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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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wesseldawn - #72779

September 14th 2012

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.”

I agree with John Haught in the sense that the cruel and disinterested nature of evolution shows clearly that the cosmos is “not cared for by a loving God”.

I disagree that evolution is incompatible with all Bible interpretation as the first “man” was a soul (translation=ruddy/the animal principle only). Man only became “more than a soul” (evolution with a twist) when it entered the garden/Paradise and got God’s image (Gen. 2:8).

Which is also to agree with the TE idea that animals died prior to the fall because only ruddy had the distinction of being taken to Paradise at the time; it was business as usual on the earth.

  • “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.

I agree, when man got God’s image, it became “more than an animal” and therefore, a higher creature and precious to God. The other animals are also important but they only get indirect influence when humans have direct influence as a result of having God’s spirit within.

  • “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.”

It certainly was no picnic as Jesus would have felt his mortality as we all do, who knows the degree to which he suffered! He was however, not taking responsibility for the creative process, but was rather “the sacrifice without spot or blemish” to save us from Satan’s tyranny.

  • “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

When Jesus returns, He will “make all things new” as the old will be dispensed with, clearly revealing there is something drastically wrong with the old as all of creation groans in anticipation of this event (Romans 8:21-23).

As for Polkinghorne and others like him, Christians are not likely to change minds until they themselves become consistent by proving there is something truly unique about the scriptures (reveal anomalies consistent with a divine person, as in only something that God could write). 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72785

September 14th 2012


I was unable to respond to your statement using the reply form.

My point which I tried to make in my discussion with Jon is the Divine Action in the World is that God works differently with different levels of Reality.  The Bible is about God’s Salvation History, not Science or Natural History.   

Thus we do not read the Bible to learn about how the laws of science work, although theology does have much to say about the framework of nature. 

The message of the Bible is the Good News of Jesus Christ.  This does not contradict the laws of nature, even the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which again is part of Salvation History.  These are two separate issues which must not be confused.

The Laws of Nature are basic to human existence which God created.  The Laws of Ecology are basic to the creation of humanity in the Image of God.  The Covenant of Jesus Christ is basic to our lives, it gives our lives meaning and purpose. 

All of these ways that God works in our universe are important and interdependent.  Yes, God works through natural law, the laws of life, and grace of Jesus Christ.  God works within the framework God has created.          

Eddie - #72786

September 14th 2012

Thanks, Roger.

I don’t want to be difficult, but in fact many of the events recorded in the Gospel do contradict the laws of nature, as you understood the laws or nature in your reply to Jon Garvey.  

If Jesus walked on the sea, he violated either the law of gravity, or the electrostatic laws governing surface tension, etc.  If he multiplied the fishes and loaves, he either violated the law of the conservation of mass or he violated some other laws.  So you have three options:

1.  You can say that these events never happened, that the Gospel writer did not mean us to take them historically;

2.  You can say that these events happened, and then explain how they don’t violate the laws of nature as you have conceived of them in your debate with Jon;

3.  You can retract your statement that nothing in the Gospel (which presumably includes the narration of the deeds of Jesus) violates natural laws.

I see no other options.  And you haven’t done any of these in your reply above.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72788

September 14th 2012


I read your essay with interest and I read the sermon too.

There are some good things and not so good things in the concept of the Crucified God.

However right now I really don’t see where you are headed which is why it seems better to wait before I comment.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72789

September 14th 2012


Walking on the water and the calming of the storm demonstrate that Jesus is God and has control over nature.

That has nothing to do with the violation of natural laws.  It has everything to do with Who Jesus is.

Eddie - #72792

September 14th 2012


The whole point of natural laws is that they do not submit to any *will* but operate out of mechanical necessity.  If Jesus has control over nature, then he submits it to his will rather than mechanical necessity.  He breaks the laws—as you described the laws.

If you are saying that is is fine that Jesus breaks the laws, because he is the Word, hence God, and free to operate outside of the mechanical necessities that he has created, then your disagreement with Jon Garvey was pointless.  It was exactly his point—against what you had said earlier—that natural laws are not binding upon God.  So you have reversed yourself, apparently without realizing it.  Go back to the beginning of your discussion with Jon about God and natural laws, and reread it.

You also did not answer my question about why you called Jesus the Telos.  Is this your own coinage, or have you seen it in the tradition?  If you have seen it, where?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72795

September 15th 2012


How can natural laws work out of mechanical necessity?  Natural laws determine what that necessity is.  May be if we had a Greek pagan point of view where the universe is eternal that would work, but we don’t.

Light does not travel at x miles per second out of mechanical necessity, but because that is how God fashioned it.

Now there are several extant views in this area.  One is the Islamic view.  Allah is Absolute and can and does whatever He wants and choses to do.  Allah as opposed to YHWH is not limited by a covenant.  His judgement of humans is strictly arbitrary.  There is no clear guide to salvation, except martyrdom.

Islam has rejected the concept of laws of nature as limiting the freedom of Allah which indeed it does, but it also limits the development of science in the Muslim world.  

Another view is the mechanistic world view of the Deists which I lay primarily to Greek philosophy where God if there is a God is related to the role of the Unmoved Mover.  Deus sets the universe in motion and then becomes an observer of how it works out, although possibly pounishing and rewarding in the afterlife.  This is the dualistic view we all oppose.

The Biblical view that I espouse is the covenantal view.  God rules by law.  In the Bible this is covenantal law.  In the universe this is the laws of physics.  In the organic realm the laws of ecology.  

Laws of nature are binding upon God because God determined them and God does not change, right?  It would seem that God would be wise enough to foresee all eventualities, so that God would not have to break the laws of nature.  Can God suspend them?  Can God go around them?

However my primary point is that placing God’s Natural History against God’s Salvation History is a huge distraction that makes no sense.  We have wasted far too much time in this dead end pursuit.

As I have explained my view of Jesus the Telos is based on the Biblical view of Jesus and nothing else.     

Eddie - #72797

September 15th 2012

Roger (72795):

I was not speaking of a pagan necessity that replaces God. I was speaking of the necessary relationship of causes and consequences established by God. This relationship was affirmed by all the great Christian founders of natural science, Boyle, Newton, etc. If you fire a projectile with a certain force on certain angle, the course it takes follows from rigorous mathematical necessity; the projectile has no choice where it goes, how high it rises, or where it lands. Knowledge of these necessities—which were established by God—is what constituted modern natural science from Bacon to Laplace, and in many respects, still constitutes it now. (We’ll leave aside quantum theory to keep things simple.)

Now, you try to attribute these regularities to promise and covenant. You cite the case of Noah:

“When God promised not to destroy the earth by flood to Noah, that promise limits God’s ability to destroy the world.” (72688)

And you interpret the promise—not to destroy the world—in relation to the promised regularity of seedtime and harvest, etc., and you understand that passage to be a guarantee of all the regularities in nature—all the natural laws.  You characterize this regularity in 72700:

“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.”

So in your mind, God wills nature to operate steadily and consistently, and the Noahic covenant guarantees all the natural laws; God guarantees their continuance indefinitely. (At least, until the final consummation.)

Now let’s examine this picture of yours.

Eddie - #72798

September 15th 2012

First of all, the Noah story doesn’t limit God’s ability; it announces that he will not use that ability.  But that is a mere qualification, which doesn’t alter your point.  More important, while God promises not to destroy the earth by the means used in the Flood, and while he promises to keep the basic heavenly motions and seasons going, he does not in that passage promise never to dramatically alter the normal course of events. He does not promise that there will never be miraculous deviations from what we call “nature.”

Now, you half-concede this when you write (72688):

“That does not mean that God cannot find ways to work around these laws and perform miracles,”

and here you agree with Jon and myself; but then you go on in the same sentence to say:

“but the integrity of nature and the integrity of morality must be maintained.”

But how is the integrity of nature maintained if God “works around” the laws?

How is the integrity of nature maintained if Jesus walks on the water?

If, as you believe, God guarantees by covenant the uniform operation of all the natural laws (and, as I said, I don’t agree with that reading of the Noah story, but suppose for the moment I agree with you), then God guarantees by covenant that Jesus will fall into the sea of Galilee when he tries to walk across it, and God guarantees by covenant that Lazarus’s stinking body will not rise from the dead. So the covenant would make a large number of the Biblical miracles impossible.



Eddie - #72799

September 15th 2012

You have two options here: You can say that God is free to break the natural laws, if he feels circumstances warrant it; but then you retreating from your interpretation of the Noahic covenant and agreeing with Jon. Or you can say that God is not free to break his own covenant, and so is bound eternally by all the natural laws, and must consent to have them play out; in which case Jesus cannot have walked on the water, Lazarus cannot have risen, etc.

Yet I assume that you believe that the events described in the New Testament are historical, so God does sometimes violate the laws of nature. So either he does break the Noahic covenant, or you have misinterpreted the Noahic covenant.

In fact, a careful study of the Old Testament reveals that God is (as some scholars put it) “lord of nature and history,” and that both natural and political events are shaped by him, as putty in his hands. “Nature” exhibits certain regularities, yes, but these are habits only, not entitlements; it has no “integrity” such as you speak of, that could take away from its malleability before the divine will. In truth Biblical faith, Jewish or Christian, God is always acting, and the regularities of nature, while real, are relativized within a wider picture of divine activity in which the regulating principle is not nature but the will of God.

In fact, for the Bible, there are no “natural laws,” but only general habits of nature, which God can override any time it suits his purpose. He promises to keep the planets moving and the seasons going; but he has not promised to keep his hands off anything else.

I don’t know if you intend to answer, but if you do, please answer this question: Did Jesus break any natural laws when he walked on the water; and if he didn’t break any natural laws by doing so, how did he walk on the water? Your discussion of a concrete Biblical example like this will do far more good than generalities about covenant, telos, etc.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72800

September 15th 2012

My brother, you are asking me to be God and I am not. 

Eddie - #72804

September 15th 2012


No, I’m not.  I’m asking you not to hold pairs of theological assertions that are logically incompatible.  You can’t say or imply that Jesus’s walking on the water both did and did not violate any laws of nature.  Either it did or it didn’t.

If it did violate laws of nature, you should retract your original statement that it didn’t.

If it didn’t, you need to explain how walking on the water is compatible with natural laws.   

The problem is that you (in agreement with Jon) formally reject the Deistic understanding of natural laws, while your actual description of natural laws (as unbreakable regularities) is very Deistic.  You need more philosophical clarity.

One either asserts (as you seem to assert) a normally unbreakable causal nexus, guaranteed by God, and then bites the bullet and says that Jesus broke the laws of nature where circumstances justified it, or one denies that there is any unbreakable causal nexus, and therefore that there is anything to explain, since Jesus’s action is in the same class as “the sun rose today”—just another of the things that God willed to happen.

The difficulty is that many of the “popular TEs” unconsciously accept a Deistic notion of God’s “consistency” and therefore, offended by the idea that God would be “inconsistent” by “breaking” any “natural laws,” are strongly inclined to insist that all origins must be explicable naturalistically.  Jon, on the other hand, is saying that such TEs pose a false problem, as there is no presumption, under a Biblical view of the world, that God is bound by anything, or that special divine actions, outside the normal run of events, need any theoretical justification.

I think that in your heart of hearts you are edging toward Jon’s understanding, but that your language and intellectual framework are still heavily conditioned by the Enlightenment, and this is what is leading you to waffle, saying on the one hand that no natural laws are broken by Jesus, and on the other hand that God can “work around” (a euphemism for “break”) natural laws to produce miracles.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72805

September 15th 2012


You still don’t understand.  I am not concerned about the Enlightenment.  I am concerned about the integrity of God.

For me you are the one that is concerned about the Enlightenment by trying to come to a yes or no answer to this question.

If you know exactly what God did and how, good for you.

Something happened and it was important for the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I am content to call it a mystery of faith rather than a statement of fact.

The important reality is that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.  I also believe based on the gospel that Jesus is the Logos and the Telos of God.  These are the important realities of the NT, not the miracles. 

The dialogue between faith and science cannot be based on confusion between natural history and salvation history.  God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the Source and Author of both.  Each has its role and purpose which is what we need to discuss.      

Eddie - #72808

September 15th 2012


If you don’t believe that Jesus walked on the water, then just say so. I won’t be offended.  Lots of liberal clergymen (and, from what I’ve read, a few prominent TE thinkers) don’t believe that Jesus walked on the water.  It’s nothing new, nothing shocking.  I regularly read Spinoza and Nietzsche without flinching.  You can’t hurt my feelings or put my faith at risk by being frank.

But if you do believe Jesus walked on the water, and if you also believe—as you’ve said you do—that there are natural laws (gravity, electrostatics, cell death, etc.) which come from God and are never violated (because otherwise God would be inconsistenly violating his own covenant), then, since Jesus’s walk on the water is incompatible with those natural laws, you believe in a logical contradiction.  Not a profound religious “mystery,” but a slovenly intellectual contradiction.  You have to either ditch the Enlightenment conception of “natural laws” that you are employing, or, if you retain it, you have to admit that Jesus broke those laws.  There’s no third alternative.

This is nothing to do with theology.  It’s something more basic than theology:  it’s the first lesson of Logic 101:  the law of non-contradiction.  And no one should be allowed into Theology 101 without Logic 101.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72834

September 16th 2012


Why do you think that God is bound by Western logic, but not by Western science?  Is it true that if something is not white, it must be black?  What happened to the missing middle? 

You seem to entranced by the idea that I am bound by Enlightment ideas, when this is far from the truth as my long trail of blogs and my book can attest.

Personally I think that thare are somethings that we will never fully understand in this world and Jesus Christ is one of them, which is alright with me.  As I have said quoting William Cowper, “God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,” or even Elinstein’s well known paraphrase.

If God is in complete control of nature, then it would seem to follow that God is responsible for all natural disasters.  If God is in complete control of nature, what is the difference between your view and pantheism or panentheism?

Calvin argued for predestination.  It seems that you would have to agree, yes or no?   


Eddie - #72840

September 16th 2012


Your newest answer is again confused.  Either are you trying to avoid answering my question, or you don’t understand my question.  If you are trying to avoid answering my question, you are not conversing in good faith, and it’s time to end this.  And if you are unable to comprehend my question, I don’t know what further I can say to make it clear.  Look at how many posts I’ve written, stating and restating my question, trying to keep you focused on what is being asked!  

Pantheism?  Predestination?  How on earth did you get talking about those things?  I said nothing about them.  I told you explicitly that I was discussing not your theology but your logic.  And whether or not God is bound by logic, Roger is.  If we cannot agree to follow the rules of logic, we cannot have any kind of discussion—theological, political, ethical, or even about the weather.  

I’ve spent hours writing these posts, trying to get you to see where the contradiction is.  I won’t repeat myself.  So reread the whole sequence from the beginning, and maybe the penny will drop.

Think, Roger, think!  There is only one question before you, and it’s one you imposed on yourself, by your own assertive claim:  Did Jesus break any natural laws when he walked on the water?  It can’t be maybe; it’s either yes or no.  You originally said, resoundingly, that he broke no natural laws.  I pointed out that that assertion leads you to a mass of contradictions, and I even pointed out the two ways you could resolve the contradiction:  retract your original statement, and admit that Jesus broke natural laws, or adjust some of your other statements.  If you won’t do either, you are talking sheer nonsense, and we can’t get any further.

Jon Garvey - #72846

September 17th 2012

Personally I think that there are some things that we will will never fully understand…

Calvin argued for predestination because the word, and the thing, are explicitly found in Scripture. However, on his or any other understanding it is somewhat paradoxical and impossible for us fully to understand.

So it appears that you want to set up a logical contradiction of your own (God doesn’t work outside natural law, but he does things not accounted for by natural law) in order to avoid accepting something expressly taught in the Bible (predestination) that we will never fully understand in this life.

I agree with Eddie that predestination has nothing obvious to do with the issue at all, but if you feel it has, why prefer your own mysteries to the Holy Spirit’s?

GJDS - #72839

September 16th 2012

To those who may share (or appreciate) my sense of humour; I report that I can add to the following:

We had: Dawkin’s selfish gene.

We have: The ultruistic, sacrificial ants and bugs and many other groups.

Now I introduce (drum roll): The suicidal bacteria!

My scientific (?) proof for this latest breakthrough in mega-evolution is none other than the now famous phage lambda, and I quote:

” ..... phage were unable to reproduce and went extinct; in the other case (EcC3), phage persisted but none of the replays yielded phage able to use OmpF. It is clear that bacterial characteristics determinedwhether the phage would evolve the new receptor function. However, the bacteria that promoted that outcome did not necessarily come from communities in which had previously evolved to exploit OmpF......”

I look forward to advances in which virus can be helped to infect hosts by these hosts, who would commit suicide to enable virus evolution!

Disclaimer: this post is not intended to offend any religious feelings, be they theistic or atheistic.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #72848

September 17th 2012

Eddie and Jon,

I apologize that you do not seem to understand the points I am trying to make.

I am saying that God works on at least three levels, the physical, the organic, and the spiritual.  Each level has its own language and its own rules.  It is a mistake to confuse them, which you are trying to do.

The Bible is God’s salvation/human/spiritual history.  At times Jesus uses nature in radical ways to reveal Himself as divine in the NT.  If that is what you want me to say then I have said it. 

However I do not think that this is the same thing as saying that Jesus violates the laws of nature, because these laws are still intact before and after these events.  Jesus demonstrated that He had powers beyond the rules of nature that He could use as needed, but that did not interfere with nature itself.  

This is very different from saying that God directly interferes with nature to produce human beings. 

The laws of nature are real and they are determined by God.  This does mean that God can change them, but most theology indicates that God does not change and there is no need for God to change the basic structure of God’s Creation. 

God uses the laws of nature to guide and protect the creation from chaos and evil.

God’s integrity is not an abstraction or a generalization.  God identifies God as YHWH, “I AM WHO I AM.”  God is faithful and consistent.  God is also the AMEN, the Truth. 

Now there is a paradox here that does not lend itself to either/or Western logic.  The answer I have come up with is based on the fact that God is a Complex/One Person Who created complex/one humans to live in a complex/one universe. 

If you want to limit God to a monistic or dualistic Western reality, that is okay with me, but do not insist that yours is the only possible Christian view of reality.     

Eddie - #72855

September 17th 2012

Sorry, Roger, but your last answer is still mostly like the previous ones. You still wish to avoid all concrete Biblical examples and talk in big generalities about Western logic, monism, and dualism. The fact is that a body of Jesus’s mass will, if governed by natural laws (laws which you have said God never breaks), sink into the Sea of Galilee. So either the event never happened, or, if it happened, then given your ground rules, the laws of nature were violated.

You try to avoid contradiction with this:

“I do not think that this is the same thing as saying that Jesus violates the laws of nature, because these laws are still intact before and after these events.”

But that is like saying that the bank robber does not violate the laws of the land, because the laws were in place before the robbery and remain in place after it.  So why then are the bank’s cash drawers empty, if no law was violated?

Jon’s criticism of much TE is that its understanding of nature is Deistic—nature is a causally closed web which God never violates—and that this view is not Biblical. As I said before, I think that I can discern, through the theoretically confusing statements in your answers, that you deep down agree with Jon Garvey, but your conceptual language, your terminology, is getting in the way. It has entangled you in the notion of unbreakable natural laws, thus catching you in contradiction when Jesus obviously breaks one of those unbreakable laws.

Yes, God is faithful and consistent—but the faithfulness and consistency that the Bible speaks of has nothing to do with guaranteeing unbreakable natural laws. It is a faithfulness and consistency in delivering promises—but God remains radically free how he delivers those promises. He can create a causally closed system of natural laws and then break those laws with impunity; or he can create a causally open universe in which the apparently lawlike, habitual repetition of events has no inviolability and therefore requires no breaking. Either type of universe would allow God to remain faithful. But he can’t be faithful in a universe run by a closed web of natural laws, if he binds himself never to violate those natural laws; in such a universe, Jesus must sink into the sea. That’s straight logic, nothing to do with monism, dualism, or my theological preferences. And now, having put generous effort into explaining myself, I declare myself absolved of further argumentative responsibility. Let’s move on.

Joriss - #72849

September 17th 2012

Eddy, couldn’t we just say that miracles overrule the laws of nature instead of breaking them? A bat, that gets loose from the tree it is hanging on,will fall unto the ground, because of the law of the gravity. But when it spreads it’s wings and starts flying, it will not fall, but stay above the ground. So other natural laws, the biological laws by which the bat can fly, win from the law of gravity, without breaking it.
When Peter walked on the water, he could do that, because he believed in Jesus, who said: Come!
We know that faith in God has power that can win from natural laws, because that faith is supernatural. So may be we could say that miracles don’t break or violate natural laws but exceeds them by the supernatural power of God, without breaking them.
If I fall from a high rock, I will surely fall dead, but God, if He willed so, is capable to give me a soft landing - I will never try - by the help of angels or whatever power He might use, just as I can hold my hand under a falling chestnut and have it land “safely” on the ground, without breaking any law, just using another law - “the law of my power” - to overrule the law of gravity, because I have more power to bear the chestnut than the gravity has to pull it down.
So I think, when Peter walked on the water, the gravity did pull him downwards as gravity always does,with a force of, let’s say 70 kilo’s, but God, seeing his faith, pulled him upwards with a force of 70 kilo’s, so Peter, being  weightless per saldo, could comfortly and smoothly walk on the water! But when his fear for the water and the wind “switched off” the power of faith, only gravity was left and apparantly still acive and poor Peter sank and would have perished if not Jesus once more had overruled the power of gravity by His power and saved Peter.
So if you say: God doesn’t break natural laws, He is just stronger than they are, then there is no discrepancy at all between natural laws and miracles.

Eddie - #72853

September 17th 2012


Thanks for your attempt at an answer to the question I posed to Roger.

I understand what you are saying.  What it implies, however, is that nature is not a closed causal system, but an open one.  I think that is more in line with what Jon Garvey has said than what Roger has said.  Roger, though his view is not articulated with philosophical precision, seems to think that God has created a closed causal system—and guaranteed the continued reliability of that system in his promise after the Flood.  God cannot intervene because he has bound himself by covenant not to.  Well, if God can’t intervene, then he can’t exert that counterforce to keep Peter out of the water.

If Roger wants to say that the universe is causally open to non-mechanical forces, and that God on occasion inserts non-mechanical forces, opposing mechanical forces to change what would otherwise be the result, then fine.  But that is not what his position sounded like, when he talked about God’s inviolable covenant and the unbreakability of natural laws.

Remember, this whole thing started when Roger opposed the view of Jon Garvey, who was championing the kind of causal openness that you are describing in your own answer to my question.  My point is that Jon Garvey is trying to develop a wholly Biblical language for talking about divine action, whereas Roger’s language is an unsatisfying mix of Biblical and Enlightenment language.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72857

September 17th 2012


It seems to me that you are mis-characterizing what I said. 

First of all I clearly said that God is not limited by anything or anyone but God.  This does not indicate that I suggested a closed system at all, but one in which God set limits.  God sets moral limits gthrough the moral law.  Why can’t or shouldn’t God set natural limits?

The system can be open as God system of salvation is open, but it can’t be wide open.  It must have definite structure. 

The other thing that I would insist on is that the structures of natural history, organic or bio history, and human or salvation history are different but compatible, so it is omportant not to confuse them. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #72864

September 17th 2012

This blog was about theodicy, the goodness of God. 

Many Jews believed that everything that happened was a sign from God.  However, the book of Job goes counter to that idea.  Job was hit with all sorts of misfortunes and becames sick.  His “friends” told him that he needed to come clean about some secret terrible sin that God was punishing him for.  Job said that while he wasn’t perfect, he was a man of faith, true to God.

The readers of the book know that Job is telling the truth and God is not punishing him.  However Job while Job knew he was in right rlationship with God, he could could not help but believe in the popular theology of his time and that asked why God was punishing him. 

Finally God answers Job’s cries and give him an audience, and while he does not receive a direct answer Job understands that God does care about him and in the end all will be set straight.  God specifically rebukes Job’s friends as blind to God’s truth.

The leson of Job is not that God does not act through the moral law to punish wrong doers, but we must be careful in interpreting how God acts.  People should not be good in order to get a reward, because that does not always happen.  Faith results in relationship to God which is its own reward.  

Interestingly while the Quran has a book named Job it is nothing like the OT Job.   

Jesus was crucified, as were many of the apostles.  Paul was executed.  John ended up on Patmos.  How is this fair? and yet it is, because God’s ways are not our ways.

Is God responsible for the mess that the world is in?  If God is in completre control then it would seem God is.  If God gives us the responsibility to decide whether or not to live for God, then God is not responsible for our actiions.

Jon Garvey - #72896

September 18th 2012


Funnily enough I was meditating on the message of Job as I drove across England today. Probably because I was handling birds of prey, which feature in ch 39 and cause theodicy problems for YECs and TEs both. You’re right that Job is the Bible’s theodical book par excellence and that in Job’s friends we have a simplistic theology of moral accountability exemplified.

Job, of course, is likely to be a fictional or idealised character, but there are a few othetr key theological teachings relevant to the theodicy-and-nature aspect of the OP.

First is that, for all that God is not punishing a man who is, in fact, innocent, we do learn that God is ultimately responsible for his suffering - the theodicy is that it is for Job’s greater blessing through his deeper relationship with God (and the restoration of his blessing). But we’re still left asking, “Why would God do things that way?” and getting the answer, “He’s not telling us, but it definitely was His action and not just blind misfortune - let God be God”.

Though the reader also knows that Satan in the malevolent agent of Job’s troubles, Job is unaware of that and complains directly to God - and rightly so because in the final chapter the narrator (from God’s viewpoint) says he gets back more than God took away. In the end, then, even Satan’s malevolence is a mere agent of God’s good purposes.

We also know that Satan uses (a) a weather phenomenon (b) a skin disease and (c) two sets of human enemies (Midianites and Chaldeans), all three by the direct permission of God.

The first two have clear relevance to the determinism of natural phenomena in relation to the affairs of (believing) people. Job would, in terms of the story, have avoided boils and whirlwinds both had Satan not spoken to God. Natural events changed course through supernatural agency.

The last has relevance to the question of divine action and human responsibility: obviously, the raiders’ actions were sinful and culpable, and yet they were somehow triggered by Satan’s activity and, more mysterious still, behind that by the will of God for Job’s final blessing.

One could say these were unusual (or even fictional) miracles - but the book is about Job as a typical, if extreme, example of unjust suffering. God’s ways are not our ways, true, but the ways in which he acted in Job presuppose that God does control, providentially (rather than miraculously), pretty well any category of event one could envisage. Put simply, the book of Job doesn’t subdivide reality into areas in which God acts by different means. Spiritual beings, natural phenomena, human actions - all are means he uses creatively and justly to bring about his ends.

None of this, of course, answers thew question of whether God acts directly in the natural creation, apart from how it affects the lives of his people. But I think that’s covered pretty comprehensively in ch 38-42.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72900

September 18th 2012


James states that God does not test or tempt humans, yet we know that humans are tested all the time.

It seems to me that the “world” with its imperfections tests us repeatedly.  It is easy to look at what is going on today and think that I cannot make a difference.  It seems much easier to go along in order to get along, rather than fight a seeming losing battle against the INDIFFERENCE of this world.

The rewards of faith, hope, and love are real, but not obvious and tangible.  We need to remember that God is real, God cares, and ultimately God is in charge.  This is the mesage of Job and the NT.  That is why we go to church are least weekly, pray continually, and study the Bible regularly.    

Jon Garvey - #72918

September 19th 2012

...the INDIFFERENCE of this world.

Roger, it’s hard to be sure of your meaning for “world” here - you could mean ther bindifference of people to spiritual truths.

But in the context of theodicy, it has resonance with the quote of Richard Dawkins whose view of the whole of reality is derived from his view of nature:

...there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

But there isn’t a single event of person in Job that displays indifference. The specific, individual misfortunes of Job, “natural” or personal, are all the results of specific evil or (ultimately) benevolent purposes. His friends all show involved concern, though it is misdirected in many ways. And all the things described in God’s epiphany in the final chapters are shown to be the works of God’s own power and wisdom.

Job’s problem isn’t even the apparent indifference of God, but God’s apparent active injustice towards him. So it seems to me that before we can begin to make use of the multiple lessons of Job, we first have to rehabilitate the concept that God wills what happens.

Our theodicy then will not ask, “Why did God leave the Universe to get so messed up,” nor even, “Why does God let bad things happen,” but “Why does God do things that have such apparently bad effects?” Or better still, if we are to find the answers that Job does, we must put it in the 2nd person: “God, why do you do things that have such apparent bad effects?”

If we ask the wrong questions of the wrong persons, we’ll never get the rtight answers.

GJDS - #72914

September 18th 2012

Hi Roger and Jon,

The book of Job provides many insights, and one is an important account on how we may understand God and also the rightness of our own actions. I wish to add one additional point to the discussion, and that is to compare the clear-sighted (almost naive) description of God and His Sons or Angels at the beginning of the book, with the phrase, “God answered Job out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). This poetic language is also important; a whirlwind signifies a great deal of confusion. Additionaly, the answer from God also covers many things, not simply God acting in nature. I also note that it is this answer that brings humility to Job, not accusations about his actions. I take this to mean that a deeper understanding of God brings with it changes to ourselves (and obviously to Job) as the type of human beings we become.

Should this deeper understanding require suffering inflicted by God? I read the beginning of Job to also show that Job was doing the right thing (as he understood it) in such a way as to equate it with rewards, and not necessarily to grow in God’s grace and knowledge (at least as he later understood this). The question that is not answered is if this needs suffering and punishment - but this is for further discussion.

Jon Garvey - #72919

September 19th 2012

I take this to mean that a deeper understanding of God brings with it changes to ourselves (and obviously to Job) as the type of human beings we become.

GJDS - wouild it be fair to summarise this as “We need God to change us, not try to change God”?

Ted Davis - #72899

September 18th 2012

It’s good to see such energetic discussion of conceptions of “natural laws”, not only b/c the topic is important in its own right, but especially b/c it’s central to the whole idea of Theistic Evolution. I won’t be able to say a lot more about this, owing to other commitments, but I will at least point to one of the most profound studies of this topic I have seen, a study that influenced my own thinking about “creation and evolution” at a time many years ago when I was weighing an OEC view vs a TE view.

I mean “Nature & Miracle,” a little paperbound booklet by Johann H. (“Harry”) Diemer, a Dutch Calvinist biologist who died as a result of being imprisoned by the Nazis for his role in the resistance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Heinrich_Diemer

I’ll quote just two short passages, to entice interested readers to go further on their own. “To say that the beginning of a new phylum is grounded in creation means in no way that God created in a supernatural way. Anyone who thinks it does begins with an autonomous natural process wherein he then allows God to introduce something new from the outside. This way of thinking is not in line with Scripture. We have to start with the creative work of God in the beginning and during the six days.” (p. 5)

“Before we can gain a clear insight into the relationship between re-creation and nature, we must make a radical departure from the deistic view of nature. ‘Nature’ is nothing by itself. From moment to moment it is upheld by the power and wisdom of God through his Word and Spirit and cannot be separated from them. Calvin saw that nature is an order directed by God within which the lower aspects of his work occur. In Scripture nature is often referred to in this way.” (p. 23)

For a long time, this booklet was rare and hard to obtain, but now I see it’s actually available for free: http://www.reformationalpublishingproject.com/pdf_books /Scanned_Books_PDF/NatureAndMiracle.pdf. I’ve long felt that it ought to be required reading for all Christians interested in origins, but especially those who are looking for theological grounding for a TE view.

Happy reading!!

Gregory - #72905

September 18th 2012

Very interesting that a Dooyeweerdian had such a profound impact on your view of “creation and evolution,” Ted, “many years ago when [you were] weighing an OEC view vs a TE view.”

I read the Memoriam to Diemer by Herman Dooyeweerd. There is much to say about that later; the influence of a judicial philosopher on a biologist and what it did (or didn’t do) for the biologist’s scholar career. From Hart: “Amsterdam and Toronto” influence, indeed.

A quick terminology search of Diemer’s text reveals the following:

‘Creat-‘ was used 225 times.

‘Law’ – 77 times. (not a surprise for a Dooyeweerdian)

‘Design’ – 38 times. (quite a surprise, for a text that influenced Ted towards TE [but not yet back again towards ID!])

‘Evolution’ – 1 time, plus 1 time ‘evolutionism.’ (really quite shocking, if Diemer is read to support TE…except for someone who has studied Dooyeweerd and discovered that he failed as a philosopher to reconcile ‘evolution’ with ‘theological anthropology.’)

It seems like you’ll have a much more difficult time in the ID series now that you’ve revealed your affinity with this Design-oriented text, Ted. When time allows, hopefully I’ll be able to read it.

“He [Diemer] also helps by pointing out that though explanation is related to seeing patter[n]s of order, the origin of these patterns is always beyond explanation.” – H. Hart

Gregory - #72906

September 18th 2012

Correction: “he failed as a philosopher to reconcile ‘biological evolution’ with ‘theological anthropology.’)”

Ted Davis - #73028

September 23rd 2012

James Moore’s account of Aubrey Lackington Moore (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1983/JASA6-83Jones.html), in “The Post-Darwinian Controversies,” was probably even more important to me than Diemer or Bube. I read J Moore very carefully; I reviewed it in the ASA journal as my first publication. I read all of these authors with both eyes wide open, looking for a more profound theology of creation than I had previously held. Indeed, I recommend A L Moore no less than Diemer.

So, Gregory, don’t read more into my comments than I meant. Your inferences were fair, but not entirely accurate. Above all, don’t presume that I’ll have “a much more difficult time” next month when I dive into ID. As always, I think what I think, regardless of whether it favors view A or view B or view C. I’‘ll have much to say about ID, and I realize that some ID eyes will be looking over my shoulder all the way (I don’t put you in this category, incidentally), but my views are what they are and I’ll just state them as clearly as I can—what I’ve tried to do for each of the main positions I’ve presented. Remember what Farragut said about those torpedoes?

Gregory - #73048

September 24th 2012

Ted, Thanks for your reply. I’m not sure what ‘inferences’ you thought I drew in #72905. I basically just counted terms using the Search function on the e-reader. ‘Design’ is rampant in your link; ‘evolution’ is not.

Re: H. Dooyeweerd, he is much more a philosopher than you are, Ted, which partly explains why you are not Dooyeweerdian. He is one of the most, if not the most important ‘reformational’ philosopher of the 20th century, along with D. Vollenhoven, C. van Til, S. Zuidema, N. Wolterstorff, J. Klapwijk, R. Clouser, H. Hart, J. Skillen, et al. some of whom you surely know personally.

Jone’s article (you linked) makes me wonder something, Ted: what alternative to (scientific) positivism do you offer to people today? Have you written about positivism anywhere, like Jones? This may be one of the places to put down historical pedantry & honestly inquire how positivism might impact the current topic of ‘theistic evolution’ & ‘theistic evolutionism.’

“Christian Darwinism, Moore concludes, was a phenomenon of orthodoxy, whereas Christian Darwinisticism was an expression of liberalism.” - Jones

That is one of the most absurd claims (& neologisms) I’ve ever read. I’m surprised at how many times the combo “Christian Darwinism” & “Christian Darwinian” is used by Jones/Moore & wonder why this attracts you, Ted. The conclusion states theological liberals were unable to embrace Darwinism, whereas I had thought you were theologically liberal, Ted. The shoe seems to be on the other foot with TE here now – isn’t it mainly for liberals & not for conservatives?

“Christian Darwinians accepted Darwin’s theory as it stood, leaving it substantially intact. Christian Darwinists, on the other hand, modified Darwin’s theory by adulterating it with nonDarwinian ideas.” – Jones

This raises a significant point for this thread. Are you (i.e. do you consider yourself to be) a Christian Darwinist or Christian Darwinian, Ted, &/or is that something you consider ‘orthodox’ today? Secondarily, what’s your guess as to why BioLogos removed its definition of ‘Darwinism’ from its Questions page?

“Christian Darwinism, unfortunately, never succeeded in gaining a popular following.” – Jones

Is that the way you feel too, Ted?

This raises a more serious problem: why would anyone look to a biologist, anatomist or any natural scientist, or even to a historian on the topic of IDEOLOGY (e.g. like Darwinism)? Jones’ paper uses ‘-ism’ more than 100 times!! Frankly, he’s talking smack about ideology most of the time. E.g. he brings up ‘positivism’ w/out even mentioning A. Comte.

Ted, reading what inspired you to become a TE helps much to understand why PoS in the U.S.A. came up with the poisonous idea of ‘methodological naturalism’ & why you offer no suitable alternative to ‘evolutionism.’ Most scholars in the USA seem to have little understanding of ideology…except when it comes to advertising, management & pragmatism (the latter sometimes called the only philosophy native to the USA).

Jones reports on A. Moore: “evolution is a scientific theory and should be regarded as such.”

O.k. Ted, then do you agree to this: ‘evolutionism is an ideology & should be regarded as such’? If you do, then why not improve your language to accept that ‘anti-evolutionism’ properly means ‘against the ideology of evolutionism’ that has nothing necessarily to do with ‘creationism’?

Forget the ID people & creationists; it is nevertheless simply wrong to suggest that ‘Darwinism’ is not in conflict with theology. It is ‘species egalitarian,’ Ted. It is disenchanting. It is dehumanising. Are you seeking a dehumanised theology?

“I did not have an adequate view of divine immancence and ‘natural law’.” – Ted

And so do you think ‘theistic evolution’ as a philosophy of science & theology now provides you adequacy? Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t.

Jones & Moore were stuck in 20th c. creation vs. evolution. ‘Evolutionary creation’ is a remnant of this, as is TE. Instead of old dichotomies, we need to move forward in the 21st c (not using ID).

Ted Davis - #73027

September 23rd 2012

Your reaction is insightful, Gregory. Everything you said is a fair inference, based on my comments and the booklet itself. I did not spell out how exactly Diemer had influenced me. Let me do that now.

At that time, I was pretty sharply focused on this specific question: could evolution in fact be a means of creation? In other words, is mediate creation a theologically viable alternative to immediate creation? Is creation by natural law still divine creation? I realize that one cannot entirely separate Diemer from the sphere of Dooyeweerd, but I have never been a Dooyeweerdian myself. Indeed, as I’ve sometimes joked, “Dooyeweerd is weerd.”

Diemer and some others I was reading around that time—Richard Bube (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_H._Bube), James Moore, and some others—convinced me that I did not have an adequate view of divine immancence and “natural law.”

GJDS - #72920

September 19th 2012

Reply to Jon Garvey #72919 (the reply facility has gone again)


Your summary is indeed fair - the complications are found in our ability and willingness (or lack of it) to understand that we need God to change us for the better, and how these changes may come about. Instead we spend time thinking what God should, could, or has, done. It is this human attribute (our need to understand that we should change and how to go about it) that I see as central to our understanding of Theodicy.

The ‘good and evil’ story is indeed the story of humanity stumbling from one problem to another. In Job we have more or less a one-to-one affair; when the matter involves thousands and millions of human beings doing unspeakable things to each other, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the evil, and the possibility that we human beings may not be capable of any good. It is this (universal as well as individual human nature) that provides the context for the crucified Christ and the suffering God for our sake.In the case of Job, we have a happy ending (we almost feel relief at this) but in cases such as wars etc., we are left hopeless (and we may note an inifference from many participants in these affairs). Many of these things are supposedly done for God, perhaps to show we can help God do the job, which of course makes the matter extremely complicated..

The story is not however, all pessimistic

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72921

September 19th 2012


Thank you for your comments and your reference to this text.  Thank God for original thinkers like Harry Diemer and for those Christians like him who were willing to put their lives on the line to fight Nazism. 

For me the genius of his thought is found in the radical idea that our understanding of creation is found in the Logos.  In a way this is not quite explicit except in his emphasis on the Beginning and where he makes it clear he is talking about John 1, God’s Word, and not about Genesis 1.

Diemer does keep the historical aspect of Genesis by breaking natrural history down into the seven day Creation, the Fall, and the current Recreation, but makes it clear that it is all of one piece based on the Beginning Who is also the End, the Logos and the Telos.  

Diemer accepts the concept of natural laws, but points that the existence of nature is based on God, as I have said.  He also points to the understanding that science has abandoned for the most part a mechanistic Enlightment understanding of natural law for a more ideational view. 

I would point to Einstein’s theory which points to the relational character of the universe, which in turn brings us to the covenantal aspect of law, physical and moral. 

When talking about miracles Diemer points to an expanded view of reality, which includes the psychic (rational) and the spiritual, as have I and others.  While this is important to understand the unity of God’s rule over humanity and the universe, it should not be used to explain away miracles.

God is Sovereign over God’s Creation.  Still God must obey God’s own rules.  Certainly God is wise and intelligent enough to work God’s Will within God’s laws, just as huamns are able to live good lives within God’s legal natural and spiritual framework.  I really do not think that humans need to insist that God is somehow limited by God’s own good laws.            

GJDS - #72937

September 19th 2012


Your language is both confused and confusing. On, ” Still God must obey God’s own rules,” state any rules of nature (or scientific laws) you believe God must obey (or conversely may disobey). Furthemore, I challenge you to state clearly what “rules of nature”, or “scientific laws” are.

our later statement is bizarre: “I really do not think that humans need to insist that God is somehow limited by God’s own good laws.” Please identify anyone on this blog (or anywhere else for that matter) who insists in this way. I am refering to the term ‘limited’

Your discussion on miracles is equally confusing. A simple and economic answer to, e.g. walking on water and gravity, is that the force exerted by garivity is negated or overcome in some way; we cannot understand how this may be done, but that does not negate the statement, nor does it mean any law is broken. Even suspension of natural events is simply a requirements for a means to do this, not a breaking of anything. If you equate natural phenominon with the what is intrisic to objects that constitute nature, you can avoid such confusion. 

GJDS - #72941

September 19th 2012

Ooops, another error: The statement “our statement ....” should read “Your statement….

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72922

September 19th 2012


I profoundly disagree you.  God did not afflict Job.  Satan did with God’s permission.

Please note that in the beginning Job did not blame God.  Even after many evil things happened he could say, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away.  Blessed be the LORD!”

Job refused to curse God, because he believed God to be good and fair.  The problem came when everyone started telling Job that all this was happening as a punishment from God and Job knew that this was unjust and unfair.

Therefore Job argued his innocence to his comforters and asked for a hearing to present his case to God.  It is my view that the big question that Job had for God was, “Don’t you care about my pain and suffering?” 

As long as God gave no response, the answer would seem to be “No.”  But God did respond, even though God did not have to, nor does God have to respond to our prayers but God does, because God cares, because God is Love. 

The other response that we have and Job did not is the Crucifixion.  God cares enough to send the Son and to send the Son as the Suffering Servant, Who was crucified for our sins and risen so that we might receive eternal life with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

This leads me the the Crucified God, which for some reason refused to recognize Jesus as God, but wants to say that the only real God is the Father so the Father must also suffer on the Cross, thus destroying the threeness of the Trinity.      

Jon Garvey - #72923

September 19th 2012

Roger - you’re not disagreeing with me but with the Holy Spirit, in this case - read Job 42.11. Does it, or does it not say quite clearly that his friends and relatives “bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (KJV)? Do we as teachers handle the whole counsel of God, or only those parts that agree with what we already believe?

Any theodicy that tries to remove God from causation by invoking his permission is doomed to fail. That’s why those schemes that blame natural evil on an evolutionary process God created and left on autopilot, rather than on God himself, are hopelessly confused. To permit something I can prevent is to share in causing it. In Job’s case, God’s permission was active: he gave Satan reign within specific limits.

But motive is everything - what Satan intended for Job’s harm, God meant for his good. What Joseph’s brothers meant to bring death was planned by God to save many lives. What the Gentiles and the chief priests  intended for Jesus out of hatred God intended for the salvation of the world. This is level 1 divinity.

Certainly we, unlike Job, have the cross and the resurrection which changes everything.  I suggest to GJDS that this is why the story needed a happy ending in the OT.

Regarding the Crucified God, which you seem to be opposing, are you referring to Moltmann’s book? If so, whatever mistakes there may be in it, Patripassarianism isn’t one of them, and nor is any weakening of Trinitarianism. Moltmann believes the Father suffered not on the Cross, but by the loss of his Son. No doubt others merge the Trinity, but though I have my doubts about aspects of Moltmann’s teaching, I don’t think you’re representing it fairly.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72928

September 19th 2012


Every verse of the Bible needs to be read in context to determine its meaning.

That is especially true for Job.  The story is told on two levels, the divine level where YHWH and the Accuser have a debate over the faithfulness of Job, and the human level where Job goes through a series of hardships. 

We the readers of the book know that Job is a person of faith and that he is not being punished for some sin because we are privy to the divine conversation.  Job’s comforters are not privy to what YHWH is doing, so their reeaction to this situation is based on their bad theology.  They say that Job deserves this bad treatment and needs to repent this horrible sin so it will cease.

At the end Job’s family and close friends come and lend moral support to Job.  They do not accuse him as the others did and they give financial help to get him back on his feet.  They react the opposite way from the others in that they are not judgmental but supportive.

Yes, it says that the LORD brought upon Job these trials, but did it not say in the first part of the book that Satan did this.  Which part are we to believe, the words coming directly from YHWH and Satan or understanding of humans who are not privy to all the circumstances involved in these events?       

Ther problem with this world is not that it is evil, but it is not perfect, it is not divine.  Thus it does have its shortcomings, its problems that can be solved the right way or the wrong way.  That is where we humans must make a choice, either we work with others and God, or we try to go our own way and seek our own selfcentered advantages.

Thus life is good, but life is also a challenge.  Faith is not for the weak, as so many people think.  Faith is for the mentally and spiritually strong.

Humans suffer and die because because God made us mortal, persons with physical bodies.  Physical bodies die, humans suffer and die as do plants and animals.  That is how God made the universe. 

I don’t know any alternative way that life could be, do you?  God doesn’t die, because God is perfect, God is almighty.  God cannot reproduce Godself, so if God is going to create a world or universe different from God, it must be by definition, imperfect, like ours.

It is imperfect to be sure, but it is good and perfect because it is a suitable home for human beings created in God’s image and capable of becoming good like God, caring for others.

Thank you for your input on Moltmann.  I seem to be misled by the Methodist’s preacher’s mischaracterization of his thinking.  However when I did read him previously I was not impressed by his concept of the Trinity. 

Jon Garvey - #72929

September 19th 2012

Yes, it says that the LORD brought upon Job these trials, but did it not say in the first part of the book that Satan did this.  Which part are we to believe, the words coming directly from YHWH and Satan or understanding of humans who are not privy to all the circumstances involved in these events?

Roger, I don’t disagree with most of your post (though Genesis implies that though man was created mortal like the animals, he had access to immortality before the Fall).

But that last chapter in Job is from the narrator, speaking from God’s viewpoint, rather than simply Job’s misinformed relatives. And the whole theophany Job experiences does nothing to correct his “foolish” idea that God was responsible for his suffering, but shows how his ways are higher than Job’s and that he is just in his actions (which include, necessarily, what happened to Job or there is no sense to be made from it).

God could have blamed Satan - or the Midianites or Chaldeans. But he doesn’t. He justifies himself - if one can call it that, for he simply reveals his unfathomable power and wisdom.

And so we are to learn that Satan is only given permission to exercise his malevolence when that furthers God’s good purposes. It is not a concession to the Devil, still less a retreat before Satan’s freedom, but the transformation of others’ evil into good, as in the cases of Moses and Jesus that I cited.

God indeed does not tempt us, but to return to the Lord’s prayer we ask him not to lead us into temptation. It may be his will to allow us to be tempted - though not beyond what we are able to bear, as Paul says. He is not the author of sin, but that does not preclude him subverting the acts of sinners to good - therein lies the efficacy of the promise of Romans 8.28, and much of the glory of God’s providence in this fallen age.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72933

September 19th 2012


The text described what happened which is that his friends came to comfort Job concerning the suffering he received apparently from the hands of God, even though, and this is the purpose of the book, it was not from the hands of God. 

YHWH did not blame Satan because no king or executive blames subordiates, however if we believe the text as to what happened we know who was responsible for Job’s suffering and why. 

It has occured to me that if God is responsible for suffering, then is God responsible for World War 2, etc?  Where do you draw the line or do you draw the line?  If you don’t draw the line, than you have a pantheistic universe.  

Jon Garvey - #72943

September 20th 2012

Where do you draw the line or do you draw the line?

Roger, one draws the line exactly where Scripture draws the line - very sharply between God’s will as the ultimate source of all events and God as the author of evil. The first is always true, the second is always false.

The Bible doesn’t talk about the Second World War, of course, but it does frequently talk of God’s oversight of wars: the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 are echoed many times  in many of the prophets: Isaiah (eg 5.25ff), Jeremiah (eg 4.5-9), Ezekiel (eg ch6), Daniel (eg 9.11-14), Hosea (eg 5.8-15), Joel (eg 2.1-11), Amos (eg 3.11-15) ... it’s tedious to continue, for the same kind of thing is in all the prophets (originating, as they do, from that time of judgement upon Israel before the announcement of the New Covenant - the important counterpoise to judgement, though not germane to our discussion here). Yet one can even find the same prophetic theme on Jesus’ lips in, eg Matt 23.33-39, in the midst of the gospel’s call to salvation.

On the other hand, in many places God also pronounces judgement on, for example, the Babylonians (the very scourge he has “raised up”) for their sinful rapacity. They are responsible for their own sin and evil. God holds himself responsible - though not accountable by mere men - for his righteous judgements carried out through them. Hard to understand? Then there’s where you find the real mystery to hold in reverent tension.

I don’t see any hint of pantheism in the biblical accounts, but I do see a consistent and coherent account of divine action in relation to free human action. One could, I suppose, say that all the prophets had the same faulty theology as Job’s friends and relatives at the end of the book, but that rather destroys the point of using the Bible at all, since you’re saying that your own personal theology trumps that of the inspired writings.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72944

September 20th 2012


I would say that the Bible says that God is the ultimate Source of all reality, not the Source of all events.  God is not the Source of Adolf Hitler, but God the the Source of the world that gave birth to Hitler.  God is also the Source of a world that could have and should have stopped Adolf Hitler before he gained pwer.  Same for Joseph Stalin who was another important participant in WW2. 

There is more than enough chaos and evil in this world.  We certainly do not have to give credit for these events.  The issue usually is the good and here it is clear that YHWH works through people and the Holy Spirit to effect the divine Will.  YHWH does not rule directly, but indirectly through the Church.

Yes, God did bring war as a punishment, but Jesus taught that Roman rule was not something that needed to be rebelled against.  Of course Jesus taught that people need to act out of faith rather than fear.  God does not abandon God’s people regardless of the circumstances in which they find themselves. 

No, the Bible is not pantheistic because of books like Job, and because the prophets believed that prople do have real choices between good and evil not determined by God.     

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72970

September 21st 2012

(Job 42:7 KJV)  And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.

(Job 42:8 KJV)  Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job.

(Job 42:9 KJV)  So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went, and did according as the LORD commanded them: the LORD also accepted Job.

YHWH approved the actions of Job, but not his friends who taught that YHWH was the cause of his suffering.  Blessed be the Name of YHWH.

Jon Garvey - #72996

September 22nd 2012

I don’t like to keep on being contentious, but careful exegesis is important to me.

Job’s complaint was that God had afflicted him although he was innocent.

His friends argued that God had afflicted Job and that therefore he must be guilty.

Yet Job confesses that he spoke rashly - and God’s self-revelation is, in part, a critique of Job’s inadequate view of the situation.

Nevertheless, God justifies Job’s view rather than the friends’, and it is God’s affliction as just punishment, rather than God as first (though not necessarily proximate) cause of affliction, that distinguishes the friends’ position from Job’s.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73026

September 23rd 2012


I respectfully disagree. 

If anything YHWH told Job that YHWH does not have to justify to Job why he is suffering.  God does things for God’s own purposes.  The fact that YHWH restored all that Job lost and more indicates that his losses were not based on a just punishment.

If Job made a mistake, it is that he did not trust in God to do the right thing which was to make everything come out right in the end.  It is the theology of the “comforter” that was wrong, which was that all evil that is done to us is a punishment for our sin. 

The problem of responsibility is addressed by Jesus when some asked Him about whose sins were responsible for the blindness of a particular man.  He said that no one was responsible and refered also to an accident where no one was responsible.

There is a old saying, which is true, “Life is unfair.”  However when we stop complaining about the unfairness of life and thus God since God is the Source of life, and start trusting in God as the solurce of our fulfillment, then we find that life and God are fair.   

GJDS - #73033

September 23rd 2012

Ted, Gregory and Jon, (reply facility does not work so this is a general response)

One way that may help bring a focus to the discussion on theistic evolution is by trying to understand how ‘natural laws’, or regularities in nature, may or may not apply to neo-Darwinism. It may surprise us, but natural selection has been the closest thing to a law in this area (the other, that of genetic variation, is staggeringly statistically improbable). I have referred to a couple of papers on PoS in which the authors, all staunch evolutionists, agree that regularities in the area of evolution are difficult to defend and have failed in many instances (thus negating generalisation). Within the historical argument, we can see for example, that Dawkins in his blind watchmaker was forced to include an inference that amounted to external agency to do the selection. His, and Darwin in Origin of Species, inevitably based on activities of selection as analogous to an intelligent agency, such as a farmer selectively breeding, or a player of a computer program selecting bits out until something intelligible has been produced.  While these things detract focus, and in some cases people then look for an intelligent designer, I contend they miss the point entirely – which is that, as the theory was developed over 150 years, it has failed the most basic test of science, i.e. to establish the regularity and clarity that ALL scientific theories must, before it may be considered confirmed theories, within the limitations specified by the field of study.

It is after we consider this very fundamental criticism, that the notions of ideology must be introduced regarding all discussions on evolution, including theistic evolution. The arguments are not sustained so much be science, as by ideology/belief that uses selectively the methods of science. It may also be the case that such forced acceptance has discouraged/prevented a creative approach aimed at finding an alternative outlook to this field. Ideological commitments often stifle creativity; they certainly do not encourage it. In any events, discussions that focus more on natural or scientific laws, as we are now defining them, to evolution, would go some way to making the discussion(s) on theistic evolution clearer and more useful.

Jon Garvey - #73036

September 23rd 2012


I agree. Darwin’s original theory was remarkably law-like, because it included infinitely-graded variation combined with a natural selection with a virtual target of “perfection”. It was a plausible way to surrogate creation.

Unfortunately that simple picture has been supplemented by increasing degrees of uncertainty: random mutation, fortuitous symbioses, catastrophes changing evolution’s course, natural selection swamped by near-neutral mutations, genomes parasitised by selfish viruses and so on.

In scientific terms that leaves one with “we have lots of jerry-built stuff because lots of things probably happened”. In theological terms we have proximate causes that, unlike Darwin’s theory, underdetermine any teleological will of God’s.

The choices are then:

(a) Suppose some undiscovered evolutionary processes that will restore scientific determination to the theory.

(b) Allow the possibility of direct divine action guiding evolution.

(c) Underdetermine God’s will so that he’s happy with whatever chance turns up (usually papered over with some term such as “nature’s freedom”).

(d) Fudge the whole thing by a logical contradiction, that God determines through an indeterministic process, and call it a “mystery”.

GJDS - #73038

September 24th 2012


I agree with your comment:

“In theological terms we have proximate causes that, unlike Darwin’s theory, underdetermine any teleological will of God’s.”

The present situation of Natural Theology is nicely summarised by your four choices. My theological position is more primordial, in that I commence with the questions, “Can we reasonably state that Science as it is presently understood can support the Faith based ascertain that God is the Creator of Heaven and Earth?” While Science would not underpin Faith, so that we should not feel we are hostage to Science and its finding, we can, using our own intelligence, conclude that Science has provided enough believable data to support the Faith based ascertain, i.e. a “Yes” to the question.

The next question may be, “Can we somehow determine how God went about creating it all?” The implication is that we can depend on science to answer the ‘how of God’. We may put a great deal of additional emphasis on the how, by continuing to believe that this will answer additional questions, such as, “Is the world predetermined in some way?” and, “How do we derive a purpose from studies of nature?” just to mention a couple of these questions. We even feel that we may gain greater insights on what makes us the human beings we are, and how to understand Nature within God’s Providence and His working.

Underpinning all of this is a dependence on scientific knowledge that is characteristic of the present era. As a scientist, I feel I am particularly aware of the attitude of people in general to science, and have formed the view that present thinking needs to change from, ‘what scientific knowledge means’ to ‘how can science serve humanity and this planet’. If our mind-set were to develop a ‘usefulness-beneficial’, and a ‘destructive-non-beneficial’ outlook towards science and technology (what is good and bad about these), then I think these sorts of discussions would progress to a better level. I recognise however, that these brief discussions barely touch the surface, and would in them amount to wishful thinking. I confess an uncharitable view towards (I think) liberal theologians, who I think well and truly missed the mark in this area. This area requires some heavy lifting by many, and especially theologians who will not be hostage to scientific knowledge and to those who feed of it to facilitate their atheistic agenda. I can understand why atheists would pursue this course; I cannot understand why theologians would (i.e. the primacy of scientific knowledge).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73041

September 24th 2012


Thank you for your preceptive comments. 


What is God’s Telos and/or Logos?

It is my position that Darwin’s concept of natural selection, based on conflict, is not consistent with the Logos or Telos.  However natural selection when observed through ecological perspective or maybe a particular ecologocal perspective is consistent with the Logos and Telos.

I think that the  problem for most people is that we in the West are conditioned to think of God and nature in dualistic either/or terms.  However Jesus Christ broke this dualistic view.  Jesus Christ is not God or human, that is natural, He is wholly God and wholly human, that is natural. 

Also John 1 indicates that Jesus is the Logos of the universe and thus the universe bears His imprint.  Also humans are made in God’s Image so since humanity is a part of nature, nature does contain the Image of God.

God works through multiple levels, through the physical, through the rational, and through the spiritual.  They are all important and necessary and divine.  We cannot separate or absolutize any of them as humans are prone to do. 


Gregory - #73044

September 24th 2012

Roger, we’ve heard this all from you before, no need to repeat it. “We in the West” indictes you, too, westerner that you are. Or doesn’t it, Roger? Personally, I think you are confusing Telos and/or Logos, natural selection with human selection and generally aren’t prepared to move knowledge forward. Peace be with you, Gregory

Gregory - #73043

September 24th 2012

GJDS, Ted and Jon,

Not sure if I can add much to what you are discussing here wrt theology b/c I don’t find ‘theology’ and ‘evolutionism’ good allies, (same with theology & IDism).

Wrt #73033, I’d suggest we leave both ‘neo-Darwinism’ and Dawkins out of this. Since BioLogos has cleared its definition of ‘Darwinism’ from the Question section & since Falk defined several ways he is not a ‘Darwinist,’ perhaps we’d be better to pursue discussion simply of theistic evolution (TE). Start with natural laws borders on naturalism; start with Science borders on scientism. Start holistically; that is non-western. So where to start? Wrt Dawkins, imo he is backwards-looking, or as McGrath said, a 19th century thinker. I’d rather move forward & not waste time or emotion on him & new atheism.

As you know, I don’t find the attempt to divide ‘theistic evolution’ from TE helpful. Nevertheless, it was helpful for me when Jon confirmed his TE is actually WTE, to distinguish it from ‘other TE’ with which he disagrees. Minimal TE means very little, just as does minimal ID. Ted’s next TE piece could offer new classifications, so we’ll wait & see.

“I confess an uncharitable view towards (I think) liberal theologians, who I think well and truly missed the mark in this area.” - GJDS

What do you folks mean by ‘liberal theologians’ wrt ‘theistic evolution’ or just evolutionary biology? I predict Ted will not use liberal vs. conservative, though they drench this conversation ideologically. E.g. sometimes I think Jon is hyper-conservative & anti-liberal, other times he displays some openness to liberal ideas. Evangelicals: are they mainly conservatives or liberals where you are based? Are liberals more likely to consider TE than conservatives?

Of note is that neither Jon nor I is American, same I would guess with GJDS. Yet BioLogos aims at American evangelicals, partly (if not largely) to counteract the gains of YECism & IDism. Witness Discovery Institute = a ‘right-wing’ think tank; former Reaganites, e.g. DI president Bruce Chapman & Slade Gorton, Republican. Where does their money come from? The religious right. John West, Stephen Meyer, et al. = religious right.

BioLogos otoh is funded by Templeton Foundation. DI-ID hates Templeton b/c it rejects IDism. Is Templeton leftist or centrist? At least it seems not dominated by the Right.

DI’s C. Luskin (a cute naïve propagandist for ID, whom I’ve met several times; decent guy, conservative Christian, but ID/cultural renewal fanatic) speaks of “the standard Darwinian evolutionary account of human origins” & concludes that “In short, there are strong scientific reasons to dispute the claim that humans evolved from ape-like precursors.” Of note, there are many non-Darwinians who accept the ‘standard evolutionary account of human origins.’ But ‘anti-evolution’ is deeply engrained in conservative US evangelical Christianity; ideological plank in their eyes. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/09/how_do_theistic_1064301.html

Is Luskin being responsibly conservative or just plain heterodox? Ted Davis, who seems to reject real, historical A&E, is non-orthodox to RCC & Orthodox Church teachings, no matter where he personally stands on the liberal-conservative spectrum. In either case, it seems to be at the (theos)anthropos, not merely biosphere, that the most important distinction between liberal & conservative is made regarding theology.

“The clay became man at the moment in which a being for the first time was capable of forming, however dimly, the thought of “God”. The first Thou that—however stammeringly—was said by human lips to God marks the moment in which the spirit arose in the world. Here the Rubicon of anthropogenesis was crossed. For it is not the use of weapons or fire, not new methods of cruelty or of useful activity, that constitute man, but rather his ability to be immediately in relation to God. This holds fast to the doctrine of the special creation of man…herein lies the reason why the moment of anthropogenesis cannot possibly be determined by paleontology: anthropogenesis is the rise of the spirit, which cannot be excavated with a shovel. The theory of evolution does not invalidate the faith, nor does it corroborate it. But it does challenge the faith to understand itself more profoundly and thus to help man to understand himself and to become increasingly what he is: the being who is supposed to say Thou to God in eternity.” – Cardinal J. Ratzinger (2008)

Roger A. Sawtelle - #73047

September 24th 2012


I agree that I am the product of Western thought and civilization.  That does not preclude me from being critical of Western thought. 

The glory, beauty, and power of the Bible is that it is not a product of Western thought, but one of the sources of Western thought.  Even so God, Father/Source, God Son/Logos, and God Holy Spirit/Telos, transcend Western thought and even the Bible so Christians have a solid foundation for criticizing all of Western thought even scientific thought.

Even if you may be a relativist, not everyone else is. 

Please straighten me out concerning the Logos and the Telos and their roles in theology and science concerning the way humans understand who they are.  

Gregory - #73049

September 24th 2012

Roger, Most probably you are familar with the terms ‘insider’ and ‘outsider.’ In that light, please list the Top 5 non-western sources (authors/books) from which you take your ‘critique of Western thought.’ No need to include the Bible, we understand that already.



p.s. I am not an absolute relativist, but a relative relativist, which seems to be a responsible post-modern position (cf. P. Kreeft’s clever quote: “Absolutism is relatively absolutistic, and relativism is absolutely relativistic.”)

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