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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 3

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September 11, 2012 Tags: Problem of Evil
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 3
Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece (1510-1515), Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace, France

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

Last time, I presented three implications and conclusions concerning Theistic Evolution. There is much more to say about this, so we continue the same thread—and we will pick it up yet again in two weeks, coming back once more for an historical look in about a month.

Some implications and conclusions of Theistic Evolution--continued

(4) Several leading TEs have advanced a strongly Christocentric theology of creation—stressing the idea (from the prologue of John’s gospel) that the Maker of heaven and earth is the crucified and resurrected second person of the Trinity. Especially when theodicy is the topic, they like to speak about “the crucified God,” or “the theology of the cross,” or “divine kenosis.”

On first glance, some readers might be a bit perplexed: isn’t this column supposed to be about evolution, not the crucifixion? What could those topics possibly have in common? The answer lies in theodicy, or the problem of evil and suffering in the world. As I stressed in my column about the YEC view, creationism is ultimately about theodicy—it’s not only about theodicy, to be sure, but the belief that animals must not have suffered and died before Adam and Eve committed the first sin is crucial to the “young” in Young Earth Creationism. To a significant degree, Theistic Evolution is also about theodicy. In one of the best books on science and religion that I could name, Catholic theologian John Haught explains the atheist’s view of theodicy (which he does not share) as follows:

“Evolution is incompatible with any and all religious interpretations of the cosmos, not just with Christian fundamentalism. The prevalence of chance variations, which today are called genetic ‘mutations,’ definitively refutes the idea of any ordering deity. The fact of struggle and waste in evolution decisively demonstrates that the cosmos is not cared for by a loving God. And the fact of natural selection is a clear signal of the loveless impersonality of the universe.” (Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation, p. 52)

Proponents of TE have responded to the issues raised in the latter two sentences in a variety of ways. I agree with Christopher Southgate’s analysis of the overall situation. Like several of the writers I mention this week, Southgate is a theologian with a doctorate in science; he’s also an accomplished poet. The text he wrote with many others, God, Humanity and the Cosmos: A Textbook in Science and Religion, is really much more than a textbook. I recommend it for anyone seeking a wide-ranging introduction to the principal issues.

Southgate and his collaborators see just two “possible theologies of divine action in respect of evolution,” considering that “the problems of theodicy are severe.” Option ONE: “to posit God merely as the passive, suffering companion of every creature, a view self-consistent but dubiously faithful to the Christian tradition.” Option TWO: “to mount a defence of teleological creation using a combination of [certain] theological resources,” namely these three—

  • “we must adopt a very high doctrine of humanity and suppose that indeed humans are of very particular concern to God.” This is linked with the Incarnation.
  • “we must take very seriously the cross as costly to God, as part of God’s hugely costly way of taking responsibility for the creative process.”
  • “we must give some account of the redemption of the non-human creation …” This is linked with the Trinity. (p. 279 in first edition, 1999)

Given limited space, I’ll focus almost exclusively on the second idea, though we may want to discuss all of them below.

The Crucified God

View of the entrance to the main camp of Auschwitz (May 1945). The gate bears the motto, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes one free). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Source).

We start with something that arose in a context entirely unrelated to evolution, Jürgen Moltmann’s (read more here and here) notion of The Crucified God. The theological point and the emotional impact of Moltmann’s conception is aptly captured in this stark passage, written in response to Elie Wiesel’s dark story of a child who was publicly hanged at Auschwitz: “like the cross of Christ, even Auschwitz is in God himself. Even Auschwitz is taken up into the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son and the power of the Spirit.” (p. 278) A recent sermon by Matt Bates, pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Richmond, fleshes this out for us in a very accessible way; please read the whole sermon before going any further.

Repeat: please read the sermon. It’s a vital part of what I’m trying to say.

Now that you see more clearly what the “Crucified God” is about, let’s see what John Polkinghorne says about it:

“This profound and difficult thought meets the problem of suffering at [the] level which its deep challenge demands. The insight of the Crucified God lies at the very heart of my own Christian belief, indeed of the possibility of such belief in the face of the way the world is. But this can only really be so if God is indeed truly present in that twisted figure on the tree of Calvary. Only an ontological Christology is adequate to the defence of God in the face of human suffering. God must really be there in that darkness.” (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 44)

Be sure to notice two things in this passage. First, Polkinghorne confesses that his own Christian faith depends on such a conception of God, but there are only two very brief references to evolution in the entire eloquent chapter from which I’ve quoted. There’s plenty of science there, but almost all of it is modern physics, not biology. (I’ll leave it as an exercise to “students” to get a copy of this excellent little book and fill in the blanks.) In other words, evolution doesn’t shape Polkinghorne’s theology nearly as much as his theology shapes his view of evolution.

The second thing to notice is that in the last three sentences Polkinghorne is doing something subtle, but extremely important—something that I don’t want anyone to miss. Contrary to some of the most influential voices in the science and religion “dialogue” (some examples would be Haught, Ian Barbour, and the late Arthur Peacocke), Polkinghorne affirms the full divinity and humanity of Christ, in a classical Chalcedonian sense. Read those sentences again a couple of times, and you should see what I’m driving at. As he says a bit later on, “Unless there really is a God who really was ‘in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19), then the cross is no answer to the bitter problem of the suffering of the world.” (p. 45) In other words, one can only take this approach to theodicy unless one actually believes in the reality of the Incarnation; only an orthodox Christian can speak meaningfully of the “Crucified God.” In the final part of this column, when I’ll present Polkinghorne as a contemporary exemplar of a theologically “orthodox” TE, it’s partly this aspect of his thought that I will have in mind.

Lucas Cranach the Elder

Finally, I should note that the term “crucified God” is not actually modern. Although Moltmann wrote an influential book about it, the language comes from Martin Luther. Another physicist-theologian, George Murphy, writes in a highly Lutheran way about The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross, advancing the view that a “theology of the cross” in which God sets aside power to become a participant in the universe, even to the point of death, takes priority over a “theology of glory,” in which we seek God first in the power behind nature, not in the powerlessness of the cross. For a short version of Murphy’s ideas, go here.

Once again, we need to stop mid-stream. These ideas are deep and perhaps too new for many readers, and it’s best to reflect on them before we go further and even deeper.








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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Gregory - #72653

September 11th 2012

“In other words, evolution doesn’t shape Polkinghorne’s theology nearly as much as his theology shapes his view of evolution.” - Ted Davis

That may be largely because he is not a biologist.

A comparison can be read here: http://www.counterbalance.org/ghc-div/peaco1-frame.html

Ted Davis - #72664

September 11th 2012

A good suggestion, Gregory, but the comparison between Polkinghorne and Peacocke (in the URL you give) does not involve biology vs physics. Peacocke’s doctorate was in physical biochemistry, and his university lectureships were in chemistry and biophysical chemistry, not biology per se, after which he started teaching theology. http://www.giffordlectures.org/Author.asp?AuthorID=255

As Polkinghorne has observed on occasion, a large majority of the “science and religion” writers come from the physical sciences, not the biological sciences. Even Ian Barbour, who strongly pushes process theism, partly in response to evolution, is not a biologist. He, too, was trained in physics. http://www.giffordlectures.org/Author.asp?AuthorID=207

I’ve sometimes noted this phenomenon, and suggested a possible reason: physics still is in some ways “natural philosophy,” a broader and more fundamental field than biology. Whereas biology applies (as far as we know) to only some things on this planet, physics applies to everything in the universe. And, physicists still like to ask philosophical questions about matter, time, and space, whereas biologists (it seems to me) don’t often ask, what is life? Indeed, perhaps the best known book with that title was written by a physicist—Schrodinger.

Another comment about the comparison on counterbalance, which (we should note) comes from Southgate’s book, the one I cited above. It’s well done. However, if you go to another part of the book, where Polkinghorne & Peacocke are compared on the Resurrection (http://www.counterbalance.org/ghc-div/resur-frame.html), I think their views are much futher apart than they are presented to be. Polkinghorne is not a theological naturalist; Peacocke was, in spades. That’s a very large difference, IMO, and one more reason why I see Polkinghorne as “orthodox” and Peacocke as not “orthodox.” I’ll mention both in that way in my final column on TE (the historical column).

Anyone trying to classify TE birds must be able to distinguish a Peacocke from a Polkinghorne. All too often, in my experience, observers pay only scan attention and miss both the subtleties and the more obvious differences. Those who fail to notice such things, IMO, should hand over the binoculars and start taking notes.

Gregory - #72693

September 12th 2012

Yes, Ted, I’m aware of Arthur Peacocke’s physical biochemistry/bio-physical chemistry background and had a very interesting private conversation with him about the limits of evolution. He struggled with the same question ASA folks struggled with when I asked them/you a couple of years ago and which is a major drag on definitions of TE thus far presented. What are examples of things that don’t evolve? This was a question he just didn’t seem prepared for, though I can report it led to explorations in the field of psychology for him.

If Polkinghorne were a biologist, it is highly possible (even probable?) that evolution would shape his theology nearly as much as (or more than) his theology shapes his view of evolution. That is surely not a contention that only IDists can logically make. Please be encouraged to provide counter-examples of this with actual biologists, Ted, if you are aware of such ‘balance’ among living biologists.

“Whereas biology applies (as far as we know) to only some things on this planet, physics applies to everything in the universe.” - Ted Davis

Are you suggesting there is a physics of ideas, Ted? Is there a physics of hope, a physics of faith, a physics of love? That sounds more like physicalism than physics.

Please understand that I don’t react well to the term ‘everything’ in such cases, instead holding to the Aristotle’s (or Solomon’s) wisdom that ‘everything’ has its place, including the field of physics and physical descriptions/explanations. No, Ted, I disagree that “physics applies to everything in the universe” and contend that only a seriously misguided Philosophy could suggest that. Are you suggesting there is a physics of wisdom (sophia), Ted? I really don’t think you want to say that.

Please correct, Ted, but isn’t the opposite of ‘orthodox,’ as you are about to label people relating to TE, commonly considered to be either ‘unorthodox’ or ‘heterodox’? If so, your claim of “Peacocke as not ‘orthodox’,” is to me rather confusing. Don’t you just mean he’s ‘unorthodox’ or ‘heterodox’? 

Eddie - #72698

September 12th 2012


For the record, I remark that I didn’t have any of the confusions that Gregory remarks upon regarding your choice of words.  

It would never have occurred to me to take “everything in the universe” to include love, faith, etc.  I inferred, from context, that you were talking about everything in the physical world.  (Indeed, it is questionable whether love, faith, etc. are “in the universe” in the sense that planets and stars are—though they certainly are realities.)  Similarly, I’m straining to imagine how someone might be confused by your choice of “not orthodox” over “unorthodox,” given that the prefix “un-” means “not.”  So I don’t think your writing is at all unclear, if one reads sympathetically, for the point you you are driving at, rather than getting hung up on individual words and phrases.

I will have to think much more about what you are saying here before I can properly respond.  However, I have an initial remark:  It seems to me that you (rightly) want to discern which TEs have an orthodox understanding of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.  What strikes me is that ID critics of TE (especially of the popular forms of TE of which I have spoken) seem to be more focused on the question which TEs have an orthodox understanding of Creation, Providence, Omnipotence, and other doctrines.  So there may be some talking at cross-purposes going on.  If you are saying:  “Polkinghorne has a perfectly orthodox understanding of the Incarnation and Resurrection, so TE is OK,” whereas others are saying, “Miller has a very unorthodox understanding of theodicy, so TE is no good,” it would seem that people are comparing apples with oranges, and that some lines of communication need to be established.

Gregory - #72703

September 12th 2012

It’s not ‘confusion,’ Eddie, it’s ‘correction.’

The choice of words was exaggeration. I am asking to stop exaggerating, whatever the context. Once again, Eddie made no attempt to address the apparent ideology involved: physicalism. ‘Everything’ - that was Ted’s chosen word and it is disagreeable.

Please just don’t be petty, Eddie. You talk of ‘unorthodox,’ but not ‘heterodox.’ It is a common display of partially addressing a topic as a mere rhetorician, rather than as someone capably trained in philosophy relevant to today.

“biologists (it seems to me) don’t often ask, what is life?” - Ted

It’s ironic, then that some people consider ‘biology’ in their ‘map of knowledge’ as a ‘life science.’

Isn’t that partly the meaning of ‘BioLogos’ in your view, Ted - that BioLogos proponents are more interested than most biologists in asking ‘what is life’?

Eddie - #72706

September 12th 2012


For previous remarks of Ted Davis on this subject, check out: 


See comment 160:

“First, it’s the physical scientists, not the biologists, who deal in their own disciplines with the fundamental properties of matter, with the nature of nature if you will. Physics is the modern form of “natural philosophy,” and natural philosophers have often asked deep questions about the existence and nature of nature. It’s also far more wide ranging than the biological sciences: everything in the universe is a physical system; fewer things are chemical systems, and only a tiny handful of things (relatively speaking) are biological systems.”

Now, it’s clear from this paragraph that Ted is talking about nature, natural objects, the world of matter and energy, etc.  He’s not talking about love or faith.  He’s saying that physics deals with the whole physical universe, whereas chemistry and biology deal with only parts of it.

You were “present” when Ted wrote that, and you probably read it as well, since you were active under that column, writing comments both before and after #160.  And if you read it, you could have applied it to what Ted wrote above.  That is, you could have read Ted in intellectual context, instead of jumping on the word “everything” and making Ted out to be a “physicalist”—which you must know, after years of interacting with him in different forums, that he is not.

There was no “ideology” in Ted’s use of “everything.”  In context, it was clear enough.  So the question is why you would bother to offer such a “correction.”  It looks more like trying to catch Ted out on a verbal slip, than any real attempt to address what he was driving at.

As for “unorthodox,” it wasn’t as a “rhetorician” that I was addressing it—religion was my undergraduate major, and I am reasonably familiar with how “unorthodox” and “heterodox” and “not orthodox” are used by scholars of religion, and I found nothing unclear about Ted’s usage.  I would suggest to you that if anything is “petty,” it is chiding someone for saying “not orthodox” rather than “unorthodox.”  Corrections are only useful when someone has actually said something that is wrong; and in this case, Ted said nothing wrong.

Gregory - #72716

September 13th 2012

Eddie, this insistent line you’re taking is unhelpful.

The statement “physics applies to everything in the universe” is simply wrong; it is an exaggeration. Appeal to context doesn’t change this. Physics does *not* apply to “everything in the universe.” If Ted had added ‘physical’ as a qualifier to ‘universe,’ we would not be having this correction. Jon Garvey’s language is more accurate in #72705, when he speaks of “everything in the physical universe,” which may or may not have benefited from my earlier correction to Ted.

Since you’re referencing my participating and Ted’s on another website, I have a very simple question, Eddie: did you personally participate on that thread you linked to in #72706? A simple Yes or No is enough. Not answering will in my view constitute a Yes.

On that thread, Ted also wrote: “the biologists are the ones who deal all the time with the ‘nastiness’ of creation, the ‘dark side’ of creation, such as parasitism and virulent micro-organisms. They are the ones who usually face questions of theodicy.”

This is precisely why I responded in #72653 as I did, saying that Ted’s claim of ‘theology shaping evolution’ is explained partly, perhaps in large part because Polkinghorne is not a biologist. Those who face questions of theodicy more directly in their work, i.e. biologists compared with physicists, are more likely to allow evolution to ‘shape’ their theology. This largely explains why Charles Darwin lost his faith, after all. Can you imagine even how much more anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists face theodicy than biologists, which also suggests why fewer scholars in these realms are theists than physicists?

I agree with Ted on the challenge of theodicy in various realms and support involving a more holistic view of the university as it deals with knowledge united, rather than fragmented and divided.

Wrt whether or not Ted is a ‘physicalist,’ I must admit I don’t know. The language of physicalism has been taken on by some Christians in recent years.

Indeed, this is a 2nd reason for raising the simply linguistic issue, Eddie, which you might not know about because you didn’t participate there. Kevin J Corcoran just published two posts, declaring himself a ‘physicalist’ at BioLogos: http://biologos.org/blog/dispatches-from-the-physicalist-frontier-part-1 Does this suggest BioLogos is supportive of ‘physicalism’ also, or just that one contributor accept that ideology? Surely it would be wrong to pin Corcoran’s views on Ted Davis just because they post under a common Blog.

Massaging and adjusting one’s language is part of daily life. Good teachers help us to see how we properly and improperly use words to express ourselves. Especially on a thread aimed at dealing with theodicy, we are not restricted to the ‘physical universe’ alone. We are facing questions of a supernatural or supranatural character. Surely, it makes sense likewise not to say that Jesus ‘evolved’ onto the cross. That is, Christ chose and/or had foreknowledge that he would be killed (and RISE again).

Ted wrote: “To a significant degree, Theistic Evolution is also about theodicy.”

I’d like to hear more about how the ‘evolution’ (as a biological science) is involved with theodicy, in addition to/collaboration with the theistic/theological discussion of theodicy. Indeed, the Big-L in BioLogos, if Darwin had believed in it, would likely have ‘saved’ him from rejecting Christianity (partly) because of theodicy.

Eddie - #72717

September 13th 2012


In answer to your question, no.  This is the first place I’ve participated.  But I’ve been “reading up” on ID and TE over the past few years, and I came across Ted Davis’s very perceptive comments in a few places on UD—which led me to read his columns here.

I’ve noticed your participation on some other sites, where you often make very pedantic points about language, even debating at length about capital letters.   I see that you continue those habits here.  I do not agree that molehills should be made into mountains. 

Nobody ever said anything about Jesus “evolving” onto the cross.  If you are trying to say that Ted’s usage of words is distortive in that way, I simply disagree.  He is a very clear writer, very careful in the way he uses words. 

As you are unwilling to make the commitment I asked for in our previous exchange, this is the last time I will address you.  I wish you good luck in your academic career.

Gregory - #72720

September 13th 2012

Well, what can I say, Eddie? This is the first place you’ve participated on an Internet Blog (!!), so perhaps you should learn to read more charitably and not jump in on conversations like you did in #72698, which weren’t addressed to you. Saying “this is the last time I will address you,” for the 4th or 5th time in a month is not fruitful behaviour on Blogs. It is impolite. And since this is the first time/place you’ve participated on a Blog, let me offer this as a friendly suggestion; if you say ‘last time’ then be sure to stand behind it and mean what you say.

“Nobody ever said anything about Jesus “evolving” onto the cross.” - Eddie

That’s right, nobody said that. And I was surely not saying Ted’s words were distortive that way. Again, the problem is that TE, when it becomes TEism (about which we still have not heard much from Ted), has a tendency to suggest that “everything evolves” because evolution (cf. natural history) is “God’s means of creation.”

By implication, that therefore includes the ‘evolution’ of Jesus onto the cross and also the ‘evolution’ of the concentration camps sited in Ted’s OP. What other way is there to view it when God creates ‘everything’ by ‘evolution’? Sin also therefore ‘evolved’ into being, rather than being the result of a (single) historical choice by a real, historical Adam and Eve, according to some TEs, which hopefully Ted will classify as not ‘orthodox,’ ‘unorthodox’ or even ‘heterodox’. The way to solve this, to be responsible to orthodox Christianity by Ted and/or BioLogos is to speak clearly and directly about ‘things that don’t evolve’ so we can better understand the limitations of this philosophy of science and theology called ‘theistic evolution.’ That’s certainly not an easy task, but it is what I am asking for as a contribution to clarity on the topic.

Re: pedantry, this whole series is purposefully pedantic. I don’t fault Ted for that, but take it as a good, welcome thing. There are many evangelical Christians in the United States that need to learn about evolutionary science and how it is predominantly compatible with their faith. Teach away, Ted!

I’m a teacher at university too. Please forgive me for sounding pedantic, Eddie!

However, I reserve the right, as a scholar and thus colleague of Ted’s to correct him when I see something wrong with his approach, just as I stringently defend his right to correct me if and when he discovers errors in my thinking.

The point of language I made in Thread 2 of the TE series is a very strong (& imo, very important, if underrated) one. 1) BioLogos is opposed to the ideology of ‘evolutionism,’ 2) That suggests that BioLogos welcome language that opposes ‘evolutionism,’ 3) to Ted, ‘anti-evolutionism’ does not mean opposition to ‘evolutionism,’ but rather ‘anti-evolution’ and/or ‘creationism,’ 4) therefore Ted has demonstrated that he has/possesses in his vocabulary no single term *like* ‘anti-evolutionism’ that he can use to ‘oppose evolutionism.’ I see that as problematic and took the time to be pedantic about it in order to possibly help to solve that situation.

Regarding capital letters, Eddie, like I said, I predict Ted will use Owen Gingerich’s powerful and well-represented distinction in his series on ID. That’s more than just a ‘molehill’ to Ted, Owen and I and many others who reject the ‘scientificity’ of Intelligent Design theories. Like I said, I find your IDTE good on intention, but redundant (TE involves God’s creative intelligence), as well as lacking in detail and seriousness, just as you don’t take seriously a distinction that Ted, Owen, I an many others hold as valid and descriptive of the IDM.

Good luck participating at your first Internet Blog, Eddie.

Now hopefully back to theodicy, and Theistic Evolution, Part 3…

Ted Davis - #72722

September 13th 2012


Eddie’s comments on what I was driving at, in my observations about physics and biology, are accurate. God is not a physical system, and there may be other such entities. I simply mean that the percentage of “stuff” in the universe falls under the “laws” of physics is immensely larger than that which is described by biology; and, that physics is a more fundamental discipline than biology, insofar as every biological system is *also* a physical system, but the converse simply is not true.

You are reading too much into my comments here.

Gregory - #72727

September 13th 2012

Ted, I am reading carefully. I read what I see. I read what you wrote.

“I simply mean that the percentage of ‘stuff’ in the universe falls under the ‘laws’ of physics is immensely larger than that which is described by biology; and, that physics is a more fundamental discipline than biology, insofar as every biological system is *also* a physical system, but the converse simply is not true.” - Ted

That is surely agreeable and basic. But that isn’t what you wrote above.

You wrote “physics applies to everything in the universe,” which is a false statement and I cannot imagine why you would say that.

I well understand Eddie’s point (and his “last time I will address you” attitude in the face of challenges). But what you said was not true. Are you are not willing to stand corrected even on that simple statement? My tongue slips sometimes as a teacher too, Ted. My students challenge me and I can stand firm or retract. Surely you are not above correction. This is one correction that is easy to make - just add ‘physical’ to ‘universe’.

“Physics does not apply to everything in the universe,” but it does apply “to everything in the physical universe.” This is because the universe is not entirely physical.

In the philosophy of science (PoS) discourse, which neither you nor Eddie is trained in, I can assure you this is an important distinction to make. And it does suggest ‘physicalism’ if you are suggesting that the universe is entirely physical.

Again, can we get back to theodicy and theistic evolution (TE), please?

Ted Davis - #72746

September 13th 2012


I understand why you interpreted my comments as you did. No implied criticism here, simply an affirmation that my intended meaning was the one Eddie spelled out.

On philosophy of science, I’m certainly no philosopher, but I do have some graduate training in that field—all HPS students at Indiana must do course work in both the “H” and the “P.” Not extensive training, but enough to be able to read many PoS articles without being lost and enough to know that PoS is not what I do myself. In my case, I studied with Noretta Koertge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noretta_Koertge) and the late Alberto Coffa (http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/bfc/view?docId=B71-1985&chunk.id=d1e97&toc.id=&brand=bfc). 

I can’t speak for Eddie’s background, obviously. What about yours?

Gregory - #72753

September 13th 2012


With due respect, I don’t think you do understand why I interpreted your comments as I did. Read again the bold points in #72727. Your ‘intended meaning’ betrays what you wrote and a correction would be easy to make.

You seem not to understand the importance of ideology in the conversation at all. This is demonstrated by your wanting to avoid talking about it as quickly as possible in a previous thread in this series. Yet ‘ideology’ is what much (even most) of the misunderstanding between TE, EC, ID, YEC and OEC is all about!

Creationism is an ideology. Evolutionism is an ideology. (neo-)Darwinism is an ideology. Physicalism is an ideology. Empiricism is an ideology. Scientism is an ideology. Concordism is an ideology. Etc. I honestly don’t see how you could have had much training in PoS (though perhaps because that was @30 years ago), unless it was narrow western analytic thought that didn’t introduce you to the various meanings of ideology impacting on and being impacted by science. Your apparent unwillingness to consider how ‘theistic evolution’ turns into the ideology of ‘theistic evolutionism’ (which I have briefly defined already) in this series has been thus far disappointing, though I hold out hope for your upcoming orthodox/heterodox distinction.

At my blog you can find this piece dealing in part with ideology, drawing on the work of BioLogos’ Thomas Burnett and our exchange here: http://humanextension.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/darwinism-ideolog/

Do you really want to get into a public comparison of our graduate and post-graduate training in PoS, Ted? I’d prefer to honour the teacher/historian here, while much philosophy is involved in the topic too. Ask again and I’ll disclose. I’ll be presenting a paper on PoS at an int’l HPS conference next month and of course will involve talk of ideology there.

Ted Davis - #72755

September 13th 2012


Your view of these issues in terms of competing “ideologies” is certainly welcome here. It’s not the view I’m presenting, obviously, but my angle on this topic hardly the sole relevant or important one. You should feel entirely free to present your perspective(s) as alternative ways of seeing the controversy. Do so at any point in the comments, as you think best. As a professional sociologist, you undoubtedly have much to say that will be a valuable addition to the “class.”

I offered the information about my training in PoS simply for one reason, Gregory: you claimed that I have so such training, which is plainly false. As you surmise, it was all in analytical philosophy—“narrow western analytic thought,” as you aptly put it. It did not treat science as “ideology,” but I don’t doubt that aspects of science do indeed reflect ideological commitments. Your training in sociology, however, was surely more focused on this than mine in HPS. Dive in whenever you like and present your perspective(s).

Gregory - #72784

September 14th 2012

Thank you for that, Ted.

GJDS - #72765

September 13th 2012


I am grappling with your emphasis on ideology and would welcome a discussion with you on the following:

1) ideology (-ies) may refer to a system of ideas, and the most common usage is in politics. The term also refers to set of beliefs characterisitc of social groups (perhaps a ‘smaller’ version of a system) and even to individuals.

2) my take on the approach to evolution has been that it has been underlined by belief that has prevented a new approach (as is so often seen in the sciences) to the central tenet, which is the bio-world and its interdependence (usually termed the ecological view). Often evolutionists will appropriate ecology under the heading of adaptability - however selection may be considered irrlevant by a rigorous view of ecology.

3) Thus, would you see a distinction between belief underpinning the approach to, let us call it, neo-Darwinian thinking, as opposed to a scientific approach that ensures the academic freedom, which is so central to scientific research, but more importantly to seeking a new concepts and/or ideas? If so, how would you see this requirement (i.e. can we freely research such a topic?), both within the notion of the neo-Dawinian view, and theistic evolution (which necessarily includes belief); should we not also look at atheistic evolution in the same context?

HornSpiel - #72655

September 11th 2012

Any theology that tries to lay the blame for evil solely on Adam’s fall, or even Satan, belittles God. There is no way around it. If God is god, in all his majesty and glory, then as the saying goes, the buck stops with him.

God’s suffering is not, cannot be, though some divine atonement for evil. It must be, it seems to me, a sign that the true and only path to Love and Joy leads through suffering, even for God. God not only calles us through suffering, but comforts us in the process.

If this is true, then evolution, with all its death and “suffering” looses it’s sting and becomes a beautiful thing.

Gregory - #72661

September 11th 2012


Your comment reminded me of C.S. Pierce’s “agapastic evolution” or “evolutionary love,” which can be seen here: http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/bycsp/evolove/evolove.htm


Merv - #72670

September 11th 2012

What is “theological naturalism”?  I tried to follow Cornelius Hunter’s explication of this and still don’t really know what that refers to other than something that is apparently supposed to look like (or be?) methodological naturalism.  But that doesn’t sound right either in the context Ted was using it.

Can I get some help from some of you toting the binoculars?  Point out some of Peacocke’s plummage to me.


Jon Garvey - #72683

September 12th 2012

No binoculars here, Merv, but I think Theological Naturalism is the belief that natural, scientifically describable, processes account for the sum of God’s activity in the Universe. In other words, he does nothing special.

In Peacocke’s case that’s tied to process theology, in which each event is an interaction between the material world and God’s somehow creative “wooing” of it into new places. But in practice, that adds up to scientific explanation being sufficient - maybe its even just another way to picture God’s sustaining power.

Polkinghorne, though, is committed to divine action in, at very least, the sphere of salvation through the incarnation, resurrection and so on. And he has been active in discussing possible modes of divine action in the government of nature (ie that God still does things that effect a different result). I think he’s only interested in models of divine action that are compatible with science, since he seems, unlike say Alvin Plantinga, to be committed to the inviolability of natural law - but then he’s a physicist, after all.

Ted Davis - #72690

September 12th 2012

Thank you for answering Merv’s question, Jon, and quite well. For further reading one might go to http://www.philosophy-religion.org/world/theological.htm, http://faculty.uml.edu/rinnis/2000_stone_2_1.pdf, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_naturalism. There are various forms of “religious naturalism,” as this last URL points out. David Ray Griffin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ray_Griffin) is especially associated with this today.

Peacocke drew on process theism, but he’s probably better known as an adocate of panentheism (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/), which is not the same thing as process theism. Polkinghorne believes that the eschatological kingdom will be panentheistic, but not the present creation, in which there is a sharp distinction between creatures and the Creator.

On divine action, it’s true that Polkinghorne believes (as I do) that God nearly always works within the created order—but, not always. Some events, such as Creation, Resurrection and Eschatology (the new creation), involve divine action that is not entirely within the created order. Here he differs from fundamentally from Peacocke, as far as I can tell (sometimes my binoculars fog over when I view a Peacocke).

Thus, in The Faith of a Physicist, a commentary on the Nicene Creed, Polkinghorne devotes most of a chapter to exploring “whether the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead is one that is credible for us today.”  Along the way he rejects the view associated with Bultmann and others, “that what happened was [only] a faith event in the minds of the disciples,” placing the source of doubt not in science itself, but in David Hume’s scepticism. Hume’s “confidence that the laws of nature were known with a certainty that extends even into realms of unprecedented and hitherto unexplored phenomena is one that was certainly falsified by the history of science subsequent to the eighteenth century, and it could never be pressed to dispose of an event like the resurrection of Jesus, which claims to be a particular act of God in a unique circumstance.”

Merv - #72671

September 11th 2012

... perhaps ... methodological naturalism in the hands of a theist?  Would that qualify as TN?

Gregory - #72697

September 12th 2012

I’d give that a TEN - Theistic Ethological Naturalism (TEN) - for effort, Merv!

(Oops, that was ‘methodological’, not ‘ethological’.) ;)

GJDS - #72672

September 11th 2012

The matters in this column are indeed profound and I agree we need to reflect and consider a number of teachings of the Christian faith; I will consider and read as many of your useful references as time will permit. At this early state, and with the previous proviso, I ask from you Ted:

In your material, how can we discuss freedom within the wider context of human uniqueness and human agency, especially when we are also taught that the Law of God is Holy and just?  

Isn’t the crucifixion of Christ has as much to do with defeating the power of sin (i.e. death) and also to acknowledge the ability for human beings to be agents of our own (and each others) suffering as well as our good deeds? How does this freedom impact on God as the Son of Man?

Jon Garvey - #72681

September 12th 2012


Jurgen Moltmann’s “Suffering God” theology has been highly influential across many confessional boundaries as a response, of course, to the supreme human evils of the 20th century. It has also “thickened up” the centrality of the cross to every aspect of Christianity, which is an excellent thing.

So it’s not surprising if (as you say, and there’s no reason to doubt it) it has influenced Polkinghorne’s theology independently of any particular consideration of biological evolution. As a physicist and pastor, one would expect “suffering” to have little relevance in the sphere of fundamental partners and a lot in the human condition.

But in most theological discourse, theodicy has not become the main controlling factor in theology. Richard Bauckham, for example, who wrote an appreciation of Moltmann, adopts his work into a well-rounded scheme fully consistent with historical Christianity.

But it seems to me that many TEs, both in the physics-based science-faith area and in the biology-based “popular” models, have allowed a natural-evil theodicy to mould their theology of evolution to an excessive degree. Or perhaps better, they have taken a particular slant on natural evil (billions of years of agonising and useless deaths, etc) and spliced it to the concept of the suffering God before extrapolating speculatively to conclusions often very far from orthodoxy.

I liked Hornspiel’s brief outline above, as an example of an understanding (whether correct or not) that is consistent with the theme that what we see as the evil of suffering may ultimately prove to be blessing. One would need to flesh out just what that means for a stegosurus with annoying ticks, of course, but it maintains the core idea of a “good” creation, with the proviso made by many of the Fathers (like Augustine) that our vision is limited both by our earthbound humanity and by our sin.

Such views as Hornspiel’s seem to me very distant from those that see (and exaggerate) evil everywhere in the natural creation, and distance God from it to the extent of deeming it “blasphemy” to call it part of God’s work. God is thus divorced from his work and relegated to an observer, nature elevated from God’s handiwork to a bungling Demiurge in need of redemption, and we ourselves alienated from the world God gave us in order that we might praise his wisdom and goodness for it.

I agree with GJDS that the whole emphasis on Christ as redeemer in both Scripture and tradition is as the defeat of sin and its child, human death - and not the redemption of what God has freely made.

Jon Garvey - #72684

September 12th 2012

Erratum: “partners” = “particles”!

Ted Davis - #72691

September 12th 2012


Please say more about those “conclusions often very far from orthodoxy.” As I indicate here, for Polkinghorne (at least), the crucified God is central to theodicy, and therefore (for him) central to his Christian faith. I will have more to say about such an Incarnational approach to suffering in my next installment, showing what are IMO orthodox ways to take the crucifixion more seriously in theodicy as well as eschatology—more seriously, that is, than most Protestants usually have taken it. It seems to me that Catholics have long emphasized the suffering of our Lord upon that dreaded instrument of torture, and have seen themselves as believers taking up the cross in various ways, and I believe myself that they have been absolutely right to do so. This is one reason why I’ve used the Grunewald image. I identify with this particular crucifixion more than any other, because it’s so gruesome.

IMO, the idea that the crucified and resurrected Son of God is the Maker of Heaven and Earth is a crucial, and often overlooked, biblical truth. The prologue to John’s gospel is IMO the most important creation text we have; I put it over Genesis, Job, the Psalms—you name it. I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of thinking Incarnationally about Creation. That’s the bottom line for me, in this part of my series.

Jon Garvey - #72696

September 12th 2012


“Please say more about those “conclusions often very far from orthodoxy.”

I’ll try a couple of examples I’ve seen.

(1) That because animal suffering is a true evil, the creation was tainted even before man’s arrival here and therefore God, as it were, owes a debt for the unjust suffering down the ages. Were Christ not to die, every creature that has died would have a just complaint against him.

(2) That mankind’s sin was an inevitable consequence of the way God made the world evolve through “selfish” behaviours, or maybe selfish genes. It is therefore an obligation on the godhead, rather than an act of supreme grace, for Christ to redeem mankind through suffering.

I can’t claim to have worked through all the things that have been written about “the crucified God”, Ted, but don’t you think there is at least some distinction to be made between “the crucified and resurrected God is the Maker of Heaven and Earth” and “the Maker of Heaven and Earth became man and was crucified and resurrected”? I know time and eternity are tough concepts, but it has never been historic mainstream teaching, as far as I’m aware, that the eternally begotten Son eternally had a human nature.

Ted Davis - #72724

September 13th 2012

Thank you very much for this, Jon. I appreciate your interest in my columns, and I value your point of view.

Two comments in return.

First, at the very start of this series, in the audio interview linked there, I gave my view that theodicy *does* need to be re-thought in light of evolution. I said that in response to one of Mr Dowd’s questions. Dowd believes that, with evolution, everything is up for grabs, such that—in his case—there is no theism whatsoever at the end. I obviously reject any such conclusion, but I do agree that evolution—and certain other aspects of modern science that are unrelated to evolution—provide Christians with good reasons to re-think *some* of our theology. Not to say this, IMO, is to deny that science is capable of arriving at reasonable approximations to truth. Since theology (IMO) has a similar goal, there can be some situation in which we just need to roll up our theological sleeves and get to work. Incidentally, I would say the same thing about theodicy simply in light of an “old” earth, given the traditional view that animal suffering results from human sin. I know that’s not your view—and it’s not mine—but it is a view that has been very widely held for a long time, even if (as you have pointed out) there have always been other interpretations of Genesis on that score.

Second, relative to my language about the crucified Maker of Heaven and Earth, you (reasonably) questioned what I meant. By wording your reply more carefully than I worded my own statement, you’ve highlighted an important issue. I’m not a theologian (obviously), and I have to leave formal statements of this type to those trained to make them. In my next column, I will quote a passage from Robert Russell that expresses my thoughts more formally. I will be interested to see what you have to say then—apart from (I am guessing) disagreeing with his view of animal suffering. It’s the rest of his statement that I’m calling to your attention, in advance.

In reading your reply, if I might offer a little humor, I was reminded of those poor souls who were declared “heretics” for having misplaced modifiers. Seriously, though, as you must realize, Christian thinkers have often wondered just what Christ knew (e.g.) in his human nature; and, especially in modern times, the so-called “impassability” of God the Father has been questioned—IMO, with good reason (perhaps you do not agree). For me, at least, a God who is not actually moved by the suffering of the Son—moved in a way that has actual meaning to us mortals who are also moved by suffering—is not a God in whom I have any interest.

Jon Garvey - #72731

September 13th 2012


“those poor souls who were declared heretics…” Hey boy, you’re not one of them thar “filioque” he-re-tics, are you?

What Christ knew in his human nature… and similarly, what the Logos experienced in his pre-incarnation nature, are surely both things that it’s inevitable to wonder about, but hugely dangerous to draw conclusions about. As I thought about the possible implications of the Son being “pre-incarnately” crucified and risen, I also realised that Jesus went to the cross “for the joy set before him” - so if God is eternally suffering, he’s also eternally joyful, so there’s a paradox from which to steer well clear.

I’ve been reading Bauckham and others on Moltmann and the impassibility of God. I’m wondering if the equation of “impassibility” with “less than emotional” might be partly a misunderstanding of how the old writers thought. Just as God’s “simplicity” means that his thought is orders of magnitude higher than ours, I wonder if his emotion might be too. Anyway, I’ve asked Ed Feser, who seems to be an authority on all things Thomistic, so maybe he’ll reply and I’ll get back to you.

Ted Davis - #72692

September 12th 2012


If Christ’s suffering isn’t about redeeming the whole creation, then what do you make, then, Jon, of “ta panta,” (ALL things), in Col 1:20, especially considering its use earlier in the same passage to mean, well, ALL things in heaven and earth?

“through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Jon Garvey - #72695

September 12th 2012

τα παντα: Here’s an attempt ... what it doesn‘t mean, clearly, in Paul’s thinking is a creation in any way corrupt before man’s sin, for evolutionary time wasn’t on his horizon.

Given both what I infer from his teaching, and the mainstream of theological views of nature at least up to Aquinas, I don’t think he meant a created order rendered evil or deficient by sin either (there are clues like his teaching that all things created by God are good if they are received with thanksgiving, in the context of diet).

Further, “all things” has some likely limitations, as it’s not obvious that Paul believed in universal salvation, and certainly not the reconciliation of the “evil powers in the heavenly realms,” who were to be judged.

So my brief (immediate) conclusion is that τα παντα, in Paul’s thought, implies (a) an emphasis on the efficacy of the Lord’s redemptive work for all humanity, (b) the cleansing, through that, of the earth that has been defiled by sin and shed human blood, (c) hence the restoration of the whole cosmos (aka “heaven and earth”, as Genesis 1.1) as sacred space and (d) the bonus - the transformation, through Christ’s resurrection, of both man and the created order into the realm of spirit, which in all likelihood includes the passage about its being freed from its bondage to decay.

That attributes a cosmic transformative fruit from Christ’s work, true. But the last (d), I would argue, is not a redemptive act - ie the buying out of slavery to evil, as is mankind’s redemption. Rather it is a perfection of what was created good, but limited by the nature of the material, as a suitable place of worship for reddemed, and transformed, humanity.

Is that coherent as a first attempt?

Ted Davis - #72726

September 13th 2012

Coherent enough for me, Jon, thank you.

Jon Garvey - #72732

September 13th 2012

Aside ... I’m glad you asked me to justify my position in the light of a specific Scripture text. You might have got a different class of reply from Moltmann. When his exegesis was criticised by Richard Bauckham (basically a fan), he replied that he was a hearer of the texts who becomes a friend of the texts, who discusses with them what they are talking about, but unlike the biblical Richard Bauckhams of this world, the theologian, or theology, is not subject to the dictation of the texts, or the dictatorship of the exegetes.

I’m biased because I’ve known Bauckham and not Moltmann, but there seems an awful lot of elbow room for error in that reply.

GJDS - #72793

September 14th 2012

Hi Jon,

I am interested in your comments on Theodicy - I have worked (on and of when time and energy permit) on Salvation, as the core tenet of the Christian faith, and naturally need to deal with good and evil. I present a small portion of this for any comment you may wish to make:

The subject has perplexed many and has often tested, and broken, many people’s faith. The Book of Job is the usual starting point for most discussions.

I discus this subject within the overall theme: “What is a human being?” followed by, “Our idea(s) of God.”

(1)   The question of humanity starts with, “Since God is known by revelation, what attribute do human beings possess that makes revelation possible?”

(2)   Then, “What is the origin of evil?” 

On (1) the context for these questions is the Bible; revelation is possible because God created humanity and placed on them the ‘image of God’; we human beings are attributed with spirit that can respond to spiritual knowledge and with comprehension. 

The nature of revelation however, is not ‘forced’ or an act of compulsion; instead the provision and response to the revealed truth is based on a singular attribute of freedom. If a human being chooses to respond, the major premise would be as response to total goodness. We normally refer to this as, ‘with all of the heart and soul’. A minor premise would be to ‘reason’ on the revelation and to know one’s response to it.

This reasoning and the nature of revealed knowledge, presents numerous possibilities; these may include previous beliefs, cultural settings, and so on. Because revelation is not sense based knowledge, reason requires the guidance of Faith. It is here that we may differentiate between those who may hear of matters pertaining to God, and those who hear and believe. It is impossible for anyone, but the individual in question, to judge which possibilities the individual has chosen (except by witnessing his/her actions and life as a consequence to that revelation).

Within this setting, I ask the second question, “What is the origin of evil?”

On (1) I note that human beings would respond to the revealed good. This is consistent with the notion that human nature is so responsive, and is thus NOT intrinsically evil, but responsive to good.

Nonetheless, we are faced with the question of evil. Just how does evil get into the world?

The teaching of the Faith is that Satan, the adversary of God, is the origin of evil as we know it, and that we were tempted, and freely chose, to follow Satan’s directions. This leads to the outcomes of good and evil, and the consequences on this earth.

The counter to this is, “God is all knowing, so why did He not prevent Satan from doing what he did, and also prevented the first true humans from following Satan?

It is here that I see a need to discuss the spiritual dimension, and with that the poetry dealing with salvation and related matters.

The remarkds in this blog have considered suffering - thus my input in this way.

Jon Garvey - #72813

September 16th 2012


Your focus here is on the real issues of theodicy, in my view, though at risk of taking us away from the theme of the thread (but who knows? Maybe it will tie in).

To reply in brief, what I understand of your discussion here applies to the primordial situation. Though there is longstanding discussion about what constituted original righteousness, etc, there could have been no moral culpability in humanity unless there was an unclouded ability to understand, and respond to, God’s revelation. Personally I’d argue that this is what defines “humanity” in the Bible (ie that good nature and God’s revelation), so bypassing most of the scientific human origins questions - what matters is not genetics or evolution, but spiritual nature and God’s revelation.

I would, however, want to emphasise that the first, ancestral, sin changed that “good” human nature (as is also taught in all branches of the Faith), and the business of saving (individual) revelation is now inextricably intertwined with the goodness and power of God’s grace in all its manifestations: salvation is a supernatural, not a natural, transaction, a re-creation and not just a response of the old creation.

I distinguish the fallenness of human nature from the non-human creation, which does not share human sin though it has been “spiritually” polluted by it (in the sense that a temple is polluted by sacrilege occurring within it).

The counter to this is, “God is all knowing, so why did He not prevent Satan from doing what he did, and also prevented the first true humans from following Satan?

At bottom nearly all theodicy ends up asking questions that God, in Scripture, leaves unanswered except by justifying God’s goodness and wisdom against our sinful stupidity.

That’s why I like John Calvin’s attitude (I know he’s not an Eastern Orthodox hero, but he’s not a hero of most people today either!) Characteristically, he would labour to show what Scripture actually teaches, and refuse to speculate beyond that.

He would sometimes say, ruefully, that every Christian affirms that God’s ways are higher than our ways, until they actually come to one of God’s ways that is higher, at which point they instantly put him in the dock of their reasoning. Theistic evolution, it seems to me, is rife with that attitude, though only because modern Christianity is rife with it. How rare it is to let God be God, without first telling him what kind of God he is to be.

GJDS - #72825

September 16th 2012

Hi Jon,

Your remark, “..want to emphasise that the first, ancestral, sin changed that “good” human nature ..” points to notions of original sin and this is ‘transmitted’ so to speak to every human through birth. I find this a difficult concept and have used the ‘origin’ of sin as Satan, and have looked at an act and spiritual nature as synonymous - it is here that a physical (of the flesh) and nature and the nature of nature, may be differentiated from the spiritual. This may also impact on other matters, besides the nature of human beings, to include such things as suffering and acts of evil by human beings. I then include intention and judgement (of self within an act) as further indicators of human attributes.

I suppose this is of topic, but suffering and the crucifixtion of Christ have been introduced and these discussions, and so I add these ‘fragments’ to the discussion.

I cannot accept that human beings can intentionally commit evil and than argue, “well God does not prevent me - you say He created the world and me, so it is His responsibility”. This makes a mockery of the Faith, and also devalues humanity by removing any resposibility for our intent and actions.

The suffering of Christ is primarily for the forgiveness of sins, but it also requires repentance. This complicates the naive outlook that as long of God is willing to suffer, we can tolerate His inaction in not stoping human beings causing suffering and destruction.


GJDS - #72816

September 16th 2012

Reply to Jon #72813

Hi Jon,

I read a monumental work by Calvin about 10 years ago - from memory he wasadament about God as Creator, looked back to Augustian, and seemed to dislike Roman Catholicism a great deal. He (from memory) re-wrote the sacraments - a remarkable man by any account.

..and the business of saving (individual) revelation is now inextricably intertwined with the goodness and power of God’s grace in all its manifestations: salvation is a supernatural,....

We are indeed on the same page; I have addressed the work “Salvation” as one work, and thus find it difficult to provide nice compartments, such as theodicy, hystorical accounts (I treat the entire hystory of humanity as a backdrop to the birth and life of Christ), or faith and science - thus my remarks are more ‘spontaneous’ than structured scholastic comments. I also like the statements such as, “let us reason together”, said the LORD, even though your sins are as scarlet, they will be removed, and so on.

GJDS - #72686

September 12th 2012

At the risk of appearing terse (the subject matter requires lengthy discussion but this blog format is not conducive to such discourse), I offer the following;

1)      God’s activity. We know that Christ walked amongst us as the Son of God; he also taught His disciples that He was ascending to heaven so the Comforter would be amongst us. This shows God is active in this world in any language we wish to use. It is difficult to understand why we need to somehow separate this activity from any other in this world, or the cosmos, unless we think that we can limit God in some way.

2)      Faith and Science. I agree that scientists with a particular background would put a ‘slant’ to discussions of natural theology (or perhaps other labels); however any reasonable discussion that considers these matters must commence with ‘faith’ and its source, followed by ‘reason’ and its source. Normally these are harmonised to the human senses as revelation and wisdom. Unless the sciences conform to reason and the acknowledge limitations of the human intellect, such discussions within a theological context inevitably degenerate into hyperbole. I take the view that we may remove the speculative nature of scientific endeavour by commencing with those aspects that are understood with certainty by science (universal constants) and then include, cautiously, matters that show a high probability of the anthropic aspects of the Universe. Seeking ‘evidence’ for God’s activity using the sciences cannot be carried out - understanding that God is the Creator can be achieved from a profound understanding ot the fundamental insights provided by Science. These insights are taken by human beings in any way they choose, not by compulsion.

... continued

GJDS - #72687

September 12th 2012

… continued

3)      How does God direct nature? This seems to be related to anachronistic ideas of a ‘clockwork’ universe and these ideas seem to have mutated into some form of chaotic/probabilistic view to accommodate evolutionary thought (although physicists prefer the uncertainty principle). While such a view(s), I think, fails to understand point (1) previous post, it nonetheless attempts to view God as ‘running the universe’ or ‘determining it via scientific laws’. This argument may be dressed up as regularity/ determinism and perhaps even predestination, with questions of freedom thrown in for good measure. It seems to be the major concern of theistic evolutionists, although I gather from the material in this series, that there are many shades of this opinion. By overlooking point (1) such a view becomes impossible to sustain within the teachings of the Faith.

4)      Human freedom and Salvation. This is the central tenet of the Christian faith. Before we can begin to discuss theodicy, it is imperative that we understand that Christ, as the Son of Man, lived amongst us without sin; this means He lived as a free human being, who was subject to the Law of God, and He kept this Law perfectly. This is the mystery (and where the scientific outlook trips over itself and its supposed laws) of the Faith, in that, while Christ did no wrong, and a great deal of right, He was crucified by human beings whose freedom is understood within ‘breaking’ or acting contrary, to the Law of God. It is this freedom to do good and evil that human beings can exercise (also evil on the innocent), and even when we have God Himself before us, that sets us apart (and requires lengthy discussion). The discussion in Genesis of the fall is an introduction to this, not a final summation. The acts that we human beings performed is outside of what the Law itself could do, in that we freely put an innocent man to death. This is where sin and death collide with the Law. Theodicy does/should not begin with. “Why does God not manage the world and human beings better?” Theodicy must begin with the question, “How can we human beings be such that we would crucify the best in us, even God Himself?” Just how can a biologically engineered (randomly produced) creature account for human freedom and the actions of human beings, especially within the context given here? Simply stated, it cannot.

I think these comments on this large subject will suffice for now.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72688

September 12th 2012


Let me make something very clear.

God is not limited by anything or anyone except God.

Christianity and Judaism are covenantal faiths.  When God promised not to destroy the earth by flood to Noah, that promise limits God’s ability to destroy the world. When God gave Moses the Covenantal Law of the 10 Commandments, that meant that God could just not overlook or excuse God favorite David when he commited adultery or Solomon when he worshiped other gods.

Just as God is bound by moral laws which God established, God is bound by natural laws when God established.  That does notn mean that God cannot find ways to work around these laws and perform miracles, but the the integrity of nature and the integrity of morality must be maintained.

God the Father could save everyone just by forgiving everyone their sins, but God does not.  God the Father established a new covenant through God the Son and the Holy Spirit that provides for salvation while maintaining the integrity of God and morality.     

Jon Garvey - #72689

September 12th 2012

Roger - I must pick up on this. Moral Law (of rather, God’s Law) is a revealed truth. Natural Laws, in the sense of scientific laws, is an entirely human, and relatively recent, construct, which in fact has been formulated in entirely non-legal terms (eg Aquinas’ attribution of the tendency to fall to the nature of the object falling).

By what right does mankind deduce the habits of nature, call them laws, and then bind their Creator to them as if they were the legislators, rather than He?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72700

September 12th 2012


Nature does not have habits.  Organisms have habits. Nature is composed of structures and processes. 

The reason that humans can observe structures and processes in nature is because humans are created in the Image of the Creator by the Creator, so we are able to think God’s thoughts after God.

To deny the fact that humans are able to understand nature is to deny God’s creation of humanityin God’s Image.  We should make the point that our understanding of nature is often an approximation rather than absolute, but it is real and important. 

Thus we must be clear.  Humans do not create the laws of nature, God does.  If the laws of nature do not come from God, originate in nature, then nature does not need a Creator and Scientism is correct.

The universe is a cosmos, not a chaos.  This is because God created it this way.  God does not contradict God, so we can believe that God does not contradict God’s laws of nature.  This is not limiting God, but recognizing that God, Who is faithful and true is in charge.

There is nothing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, that contradicts the laws of nature.  With that said I must repeat that Darwinian natural selection does go against the Logos and Teleos of Jesus Christ and on that basis needs to be rejected and replaced by an ecological understanding of natural selection.

I understand you criticize Darwinism on a theological basis and so do I.  I feel that my theological basis, the Logos, is better than your more philosophical point of view.

Eddie - #72702

September 12th 2012


I’m puzzled.

A man gets up from the dead.  Thousands of people are fed with five loaves and two fishes.  A man walks on the water.  The waters of the Red Sea are held apart for hours, then brought crashing down in such as way as to kill only Egyptians, and no Israelites. A donkey talks.  A leper is healed instantly.  

You are saying that all of these things are within the laws of nature?

Eddie - #72704

September 12th 2012


Just a question of clarification:

Where are you getting the form “Teleos”?

If it’s the noun for “end” or “purpose” the nominative is “telos” and the genitive “telous.”

If it’s the adjective meaning “complete” or “perfect” the nominative is “teleios.”

I’m not complaining about a spelling mistake here.  I haven’t heard the phrase “teleos/telous/telos/teleios of Jesus Christ” before, so knowing which form you are trying to use would help me to grasp your meaning.

Jon Garvey - #72705

September 12th 2012


There were no laws of nature, conceived as laws, before Newton. The only laws of God were the Torah, the Golden Rule and so on, which were God’s character predicated as commands to free rational beings. As laws, they ought to be obeyed, but can be disobeyed, though incurring God’s disapprobation and judgement. As it happens, not one human has ever obeyed them other than Christ.

They do not apply to, say, animals for the simple reason that these act according to their nature, and have no freedom of choice. A flycatcher with multiple mates is not an adulterer, nor a lion that kills its rivals cubs a murderer. Note also that God did not even bind their instincts to his moral law.

Strictly, though these laws reflects God’s character, he is not bound by them in the same way we are: for example, we may not take human life except under very specific conditions - but God is acting within his character, yet as the supreme God, when he ends every single human life at the right time.

Contrast that with natural “laws”, so called (merely analogically) by men of the scientific era. They constrain everything in the physical universe, rational, animal, vegetable and even inanimate, and even if we wanted to break them, we could not. And that is because they are not truly laws at all, but just the basic nature of our reality. No-one will ever be judged by God for breaking a natural law, any more than any man will be judged for being a stone.

In fact the only entity who could possibly break natural laws by defying gravity, not conserving mass or energy, etc, is God himself - who put them in place by his free will and never revealed them to us as laws, never bound himself to them, never said that when he acts apart from them by, for example, miracle that he is doing anything other than what he has a perfect right to do as Creator, sustainer and governor of his own cosmos.

So the only person who is commanded, by your reckoning, to “obey” these “laws”, as laws, is God himself. God must obey Newton‘s laws of motion? Is that not the tail wagging the dog?

Suppose that I write a computer programme that is bound to run just as I wrote it because computers can’t act in any other way. Who has the right to tell me that I can’t put in an extra line of code if I choose, or enter variables, or indeed do with the programmes that are transferring this post from my keyboard to BioLogos what I’m doing here: using their algorithms to express my own thoughts and communicate? How dare someone tell me I’m contradicting myself to do these things?

Or supposing somebody sees me leave for work at 7.30 every day, drive the same route, and arrive at exactly 8.12am. Will I take him seriously if, seeing me take a bus instead one day, he accuses me of unfaithfulness or inconsistency?

Ted Davis - #72728

September 13th 2012


The larger picture you paint here about the significance of how we conceive of the regularities we find in natural phenomena, whether or not we call them “laws of nature,” is important and on target. It’s a very old issue, however, and even the term “laws” of nature predates Newton—by how much, is not clear to me. Someone here (I’m thinking GJDS) already gave a “report” about this, based on some readings I had recommended, in commenting on an earlier column.

The notion of “laws” is probably more than biblical—it probably has multiple currents flowing into it—but, it’s at least partly biblical and theological, even substantially so in some opinions. Take a look at this, for starters: http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/15/14443357/1444335715-179.pdf

Kaiser (the author http://www.westernsem.edu/faculty/kaiser/) is trained in physics—physics, once again, it just keeps coming up—but he’s a professor of historical theology in the Calvinist tradition. He’s written really good books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_B._Kaiser#Published_works) about the “creationist” tradition, where here “creationist” means simply the classical view that God brings the world into being.

In a separate reply, I’ll gloss my historical comment.


Jon Garvey - #72737

September 13th 2012

Ted -  a very illuminating article by Kaiser.

Things that stuck out:

(a) the “bye-law” concept that he sees in Hebrew (ie biblical) thought, that prevents God’s ordinances for nature becoming a straitjacket:

In other words, the order of nature is a dependent or contingent order (Torrance 1981 ), and, like an executive decree, is subject to regular ratification or amendment by God. God can alter it when doing so would bring greater fulfillment of its ultimate ends. Such alteration would be contingent on the divine will, but would not be arbitrary. The natural order is therefore not indifferent to human history and its final outcome. It is neither impersonal nor amoral; hence it is not to be set over against the freedom and responsibility humans experience in everyday life (Ps. 19; 93; 104). Any supposed order that might ultimately lead to chaos, anarchy, or injustice would not, in the biblical view, be true order. Hence, the upholding of natural order not only allows, but requires its emendation at points where irreversible damage may occur.

(b) The nuanced meaning of  nature’s “autonomy” as “having its own operating laws from God” rather than “being freed to go its own way”.

(c) The role of Adelard in the 12th century in driving a wedge between the operation of nature and the governing sovereignty of God. His grudging acceptance of the occasional miracle as the limit to God’s activity sounds awfully familiar! The clockwork universe was conceived even before clockwork, it appears!

Ted Davis - #72747

September 13th 2012

Speaking of the clockwork universe and Newton (since you have spoken of both, though you did not explcitly connect them), Newton did not believe in it. That is, Newton all-but-explicitly rejected the idea that the world is “God’s watch,” when his disciple and close confidant Samuel Clarke debated Leibniz on just this topic. The manuscripts prove that Clarke was Newton’s mouthpiece; we can take Clarke’s views as those of Newton, in this case.

For a short version of this, see my chapter in this book: here, which is written for non-specialists. The book is worth owning, IMO—and no, I don’t get any royalties! There are multiple longer, scholarly versions of that chapter, and I’ll provide details privately if anyone wants them.

Ted Davis - #72730

September 13th 2012

Here’s the “gloss.”

On pre-Newtonian notions of “laws,” you might want to read Owen Gingerich on Kepler and the laws of nature: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2011/PSCF3-11Gingerich.pdf. (Readers might notice how often I send people to the ASA web site. I know I keep saying this, but that’s b/c it’s important: if you are a Christian in a scientific field, or a lay person with keen interest in such things, you really should link with the ASA formally. It’s not the last time I’ll say this, either. Just do it. Their sound needs to be heard over the cultural noise, and you can be part of that.)

Here’s a relevant passage from Boyle. Although the source was published in 1686, right before Newton’s famous book, the ideas and the passage are probably about 20 years older—most of the book was originally written in the mid-1660s; and, any additional material (we can identify several passages with certainty) was written ca. 1680-82, also before Newton. This may seem trivial, but it’s not. Newton read a lot of Boyle, and some of his theological ideas sound much like Boyle’s, so much so at times that it can seem like paraphrases of Boyle. (On other points, of course, they differed, sometimes very greatly.)

Here is a lenghty excerpt from a much longer passage on this topic, showing that Boyle was using terms already much in use, while adding his own thoughts:

“There are, I know, some Learned Men, who, (perhaps being startled to find Nature usually spoken of so much like a kind of Goddess,) will have the Nature of every thing, to be only the Law that it receives from the Creator, and according to which it acts on all occasions. And this Opinion seems much of kin to, if not the same with, that of the famous Helmont, who justly rejecting the Aristotelian Tenent of the Contrariety or Hostility of the Elements, will have every Body, without any such respect, to act that which ‘tis commanded to act. And indeed this Opinion about Nature, though neither clear nor comprehensive enough, seems capable of a fair Construction. And there is oftentimes some resemblance between the orderly and regular Motions of inanimate Bodies, and the Actions of Agents, that, in what they do act, conformably to Laws. And even I sometimes scruple not, to speak of the Laws of Motion and Rest, that God has establish’d among things Corporeal, and now and then, (for brevities sake, or out of Custom) to call / them, as Men are wont to do, the Laws of Nature: Having in due place declar’d, in what sense I understand and imploy these Expressions.”

A final comment. This book of Boyle’s (http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item1152943/?site_locale=en_GB) is absolutely essential reading for all who want to explore the following topics: God & nature (intended as a broad category, b/c this is a broad book); our conceptions of “laws” of nature; and, intelligent design in a mechanistic view of the universe. One could indeed mount a good case that Boyle was the most important ID advocate prior to the 1990s; he was also an advocate of methodological naturalism. If that’s not enough to interest anyone, then what can I say? I’ve said such things repeatedly, but it’s not clear that anyone pays attention. Forgive me for saying it yet again. If anyone does pay attention, just be sure to read Boyle in short doses. In the original (not in the Cambridge edition, which is re-punctuated for modern readers), one often finds no terminal punctuation on an entire printed page. So, one does need to do some work to get at the substance, but the substance is simply top notch.

Jon Garvey - #72733

September 13th 2012

Your Boyle edition’s on my to-do list, Ted. Thanks for chronological correction - I was using Newton’s name as a synecdoche for that whole era of science.

I’ll be interested to see what sense Boyle declares “in due place”, but would just comment that he was one of the early advocates of the mechanistic universe that set the scene for Deism, though he wasn’t a Deist and, reading around, he seems to have allowed not only for miracles but for “contingency” in certain areas of nature - which seems worth investigating further, especially if you see him as the 17th century Dembski! . But it still remains questionable, in my opinion, how far his analogy of “natural laws” with the Law of God is really applicable other than metaphorically, since it has led directly to metaphysical, as well as methodological, naturalism..

Ted Davis - #72750

September 13th 2012

Boyle was indeed an advocate of the kind of mechanical picture that underlies Deism. No doubt about that. He might have used the “clock” metaphor for nature more than anyone else, either at that time or subsequently. I don’t know whether that’s right, but it might be right.

At the same time, Boyle was not a Deist, even considering that the term might not have been widely used in his day (one of the earliest English uses was in Richard Bentley’s Boyle lectures in 1692, shortly after Boyle’s death). No doubt about that, either. His piety and devotion to the Bible—and to a very traditional reading of the Bible, complete with vivid miracles and the recent creation of the universe (Boyle’s father knew Archbishop Usser quite well, and Boyle probably endorsed Ussher’s chronology)—were very well known then and (among historians) now.

One final footnote, before I step out for a bit to focus on my day job. The late Donald M. Mackay, whom I mentioned in the second part of this column (http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-ii), wrote a fascinating little book that used to be well known, though I think it’s not on many reading lists anymore. I mean “The Clock Work Image.” (http://books.google.com/books/about/The_clock_work_image.html?id=AjoNAQAAMAAJ). On the cover of my paperback copy, there’s short quotation from the Boyle book I’ve quoted here. MacKay was in many ways a modern Boyle. And, here’s the real thought I want to get at. MacKay was personally close to the late Reijer Hooykaas, that great Christian historian of science who simply loved Boyle, and whose lovely little Dutch book on Boyle was finally published in English 15 years ago: http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Boyle-R-Hooykaas/dp/076180708X. I can’t prove the connection, but I have no doubt that MacKay got to Boyle via Hooykaas.

There really is no one from the Scientific Revolution more worth reading than Boyle, when it comes to science and religion—well, except for Galileo’s “Letter to Christina.” Most of his works are not readily available electronically (as far as I can tell), but most university libraries will have copies in one printed form or another. 

Jon Garvey - #72751

September 13th 2012

Ted - Irrelevant aside: Archbishop Ussher was a nephew by marriage of my distant ancestor John Garvey, Archbishop of Armagh. What’s that stuff about being 6 contacts from anybody in the world…?

GJDS - #72761

September 13th 2012

Ted and Jon,

As an aside, it may be worthwile considering a comment by DW Hamlyn, in History of Western Philosophy, page 234, where he discusses Kant, and in which he states, “... the physical-theological argument (the argument from apparent design in the world, an argument for which Kant shows some sympathy) would show only the existence of a creator.” He goes on discussing the existenser of ens realissium and the ontological arguments…

I am intrigued by the language… only the existence of a creator.

I think many considered time and space, and the intuitive appeal of geometry, compelling during these days.

On reading papers during Boyle’s period, I find it almost impossible to differentiate between speculation that borders on superstition, (e.g. alchemy) from philosophy and studies of nature. It is an extraodinary period when science began to emerg into the form we see today. It seems theology and philosophy went through bumpy roads as a result.

Specifics, such as the methods used to make pot-ash, nitrate (for gunpowder), adding things to farms to improve yields (agricultre), tanning etc. are simply fantastic in the light of modern methods.

Darwin Guy Dan - #72894

September 18th 2012

Jon Garvey #72705, Ted Davis #72730, #72730:  A brief FYI comment as current library rules preclude chatting.  I searched “laws of nature” in my electronic version of ARISTOTLE’S COLLECTION OF 29 BOOKS.  Of the 27 results, Aristotle uses the term in several different ways much as Boyle later did as noted in your blog.  Several hits seem analogous to the modern scientific usage as applicable to regularities of observed facts.  For example, Aristotle wrote:

t is a law of nature that earth and all other bodies should remain in their proper places and be moved from them only by violence:  [….]”

Aristotle also used the term “gravity” (albeit with a false understanding of acceleration) in relation to weight, much as we do today.  I had long assumed that Newton was the originator of that term also.

One of my favorite modern explications of scientific “fact” and “law” has long come from Rudolph Carnap’s INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY (1966):

“[S]cience begins with direct observations of single facts.  Nothing else is observable.  Certainly a regularity is not directly observable.  It is only when many observations are compared with one another that regularities are discovered.  These regularities are expressed by statements called ‘laws’”.

Thus gravity is NOT properly categorized as a fact.  Apparently Carnap’s clear-headed empiricism hasn’t been popular amongst many theoreticians. 

For further regards the unscientific use (in my view) of “fact” and the origination of the absurdity of pitting naturalistic ideology against supernaturalistic creationism and design, see George John Romanes’ THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCES OF ORGANIC EVOLUTION ([1877], 1882).  (This and Romanes’ other highly relevant free e-books are available at Gutenberg or Amazon’s Kindle Store.)  To my mind, this book demonstrates the time period when Evolution (common descent) left the legitimate naturalistic speculating of Darwin and became the supposed “fact” truth certainty of Darwin’s superior anti-design / anti-creationist sales and marketing team.  Evolution became academia’s paradigm of inadequately reasoned choice.  I understand philosophers have a term that is relevant: the principle of underdetermination.

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistory Guy / LocalTransportationGuy

Notes to BioLogos: (1) Except for the comments sections, your blogs format well on my Kindle e-Reader with free 3G.  Would that the comments would also format to width.  Quite frustrating.   (2) Eddie and Francis for President.  Eddie and Francis for President.  Eddie and Francis for President.  Praise be for all who can or would walk on water! 

GJDS - #72711

September 12th 2012


The way you discuss laws of nature is not consistent with a scientific outlook. In terms of anyone contradiciting such ‘laws’, this expression is fairly meaningless - science has noted the regularity in nature, (and has catagorised the physical from the chemical and now slowly from the biological), and in certain cases has expressed these regularities in mathematical and definitional terms. In chemistry scientists have progressed to the extent that they can model and molecules and molecular systems with a higher degree of precision then previously thought possible, due to computing and isntrumental capabilities and the improvements in theoretical treatments (quantum chemistry). In every case that I am familiar with however, approximations, assumptions, and acts of convenience (knowing these acts are not lawful if you like) are made and continue to be made in these scientific models and other practices. 

Scientists have endeavoured to understand the limitations of their statements (that you call laws) and have found many such limitations. It is thus a misnomer to think of God contradicting them or not contradicting them. One way you may express your sentiment(s) is to say that God understands the physical, chemical and biological worlds so well that He would see beyond the limitations and errors that human beings are subjected to, and in this case He may act with total confidence in nature (for whatever ends and/or purposes), if that was His will. We human beings are not in a position to consider matters within that context. It is here that unpredictability, randomness and chaos theories would be meaningful to scientists; again as systems that are in various ways incomprehensible to normal treatments.

In terms of acting in or out of nature (an odd expression), we have ample instances of human activity, creative and distructive acts, which are clearly outside of the regularities of nature - this concept is not difficult to grasp.

On God’s law, this is revealed to us initially through Moses and the covenant was made based on the articulation of the law by Moses to Isreal. God’s law in toto is His will expressed as teachings that show and enable those called by God to grow in the attributes of Christ, who kept the Law perfectly.

It is a curious thing to suggest a theological distinction between natural selection, or any other scientific theory for that matter; the only theological distinction that I know of  is to know that if something is erroneous (to whatever degree) we are taught to regard it as ‘less then true’, or within orthodox teachings, as error. This still leaves open the possibility that once the error has been removed and a true statement is made, we also accept this - thus my comments on scientific universal constants, which we can regard as true within the totality of human understanding.

On theodicy, the initial question imo is to ask if there is such a thing as an evil nature. I do not think that human nature is intrinsically evil, but there is evil in this world and it is performed by human beings. It is in this area that meanigful discussions may occur, in that we are able to use things from nature for good and evil - surely this shows us such acts that would be ‘irregular’ within nature, but also indications of a will by humans to various ends (i.e purpose). Looking for formalisms such as a fall, or floods, imo, misses the point.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72710

September 12th 2012


If you accept the 2 book concept, the laws of nature are revealed by God. 

Yes, we can break the law of gravity, but if we do we fall down or suffer some other consequence.  With the moral laws there are also consequences but they are not so obvious, so people are more willing to think that they can get away with sin.

While you are right, humans have not ascribed laws to nature until recently, God is king of the universe and God rules by laws, nature, humans, and organic life.  As I have been arguing organic life is ruled by the laws or rules of ecology, which no one at BioLogos wants to acknowledge.

God made the rules and God understands the rules.  God does not have to change the rules, because God made them sufficient to accomplish God ends. 

We should not be talking about God’s laws or rules, but about God’s Logos and Teleos which are the main means by which God works God’s Will.  All of this time and effort we are spending on God’s laws is diverted from our primary task which isa talking about the Logos, Jesus Christ.   

Jon Garvey - #72714

September 12th 2012


You are the one insisting on describing nature in terms of “God’s laws”. And now you introduce “laws of ecology”, a category that is not revealed in Scripture, not described by current science, and of which, I’m fairly certain, you could not give me a single instance.

GJDS is right - you appear not to be looking at scientific laws as a scientist does. Your gravity example is plain wrong: the law of gravity does not say “Thou shalt not fly, on pain of falling for thy presumption” but simply observes that massive bodies attract each other in a mathematically quantifiable way. Therefore whether I stand still, jump in the air, or try to fly off a cliff I will always obey it by being attracted to the earth’s centre just the same.

Using the law of gravity as a sermon illustration of the immutability of God’s moral law is a neat picture, but doesn’t bear logical scrutiny.

Reminding ourselves of the centrality of our Lord is apt to the article, though my reading of John, and the emphasis of Ted’s piece, reminds me that the Logos became flesh - and it is the God-man Jesus Christ who is crucified and raised, and underpins everything since then. “Teleos” I’ll ignore as I don’t know what it is.

It is the personal involvement of the triune God, particularly through the person of the Son, that is the very reason that nature is not, fundamentally, a legal system but a love system. One can make immutable scientific law sound “nice” through buzz-words like “consistency” and “faithfulness”, but the atheists can equally truly see it as “pitiless” and “indifferent”. One can, by using the law metaphor, see nature in terms of “perfect, and not in need of interference”, but using the love metaphor, as being open to God’s immanence and interaction. (I’m not talking about nature‘s “openness” in that nebulous “freedom” sense, but as open to God’s active governance, both in terms of faithful preservation and in terms of innovation, compassion, and even, as per Ted’s thrust, of suffering).

The latter picture, in my view, is closer to how Scripture views nature than the closed, disenchanted system of the Deists and their modern descendants. Even if I do think the theodicy card has been overplayed in science-faith circles.

penman - #72718

September 13th 2012

On the “all things” of Colossians 1:20—

If we look at the historic commentaries, a mainstream interpretation is that Christ’s death has a “reconciling” effect “in heaven & on earth” in that it ends the disunity within & between heaven (the angelic world) & earth (the human world).

The disunity among the angels is ended because Christ’s death ends the rebellion of the fallen angels, reducing them to a forced submission to Christ, the Lord of angels as well as of humans. See Phil.2:9ff.

The disunity among humans is ended in the reconcilation realized within the Church.

The disunity between heaven & earth (holy angels & fallen humans) is ended by their common citizenship in the kingdom of the crucified & risen Christ.

As I say, a mainstream historic understanding of Col.1:20. It has nothing (necessarily) to do with supposedly redeeming all creation from its supposed cosmic fallenness - an unbiblical & uncatholic myth, as Jon rightly argues.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72723

September 13th 2012

First of all I am on vaction so I am not at home and do not have the time and resources I normally have to respond to these issues.

However I did start something before I went on vaction and felt it was right not to leave the discussion hanging.  I see now that my comments were more controversial that I expected.

Let me go back to the Beginning.  “In trhe Beginning was the Logos…..”  John says that God revealed Godself in and through nature through the Logos/Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of our faith, the Beginnnig and the End, and of course everything in between.  If the Logos (Meaning) can be seen as the Beginning of Creation, the Telos (Purpose) is the End.  Jesus is the Source of All, physical, organic, and human, and the End of All.

This is my take on Biblical Christian cosmology.  It may not the the traditional point of view or the scientific point of view, but it is the best I can do to understand God’s view as revealed through gthe NT.

God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rules the universe.  I hope we are in agreement on that.  God rules through laws, or rules, and through grace.  The rules don’t have to work against us.  They often work for us if we put ourselves in harmony with them.  That is what living for God is all about.  Life is not bleak and pitiless.  Life is rich and fulfilling when we live with and for God.

End of sermon.  God bless.      

Eddie - #72741

September 13th 2012

Hey, Roger!  Did you miss my 72702 and 72704 above?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72756

September 13th 2012


The Bible is not about science and the laws of nature.

The Bible is about God’s salvation history.

God’s sending the Savior/Logos/Telos into the world does not go against the laws of nature.  The Logos was a part of the universe from the Beginning.

Eddie - #72760

September 13th 2012


I see from the new spelling that you meant “telos.”  Good, that is clarified.  But now, tell me why you are calling Christ the “telos.”  I’m not saying you are wrong, but it’s certainly not standard usage.  

On a more important point, you missed the thrust of my first question entirely.  You had written:

“There is nothing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, that contradicts the laws of nature.”

And you had defined the laws of nature as things like gravity, etc.—what scientists call laws of nature.  

So in response I wrote:

“A man gets up from the dead.  Thousands of people are fed with five loaves and two fishes.  A man walks on the water.  The waters of the Red Sea are held apart for hours, then brought crashing down in such as way as to kill only Egyptians, and no Israelites. A donkey talks.  A leper is healed instantly.”

You seem to have missed my point.  All of these things (many from the Gospels) “contradict the laws of nature.”  Jesus’s walking on the water, for example, contradicts the law of gravity.  (I’m working here with *your* understanding of the laws of nature, not Jon Garvey’s, and I’m not trying to define laws of nature myself, but to fathom your point.)  So, since Jesus’s walk on the water contradicts the law of gravity, how can you say that nothing in the Gospel contradicts the laws of nature?  Plainly, what scientists and all modern people (and you, based on your remarks to Jon) think of as laws of nature are violated all through the Gospels, and in Acts as well, not to mention the Old Testament.  

So either you were wrong to say that the Gospel does not report contradictions of the laws of nature, or, possibly, you are saying that the Gospel stories never happened as described—there was no walking on water, feeding the five thousand, resurrection of a rotting body from the dead, etc.  If you are saying the latter, please say it directly, so everyone knows that is what you mean.  

I’m not trying to refute your theology; I’m trying to establish what it is that you are saying.  Did Jesus walk on the water?  Is so, is that not in violation of the law of gravity?

Francis - #72764

September 13th 2012

This whole theistic evolution discussion or debate or whatever you want to call it seems doubly hopeless to me.

First, you’re dealing with “evolution” – something which hasn’t been proven by science and which has little, if any, compelling supporting evidence (at least not compelling to me and about half the adult population of the U.S.). And of course, Scripture doesn’t support evolution. (Any verse an evolutionist tries to re-interpret for his cause, well, he’s RE-interpreting.)

Second, the problems above are compounded by trying to pin down “theistic” action/involvement - something which also has not been proven in any context (in pure science terms).

I sure hope none of you is seriously trying to prove anything here.

And even if you’re just trying to build a compelling case, good luck. You’ll need a double dose of it.

Jon Garvey - #72768

September 14th 2012


To pick up on the issue of theodicy, re old earth and theistic evolution, you said above:

Incidentally, I would say the same thing about theodicy simply in light of an “old” earth, given the traditional view that animal suffering results from human sin. I know that’s not your view—and it’s not mine—but it is a view that has been very widely held for a long time, even if (as you have pointed out) there have always been other interpretations of Genesis on that score.

Penman and I have been challenging each other to write a book on the history of the doctrine of “fallen creation”, and making excuses for not doing so! So far as I have discovered, it’s not so much that there have always been other interpretations, but that  “the traditional view” seems a relative latecomer, and that needs explaining.

The Catholic Encyclopedia’s only example of a Patristic writer with the idea of a corrupted creation is Theophilus of Antioch (not the greatest thinker of the 2nd century). I find that what he actually says is that some animals fell with man by eating meat - and it’s clear from the context that he’s not arguing from the existence of suffering, but purely from interpreting the provision of vegetables for food in Gen 1 as a command from God. It’s a biblical argument, not a theodical one.

Therefore it seems that all these early writers, including Irenaeus, Augustine, Athanasius etc ... leading up to Aquinas, whose teaching was pretty normative both for Catholics and Reformers, saw the theodical problem of suffering as a purely human, sin-related issue. Creation they saw as good, though sometimes problematic because of our limited vision.

Anyone holding a view like that would simply not see any theodical issue in deep time or evolution, and therefore would not see a need to apply a suffering-God theology to the natural order, though it might well inform their theology otherwise. It’s only those who see creation as deeply disordered by the Fall who have a huge problem with the same economy operating before mankind’s existence in deep time, and therefore feel the need to make theistic evolution a project in theodicy at all.

Given that ancient writers were all too aware of the destructive power of nature - they suffered from early deaths, untreatable illnesses, endemic parasitism, famines, attacks from wild beasts etc far more than we can understand - it must be significant to ask why they never thought fit to see them as a theological problem. Especially as they all believed the creation came soon before the Fall, and it would have been easy to link the two.

My suggestion, then, is that modern theistic evolution has felt it necessary to develop a wide range of quite inventive theologies, sometimes quite alien to traditional orthodoxy, and that a major driver for this is the doctrine of “natural evil”, about which there are significant doubts.

I understand that some of this comes as a response to the accusations of unbelivers that “a loving God wouldn’t cause this untold animal suffering” etc, but it’s the background assumption of a fallen creation that leads Christians to accept that charge rather than justify God’s wisdom in creation as, I think, Aquinas and the others would have done.

Gregory - #72772

September 14th 2012

Interesting comments, Jon.

You wrote: “My suggestion, then, is that modern theistic evolution has felt it necessary to develop a wide range of quite inventive theologies, sometimes quite alien to traditional orthodoxy, and that a major driver for this is the doctrine of “natural evil”, about which there are significant doubts.”

Does this mean you are suggesting that evolutionary natural science (or ‘grand evolutionary story/myth/theory’ or ‘epic of evolution’) is partly or perhaps even largely responsible for “the doctrine of natural evil”?

Jon Garvey - #72773

September 14th 2012

Hi Gregory

Does this mean you are suggesting that evolutionary natural science (or ‘grand evolutionary story/myth/theory’ or ‘epic of evolution’) is partly or perhaps even largely responsible for “the doctrine of natural evil”?

No, not at all. Rather I think that old earth/grand evolution are neutral with regard to theodicy: they raise no special issues above those of the natural world under the previously universal young earth view.

However, it happens that the now predominant theology of nature (the one I unconsciously assumed from childhood) is that the natural world is grossly deformed by the fall of man (parasitism, meat eating, death etc). As I’ve tried to show, that doctrine is relatively recent (though I don’t actually know its full history), but was innocuous in a young earth era, because the only world was the human world, which undoubtedly needs redeeming.

But introduce an old earth, and especially an evolution deliberately depicted as red in tooth and claw, and there’s immediately a problem for theodicy - a “fallen world” before sin, and it lasted 4 1/2 billion years! What was God playing at?

So “fallen-world” theodicy becomes one of the, or even the, main determinant for the shape of ones theistic evolution;  “egregious errors” in God’s original creation, man’s character shaped by God’s evolution rather than by aberrant sin (and therefore Adam and Eve necessarily not a separate creation), “freedom” in nature to account for the mess it’s in, Christ’s work in dealing with creation being close to his work in dealing with the Holocaust, etc, etc.

Yet few thought the natural world was a mess during many centuries of the Church. Were they really completely wrong and insensitive to reality? They were certainly close to Scripture.

Ted Davis - #72775

September 14th 2012

This is very interesting, Jon. I do think that a book about this—a good book about this—would be able to find a publisher.

I’m curious, however: what do you make of the eschatological texts about lions and lambs getting along, and that sort of thing? I’ve never known quite how to approach them, but they do seem to suggest something like “animal paradise,” and even great modern thinkers like C. S. Lewis reflect this.

Jon Garvey - #72778

September 14th 2012

I agree it would find a publisher - but not if written by a retired doctor living in a field 220 miles from his university library! Offers, anyone?

I have actually thought about those texts a bit, Ted, partly because they’re Creationist proof texts for a pre-fall idyll.

The first thing is that they are eschatological, rather than retrospective, so there’s no compelling reason to read back the cuddly predators into Genesis, where they’re not mentioned.

Secondly, since the texts also include things like “the man who dies at 100 years old will be considered young” they’re neither pointing back to an immortal time of innocence, nor actually forward to the kind of hope of eternal life which we’d expect, though I’m sure they prefigure that hope in pre-resurrection terms.

The key, I think, is that these visions embody the ideal Israel of the settlement - each man at peace under his own fig tree, blessed by many children, dwelling with God. Notice that the picture is not of nature, but of homesteading: each predator is usually a threat to flocks and family, each herbivore a domestic animal (or in the case of the child with his pet viper, family of course). Nothing in the new creation, then, is threatening to the blessing of God’s people.

That there is a nod towards Eden I don’t doubt - especially maybe the domestication of the serpent - but that’s because the restoration of the blessing of Eden (and, I think, its role as sacred space) is the common thread linking all biblical blessing from the promised land to the New Jerusalem.

Personally, I’d not be at all surprised if in the eschaton pumas learned to eat pizza and so on as all chaos is finally subdued, but I don’t think these passages in Isaiah have that in mind. Incidentally C S Lewis’s paradisical Narnia seems matched by there being no carnivores on Perelandra, but Lewis had a more Job-like creation on un-fallen Malacandra, where they hunted the fierce hnakra.

Gregory - #72769

September 14th 2012


Thanks for your questions (#72765). Yes, I believe you are correct in 1) regarding ideology as a system of ideas (this is a minimal definition, much like Ted’s minimal definition of TE in this series) and also that it is most commonly related to politics, e.g. conservatism, liberalism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, individualism, communalism, capitalism, socialism, etc.

Where it goes beyond politics, it is relevant mainly to sociology, social philosophy and psychology, which is where praxis comes in between ideas and their realisation in reality, in society, in peoples’ minds, hearts, behaviours, etc. YEC is an ideology that is easily demonstrated by the practise of the people who embrace it; they buy creationist literature, send their children to creationist summer camps, donate money to and attend events sponsored by creationist organisations, etc. YEC is not just about ‘ideas,’ but about what people do with those ideas and how it shapes their ‘lifeworld’ or everyday life, including their views of God.

If there were a ‘theology of ideology,’ we would be in much better situation today because people would be able to distinguish their theology from their ideology and combine the two when necessary in a much more balanced and harmonious way than they do today, e.g. YECs.

The beliefs of social groups are often characterised as or in relation to ‘social systems’ and depending on how ‘systematic’ one is, even individuals can be called a ‘system.’ Thus, people sometimes ask: What is your ‘system of beliefs’ or ‘belief system’? Indeed, some people define scientificity by how systematically one studies a given topic, subject or field. The warning is that this can turn into ‘systemism,’ if taken too far (e.g. philosopher of science Mario Bunge: “everything is either a system or a component of a system and every system has peculiar (emergent) properties that its components lack”). I worked at an institute for mathematics and systems for my post-doc and studied the history and philosophy of systems thought, going back to L. von Bertalanffy and further, to A. Bogdanov and his ‘tektology.’ N. Weiner is a more recent proponent, along with the cybernetics that entered the western discourse from the East. Please bear with this slight tangent onto systems theory/thinking as it becomes important in answering your second question.

Regarding 2) evolution, the bioworld (or biosphere – I’d go with Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin language here), evolutionists and ecology, it appears to me that the ‘long curve of history’ is moving away from reductionistic, tightly and clearly compartmentalised disciplines of ‘scientific’ thought and more toward interdisciplinary approaches. When people study ecology, it seems to me this is a much broader field than biology because it involves creatures, plants and other organic entities as relational ‘creative’ agents or ‘actants’ as some call them. Surely Roger would like to go on to speak more about ecology than I do. Iac, the environmental movement has made a significant impact on people and we certainly do live within ecospheres and not entirely separate from or only weakly impacted by them as the ‘pre-environmentalist’ attitude held.

I must admit, GJDS, I’m not clear what you are asking wrt ‘adaptability’ and ‘selection,’ and probably would give a very different take on this than most in N. America. There are ‘adaptationists’ and also ‘selectionists,’ which I come at from a social scientific perspective. But I’m not the right person to comment on adaptability and selection in biological or natural sciences. I can only say that the term ‘evolutionist’ is highly problematic, in just the way I’ve highlighted to Ted in this series; one who accepts ‘theistic evolution’ need not (and imo should not) accept the label ‘evolutionist.’


Gregory - #72770

September 14th 2012

Noteworthy, likewise, is that ecology can turn into the ideology of ‘ecologism,’ which is the exaggeration of ecological or environmentalist thinking beyond its proper realm or out of proportion to the topic or question under discussion. Roger’s reluctance to discuss ‘ecologism’ has made me reluctant to speak with him, given that he is a preacher and educator and not trained in ecology and because ‘deep ecology’ (read: one example of ecologism) and ‘Gaia’ are worldviews I don’t find to be consistent with the Abrahamic faiths.

But that takes us quite a distance from this thread, which is ‘theistic evolution.’ My interest, as I said above, is to distinguish when ‘theistic evolution’ turns into ‘theistic evolutionism,’ i.e. when it exaggerates its proper domain of explanation and/or description. That to me is most important and could provide a very important bridge between BioLogos and RTB, for example that has been missing because of the lack of proper emphasis on ideology from both groups.

I have no problem at all with Ted’s minimal definition of TE, nor any problem with defining proponents of TE as “theists who accept biological evolution.” After all, I am also a theist who accepts biological evolution (cf. natural history), with the caveat that there are biologists who reject (neo-)Darwinian evolutionary biology, even while they still accept the  ‘reality of evolution’ or ‘fact of evolution,’ that creationists (and some IDists) reject.

Once a person properly considers something as an ‘ideology’ rather than as a ‘scientific theory,’ then he or she is able to differentiate between ideas, notions and beliefs they hold for extra-scientific reasons and the actual practise of doing (natural) science itself. That is, ideology *inevitably* informs the actions of scientists and their choices of problems, research programs, etc. It is a hermeneutic ‘law’ of human existence that we cannot separate what we believe from who we are and what we do, as artists, teachers, parents, scientists, etc.

Regarding 3) and “a scientific approach that ensures the academic freedom, which is so central to scientific research,” yes, we are certainly singing from the same hymn sheet here. I’m against hegemonic privilege in natural science because scientists should always be seeking to improve their/our knowledge and to move beyond obsolete paradigms or theories. As for seeking new concepts or ideas, yes, definitely let us do this. When Darrel Falk said he was not a ‘(neo-)Darwinist’ for several reasons here at BioLogos several months ago, I thought that was a HUGE step forward. But what I wanted to hear, and didn’t, was then how Darrel classifies himself now in a post-Darwinist or non-Darwnist sense. Whose ‘evolutionary theory,’ if not Darwin’s, is more appropriate as a prism through which Darrel views the field of biology?


Gregory - #72771

September 14th 2012

Iow, are Darrel, Kathryn, Dennis and Denis (those trained in biology/genetics at BioLogos), and even Deborah (and Loren) Haarsma, open to new biological concepts or ideas *outside* of the (neo-)Darwinian paradigm and if so, where can we see them publishing about this in scholarly locations? Perhaps even more importantly than biology and cosmology, we await an article from James Kidder, the biological/physical anthropologist hired by BioLogos to finish his series about ‘human origins.’ Thus far, I have seen nothing particularly Christian or ‘evangelical’ in his anthropology; it is not theological anthropology that seems to engage him.

This seems to me to be the biggest opportunity for BioLogos to over-come (neo-)Darwinistic (ideological) language and to embrace the orthodox Church teachings about Adam and Eve. Pete Enns was ‘expelled’ from seminary for his views of A&E and should be deemed ‘heterodox’ by Ted Davis in his next post. But it is possible that James Kidder could embrace Enns’ (and several others’) anti-historical/real A&E, i.e. his liberalistic (anti-conservative) model. Peacocke, McGrath and perhaps even Polkinghorne himself seem ‘open’ to this ‘unorthodox’ view of Adam and Eve in their Biblical hermeneutics.

Can ‘theistic evolution’ as a philosophy of science and religion help James Kidder to embrace orthodoxy? To be honest, I’m really not sure and don’t see how it can unless James can come up with an anthropological boundary point past which ‘evolution’ does not pass, e.g. from matter to mind or spirit. Can he do this? He is probably not trying to as this is a monumental challenge, bigger than can be fit into a BioLogos Forum post.

In this conversation at BioLogos, the most important ideologies are the ones I highlighted above, but I’d want to add reductionism and holism. One needn’t be (and imo shouldn’t be) entirely opposed to either reductionism or holism, but instead should recognise their proper place and limitations. E.g. do we accept a population genetics or genomics view of ‘Adam and Eve’ or must we ‘elevate’ (opposite of ‘reduce’) the conversation to involve fields such as palaeontology, (cultural and linguistic) anthropology, even philosophy and theology too? In my view, we must do the latter otherwise the conclusions offered by pop gen are incomplete, unholistic and thus (potentially very, even dangerously) misleading.

Iow, what HPSS does is to take ‘science’ to a higher level of accountability, so that it can be put in social context as it relates to people and the purpose of doing science on the broader scale. If naturalism as an ideology denies spiritual knowledge, or as Templeton Foundation (which funds BioLogos) puts it, ‘spiritual realities,’ then we need to work more insistently to tame naturalism and to recognise it for the ideological exaggeration of natural science or natural scientific methods that it is. This does not take away from the importance of continuing to ‘do natural science,’ but rather brings a sense of proportion to our perspective that is missing when naturalism (or evolutionism) has won the day.

Please excuse, GJDS, if that was way off the mark to what you were asking.

GJDS - #72774

September 14th 2012


Thanks for your detailed reply. I agree with you that an interdisciplinary approach is more common in the sciences; e.g. molecular chemistry and biochemistry are increasingly overlapping, and various groups are building increasingly sophisticated molecualr models of things such as virus and enzymes.

The theological implications and beliefs resulting from scientific advances have been discussed as far back as I can remember, but I have a feeling (I have not had the time to study this in any depth) that theologically inclined thinkers are showing a tendency to revise orthodox belief to accomodate their apaerent understanding of the world as presented by science (and related physiological studies). I am intrigued by the biologos project and I am (still) inclined to view the theistic evolution view as unwise. Nonetheless I acknowledge that this is my opinion and have no inclination to pursuade anyone one way or another.

I suspect people like you and Jon would have a clearer view of the cultural implications of the various movements and fads that are currently playing out. I think orthodoxy will continue, especially with those who take the time to understand the Bible as revelation and God’s attribute revealed to us for our sake and salvation, and not as a way to define God. Those who think they can re-think the Gospel message will fail, as they have in the past.

Jon Garvey - #72777

September 14th 2012


I discovered lots of new contributions on Ted’s last thread, and was going to append these few thoughts here, but your post is a good introduction so here we go.

Theological orthodoxy in, maybe, a minimal Nicene credal way is one thing, but most of our actual exposure to theistic evolution is through Biologos. In particular, this was set up to show that Evangelical faith and evolutionary science need not be in disagreement.

In the US (more so than in my own UK) there are millions of Evangelicals, and also millions of traditional Catholics, Orthodox and others, who are often YEC and suspicious of evolution - a tough nut to crack. These share many core beliefs which motivate their worship and faith, but cause them to stumble over evolution, such as (1) Biblical inerrancy (+/- tradition or heirarchy as authority) (2) The goodness of creation (3) The origin of mankind from Adam and Eve (4) Original/ancestral sin through their first sin (5) Death coming through sin (6) God’s active involvement in the world, and others like these.

The Calvinist B B Warfield (in a different age and with a different evolutionary theory) showed that evolution could be held together with all these with minimal tension, and with the help of people I’ve met here and elsewhere, I’m convinced that the same is true today. Critical work needs to be done both on received theology and science to do so, but it’s by no means impossible and fruitful for both.

But all too often the approach of BioLogos has been to say that faith has no problem with science, because the evidence for the science is good, and all one has to do is ditch biblical inerrancy, admit that God left creation in a deficient state, give up on Adam and Eve, see sin as an (ultimately God-given) evolutionary inheritance rather than an affront to God’s love and adopt a hands-off theology with maybe an exemption for Christ’s miracles. And while we’re at it, one should probably pick up on a raft of controversial recent theological trends doing the rounds of the seminaries, though strictly speaking they’re pretty tangential to evolution.

I think that’s a braver way to win heats and minds than I would have tried. I can only agree wholeheartedly with your last two sentences, as an Evangelical greeting an Orthodox brother.

GJDS - #72780

September 14th 2012

Reply to Jon Garvey #72777

You are correct in identifying various aspects of traditional Christian teaching as problematic to almost every tradition in this day and age. By Orthodoxy, I include the Creed, the attributes of God as comprehensible and also incomprehensible, the reliance primarily on the Gospel, the essential trachings on the birth, life, death and ressurection of Christ. The attribute of God as creator, especially as taught by John and also Paul, has been revealed to us and is sufficient. I may add, the view on the Church (as well as the priesthood that is ordained to perform acts of worship with the congregation), is also central to the Faith.

Thus my approach has been to identify the essential elements of the faith, and then consider the way I think within the context of my existence and background. Consequently, I start with language and the way I read and write, and how this contains and conveys meaning (so I prefer poetry to express my understanding and reflection; the genre allows a deeper appreciation of language and is easier then scientific language for this task).

On the matters you have identified as problematic to Christians in the US, I am aware within my community that their are people of widely differing backgrounds and education. However, I think that those who have considered the essential teachings of the Faith, and endeavour to live accordingly, generally have few(er) problems imo.

The Christian faith has a perplexing aspect to it imo; even if I endeavour to live and believe and understand the word of God, that simply amounts to an activity - it is God who through an act of Grace, determines the validity and consequences of such matters. For myself, whatever God wills, I would still say that I have found such an activity edifying, meaningful, useful, and in other words, worth the effort (whatever Pascal and his wager). Faith is a gift because of the sacrifice of Christ (as is salvation) and so on.

On evolution and theism, I have a clear idea of the latter, but a very skeptical view of the former. Thus the intrigue with the phrase, theistic evolution, and my involvement with this interesting blog.

Thanks for your comments, apologies for any type errors.

Ted Davis - #72776

September 14th 2012

Just for the record, Gregory: I do not regard Peter Enns as “heterodox.” You will no doubt find the final installments of this long TE column disappointing. My definition of “orthodox” will be tied to the ecumenical creeds, not to Adam & Eve. I will give excellent (IMO) reasons for this, at the appropriate time, but I doubt you will agree. IMO, Enns is trying to do exactly what needs to be done: find a new way to understand Genesis 2-3, in light of what we learned in the 19th century about natural history, and the history, culture, and literature of the Ancient Near East. For far too long, IMO, conservative Protestants have tried to find way around that knowledge. Indeed, the two great complaints that “fundamentalists” in the 1920s made against colleges, universities, and seminaries involved evolution and “higher” biblical criticism. Both endangered the faith, in their opinion, so they responded by denying the legitimacy of both, characterizing them quite literally as “science falsely so-called,” a terminology taken from 1 Tim. 6:20.

What we need, IMO, is a viable third way. We need to get past the “fundamentalist-modernist” contoversy that still haunts us and still substantially shapes Protestant responses to modern knowledge. So far, most evangelical and all fundamentalist institutions have not budged, and as a result some of our best scholars no longer have institutional homes. Until that changes, IMO, a very large number of American Christians (at least) will continue to find themselves in conflict with large parts of modern knowledge, which they will continue to see as forms of “science falsely so-called.”

Eddie - #72794

September 15th 2012


Whether or not Peter Enns (or anyone else) counts as “heterodox” of course depends on what the standard of “orthodoxy” is.  If it’s the Chicago statement on Biblical inerrancy, then a lot more people (e.g., a large number of Anglicans, and virtually all RCs and Eastern Orthodox) are going to fall short of “orthodox” doctrine than if it’s the ecumenical creeds, which allow for much more latitude regarding the interpretation of the Bible.  I would imagine that Enns’s troubles are in part caused by the fact that his own tradition—American evangelical Protestantism—has since 1960 been increasingly dominated by very narrow standards of orthodoxy, especially regarding the historicity of Genesis 1-11.  I suspect he would not have lost his job had he been teaching in a British or Continental or Canadian or Australian seminary of a roughly equivalent Protestant denomination.

On the more general problem of how to get out of the cultural mess—in which many people have understood Christian faith to require being hostile to the best modern learning in science, history, etc.—I have a suggestion which is not very precise, but perhaps useful in a broad way.  If a distinction could be made between what the Bible teaches and what the Bible narrates, that might help.  Thus, for example, the current Catholic catechism, in allowing that parts of the Fall story are expressed in “figurative” terms, distinguishes between what the story teaches—that human beings have become alienated from God, and mortal, through a primordial act of disobedience—and what the story narrates, i.e., that a snake talked a woman into eating the fruit of a magical tree.  The teaching of the Fall story can thus continue to be read in a largely traditional manner—it is still necessary to overcome the consequences of the Fall, hence the Incarnation, etc.—while giving Christians the freedom not to accept every single detail in the story as a historical record, should they decide, as a result of study and reflection upon the text, that its genre is something other than history.      

Of course, this would not solve all problems.  I think that in some cases even the teaching of the Bible is incompatible with certain treasured modern beliefs that took root in the Western mind between the 17th and 20th centuries.  I think Jon Garvey is good at pointing out some of these conflicts.  But if we could get rid of the unnecessary conflicts—over talking snakes, waters above the sky, 24-hour days, etc.—we could then focus on the smaller number of tensions that remained, and address them.

Thus, it might be that the things narrated in Genesis 1-3 are incompatible with any form of evolutionary thought, whereas the things taught in Genesis 1-3 are incompatible only with evolutionary views in which the process is driven largely by chance and many or most of its results are not specifically intended.  The adoption of the second point of view allows one much more flexibility in relating theology to natural science, and means that someone like Behe could be just as compatible as someone like Ken Ham with what the Bible teaches.     

Gregory - #72814

September 16th 2012


It’s not as important to me that you don’t think Pete is ‘heterodox’ (since higher sources than you or I are fit to decide that) than that you don’t think he is ‘orthodox.’ Let me suggest right now that if you place Enns in your ‘orthodox’ category wrt Adam and Eve and TE, it will not bode well for BioLogos’ relationship with ‘conservative evangelical Protestants.’ Since Enns’ departure, many improvements to BioLogos have been made and management seems to have backed away from its earlier liberal revisionist-leaning position.

You write: “My definition of ‘orthodox’ will be tied to the ecumenical creeds, not to Adam & Eve.”

Otoh, that sounds o.k. because the heart of Christianity is not Adam and Eve (although I rush to say they cannot/should not be divorced from that same heart). Otoh, first, the Church *does* take an ‘orthodox’ position regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve, alongside of the (so-called ‘universal’) creed(s). Second, what do the ecumenical (actually pseudo-universal) creeds have to do with ‘evolution’ or biology? Are the creeds not theological first and foremost? The only point of contact I could see is “proceeds from the Father (and the Son),” i.e. raising the highly controversial question of the filioque. Of course, Ted, you are not about to claim that the Holy Spirit ‘evolves’ from the Father (and the Son), are you? There’s a limit to your use of ‘evolution,’ too, even if you don’t openly admit it or articulate it in public as a defender of ‘theistic evolution,’ where ‘God evolves/creates everything.’

Making a statement about orthodox/heterodox wrt ‘theistic evolution’ is much different than making an apology for conservative American Protestants for the purpose of acquainting them with ‘modern knowledge.’ The challenge does not seem to me to be about “finding a way around knowledge,” as you say of conservative Protestantism, Ted, and which is evidenced by the high percentage of YECs among conservative Protestants. Rather, the most important clarification is between ‘good science’ and ‘science mixed with ideology,’ a clarification that is obscured and handicapped by a dramatic deficiency in Philosophy of Science.

I am worried, Ted, that your view of ‘good science’ is actually ‘science mixed with ideology,’ witness the situation viewed here already, that you have consciously chosen to have no (i.e. to deny yourself a) legitimate alternative to ‘evolutionism’ in your vocabulary. If you could correct this over-sight in your language, Ted, the highly reactionary language you borrow from the conservative Protestant Christian (filled with YECs) church in the USA, it might allow you to find an alternative to the proposition of trying to make ‘orthodox’ what is actually ‘heterodox’ to the Church. Since you have said Catholics and Orthodox are not your audience for this series, at least you could re-define ‘ecumenical’ so as not to exclude them from Mother Church, in defining what is ‘orthodox’ or ‘unorthodox’ (e.g. most Orthodox don’t accept all 3 creeds).


Gregory - #72815

September 16th 2012


Both Catholics and Orthodox have experienced less problems than Protestants in maintaining their ‘orthodox’ view of the historicity of Adam and Eve (which Enns and Lamoureux flatly deny), alongside of their acceptance of (limited) biological evolution. Is this not something to be learned from in your bid to educate conservative Protestants, Ted? If the ‘theistic evolution’ you are aiming to promote actually has ‘membership requirements’ that people must sign-on to reject Adam and Eve as historical ‘parents’ (whether biological or spiritual) of humanity, then, simply said, your ‘theistic evolution’ will be not ‘orthodox’ but ‘unorthodox.’ But hey, unilateral thinking has not stopped Americans in geo-politics; perhaps it needn’t in science and faith discussions either!

If your intention is to change the views of “most evangelical and all fundamentalist institutions [that] have not budged,” it might be better to offer them a more suitable alternative than simply to ask them to discard their dedication to ‘orthodoxy’ based on a ‘liberal’ re-reading of Genesis 2-3 in light of the fledgling field of genomics and the hyper-probabilistic ahistorical field of population genetics. What I propose instead is creative destruction of evolutionism, which includes re-defining the influence of evolutionary theories on ethics, morals, values and beliefs.

Eddie’s “suggestion which is not very precise” between ‘teaching’ and ‘narration’ is likewise an alternative to consider, more in Biblical Studies than in Philosophy of Science, which, perhaps surprisingly, I support as well, though I don’t think it goes far enough.

In regard to “What we need, IMO, is a viable third way,” we’re back on the same page, Ted. It turns out that over 10 yrs ago I discovered (received) a ‘viable third way,’ which protects the ‘orthodox’ view of Adam and Eve and which is not called ‘Intelligent Design.’ For several years on ASA I kept it hidden, developing it and consulting quietly about it. Are you willing now to consider this option as a ‘viable third way,’ Ted, if it allows you to remain ‘orthodox’ instead of becoming ‘heterodox’ regarding evolution and Adam and Eve? The impending danger you are facing is in accepting ‘orthodoxy falsely so-called’ due to an exaggerative theology of evolution.

The Bible contains history too, Ted. Where in your view of ‘orthodox’ does that history begin in the Bible? Are you on-board with ‘the first real, historical human in the Bible was Abraham’ (e.g. Lamoureux) viewpoint? Well, then didn’t Abraham have ‘real, historical’ parents too? Did Abraham’s father Terah not ‘really’ live 205 years and die in Haran (Genesis 11: 32)? Or does modern ‘higher’ biblical criticism convince you otherwise?

It is not just Genesis 2-3 that is being called into question by liberal-revisionist Christians like Peter Enns. It makes me wonder how much the ‘late-modern theistic evolution’ (LMTE) that BioLogos is promoting actually cares about history and orthodoxy. Looking forward to what you will say about these things, Ted, in the next threads when the time comes.


Jon Garvey - #72824

September 16th 2012


It seems to me that there is a link between your ideological evolutionism (I think that nomenclature would be understood by all) and Ted’s points about conservative Christianity’s historical antagonism to both evolution and higher criticism, and it goes beyond the latter’s refusal to budge in the face of evidence.

I try to account for it here in some depth. But the bottom line is that 19th century evolution generally (via Huxley, etc) pushed a naturalistic line both metaphysically and methodologically, and the higher critical theology derivatively followed exactly the same path, always methodologically and very often metaphysically too.

Just as methodological naturalism in biology could never, in principle, leave any room at all for divine action, the whole apparatus of biblical theology, from source criticism to form criticism and its descendants, was bound to reach naturalistic conclusions about Scripture, prophecy, miracles and Adam and Eve by definition.

This has been the complaint of conservatives from the beginning: that as actually practised both natural science and higher-critical theology works from a metaphysical base - indeed an idelogy - which is alien to the historical Christian faith. All that has really changed is that in theology naturalistic methodologies have retained their Victorian self-assurance far longer than biological science did.

I see Peter Enns as actually embodying that naturalistic tradition, and so the very least likely candidate to forge a third way. If I may play at wordmongering myself, what is needed for that is a post-naturalist conception of theology primarily, but also a post-naturalist conception of natural science, at least for Christians.

GJDS - #72782

September 14th 2012


I have tried an exercise but have put it aside; however with your background you may provide a criticism on its validity. I have read some papers that are good scientific work (e.g. how virus mutate) and have tried to read them after I delete the term ‘evolution’ from every sentence in the entire paper. When I do this, it seems to me the meaning of the paper has not been altered in any way (with the exception of the construction of some sentences after deletion of the term). Is this a meaningluf exwecise? Does this point to using a pointless term in such papers?

Gregory - #72801

September 15th 2012


Please know that I had a smile and chuckle, when you reported here at BioLogos about your exercise with the term ‘evolution’. Not laughing at you, but with you! ; )

I don’t think it’s an invalid exercise. In fact, I’ve done something like it myself in various ways, several times. This is a type of basic ‘linguistic analysis,’ which is a relatively empirical social scientific methodology. Counting word usage, clusters and keywords is indicative of how important certain ideas are in a paper or book. It offers a Metric (which mathematicians and physicists among others can surely appreciate).

Several questions and points seem relevant. a) In which fields and of which authors did you conduct your exercise, since you called it ‘good scientific work’? Iow, did you determince that it is ‘good science’ before reading the papers based on journal or author reputation? b) Did you decide to try to substitute for ‘evolution’ with an alternative term, e.g. development or adaptation or something else? c) Even if you removed the term ‘evolution’ from the paper and found no loss of meaning or comprehension of what was being expressed, it may still be that the general approach or hypothesis of the paper would not make sense without ‘general evolutionary theory.’ This is why people time and again appeal to the Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky’s statement about “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” while at the same time, due to his religious faith, Dobzhansky admitted in the same paper that he was also a ‘creationist’ (again, not knowing that he didn’t need to subscribe to the ideology of creation-ism). d) Let me add that I’ve found some languages are prone to using the term ‘evolution’ more than others; in comparing French, Spanish, English and Russian, my general impression is that is the order of most (French) to least (Russian) usage of ‘evolution.’ It is likely the case that each language has its tendencies, to properly use and/or to abuse ‘evolution’ in academic papers.

As far as ‘evolution’ possibly being a pointless term (as Ted Davis rolls his eyes, not remembering ‘evolutionism’!), I would say that, Yes, it is basically a pointless term…in various contexts and academic fields. People use ‘evolution’ (obviously this means ‘theistic evolutionists’ rather than ‘creationists’) nowadays in common parlance because it seems ‘sexy’ or ‘stylish’ or ‘modern’ instead of for its actual explanatory power. As for biology, ecology and other natural-physical sciences, my view is that it is up to those fields to continue to use ‘evolution’ if they choose if it carries more explanatory power than the closest alternative. If biologists, ecologists, cosmologists, cognitive scientists, etc. find it useful and helpful, then I see nothing wrong with them using ‘evolution’, as long as they don’t exaggerate it ideologically to bash religion or faith. In fact, I think they should continue to use it as it does appear to me that is the best term for what they are dealing with in light of what is now called ‘Big History’ (obviously I’m not a ‘Young Earther’).

In my fields of the human-social sciences, I can say without hesitation or exaggeration and with utmost humble confidence that *most times* the term ‘evolution’ is used it is entirely superfluous and unnecessary. ‘Evolution’ could safely be substituted with another, usually clearer and more accurate term (see link below), without any loss of meaning or decrease in scholarly clarity. In fact, that is exactly why my linguistic-philosophical challenge to ‘theistic evolution’ is just as focussed and sharp as my challenge to Intelligent Design; just as ID exaggerates the number of cases where ‘design’ should be used, TE exaggerates the number of cases where ‘evolution’ should be used.


Eddie - #72827

September 16th 2012

Three comments on the final paragraph of the above:

“In my fields of the human-social sciences, I can say without hesitation or exaggeration and with utmost humble confidence that *most times* the term ‘evolution’ is used it is entirely superfluous and unnecessary. ‘Evolution’ could safely be substituted with another, usually clearer and more accurate term (see link below), without any loss of meaning or decrease in scholarly clarity.”

Amen.  We have the “evolution” of popular song, and the “evolution” of breakfast cereals and the “evolution” of social mores and the “evolution” of religions and so on.  The term “evolution” in all such expressions is either a sloppy synonym for “change” or “development” or is in some murky way trying to convey an idea of “progress” or to cash in on the allegedly “scientific” character of Darwinian sorts of explanation and apply them to everything.  Bravo, and again, Amen.

“just as ID exaggerates the number of cases where ‘design’ should be used”

If I may make a fine but perhaps not unimportant point:  I’ve seen no “exaggeration” here.  ID takes the idea of “design” from human activities where it is undoubtedly appropriate (computer programming, architecture, engineering, etc.) and applies the notion to certain natural systems and entities.  One can of course contest the application—one can argue that a living cell is not like a factory, for example—but a misapplication is not an “exaggeration.”  Exaggeration implies quantitative excess, whereas misapplications are qualitative errors.  It’s a question of valid or invalid applications, not too many or too few applications.  That’s why the “number of cases” is irrelevant; the concept of design “should be used” wherever it can be justified by evidence and argument.

“TE exaggerates the number of cases where ‘evolution’ should be used.”

I carry no brief for the more popular versions of TE, but in defense of TE, I’ll say that I’ve seen no case where TE writers extend “evolution” beyond the cosmic and biological spheres into the human sphere.  Looking at the quotations provided in the link in the next post below, I see passages where atheist evolutionists (Wilson, etc.) have done this, but I don’t see any where TEs do it.  I haven’t heard Ken Miller speak of the evolution of the religious sense, or Ted Davis speak of the evolution of sexual morality, or Dennis Venema speak of the evolution of rock and roll.  Maybe TEs do this, but I’ve never seen it, so I’m not sure what the evidential basis for this criticism is.

GJDS - #72837

September 16th 2012

Hi Eddie

The use of evolution in the phrase “theistic evolution”, and also in the ID debate, must by necessity be a synthesis of theism and evolution. On this basis it is impossible to argue that the term ‘evolution’ conveys mearly a scientific meaning within that phrase. On ID, the arguments for design have been around for some time, and the notion of intelligibility, which is inherent in the universal constants and the anthropic nature of the universe, encapsulates within it a design concept. Trying to focus this to biological evolution brings additional problems which I will not discuss here.

My comments are to point out that theism has its own meaning, but the synthesis resulting from ‘theistic evolution’ carries with it the uncertainty of science in the area of evolution (and the abuse of scientific authority by extending it to areas outside of its domain when we consider theism), and the meaningless of the term ‘evolution’ when it is taken in a broader context than science would legitimately allow.

I trust these comments are useful within the context of your discussion points.

Eddie - #72841

September 16th 2012

Hello, GJDS:

Thanks for your gentle tone, but I can’t follow what you are saying.  It’s very general, and you don’t seem to be offering any thesis for me to either accept or reject.

I don’t know which of my previous comments you’ve read, but I’ll say here that the term “theistic evolution” is not problematic for me, and that the minimal, and clearest, and most useful, definition of “theistic evolution” is:  “God created through a process of evolution.”  Within that framework, one can be a supporter of ID as well as of theistic evolution.  It is only when “theistic evolution” is narrowed in meaning by all kinds of add-ons that ID is excluded.  And I’ve indicated that I believe that in many cases the exclusion was intended and that the add-ons serve that purpose.  I won’t repeat my statements; you’ll find them all here.

GJDS - #72844

September 16th 2012

Reply to Edddie #72841

Thanks for your response Eddie; you obviously have a clear idea of the meaning of the phrase ‘thestic evolution’.

My comment is a continuation of the discussion on regularities in nature, and the accepted position by evolutionists (theistic or otherwise) that evolution as it is currently understood is problimatical within the conctext of such regularities (or laws of science). Consequently I take the view that the uncertainty inherent in this view precludes combining the terms ‘theistic’ (which carries with it the certainty of Faith) with ‘evolution’ (which carries with it the uncertainty regarding laws of science, or regularities in nature).

However I do not have a hang up, or seek an argument, if you and other people see the meaning in a clearer way than I do.

Jon Garvey - #72845

September 17th 2012


I think this is an important point. In Darwin’s day “evolution” was conceived as a process moving towards perfection, and therefore comparable to creation by divine fiat. The environment somehow drove pigeons or people towards “perfection”. So a theist could believe consistently that it was God’s secondary means of creation.

But evolution as currently understood has no such undefined “goals”. Mutation is random, there is no trend towards complexity or perfection, neutral mutations swamp natural selection except as a purifying element, and so on. If believers want to keep God’s direct action out of the process, they have to cut back God’s purposes to match what evolution can do, which is pretty indeterminate even factoring in things like convergent evolution.

So if one wants to maintain the Church’s historical belief that God works out all things according to his will, either evolution must be supplemented by divine direct action, or a more teleological process of evolution than has actually been described must be envisaged, and many TEs don’t want to admit either possibility.

Trying to have it both ways leads to a high level of fudging, or describing simple logical contradiction as “mystery”.

GJDS - #72850

September 17th 2012


I get the impression that atheists show greater vigour intellectually (although they may state it otherwise) than theist evolutionists, in that they are (perhaps unconsciously) acknowledging the limitations of their idea/theory. Use of mathematical treatments (meta-analysis to examine correlations) and I think use of game theory (stochatic methods) are now used in an attempt to quantify their hypothesis.

Teleology is discussed by Sarah Coakley in her Gifford Lectures (2012) with reference to Kant and Aquinus. I am taking some time to absorb her outlook as it is wide ranging and more philosophical / theological rather then scientific. I get the feeling that people will begin to include terms such as ‘super-normal’ and ‘out of nature’ in discussions such as these.

Ted’s emphasis on the history of these ideas and outlooks appears to me to be a useful approach, and your (and his) comments on conservative/evangelical problems stemming from young earth teachings seem to me to have provided great difficulties to these group of Christians.

Gregory - #72802

September 15th 2012


To that effect, GJDS, your message in fact spurred me to action. Thanks! I’d been planning to post a new Blog entry based on research done over 4-5 years (already finished 6 years ago). So, finally today I posted it – “Varieties of Evolution and Evolutionism” – here: http://humanextension.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/varieties-of-evolution-and-evolutionism/

It’s meant basically as a resource, 1) for those who think ‘evolution’ is a term used only or mainly in natural-physical sciences and not in human-social sciences (or who simply don’t know how it is used in the latter and may be curious), and 2) so that people will be provoked to think hard about the necessary and proper limits of evolutionary theories and in what places ‘evolution’ might not be a suitable term…and ultimately, that it may lead them to question themselves about ‘things that don’t evolve,’ thus ending the cultural-linguistic reign of ‘evolutionism,’ which BioLogos Foundation desires to activate with me as well.

GJDS - #72812

September 15th 2012


The types of papers I have examined are typically, “Irene M.A. Nooren and Janet M.Thornton, “Diversity of protein-protein interactions” The EMBO Journal Vol. 22 No. 14 pp. 3486-3492, 2003. This is a review of protein-protein interactions which is central to the arguments on matters such as discussed by Justin R. Meyer et al., “Repeatability and Contingency in the Evolution of a Key Innovation in Phage Lambda”, Science 335, 428 (2012). The Nooren paper, when ‘evolution’ was removed, could be read without any loss of meaning (one could simply add ‘time-dependent’ or similar terms to make the sentences correct. The scientific ‘meaning’ or underlying theory behind this work is in the passage, “Notably, variations in oligomeric state such as domain swapping dimers and mixtures of monomers and weak dimers may reflect or relate to a dynamic, transient oligomeric equilibrium of the protein in vivo.” These dynamics are generally governed by the energy and entropy terms in typically Gibb energy treatments; this is chemical kinetics and equilibrium that is standard and has been used for so long I cannot even give it a time span – without a mention of anything remotely like evolution

The Myer et al paper is not as readily analysable in the same manner, but they do have experiments where they tried to show sequential events, and they show this system is complex and statements like, “These findings indicate an “all-or-none” form of epistasis among the four mutations responsible for the novel receptor phenotype.” are indicative of multi-reaction pathways, and there are a number of modelling treatments for such systems, such as ones with discrete and/or concerted reaction routes.

 The opinions and beliefs in evolution(ism) covers a staggering range. Your treatment is wider ranging and I agree with you that this shows in some cases an ideological commitment to Darwins views that would rival the dogma shown in instances such as Hitler’s and Stalin’s use of differing forms of socialism. The commitment in the sciences is worrisome as I think that would stifle, and destroy, the intellectual vigour and questioning that is the major ingredient for progress in the sciences.

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