedom” for nature, which is confusing, but they seem to mean by it nothing more than letting nature run under natural causes, i.e., without special direction from God.  How do I know, from Berry’s expressions, that he doesn’t take a similar line?  I have no way of telling, because biologist-TEs won’t take the time to learn the standard metaphysical language of the West and use it clearly.  But they write books on science and faith anyway.    
Ted, what I’m looking for is no-beating-around-the-bush statements.  TEs don’t hesitate to say that God acted specially, not through natural laws but specially, in the Resurrection, and in the case of some other miracles as well.  They’ll speak without embarrassment of miracle or intervention or guidance in such cases.  But when it comes to biological origins, then the circuitousness and ambiguity and theologically vague language starts appearing.  There has got to be a reason for this.  But I’ve taken up much of your time.  Can we drop this discussion—you can have the last word if you want—and come back to it in a few months, after a rest?
Roger A. Sawtelle - #74834

November 29th 2012


I do not know whether to laugh or to cry over your response. 

Please think seriously.  Is Jesus Christ the Logos different from Jesus Christ the Savior?  Do you really think that God, and Jesus surely is God, changes?

If Jesus is the Logos of God, who are you to say that the Spirit is not the Telos of God?  I know what the Holy Spirit is and I know that it is the most difficult Person of the Trinity to understand as Jesus said in John 3:8.  

If God works or guides through “natural” processes, how can they be considered entirely natural?  They cannot because they have a divine or spiritual aspect.  Then the question is, What is Spiritual and how is it found in Nature? 

Maybe that is your problem, you are blinded by your dualistic philosophy that you and others cannot see God working through the Logos and the Telos or through Natural selection even when it is happening right before your eyes.      

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74836

November 29th 2012

Berry places God at the wheel of the automobile called genetic mutation.

Ted, I apologize for being a apin, but I must object.  Genetic mutation or better Variation because variation involves more than mutation, is not the automobile. 

The automobile is Evolution which has two separate aspects, Variation and Selection.  To continue the automobile model, Variation is the engine which powers the car and makes evolutionary change possible.  Selection is rest of the automobile, the brakes, transmission, steering, etc. which controls that power.  God is the owner who made the automobile and actually drives it using Selection.

God does not have to directly control Variation.  What God does is set the parameters of Variation and uses God’s standards to Selection those Variations which best meet the needs of Ecology to produce unity and diversity in God’s world.


Ted Davis - #74849

November 29th 2012

I’m sorry, Eddie, but Yes, I do think you’re being too picky. I’m beginning to think that, regardless of whether or not a given TE holds a view identical or very close to the one you asked me to document, you won’t believe that he or she really believes it, simply b/c it does not express the view with the same level of precision or with the precise vocabularly you require. I think this is arbitrary, frankly, and I won’t try to offer more examples. I suspect it would simply fail to advance this conversation, regardless of what I offered.

Let me say just this: if you read any more of Robin’s stuff, Eddie, you’d know that he’s a very cautious scholar who likes to examine as many aspects of an issue as possible, and that when he uses the subjunctive mood it’s because he realizes that he might possibly be mistaken. But, he clearly believes that view without the “could.” There really is no subsitute for reading his chapter in that print book, and that’s what I hope interested readers will do.

For those who want to see more brief excerpts immediately, however, just google the quotation I give above. You should find the relevant page in the book, including the very lenghty footnote that goes with it (#39), and in the note Robin repeats more fully what he says in that sentence from the main text of the article, but this time without the “could.” Eddie probably won’t like Robin’s words about “still leaving room for creation to act on its own,” but the part about “guiding” is abundantly clear and unabashed in the note. On the other hand, Eddie might be pleased by Robin’s very friendly nod toward ID, also in the note.

It really goes without saying, of course, that Robin’s deeply thoughtful, highly Trinitarian, highly orthodox (and also somewhat Orthodox, as will be evident if one reads the whole chapter), is entirely unacceptable to even a quite thoughtful YEC advocate. Go here for a glimpse: http://alaynamaysblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/creation-debate-part-two-evolution-is.html.

Finally, Eddie, I appreciate your point about me having to speak for the biolgists, but these people have spoken to these issues—especially Sam Berry, in many books for the general public that apparently you haven’t encountered.

Jon Garvey - #74856

November 30th 2012


Thanks for the mention of David L Wilcox, whose article linked from his letter seems to me essential reading, and with which I concur wholeheartedly.

One thing he makes clear is that the issues that have preoccupied this thread are not at all trivial, but worldview matters. Three worldviews: God as Prime Mover (as in mediaeval theology), imposing form on rebellious matter; God as craftsman (as in Enlightenmnet science), setting up a creation with one or other degree of autonomy; or God as King (as in the Bible), evolution being “a planned and directed process from good to good - and a patrt of God building his kingdom.” And most important for him, only the last view is truly theistic evolution. 

He follows Hodge in distinguishing the three often-confused elements in Darwin’s theory that underlie most contentions - descent with modification, natural selection the proposed process, and undirectness the unjustified metaphysic. He quotes Warfield in stating the importance of realising that evolution can at best only offer a theory of the method of the divine providence.

Clear, unequivocal, orthodox. If only there were more like him calling the shots.

Ted Davis - #74862

November 30th 2012


I appreciate your appreciation of Wilcox. Let me now recommend his book, God and Evolution: A Faith-Based Understanding (http://www.amazon.com/God-Evolution-Understanding-David-Wilcox/dp/0817014748/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354287199&sr=1-4&keywords=david+l+wilcox). It starts with Calvin’s Institutes and the Westminster Confession, moving from there to the nature of science before tackling the questions posed to Christian faith by modern biology. I’d love to quote the final paragraph in the book, but let me leave it as an “assignment” for you and other readers to bring it back here for the rest of us. 

The subtitle of the book is highly accurate, as the final paragraph will indicate.

Eddie - #74864

November 30th 2012


Further on this, see my #74863 above, which I think moves us closer together, at least on Wilcox.

Jon Garvey - #74868

November 30th 2012

Thanks Ted - I ordered it before I read this! Like some other American books, not currenly available on Amazon UK, but one of their clients had it (cheap!).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74858

November 30th 2012


I agree that the article by David Wilcox is excellent, not because I agree with all that it says, but because it offers an excellect framework for discussion. 

I think his analysis of Darwinism as three aspects: 1) Common Descent, 2) Natural Selection, and 3) Purposeless change; is important because people get off base because they often confuse the three. 

I do not agree with all of his analysis.  He might be right to say that God is King is an OT Hebrew understanding of God, but does not give a NT Logos driven understanding of Creation.  My understanding of the Bible is that its theology is Covenant based, not Being based, so historical change is the hallmark of God’s relationship to YHWH’s people.     

Jon Garvey - #74871

November 30th 2012

Roger, I’m happy to go with Jesus the Logos as King, bearing in mind Colossians 1.15-17, 1 Cor 8.6 and Rev 17.14, provided we remember that the Father too is King and Creator, 1 Tim 6.15, Rev 4.11; 15.3.

The mode of creation is in mind, not a division within the Godhead.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74881

November 30th 2012


Jesus certainly is King of Kings, but Jesus the Logos is also the Suffering Servant. 

I noticed that Wilcox claimed that God the King created and ruled by fiat.  That is contrary to John 1 which says that God created through the Logos, which is the Word of truth and reason, not the word of absolute, arbitrary power. 

Wilcox quoted the Westminster Confession as support of his position.  This is clearly a Calvinist predestinarian point of view.  I remember when Eddie and I wwere discussing this and he agreed with the Wesleyan position concerning predestination, but said that there was no connnection between free will and evolution as a natural process used by God.   

The mode of creation is in mind, not a division within the Godhead.

If you mean what you seem to mean we have real problems.  First of all there is no evidence of such a thing as the Godhead.  God is three distinct Persons, Father, Son, and Spirit.  God is also One.  That is the mystery of the Trinity.  These distrinctions are not in the mind, they are as real as God is.

God is Trinity in that God is Love.  The unity of the Trinity is Love, just as the diversity of the Trinity makes Love possible.  God the Creator creates through God the Logos by means of God the Telos (the Spirit.)      

Eddie - #74883

November 30th 2012


Why you would persist in misrepresenting the Greek original of the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as telos rather than pneuma, when you have already been corrected on the point, and when the error can be verified from any standard source—including the Greek dictionary which you ought to have purchased when you were a divinity student, and ought to still be consulting if you are making public statements about Christianity—is beyond me.  One of the possible explanations, however, prompts me to ask you if you remember which is the greatest of the seven deadly sins.

Jon Garvey - #74914

December 2nd 2012


“Godhead” translates from το θειον (Acts 17.29), θειοτης (Rom 1.20) and θεοτης (Col 2.9). Of these the most relevant to my intention is the last, “in Christ all the fulness (πλερομα) of the Godhead dwells bodily.

The distinctions I meant “in mind” were, as my post made clear, the three possible modes of creation mentined by Wilcox, in mind in his article.

The false distinction between “truth and reason” and “absolute, arbitrary power” is in your mind only, not the categories of Scripture, Wilcox or the Westminster Confession. As it happens I’m preaching in an hour’s time on Jesus in Isaiah 11, on whom rests the Spirit of God - the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. Those must be taken together to understand something of the character of the Father who created, the Son through whom and for whom it was done, and the Spirit by whom it was done. They summarise the New Testament kingship passages I gave you quite well, I think, filling out the meaning of John 1.1 (which in turn fills out the Trinitarian meaning of Genesis 1, where God’s dabar is the  Hebrew equivalent of logos).

You’ll have to pardon me, though, if I continue to take my ideas from 2000 years of catholic and apostolic teaching on the Bible rather than your own somewhat personal views, and especially your idiosyncratic use of τελος (“end”) for the third Person of the Godhead.

GJDS - #74884

November 30th 2012

From the various discussions in this blog, I have endeavoured to understand the major areas of interest/dispute, and these are: (a) God’s action, and or intervention in natural phenomena or activities, debated in terms of specifics – this is especially so for evolutionary creationism and/or its outgrowths. Does God personally intervene at specific instances, or has he set up laws which ensure the outcomes? (b) can we understand and/or believe evolution as a random process which may be rationalised as God giving nature freedom to do as it will, or is God ‘driving/guiding’ the process in some way? (c) what are laws and how do these impact on freedom re natural processes, and perhaps overlapping with human freedom and agency, and (d) can intelligence be understood as design in bio-systems, and if so how would it fit in with (a) to (c)?

I would submit the following to this discussion. Our understanding is set by the notion of two terms: (1) law and (2) freedom. We have discussed law as it may apply to Nature, and how in the context of Aquinas/Aristotelian views, various causes were invoked with teleology placed as the ‘end result’. The difficulty inherent in this view is mainly derived from Aristotle’s view of a body at rest, which is in contradistinction of the Newtonian view of a mass moving in a straight line; this has further difficulties when we consider e=mc2 where mass and energy are interrelated. We may ask, “What does all of this have to do with TE or ID?” It goes to our attempt to discuss mainly (a) above. If our metascientific understanding is shaky, we may come to erroneous conclusions regarding any type of action in nature – be our outlook it divine or atheistic. The dispute regarding laws of nature would spill over into how any natural process may proceed….. continued.

GJDS - #74885

November 30th 2012

Continued ...... On freedom, our discussions have been cursory and occasionally gel into a phrase such as, ‘nature is free to make itself’. I think this is a critical to these types of discussions, in that we conflate our understanding of human freedom, with some type of natural freedom, and then add it to a hodge-podge that seeks to relate these to freedom God may access.

Laws are usually understood as ‘setting things into a regular way’ and the contrast to this is chaos or randomness, and in this way infers an absence of constraint by such laws; this is countered by seeking scientific understanding and manipulation of chaotic/random systems.

I suggest we think of freedom in another way – as the state of being and state of affairs that are consistent with the way nature is; the way the creation was made by God before the introduction of corruption. We can try a few ‘mind games’ to show that a thing would be itself, but a human being has the capacity to describe it as ‘other-than’ what it is. We generally refer to this as deception, but it can also include creating something that would not arise naturally. This description of ‘other-than’ shows that human intellect can add to the world something that was not in the world, prior to the action of human agency. This also means that human Intelligence has added to the world, and this has brought about changes to nature.

These few remarks indicate that God has enabled human beings to exercise human agency and this can have unforeseen consequences to ourselves and to the world. These matters do not remove something from God, or question His providence, nor his Power, Glory etc. God is not open to, or subjected to, the activities in the Universe. He has determined that human intellect and agency would be in the world; consequently the discussion comes back to what human beings do. God has ordained it to be so.

This view is also a rebuttal to the notion that Darwinian evolution has somehow ‘made itself’ through random processes. Jon, I am unsure as to how to respond to the quote by Wilcox, “Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes.” My initial response was, “God’s eternal decrees are absolute, so how would this statement about TE add to our understanding?” However, from your comments I gather Wilcox may be applying this maxim to discussions on TE – so do we conclude that God decreed neo-Darwinian evolution? With all of the errors and controversies on this, how would we understand God’s decrees? Would we then decide to revise them as science brings more information?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74905

December 1st 2012


Thank you for your input. 

I would certainly agree that theologically one would expect to find both law and freedom in this process.  That is the beauty ecological evolution. 

There is freedom for change in random nature of Variation, while there is Law or order in ecological Natural Selection all under the aegis of the Logos and the Telos of God. 

The problem which distorts and confuses both the scientific and the theological/philosophical understanding of evolution is the failure to understand the role and character of natural selection.  This is the worm in the apple and one bad apple spoils the barrel.   

GJDS - #74912

December 2nd 2012


My comments are directed to (hopefully) encourage discussion here to understanding laws of nature and human freedom. I am saying that random is not equated with ‘nature free to create itself’; laws on the other hand, may appear to impose constraints, and this confers to human agency an odd, or strange, (perhaps an unatural) ‘freedom’. These remarks are general and not aimed at a character of natural selection.

On neo-Darwinism, natural slection has come to be considered a ‘filtering’ process as molecular bioligists come accross an  increasingly greater ‘propensity’ for variation. I think they may eventually be overwhelmed by the complexity of bio-systems and the ability of such systems to almost ‘ready’ themselves for changes they could encounter in the eco-sphere. This IMO is  matter of the interdependence we are gradually beginning to understand regarding nature.

My remarks here are pointed more to the unusual ‘nature’ of human beings.

Jon Garvey - #74913

December 2nd 2012

GJDS @#74884/5

I would suggest that Wilcox is looking at ways of understanding creation theologically. So although he personally, perhaps, accepts Neodarwinian evolution, his implied meaning is “Whatever mechanisms were employed, including Neodarwinian processes, then they must conform to the eternal decrees of God.”

So if there are doubts and errors found in ND, then he would say, “God must have employed some other means, then,” rather than, “Maybe creation doesn’t execute God’s will, then.”

GJDS - #74915

December 2nd 2012


I understand the spirit in which Wilcox made his statement, and I think we would all agree that God’s eternal edicts are sure - however these discussions are aimed at specifics such as TE or ID (or perhaps variations of these). Within the context of these discussions, pointing to models (or ways) that God may have done things (so to speak) may be prone to error.

I see it as a discussion which may perhaps be better aimed at what and why we discuss theological issues within the context of science (and particularly evolution) while being aware that we err in these discussions. Thus, should scholars spend time on how we know things, instead of spending so much time on what they think we can show what God may do? If either, what profit does it bring to Christians. These are questions aimed at discussion, not as criticism of anyone.

GJDS - #74917

December 2nd 2012


I forgot to mention - when we speak of decrees and edict we usually associate this with a Deity - and theists differentiate by appealing to an ‘involved’ being rather than one ‘sitting at a distance’ (and I presume rulling by decree). Thus ‘understanding creation theologically’ may not be as simple as the phrase may appear. I understand that others also equivicate between a Deitistic and a Theistic concept regarding the creation.

I guess I am back to my previous point (I hate repetition and here I am guilty of it!?) - that combining theistsic notions with scientific (or evolution) can be problematic.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #74937

December 3rd 2012


The problem is that Jon wants to define orthodox theistic theology very narrowly and not based on sound Biblical theology.

While Gen 1 might be considered creation by fiat, even though John 1 indicates that God’s Word is Logos, not fiat, Gen 2 indicates creation by a hands on method.  YHWH did not decree adam into reality, YHWH formed adam from the dust of the ground.  YHWH formed the woman from a rib from the man. 

If God could have prevented the enslavement of the Hebrews by fiat, why didn’t God do so?  If God could have liberated the Hebrews from slavery, why didn’t God do so?

If God created gravity by eternal fiat, how could God undo the fiat so Philip could fly from Samaria to Gaza? 

God’s continuing creation through evolution is much more hands on and involves God much more directly than God’s absolute rule.  It is very compatible to Logos theology.    

Eddie - #74938

December 3rd 2012

Jon’s understanding of orthodox theology is built upon the reading of the Bible as a whole and of major works by the great thinkers of the major periods of systematic formulation of the Christian tradition:  Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation.  There is nothing “narrow” about his approach.  It is broad-based and “catholic” in the proper sense of the word.  One might disagree with this or that conclusion which Jon reaches, but there is no error in his general approach.  The opposite approach, i.e., that of cherry-picking what one likes out of the Bible and the tradition, and ignoring or dismissing all the rest, is unfortunately too common among TEs (and among modern Christians generally).

The decision that any theistic evolutionist must make is whether evolutionary thought is to be appropriated and theologically integrated by a Christian mind that has been deeply formed by decades of intense textual engagement with the Bible and the theological tradition, or whether some particular formulation of evolution is to be accepted on the authority of “science” and the Bible and tradition then quarried for out-of-context statements of support for the intellectual fait accompli.  It is to Jon’s theological credit that he takes the latter route.

I haven’t hear Jon speaking about fiat, and I haven’t heard Jon say that God’s fiat should be preferred to the notion of Logos.  Certainly he would never say anything so uninformed as that “fiat” and “logos” are intrinsically incompatible notions.  Some knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew would prevent you from making the incoherent statements that you are making here.



Eddie - #74939

December 3rd 2012

Whoops—sorry, Jon!  In my note to Roger just above, I meant to say:

“It is to Jon’s theological credit that he takes the former route.”

GJDS - #74946

December 3rd 2012

I do not see, nor do I infer, a problem with orthodox theology in my discussions - indeed it is refreshing in this day and age to read opinions that are solidly based on Othrodox teachings. My comments are aimed at a deeper discussion of God’s activities - in how we would discuss theology (grounded on Orhtodoxy) with science (and on this web site, evolution).

People such as Polkinghorne have endeavoured to use terms and sentences found in the sciences within theological discussions. They (and I add myself) find this ‘contexual’ approach challenging. My contribution is to try and point out the disjunction between Orthodoxy, which is the result of hundreds of years of work by some of the finest minds (and characters), and the ever changing nature of evolution. Indeed science changes and with it the outlook of scientists. I have made one or two suggestions on one way we may approach this - but the project requires much greater effort.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74945

December 3rd 2012


Thank you for your response #74914 above.

I now see what you are referring to biblically as the Godhead. I would understand Col 2.9 to mean “in Christ all the fullness of Who God is lives in bodily form.”

The question is whether the Godhead is an entity separate from the Trinity. Interestingly enough I encoutered some one on BioLogos who maintained that the Godhead is separate from the Trinity, which I thought might be your point of view also.

My understanding is that there are two traditional veiws of the Trinity, the Western view based on Augustine’s About the Trinity and the Eastern view developed by the Cappadocian Fathers. While there were other causes, this was the basic theological reason for the division between the Eastern and Western Churches, which has yet to be healed.

The Eastern Trinity is hierarchical, beginning with the Father Who begets the Son and from whom the Spirit processes through the Son. The Western view of the Trinity begins with the Father begetting the Son and the Spirit processing from both the Father and the Son making them equal.

Now I affirm the Western view and reject the Eastern one. Now I was able to peruse a book written by an Eastern theologian claiming John Calvin’s understanding of the Trinity followed the Eastern view rather than the Western. I quite agree.

With that said it seems to me that Wilcox is basically asserting that the Eastern/Calvinist model of God is the only orthodox understanding of God and how God works, which is not true.

The distinctions I meant “in mind” were, as my post made clear, the three possible modes of creation mentined by Wilcox, in mind in his article.

The false distinction between “truth and reason” and “absolute, arbitrary power” is in your mind only, not the categories of Scripture, Wilcox or the Westminster Confession.

The issue here I think is difference between how God works with God’s people through Covenant and with the Creation in a similar manner. This rejects all three modes that Wilcox suggests. What is true is that the main issue is how does God as Trinity relates to humanity and Creation.

The Father who created, the Son through whom and for whom it was done, and the Spirit by whom it was done. They summarise the New Testament kingship passages I gave you quite well, I think, filling out the meaning of John 1.1 (which in turn fills out the Trinitarian meaning of Genesis 1, where God’s dabar is the Hebrew equivalent of logos).

I do agree with this view of creation, but how do you get either a dualistic or monistic point of view of Creation, because the Creator is working with the Logos through the Telos. Calvinism is the result of a monistic Creator dominant understanding of Creation. Dualism is based on a flawed Greek world view. A triune, complex/ one view of creation affirms the physical, rational, and spiritual character of humanity and God created reality.

The New Testament is not a retelling of the Old Testament. It is a new understanding of Who God is and How God relates to God’s people and Creation. Dabar does nor equal Logos.

You’ll have to pardon me, though, if I continue to take my ideas from 2000 years of catholic and apostolic teaching on the Bible rather than your own somewhat personal views, and especially your idiosyncratic use of τελος (“end”) for the third Person of the Godhead.

I think that it is a mistake to say that the Spirit is the Third Person of the Godhead, rather than the Trinity. To say it in your way implies modalism.

I regret that you take offense for my admittedly non-traditional use of Telos (the Purpose of God) for the Holy Spirit. I would appreciate it if you gave a theological reason for this, that is if God does not have a Purpose or some other way this idea did violence to our faith, rather than its novelty.

We have both advocated for teleology in evolution over the past months. I think that it is important to place Telos in the economy of God, and think that it best belongs with the Holy Spirit. If you have a different view I would be glad to hear it.

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Jon Garvey - #74954

December 4th 2012

The question is whether the Godhead is an entity separate from the Trinity. Interestingly enough I encountered some one on BioLogos who maintained that the Godhead is separate from the Trinity…

Well, I’m at a loss for words over that. Didn’t one of the ancients say that one could find every aberration in Rome if one looked hard enough?

It’s important to realise that neither Augustine nor the western Church repudiated either Nicea or the Cappadocian Fathers. Augustine saw himself as adding elaboration and precision to the latter by his relational description of the Trinity, partly through what he saw as the greater exactness of Latin over Greek. But then he flunked Greek, as he admitted in the Confessions. They are not mutually exclusive - without a divine being (“ousios” or “essence”) there can be no relationship.

I’d certainly dispute that Calvin was too dependent on Eastern teaching - his treatment is thoroughly relational, building from Augustine himself. If anything he was overly dismissive of the Nicene formulations as being too heirarchical (probably wrongly as this nice little essay suggests).

I’d also have to disagree on the sharp division you place between the Old and New Testaments. Jesus himself treated it as an authoritative vehicle for God’s word, even in bringing new revelation (eg his exposition of Psalm 110 to show his own divinity). Biblical theology that sidelines the Old Testament isn’t biblical theology - as Peter says, it was the Spirit of Christ who spoke through the OT prophets (1 Pet 1.10ff).

Dabar does indeed equal logos (a) in the translation both the Septuagint and the Greek NT use for dabar (b) in the Hebraic semantic range the New Testament puts on logos (word-act) (c) in the equivalence drawn between the Hebrew and Greek words by Philo before John was written and, finally, in the literary and theological link noticed by virtually every scholar down the centuries between the creative word of God in Genesis and the Logos in John 1. That’s how dabar = logos. What’s new is the revelation of the divine personification of the Word in Jesus, thus bringing a whole new light on Christ’s significance in Hebrew history and Scripture.

Your use of telos seems particularly unfortuante, as the bulk of its semantic range is “end” in the sense of “limit”, there being only a few references where it could mean “final result of a process” (eg Rom 10.4), in which of course it describes Christ. Indeed, the only other uses in connection with deity are in Rev 21.6, where it refers to the Father, and 22.13, where it refers to Christ. It really doesn’t mean purpose, still less will, and it is never referred to the Spirit.

“Purpose” and “will” are covered mainly by prothesis (purpose) and thelesis (will), both of which are attributed pretty well exclusively to the Father either explicitly or implicitly, and never to the Holy Spirit. I could give a list of references but a quick flick through a concordance will give any reader confirmation not only of that fact, but also of the kingly nature of God’s purpose and will.

Incidentally I don’t think the Trinitarian issue alters Wilcox’s treatment of models for God’s creaton one jot. It is God as Trinity who may be seen to act as Prime mover, as craftsman, or as King.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #74962

December 4th 2012


I do not think that there is any question that the Eastern Church gave for its theological break with Rome is the phrase Filioque in the Creed. This specifically refers to the fact that the Western Church under the influence of Augustine said that the Holy Spirit proceded from the Father and the Son, while the Eastern Church believed that the Holy Spirit proceded from the Father through the Son.

There is a difference and that difference was enough to cause a break between the first basic communions of Christianity and still separates them, although some in the West now profess to prefer the Eastern view. I think that this would be a mistake.

When I did a careful analysis of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination I found that it was based on God’s Will coming down from heaven and directly shaping what happened on earth. In other words God ruled by fiat rather than be dialogue.

On the other hand YHWH presented the the Mosaic convenant to the Hebrews as an agreement that they could freely accept or reject. It was binding on both YHWH and Israel, so YHWH was no longer free to do whatever YHWH could do.

This is the kind of relationship YHWH has with nature, spelled out by the covenant of Noah. YHWH has promised to respect the integrity of nature and natural law, just as God has promised to respect the integrity and freedom of humanity by way of God’s Covenants.

The issue that the Trinity settled was the equality of the Persons of God. Arianism claimed that the Father is superior, Gnosticism cliamed that the Son was superior, and Montanism claimed that the Spirit was superior. The Trinity established that each Person was fully and completely God so completely equal with the others.

However it does seem that the Father is logically prior to the Son which does give the Father some kind of advantage which goes against the teaching of the Trinity and our best understanding of the Bible. This is where I see the view of God the Father as Absolute King coming from.

Humans are created in the image of God, which is the Trinity. Therefore our understanding of humanity, ourselves is closely related to how we understand the Trinity.

Also since Christians understand Creation as being formed by the Logos, Jesus Christ, Who is the Third Person of the Trinity, our understanding of our world is closely related to our understanding of the Trinity.

The Trinity works together based on Love, community, and harmony. This is consonate with ecology and not with Darwinian conflict. That is why Logos theology favors evolution based on ecology, whiuch is the only concept of natural selection which stands up to scientific scrutiny.


GJDS - #74974

December 4th 2012


A cursory examination of the history of this subject will  show you that you have oversimplified it all. Wikipedia states, “.... at Aix-la-Chapelle in 809 at which Pope Leo III forbade the use of the filioque clause and ordered that the original version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed be engraved on silver tablets displayed at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.”

The major issue during that period was an edict that the creed wording could not be changed, unless a council was convened to include ALL of the bishops.

The major reason some added “.. and (from) the ..” to the creed was because of the Arian controversy in the West. At that time, the invasion by barbarians and the spread of Arianism cause some in the west to use this wording as a counter.

Much later (11-12 centuries) misunderstandings caused by differences in Latin and Greek, but largely due to politics and the insistence of Germans on using the western creed in mass, and a weakened Pope agreeing that he had the authority to add word(s) to the creed, a schism took place.

I think we would all benefit from a closer study of the way Orhtodox teachings were arrived at, especially the great care exercised when discussing the trinity. Your hasty and oversimplistic approach adds confusion and little else.

Eddie - #74977

December 4th 2012

I agree that Roger has greatly oversimplified—and confused—the discussion of the Trinity (and a whole host of related matters).  But you won’t help him by advising him to look up things on Wikipedia!

Wikipedia is reliable if you want to know the height of Mt. Everest or the capital of Idaho or the date of the sinking of the Lusitania.  For serious discussion of religious and philosophical matters, you don’t consult Wikipedia, you consult BOOKS.  Books by trained scholars, not amateurs like (the majority of) the people who write Wikipedia articles.

A Wikipedia article might give one a starting point for discussing a philosophical or theological question—some names, dates, definitions, elementary historical background, etc.  It can therefore be useful.  But by itself it cannot be trusted.  The people writing the articles are generally hobbyists, sometimes good enough at assembling historical facts, but often not very well trained theoretically, and their judgment on the more profound questions (such as the various notions of the Trinity in Eastern and Western Christianity) is usually mediocre at best, and sometimes utterly lacking.  One must move beyond Wikipedia—and beyond internet sources generally—into scholarly books and articles, and the best of those are still not available on the internet.  

I’m not contesting any particular point you have made above; I’m just protesting against the modern generation’s unhealthy dependence upon Wikipedia (and the internet generally) as a fountain of truth.  Internet articles are only as good as their writers—and often that is not very good.

No one would dream of training himself to become an engineer or scientist or doctor or lawyer purely by using the internet.  Everyone would seek professional instruction.  But for some reason everyone thinks he can become a philosopher, historian, theologian, or expert on evolutionary theory just by surfing the internet.  But that just isn’t reality.  The internet is a great accessory to learning.  But it can never replace proper training.  Roger’s problem is that he speaks of very deep theological matters without proper training, and Wikipedia is not the answer to that problem.

GJDS - #74978

December 4th 2012


A one sentence request for better sources would suffice – but you do like to be verbose in this blog.

For anyone who wishes good sources, I recommend the following:

(a)    On Genesis 1. It is hard to go past the Sermons of Basil (easy to find on the internet); these provide extraordinary insights on the thinking and understanding of the OT and also within the context of Hellenic philosophy of the day.

(b)   On the Catholic Byzantine Church, The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is an excellent reference.

(c)     ORTHODOXY AND HERESY IN EARLIEST CHRISTIANITY by Walter Bauer is a useful source of information (this is found on the internet as an Updated Electronic English Edition by Robert A. Kraft, 10 April 1993)

(d)   It is hard to go past “Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” Books I and II by St. John of Damascus (also found on the internet)

I can suggest Calvin’s writings, but I think most Evangelists are acquainted with these. Interesting writings on Church unity and Government are given, for e.g. by Milton and St Cyprian (also found on the net). We can also look through volumes of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

However, the information I provided (even though it was from Wikipedia) is in itself correct. You would do far better by adding, or correcting, information on the topic instead of this nonsense, which makes you appear to set yourself up as the guide to all and sundry. As Gregory once commented to you, set up your own blog and allow others to ask you for input.

Eddie - #74981

December 5th 2012


I trust that when you speak of verbosity, you are aware that you aren’t exactly known for short comments yourself!

I am pleased to see that you make use of good online sources.  My point, of course, was not that all internet sources are bad, but that many of them are, and that many of the best sources are not available on the internet.  

On the subject of the Trinity, and regarding differences between East and West, to your sources I would add some print-only works:

The Early Church, by Henry Chadwick

The Four Great Heresies, by J.W.C. Wand

Documents in Early Christian Thought, eds. Wiles and Santer

The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700), by Jaroslav Pelikan

The Greek East and the Latin West, by Philip Sherrard

Whether Roger will avail himself of your sources or mine, before speaking again on these subjects, I cannot tell.  But we have done our duty in offering them.

GJDS - #74983

December 5th 2012


At long last I can truly say I enjoyed a response from you. Keep it up.

Jon Garvey - #74985

December 5th 2012

Thanks Eddie and GJDS both. I agree totally, even though I sometimes cite Wikipedia myself when I think it’s reliable (usually because if even Wikipedia agrees with me, it must be incontrovertible!)

I’d just add a point of logic: Roger says Calvin’s doctrine involved God’s acting by fiat rather than dialogue. Given that this whole discussion is about the Creation, as discussed by Wilcox, Calvin would have acted quite legitimately in quoting Genesis, “Let there be…” = “Fiat…” He could have added a NT control via Colossians 1.16 or Rev 4.11, already cited by me, but ignored by Roger. Roger next seems then to do the common BioLogos thing of confounding human freedom and covenant theology, with God’s work of the irrational creation.

If we take the first day of creation, when there was no light, how exactly was God supposed to “dialogue” with it? Teenagers sometimes grouse that they didn’t ask to be born, which is profoundly ungrateful but factually accurate. I exist because God created me by his sovereign will - Roger’s experience seems to be that he was consulted by his Creator in advance. Perhaps he can share the details of that consultaion with us?

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