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Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 2

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August 29, 2012 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now
Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution, Part 2
Michelangelo Buonarroti, “The Creation of Adam,” Cappella Sistina, Vatican (ca. 1511)

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

In the first part of this column, I presented five core tenets or assumptions of Theistic Evolution. The discussion resumes today with some implications and conclusions that follow from those assumptions, with further implications and conclusions coming in about two weeks.

Some implications and conclusions of Theistic Evolution

(1) For TEs, both the verbal and the conceptual language of the Bible are “pre-scientific,” not just popular and phenomenological. In other words, God’s revelation is embedded in an ancient worldview that is simply assumed by the text, not challenged there. Thus, the Bible contains ancient science—science that would be factually erroneous if we took it at face value as part of what God intended to teach us.

Bernard Ramm argued for just such a position in The Christian View of Science and Scripture, even though he was an OEC, not a TE. Denis Lamoureux takes it further in his recent book, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. A glance at the table of contents shows that he emphasizes the presence of “ancient science in the Bible” and teaches us how to interpret the Bible in light of this. Just as we don’t take biblical astronomy “literally,” with its 3-tiered universe, we shouldn’t take biblical biology “literally,” with its fixed species and separate creations a few thousand years ago.

(2) Even though TE advocates sometimes speak about God as the author of two “books” (nature and Scripture), TE is not usually seen as a Concordist position. At least among evangelical TEs, a position known as “Complementarity” is probably the most widely endorsed model for relating science and the Bible, though it is not the only one.

For a concise description of Complementarity, I borrow the words of Stanford physicist (now retired) Richard Bube, who wrote three books about science and Christianity, taught a course about it for decades, and edited the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (now called Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith) for many years. In his book, Putting It All Together, Bube presented seven “patterns” for relating science to faith (here and here), ending with his personal favorite, Complementarity, described as follows:

“Science and theology tell us different kinds of things about the same things. Each, when true to its own authentic capabilities, provides us with valid insights into the nature of reality from different perspectives. It is the task of individuals and communities of individuals to integrate these two types of insights to obtain an adequate and coherent view of reality.” (p. 166)

I’ll offer my own example to illustrate this model. Everyone reading this column originated in the union of two cells, one from each parent. Everyone reading this is also created in the image of God. Each of these two sentences is true, but the truths they proclaim are of a different order. The first neither implies nor negates the second. You can see where this is going: for TEs, the truth (in their view) that we are descended from other primates neither implies nor negates the truth that we are created in the image of God.

The Complementarity view, as I’ve briefly presented it, might seem quite shallow—nothing more than the simple, unsupported claim that science is about HOW and religion is about WHY. Readers who want a subtler account are invited to study Christopher Rios’ article about its development. Rios quite properly stresses the work of two important British scientists from the last century, quantum chemist Charles A. Coulson and his friend, brain theorist Donald M. MacKay, one of the most prolific and thoughtful Christian thinkers of his generation. If you don’t know MacKay, I unreservedly recommend that you get acquainted, but his work is so wide-ranging that I am hesitant to recommend a single starting place. Evolution was not one of his chief interests (I don’t offer him as a prime example of TE per se), but I can’t think of anyone who wrote more about the Complementarity model of science and Christian faith.

Physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne can also be understood as a proponent of Complementarity, though I would not characterize his position solely in those terms. His overall vision captures the essence of Complementarity: theology complements the limited picture of reality given to us by science; it goes beyond science, providing a larger metaphysical framework within which both nature and the science of nature are more intelligible (see below for more). Many of his books are conceptually deep, discouraging casual readers, but they are also eloquent and very creative, making the hard work of reading them time well spent. There simply is no good substitute for diving into them yourself. I’ve reviewed one of his recent books here.

(INVITATION: If you would like to take part in a full discussion of one of his books here at BioLogos, at some point down the road, please let me know, either in a comment below or privately (tdavisATmessiahDOTedu). Don’t make the commitment lightly—you would be expected to purchase and read the book—but please take the invitation seriously and respond accordingly.)

(3) Advocates of TE often emphasize theology of nature more than natural theology. They may still do natural theology, but they approach it more modestly—for them, theism cannot be “proved” from nature, but it still makes more sense of our whole experience of the world than atheism.

A theology of nature starts from the assumption that God exists and then seeks to understand the whole of nature in light of this. Polkinghorne does this in many of his books (see the review linked above for some specific examples). Natural theology, on the other hand, is the effort to demonstrate God’s existence (including some of God’s attributes, such as power, wisdom, and goodness) from reason or nature, without appealing to the Bible. Many Christian authors since the patristic period have done this, often citing the first chapter of Romans, though some of the most important have had doubts about the value of the whole enterprise; two prominent examples would be Blaise Pascal (see the article by George Murphy here) and John Henry Newman.

The golden age for natural theology lasted from the late 17th century (when Boyle and Newton were outspoken advocates of using science to argue for God’s existence) down through the mid-19th century, when Darwinian evolution provided a serious challenge to natural theological arguments based on “contrivances,” aspects of nature that appeared to be exquisitely crafted for a specific purpose by the Creator. Although it’s not true “That Darwin Destroyed Natural Theology,” (see the chapter by Jon Roberts here), it is true that TE authors no longer appeal to intricate biological “contrivances” to make their case. Prior to Darwin, a leading natural theologian, the great scholar William Whewell, had already made the case for a different type of natural theology in his famous contribution to the Bridgewater Treatises, a series of eight books on natural theology from the 1830s: “But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this;—we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws” (Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, p. 356 in the fifth London edition of 1836). Ironically, Darwin placed this very passage directly opposite the title page in On the Origin of Species (1859).

Just a few years later, a Unitarian chemist from Harvard, Josiah Parsons Cooke, Jr., replied to Darwin in a book called Religion and Chemistry; or, Proofs of God’s Plan in the Atmosphere and Its Elements (1864). Cooke got around Darwin by inquiring into the basic properties of matter itself—the features of the physical universe that make biology possible at all. “There is abundant evidence of design in the properties of the chemical elements alone,” he argued, especially as they combine to make the unique substance we call water. Natural theology had found a more solid foundation, “which no theories of organic development can shake.”

Contemporary TEs do pretty much the same thing. They look for evidence of “design” or “purpose” in the nature of nature itself, not in biological “contrivances.” Discussions of the “fine tuning” of the universe are common in TE literature, including Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God and Ken Miller’s book, Finding Darwin’s God. Philosopher Robin Collins (who is writing a superb book about the fine tuning of the laws of nature) provides a helpful introduction to the terms and the issues here. Polkinghorne raises fundamental questions about the very intelligibility of nature in the wonderful title chapter in Belief in God in an Age of Science. Let’s pay careful attention to what he says about his overall approach:

“This new natural theology differs from the old-style natural theology of Anselm and Aquinas by refraining from talking about ‘proofs’ of God’s existence and by being content with the more modest role of offering theistic belief as an insightful account of what is going on. It differs from the old-style natural theology of William Paley and others by basing its arguments not upon particular occurrences (the coming-to-be of the eye or of life itself), but on the character of the physical fabric of the world, which is the necessary ground for the possibility of any occurrence (it appeals to cosmic rationality and the anthropic form of the laws of nature) ... [Consequently] the new-style natural theology in no way seeks to be a rival to scientific explanation but rather it aims to complement that explanation by setting it within a wider and more profound context of understanding. Science rejoices in the rational accessibility of the physical world and uses the laws of nature to explain particular occurrences in cosmic and terrestrial history, but it is unable of itself to offer any reason why these laws take the particular (anthropically fruitful) form that they do, or why we can discover them through mathematical insight.” (pp. 10-11)

Looking Ahead

Sorry to stop mid-stream, but this is enough for now. This discussion resumes in about two weeks with more implications and conclusions of TE. There should be enough here to keep us going until then!

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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Eddie - #72263

August 29th 2012

Another clearly written summary, Ted.  

Some comments:

I don’t see why the two approaches—looking for design in general features of nature, and looking for design in particular contrivances (e.g., the eye)—are mutually exclusive.  

The reason that looking for design in particular contrivances has become less popular of late is that it is widely believed that Darwin showed how such contrivances could come about without a designer, through the creative power of variation and natural selection.  But of course, if Darwin’s argument becomes doubtful, then the argument for design based on contrivance can make a respectable comeback.  Indeed, that seems to be the point of the criticisms of the ID people—that Darwinian arguments are now doubtful, due to what we have learned since Darwin’s day about the biochemistry of life and the “law of the conservation of information” and so on.  But perhaps you will address this later in the series.   

Regarding the quotation by Whewell—“we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws”—it makes sense for phenomena where natural laws alone would be sufficient to bring about an event, e.g., the birth of a star from a cloud of gas; but on Darwinian premises there is no “natural law” that any particular evolutionary outcome must occur on an earthlike planet, so the problem then becomes that God could guarantee the existence of stars by natural laws alone, but could not guarantee the existence of man by relying on natural laws alone.  

You mention the interest of some TEs in fine-tuning, but in fact, in two of your examples, Francis Collins and Ken Miller, fine-tuning is not central to the conception of *biological* (as opposed to cosmic) evolution set forth in the books you named.  The actual course of evolution, for them, is not governed by fine-tuning by but random mutations filtered by natural selection.  And here on BioLogos, up until recently, we have heard very little about fine-tuning, but much about “randomness” or “chance”—probably a score of columns now have exalted the creative virtues of randomness.  And oddly enough, the evolutionist who has stressed fine-tuning more than anyone else—Michael Denton—has never (it seems) been asked to write a column for BioLogos; nor has his work been discussed by the other columnists.

So it appears that the TE community is divided on the importance of cosmic fine-tuning vs. contingent events such as random mutations.  I notice that the most emphatic fine-tuners you mention—Robin Collins and Polkinghorne—appear to have their science background in physics/astronomy rather than biology.  Would this reflect the different ways of thinking of, say, physicists and astronomers, on the one hand, and population geneticists, on the other?  

Ted Davis - #72270

August 29th 2012

You points are very good, Eddie.

To address your point about biological vs cosmological fine tuning, I’ll appeal (again) to Polkinghorne, “Belief in God in an Age of Science,” this time from p. 11, continuing the passage quoted at the end of my column above:

“The second consequence of this shift from design through making to design built into the rational potentiality of the universe is that it answers a criticism of the old-style natural theology made so trenchently by David Hume. He had asserted the unsatisfactoriness of treating God’s creative activity as the unseen analogue of visible human craft. The new natural theology is invulnerable to this charge of naive anthropomorphism, for the endowment of matter with anthropic potentiality has no human analogy. It is a creative act of a specially divine character.”

(I think he means creatio ex nihilo in his final sentence.)

In short, Eddie, Polkinghorne seems to be worried about two separate aspects of traditional natural theology, based heavily on biological “contrivances.” (1) Paley’s arguments appear to have been undermined by Darwin, whereas Darwin can’t touch fine tuning; (2) arguments about particular “contrivances” may be vulnerable to Humean criticisms that can’t be leveled against an argument about the nature of nature itself.

Others might answer your question differently, and this is probably not even the only answer that Polkinghorne himself would make. But, it’s the answer he gives in the same place from which I already quoted.

Ted Davis - #72271

August 29th 2012

Concerning Whewell, natural laws, and evolution, Whewell’s point is about natural theology, not about what God must always choose to do (including whether or not God specifically intended to create everything that exists, exactly as we find it). I didn’t quote enough to make that absolutely clear. It is said near the end of a treatise on natural theology, and two sentences later he speaks about “the doctrines of Natural Theology,” saying that the attitude he endorses (looking for general laws) is harmonious with those doctrines.


Eddie - #72281

August 29th 2012


We are somehow talking at cross purposes here.   I wasn’t implying that Whewell said anything about what God must always choose to do.  I was merely pointing out the difference between saying that given a gas cloud of a certain size, a star will inevitably be produced, and given a planet roughly like Earth, man will always evolve.  There are natural laws that guarantee the first outcome; there are no natural laws that guarantee the second.  (That is, if we understand evolution to occur in the manner that Darwin and his 20th-century disciples understood it to occur.)  So if God creates through natural laws alone, he can guarantee stars but not men.  (Unless biological evolution proceeds through a mechanism much less contingent and much more deterministic than the Darwinian one—i.e., unless fine-tuning extends deep into the biological realm.)

Ted Davis - #72275

August 29th 2012

Finally, Eddie, you’re right to see some dissonance between conclusions based more on biology with those based more on cosmology. It’s far too complicated to try to sort out here, but your instincts are right. Many years ago, not long after I started my academic career, I somehow got invited to a wide-ranging but small conference on science and religion (it led to this book: http://www.amazon.com/THE-CHURCH-AND-CONTEMPORARY-COSMOLOGY/dp/B002RK99RG), and quite unexpectedly I was given a chance to make some brief comments about what I’d been hearing. I can’t recall details, but I remember saying that the message we should take from science depended on which science we were talking about, biology or astronomy. Those focusing on biology were more apt to push process theism and other non-orthodox ways of thinking about God and nature, whereas those focusing the physical sciences were not seeing the need to do so. I think this may still be true as a broad generalization, but a lot has happened in science and religion since then. Someone like Russell, who was also a lot younger then (although he was already well known and he helped to organize that event), e.g., has focused on both biological and physical sciences in relation to Christian beleifs, and he has certainly not drawn the kinds of conclusions that I was concerned about (his views at that time might have been similar to those he now holds, but if so he was not as forthright about expressing them).

I don’t think enough people think clearly enough and/or know enough about the whole picture (biological, physical, and theological) to put it all together seamlessly. I don’t mean simply TEs here, I mean Christian thinkers quite broadly, regardless of their “denomination,” areas of specialization, or preference for ID or TE or OEC (I lave the YECs out of this, since they basically reject so much of the relevant science as illegitimate). Polkinghorne *does* think very clearly (most of the time) and broadly (almost all of the time), but even he says less about the specifics of evolution than you would probably want, perhaps b/c he isn’t a biologist. He’s pointed out (rightly) that most of the voices in the science and religion “dialogue” have come out of the physical sciences. I can’t summarize all of his comments here, but I’ll point interested readers to the book I’ve been quoting for some of them.

Fine-tuning specifically, however, is a concept that arose within the physical sciences; it’s not about the details of biological adaptation, not at all; it’s about the properties of nature that make everything in biology possible in the first place. I think you’re calling for more here than you should expect.

Gregory - #72268

August 29th 2012

Eddie, your words in #72263 are exactly the same things JamesR used to say here in criticism of TE and BioLogos and in defence of ‘Intelligent Design.’ If ‘great minds think alike,’ as you claimed, then your mind and JamesR’s think like twins, whether they are ‘great’ or merely ‘disrespectful’ to BioLogos. You even brought the surprisingly unique term ‘ID people’ into the discussion just as he did!

Are you an ID advocate, Eddie? If so, why not wait to ask your questions about ‘design’ until Ted’s upcoming series on Intelligent Design? The previous post in this series, this post and the following are about clarifying what Ted thinks ‘theistic evolution’ means, not what he thinks ‘design/Design’ means.

I have no hesistation to say I am not an ID advocate. And I’d like to learn more about what TE means to Ted Davis, hopefully if we can concentrate on that.

I’d like to stress also that Michael Denton is afaik not a Christian. He is not a theistic evolutionist, even if he is an ‘evolutionist.’ So it makes sense that BioLogos, which is particularly interested in theists, specifically evangelical Christians would not give time to Denton.

There are many good Christian scholars who advocate fine-tuning and anthropic principle(s) who are not ID proponents and imo we are much the better for it.

Thanks for keeping to the main topic of this thread, which is TE.

Eddie - #72280

August 29th 2012

Gregory (72268):

Why do you ask me a second time if I am an ID advocate, when I already answered the same question from you on an earlier thread?  

Gregory - #72295

August 29th 2012

Because you keep bringing up ‘design’ and ‘ID people’ and don’t seem all that interested to try to genuinely clarify what ‘theistic evolution’ means to Ted or possibly even to you. Ted affirmed the different approaches between biology and cosmology several years ago at ASA, which you’ve probably already read.

In the other thread you wrote that “maybe you would fit in” with “intelligently designed theistic evolution.” Why not try to explain what that is so that others don’t see your position as just a critique, but as also offering something positive? If you could ‘fit in’ with ‘theistic evolution’ (which is by definition ‘intelligently designed’ because it is a human-made theory or philosophy), then what do you mean by TE that is the same or different from Ted? Isn’t discussing that the main goal of the ‘theistic evolution’ section of this series?


Eddie - #72300

August 30th 2012

I “don’t seem all that interested” in determining what Ted means by theistic evolution?  On the contrary, Gregory, I responded directly to Ted’s definition of theistic evolution on the previous thread, and Ted found my responses constructive, using terms such as “perceptive” and “on target” to characterize my questions and comments.  Perhaps you were nodding at the time.

If you didn’t understand my previous answer to your question (which was given to you two weeks ago!), why didn’t you ask for clarification when I gave it, instead of just now repeating your question, in boldface letters, conveying impatience, as if I hadn’t answered it before?  Also, your tone has changed from friendly to chiding, and I’ve done nothing in the interim to warrant it.  In the future, if you have any problems with any answer I give, please address the problems in the appropriate location, rather than roaring back at me with them at a much later time in another place.

Since no reader questioned my term “intelligently designed theistic evolution” I took it that everyone found its meaning clear.  I meant (i) a biological process of evolution, i.e., of transformation of species into other species; (ii) a process that is not left to wander randomly, but has a direction because it is intelligently designed; (iii) a process that is intelligently designed because it proceeds from the mind of God.  It seems to me that this suggestion incorporates elements of both ID and TE, and gives a clear answer to your original query about my own position.  (Which, as I indicated, is tentative rather than dogmatic.)  So, now that you know what I meant, I would appreciate it if you ceased repeating your question as if I had not answered it.

Gregory - #72340

September 1st 2012

“Since no reader questioned my term “intelligently designed theistic evolution” I took it that everyone found its meaning clear.” - Eddie

That’s not a safe assumption. To be honest, I thought you were kidding. No one else seems to use the term. So, to suppose the meaning is clear to others is quite presumptuous, that people should be able to read your mind.

As it turns out, I wrote about this at my blog (10+ days ago) and even quoted your question, as well as an ID proponent from UD:

Big-ID and small-id – Why does it matter?


Your (i-iii) don’t really help to clarify much imo for several reasons. (i) theistic evolution is not limited to biology and cosmology, while Big-ID theory mainly is; (ii) theistic evolution already includes small-id, so it is redundant to include ‘intelligently designed’ for a process that *all* proponents of TE already believe involves Intelligence/Mind, i.e. the Creator; (iii) many if not most proponents of TE accept that God can work ‘randomly’ or ‘by chance’ through nature because God is greater than any of us.

It is Big-ID people who complicate the issue with ‘guided vs. unguided’ and ‘directed vs. undirected’ and their forced ‘design vs. chance’ dichotomy.

For these and other reasons, ‘intelligently designed theistic evolution’ seems unwieldly (whether tentatively held or dogmatically) and impractical. But, hey, Eddie, if the shoe fits…

Gregory - #72269

August 29th 2012

There are in fact far more TEs and ECs than Eddie seems ready or willing to acknowledge. Indeed, the majority of Christians around the world support TE and EC, however one chooses to label it. The problem and challenge that BioLogos is facing, is that many evangelical Christians in the USA are YECs.

The so-called ‘TE community’ (which makes it sound smaller than it is) includes physicists, chemists, biologists, cosmologists, anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers, etc. And of course most Christian theologians outside of YEC-America are TEs/ECs. Indeed, there are Christians in all of the above fields who find their work ‘complementary’ to their theology.

Here’s just one example from a TE answering to fine-tuning or ‘anthropic principle’ in biology: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eog7S_vaAxs

“the essence of Complementarity: theology complements the limited picture of reality given to us by science; it goes beyond science, providing a larger metaphysical framework within which both nature and the science of nature are more intelligible” – Ted

Metaphysics is usually considered the domain of philosophy. Theology itself may be sometimes metaphysical and sometimes not. But the metaphysical framework that bridges or connects science and theology belongs to philosophy. Without philosophy, the Complementarity will be incomplete or suffer. So I’m hoping Ted’s view of TE makes open and fruitful space for dialogue with philosophy in addition to science and theology. Indeed, I remember folks at ASA who called TE a philosophy of science or philosophy of divine action in nature, rather than being merely science plus theology.

“A theology of nature starts from the assumption that God exists and then seeks to understand the whole of nature in light of this. ... Natural theology, on the other hand, is the effort to demonstrate God’s existence (including some of God’s attributes, such as power, wisdom, and goodness) from reason or nature, without appealing to the Bible.” – Ted

I’m curious then why people don’t more often speak of their position as a ‘theology of evolution’ rather than ‘theistic evolution?’ How would you distinguish the two, Ted?

As I understand your position, TE means to “start from the assumption that God exists and then seek to understand…” Is this not one of the most important features of TE/EC that distinguishes it from Creationism and Intelligent Designism?

Is it not also one of the important features that distinguishes TE/EC from Michael Dowd’s so-called ‘evolutionary Christianity,’ which often doesn’t start with or even end with Christianity at all?

Ted Davis - #72278

August 29th 2012

Actually, Gregory, I see YECs also as starting from God and then trying to understand, but of course their picture of what God has done and how we know about it is so very different from the TE picture. ID however has another starting place, and does not (as ID) try to understand the world theologically.

Michael Dowd doesn’t really believe in God at all, by his own admission, even though he strives mightily to keep the word in his vocabulary. For my views on his enterprize of “evolutionary Christianity,” go here (http://biologos.org/blog/introducing-ted-davis) and listen to the audio interview linked in the penultimate paragraph.

Gregory - #72294

August 29th 2012

The distinction was perhaps made too subtely. YECs seem to start from the Bible, not from God. In the biblical literalist and Sola traditions, bibliolatry sometimes stands-in for “starting from God,” i.e. people start from the text first trying to ‘get to God.’

This was mentioned in a slightly different way by GJDS below: “the arguments between Christians however are difficult to comprehend, unless they decide the Bible should also be a scientific text book.”

Is TE not attempting to carve out its own space here as the responsible middle way, between a biblical literalism (YECs) and biblical irrelevance (ID)?

Regarding Michael Dowd and his “doesn’t really believe in God at all” position, the problem I have Ted is that you joined his ‘Evolutionary Christianity’ enterprise, along with K. Giberson, D. Lamoureux, O. Gingerich and J. Polkinghorne. Your name is on the list. I listened to part of your audio, but if you direct me to the key part you’d like to highlight, that would help.

As others here have voiced challenges to theistic evolution, without a shred of doubt I’m sure they all have much more of a problem with ‘evolutionary Christianity’.

Ted Davis - #72398

September 3rd 2012


If you listen to my interview (the one Michael Down conducted, which is linked with the first of these columns at http://biologos.org/blog/introducing-ted-davis), it is as plain as day that my approach to science and Christianity is fundamentally different from his. You have to listen to the whole interview, b/c this comes up explicitly near the end, when he directly asks me about “evolutionary Christianity,” and I tell him what I think of that idea. If you had listened to all of it, you probably wouldn’t bring this up.

The main reason I agreed to be interviewed by Mr Dowd is this: he sought the endorsement of the ASA (www.asa3.org) for his enterprise, on the patently false assumption that the ASA is a group of people who have adopted Mr Dowd’s overall approach to science and Christianity. In other words, he did not really know very much about the ASA. He had no idea (for example) that we identify explicitly with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—confessions of faith that Mr Dowd regards as entirely outmoded. He also had no idea (for example) that our members accept “miracles” such as the Resurrection, something he regards as incompatible with science.

As an organization, the ASA did and does not endorse his project. However, we saw it as an opportunity to educate many about our organization, and that is why I personally (as an ASA officer at the time) agreed to be interviewed. I knew that I would be able to clarify who we are, in relation to Mr Dowd’s program; and, I knew that I would be able to present a coherent alternative to Mr Dowd’s “evolutionary Christianity.” I have nothing but praise for Mr Dowd’s fairness—he let me speak for myself, and the edited version of our conversation that he has made available was skilfully done, such that my views are neither misrepresented nor shortchanged. It’s the best interview anyone has ever done of me, and thus I make it available also on my own web page.

Furthermore, in exchanges I had with Mr Dowd and some others on his web site, after the interviews were made available, I pointed out how several of us (interviewees) did not agree with his approach; several of us clearly do not beleive (for example) that “science” has made it impossible to believe in the Resurrection (a number of us discuss this in our interviews, so this isn’t just a random topic), and we do not believe that evolution mandates the adoption of a new type of “Christianity” that is not Christianity at all.

Thus, Gregory, while I understand why one might object to my involvement (and that of the others you also name above) with Mr Dowd’s project, I viewed and still view it as an excellent opportunity to present a very different alternative to “evolutionary Christianity,” an alternative that is obviously Christian.

If anyone has doubts about what I’ve said, simply listen to the interview—all the way through—and draw your own conclusions.

Ted Davis - #72401

September 3rd 2012

To correct an important typo, my sentence in 72398 should read:

As an organization, the ASA did not and does not endorse his project.

Ted Davis - #72279

August 29th 2012


When the first part of this column came out, it lacked the “part 1” at the end. We just changed this, so the URL is different. If you find yourself lost, just create a new bookmark for it from here: http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-i. Sorry for any confusion, but we only just caught this.

Jon Garvey - #72283

August 29th 2012

Hi Ted

Something struck me on reading this post, which was thrown into relief by your reply #72275. And that is that there seems a certain arbitrariness about what commonly constitutes theistic evolution, beyond the basic position that it treats evolution as part of God’s means of creation.

The idea that theistic physicists tend to have a different theology from biologists is pretty strange, when you consider it. After all, it’s not in dispute that the same God is responsible for both physics and biology: we’re not reading God’s thoughts from multiple books of nature, but one. Otherwise we’d expect cosmologists to be Catholics, chemists to be charismatics etc. If physicists can be traditionally orthodox, so can biologists - or conversely being a theological “radical” has no necessary link to one science or the other.

I really don’t think that biology per se forces one into process theology and so on (and evidently you don’t either, from what you’ve written here). So IMO there must be a large element of historical accident in the typical preferences of all these camps: if the movers and shakers had been slightly different people, we might have seen an emphasis on natural theology, sympathy for Intelligent Design, doubt about fine tuning, a bias towards Calvinism or Eastern Orthodoxy or whatever.

I’m not sure what conclusions to draw from that, but one would be what I’ve maintained for some time: that it is not science, even biological science, that requires a redrawing of Christian theology. Theistic Evolution may have a role in doing apologetics for science to Evangelicals, but that does not give it any kind of remit to link that to pushing people to redefine, or dispense with, historically important doctrines under the cover of scientific necessity.

Gregory - #72296

August 30th 2012

“Theistic Evolution may have a role in doing apologetics for science to Evangelicals, but that does not give it any kind of remit to link that to pushing people to redefine, or dispense with, historically important doctrines under the cover of scientific necessity.”

That’s an interesting way to phrase it, Jon. Perhaps that is one way to look at TE, as a kind of ‘scientific apologetics,’ which Ted did not explicitly suggest. I wonder, however, at the same time if you allow TE also to be a kind of ‘theistic apologetics’?

Iow, since the ‘theism’ cannot be taken out of the duo, just as the Big-L for Logos cannot be taken out of BioLogos, it thus ensures the ‘divine biology’ or ‘theistic biology’ meaning in the terms.

Merv - #72303

August 30th 2012

Gregory, I think the main (perhaps only) contribution of TE as an apologetic to scientists is in its attempted removal of a stumbling block.  That stumbling block is the long proposed conflict view that either evolution or Christianity must go.  Thus TE is not in the least any kind of aggressive apologetic to promote something.  But it is very much a “clearing the path” apologetic that (successfully?) challenges the conflict view opening the way for wider society to accept that many do successfully think and operate both theologically faithfully and scientifically.


Jon Garvey - #72321

August 31st 2012

Ahh! The “reply to comment” button is working again. Hurrah.

Gregory, I’d tend to agree with Merv on this. If TE is an apologetic to non-theistic scientists, I think it largely fails. Only “accommodationists” cheer for it, and then only as far as it doesn’t make any claims that would challenge a purely naturalistic science - the theism sits in its own privatised magisterium out of the way. That encourages the kind of thinking re Bernard Lovell’s recent death: “although he was a devout Christian, he was even so a good scientist.”

TE at its best is simply what it is - an attempt to give a truthful account of reality. To the extent that it’s true, it will tend to convince both believers about its science and scientists about its faith. That does, of course, require not simultaneously alienating believers from its theology and scientists from its science, but in the end that’s secondary to seeking for truth.

On your last point, like any other movement the name indicates, but does not guarantee, the direction. As you say above, Michael Dowd’s movement is even more theologically specific: “evolutionary Christianity” - and yet its leader doesn’t believe in the God at the centre of Christianity. The Church itself needed creeds, councils, dissent and so on to decide which of those calling themselves “catholic Christians” actually were.

Gregory - #72339

September 1st 2012

Jon and Merv,

Yes, I agree with Merv as well, Jon, so I’m curious where you think we differ. I agree that people who profess TE often do so to try to “remove a stumbling block,” which is the conflict or warfare or mutual exclusion view to science and religion.

As Merv speaks of a ‘clearing the path’ apologetic, I would ask: apologetic for what? To me, TE is a philosophy of science and religion/theology. So if/when TE is/serves as just such an apologetic, that seems to be an admirable goal.

In so far as TE is against the conflict or exclusivity model, elaborated by A. Comte, J.W. Draper, A.D. White, S.J. Gould, et al., it is appeasement-(or ‘accommodationist-’)oriented. Instead of ‘warfare’ it promotes a kind of ‘welfare’ model. This language is generally used by ASA, Faraday, BioLogos and others, though BioLogos seems to have dropped the ‘integration’ (of science and faith) language it used until recently.

Nevertheless, the sticking point in ‘science and religion’ dialogue, at least in the USA as it appears to me, is that 1) philosophy is often not incuded as a mediator (i.e. due to gross deficiency in PoS training), and 2) evolutionary theory is too convoluted, such that in certain well-documented cases (not just Darwinian variety) it is indeed anti-religious or anti-theistic and dehumanising (but then again, so is rational choice theory, if misapplied/mistaught). This imo is because of the influence and penetration of ideology into/from evolutionism.

The conclusion to draw from this is that if proponents of TE can’t find a way to oppose the ideology of evolutionism, and if they allow their TE to turn into TEism, we won’t make much if any progress. This is why I asked for simple clarity about opposing evolutionism, which is supposedly part of BioLogos’ mission. And we discovered that ‘anti-evolutionism’ really only means ‘anti-evolution’ and ‘pro-creationism’ to Ted, Eddie and others. That’s their semantic choice, with which I disagree, as someone trained in PoS, which neither of them is.

The dangerous back-side to TE is when it turns from courage (e.g. to face ideology) into a mere compromise, where evolutionary theory (science) dictates to theology, even though significant problems arise as a result. This is demonstrated when the concept of evolution becomes so tightly wrapped up in a person’s theology, that they lose capacity to come up with ‘things that don’t evolve’ (other than God, which especially in Open Theism and Process Theology is debatable). This is why I’ve been hoping that Ted will address the issue of when TE turns from an ‘apologetic’ into an ‘ideology.’ But I’m not holding my breath.

Jon Garvey - #72346

September 1st 2012

“I’m curious where you think we differ.”

I don’t think we do, if you agree with Merv’s post - his just saved me making similar points.

Ted Davis - #72414

September 3rd 2012

Just for the record, Gregory:

Ted will present the issues in his “class” as he sees fit, whether or not they conform to your hopes or expectations about “ideology.” It’s good that you aren’t holding your breath, for I’m not about to do your breathing for you.

GJDS - #72287

August 29th 2012


Your series clearly shows a continuous development of theological views in response to scientific advances, and the diagram you have presented here helps to focus our attention to the basic notions that are encapsulated in the term ‘theistic evolution’. I think Eddie has highlighted an important distinction when discussing ideas regarding the cosmos and those regarding biology and evolutionary claims.

My view has been that if we accept the theistic term, we believe God created the heavens and earth, and the rest is a matter of how we view the creation at various levels of detail. However I do not think that anything else is essential for salvation and that an understanding of God’s purpose and will can only be found from the Bible, and it is our faith and personal growth that is God’s concern. I cannot see science playing a significant role in this, with the exception that we honestly endeavour to seek what is true.

I would add, that the historical view given by your series sometimes appears as: (a) science vs theology, which is probably due to conflicts between various creationists and atheists and/or scientific theists, and (b) evolution, which than has various camps, including atheists, and theists.

On (a), I think the argument will eventually settle between theists and atheists; by and large these protagonists eventually will agree on most scientific notions and will be polarised by how it all began. Atheists, by necessity, cannot tolerate speaking of God, and after ridiculing Him, they affirm that everything came into existence from ‘vacuum bubbles’. Theists on the other hand believe the certainty of the existence of the Universe is proven by science and this reality testifies to God and His glory. I cannot see either of these positions changing any time soon.

....... continued

GJDS - #72288

August 29th 2012

On (b), I am inclined to believe that those who subscribe to the theory of evolution (in whatever form) implicitly or explicitly see it as a privilidged theory, and cannot accept critique that is normal for any other scientific theory. It is here that Gregory’s insistence on ideology is relevant. If we look to the laws of nature for clarity, we are confronted with one school that views the basis for such laws as regularity, and simply say, the Universe and all in it is just that, and nothing else should be said; the other school argues that it is necessary to look beyond the laws of science to explain why the Universe is specifically what it is. This echoes (a) above.

When considered in a general way (and from the many useful comments made in your columns), one may perhaps have a better understanding of the various points of view, but it is difficult to see any consensus on the issue of theistic evolution. Personally I cannot accept any attempt to understand God or salvation from a scientific perspective, so I am unsympathetic to any natural theology, and almost bothered by the notion of theistic evolution.

Evolution has not been able to sustain its most fundamental tenets and has had to modify almost every idea, from the tree of life, the straightforward ascent (missing link) of man, to the mechanistic aspects of  biochemistry (including the building blocks and the energy processes required for life). With so many areas in doubt, it is little wonder that atheists are so aggressive; it is a pity that Christians make the mistake of giving evolution such a privileged position in their view of science. If overall it can be shown that science is not in conflict with the teachings of Faith, why not look at all theories, including evolution, as the workings of science in its endeavours to progress towards better knowledge? Those who do not believe will continue in their unbelief; the arguments between Christians however are difficult to comprehend, unless they decide the Bible should also be a scientific text book.

... continued


GJDS - #72289

August 29th 2012

oops, my ... continued came at the end.

Francis - #72293

August 29th 2012

Eddie wrote:

“it makes sense for phenomena where natural laws alone would be sufficient to bring about an event, e.g., the birth of a star from a cloud of gas; but on Darwinian premises there is no “natural law” that any particular evolutionary outcome must occur on an earthlike planet, so the problem then becomes that God could guarantee the existence of stars by natural laws alone, but could not guarantee the existence of man by relying on natural laws alone.

... given a gas cloud of a certain size, a star will inevitably be produced, and given a planet roughly like Earth, man will always evolve. There are natural laws that guarantee the first outcome; there are no natural laws that guarantee the second.”

Natural laws explain star formation but we struggle with how they might explain evolution? One problem solved, one to go? Many seem to be unaware of the countless conundrums cogitated by astrophysicists and their like regarding stars, planets and solar systems.

What natural laws cause a cloud of gas to form an essentially solid “ball of fire” that burns for many, many years?

From Cal Tech: “… we’ll come up to the present state of the art and talk about what are probably the two largest unsolved problems in star formation today.” http://ned.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/Sept10/Krumholz/Krumholz5.html

From Cornell: “…open problems in galaxy evolution”  http://arxiv.org/abs/1107.4419


I think some are giving “natural laws” a lot more credit than they may deserve.


GJDS - #72299

August 30th 2012


I think some are giving “natural laws” a lot more credit than they may deserve.

Indeed people often use “natural laws” as a generality and more often as a philosophy of science viewpoint. Science has established certain aspects of nature and these are articulated in various forms, depending on how well established they are. It is common to regard some as ‘laws’, others as well “accepted theories”, and others as “hypothesis and or speculation”. To illustrate, a ball of gas, if it has sufficient mass, may be drawn together by gravity and may then, if given conditions are met, be subjected to such gravitational force that it would undergo fussion. In this example, gravity is well established, as is the mass of any gaseous substance (in this case hydrogen); the rest is assumed rather than proven scientifically. i.e. just why would such a cloud of gas form, why it the gas not desipate, and so on. Also, can physics describe the conditions well enough to show when and how a star may form? It is obvious that some things are well known and others not so well known.

This is the stuff of science and it is always (to varying degrees) done by a combination of sound knowledge and hypothetical reasoning. In my view, the problem comes when people decide to make more of science than science does of itself. We then get into the -isms, beliefs, and disputes.

On theism, as it appears to me in these discussions, an error may creep in in that the attributes of God are consdiered to be additive; by this I mean these discussions imply that God is creator, and He is all knowing, and He is all powerful, and so on. This ‘and’ to these discussions is error - the only way we can state God in such a conversation is that God is God; our terms must be ‘in the one-ness of God’, and His attributes are a way of discussing His oneness, and this meaning is provided to us within our limitations by the teachings of Faith. It is this that I know bothers some atheists a lot, and perhaps it may bother some who argue for a theistic aspect to science and evolution.

Thus it is not that we can deduce what and how God does things from nature - we reason and being intelligent human beings, we accumulate knowledge about nature. I agree with you in that we are taught concerning God and this teaching is based on the revealed word of God. We need to also understand that teaching is an ongoing process; this includes understanding the attribute of God the Creator.


Chip - #72301

August 30th 2012

Hi Ted,

Thanks again for another interesting discussion.  I’d like to revisit Eddie’s citation of Whewell, if I may: 

we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws

This is fine as far as it goes, and in principle, I have no problem with the statement per se. The challenge for the TE though has to do with these general laws as they are understood by mainstream evolutionary theory. 

Take random mutation and natural selection, for example.  Conventional evolutionary theory  holds that natural selection is dependent upon random mutation as its only source of variation, and that it must “decide” in the moment to accept or reject a given mutation once it drops into its lap.  A chance event happens, and an unthinking algorithm is triggered.  Over time, these add up to macroevolutionary changes, which are neither planned nor anticipated.  Given this, Eddie is certainly correct that the creation of humans is in no way guaranteed, and I believe most mainstream evolutionists would agree—Gould’s famous comment about “rewinding the tape” is relevant here. 

And yet, regardless of what one’s views are about how it might have happened, that God intended to create man is biblically beyond any reasonable dispute, IMO. 

This creates a pretty strong incongruity, which TEs have to try to reconcile.  Some do this by weakening the “T” to the extent that they become virtual deists; others attempt to redefine the “E” by positing things like frontloading (thus, radically redefining what evolution means).  Where do you land on this continuum? 

Ted Davis - #72313

August 30th 2012


(To begin with something trivial,) Eddie’s quotation from Whewell is taken from my column.

(less trivial now) In my column, Whewell is used as an early example of the “new” attitude toward natural theology that I am associating with the type of TE I’m explaining. Please take another look at my #72271.

I went no further with Whewell here. There’s nothing in the natural theological discussion above, with or without Whewell, that connects closely with whether God intended to create us. It’s a good question, but I don’t see where I raised it even implicitly here.

My own view (since you asked) is this: I like Bob Russell’s view that God controls the outcomes of “random” events—if and when God chooses to do so (I add that, I don’t think Russell actually says this). Perhaps God does that always, or perhaps just sometimes; I leave that question open here (it’s parallel to the question of “open theism,” on which I am probably agnostic, neither persuaded nor unpersuaded). Even in open theism, however, God *knows* what *God* will do, and if God intends to create humans who look exactly like us and behave exactly like us, that’s what God will do—whether or not God does so through “evolution,” and whether or not evolution takes places mainly or partly through “random” variations. For me, then, evolution is a red herring to your question: it doesn’t matter how we describe God’s activity here. It happened.

Was it you, Chip, who asked me on another thread somewhere about determinism, indeterminism, and divine action? (I’m not sure it was you.) I recall saying to someone, that the underlying issue isn’t evolution at all, but how we formulate our conceptions of divine action. Given this, the question that occurs to me (as an historian of science & faith) is this: which picture of the universe in general is friendlier to the Christian—the one in which God controls and determines all things, and in which our understanding of the universe is equally deterministic (Laplace’s divine calculator), or the one in which God controls and determines all things, but our understanding is always short of deterministic (Russell seems to be in this camp), or the one in which God controls many things, leaving some things by divine intent to be “free” and undetermined (Polkinghorne seems to be in this camp)?

Which of these, I say, is friendliest to the Christian? Nearly every Christian thinker I’ve seen, in the period since (say) 1600, would say the second or the third, not the first. That’s one reason why there was rejoicing in certain circles (if I can put it this way) after Heisenberg shattered classical determinism. Do you like the first? (Sometimes I think critics of TE implicitly like the first.) Varieties of TE are the second or the third, or at least I suspect so. 

Eddie - #72318

August 30th 2012


If I may jump in here to ask a clarifying question of you:

Whewell’s book—at least the first edition—was written in 1838, I think you said.  Would Whewell, writing in 1838 about God working through natural laws or secondary causes, have had biological origins in mind?  Darwin’s book wasn’t published until late 1859, and while some evolutionary ideas were “in the air” among naturalists, they were by no means dominant or even common.  Most people still—I think—held the Paleyan view that the intricacies of living things required the personal touch of an intelligent Maker.  Would that be a fair generalization?  

If that’s the case, then Whewell, in thinking about origins and general laws, probably had in mind things like the nebular hypothesis of Kant and uniformitarian geology.  But physical and geological forces produce broad general categories of things—hydrogen gas clouds produce stars, earth crustal movements produce continents, etc.   They don’t produce very specific, machinelike arrangements of matter that perform very precise functions.  I doubt that anyone in 1838 thought that the forces that turned gas clouds into stars and planets could also create life out of non-life, or turn salamanders into men.  

But supposing I’m wrong, supposing that Whewell very directly states that the origin of life and species proceeded wholly through natural laws, could you (a) provide some passages for me to look up, and (b) give me some indication of how typical Whewell was for the pre-Darwin era?



Ted Davis - #72341

September 1st 2012


(minor point) My copy of Whewell is the 5th edition of 1836; that’s what I quoted. The first edition was 1833, but to the best of my knowledge they are identical. They both have 381 pages, but I’ve never bothered to compare them closely.

(main point) This will not be a clearly argued reply, since I don’t have time to do a lot of reading now; but, I’ll try to be accurate with somewhat disjointed points.

Whewell published that book while Darwin was on the Beagle; it was also 11 years before Robert Chambers’ anonymously published “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,” a work that Whewell detested. I’m reluctant to say without checking that Whewell was thinking only of the physical sciences in that passage, but in a book about “astronomy and general physics” I think we can assume that he was mainly thinking about them.

Some of the best stuff on this is not available for free (esp articles by John Brooke and the late W. F. Cannon), but I don’t have time right now to read it anyway, so I’ll point you do this for part of the story of Whewell and Chambers: http://www.public.asu.edu/~jmlynch/darwin/RobertChambers.htm. If anyone out there has read the relevant literature more recently than me, please chime in.

Again—the point I made above is about styles of doing natural theology. Whewell was probably not thinking of biology, but he was making a point about natural theology that is part of the larger picture. In the 1830s, he and Charles Babbage were moving in the direction suggested by the quotation I used. I’ll cite an excellent source here that I haven’t read again this morning: Walter F. Cannon, “The Problem of Miracles in the 1830s”, Victorian Studies 4 (1960), 5-32. If you are interested in this aspect of the story, Eddie, I’d start there.

Incidentally, Cannon was a troubled soul, and he also wrote under another name (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Faye_Cannon). I mention it not to get into that, only to avoid confusion.

Whewell was certainly an OEC. No doubt about that. But, his attitude about natural theology, expressed in that very important book, is similar to that of Josiah Parsons Cooke, who indeed cites Whewell more than once if I recall correctly (I can’t check this now either).

The nebular hypothesis of Laplace created a lot of stir, but it’s general acceptance over time was important in shaping attitudes about other parts of natural history. Again, I can’t be as specific now as I want to be, but I’ll point out a specific reference that is a “required reading”, as it were, and invite someone to bring back a “report”: Ronald L. Numbers, Creation by Natural Law: Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis in American Thought (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1977). It’s not that long, actually, but it’s awfully good.

In 1880, addressing the theological school at Yale, Asa Gray spoke about how the nebular hypothesis had “disquieted pious souls,” or something to that effect, but that we’d moved past that stage some time ago.

This is the best I can do without a lot of work I can’t do in blogosphere time (i.e., quickly). Anyone with more time than me has enough to work with here.

Bottom line: I’m using Whewell very fairly, as an example of a newer attitude toward natural theology. And, the context of physical sciences is the same all the way through the thread.

Eddie - #72345

September 1st 2012


I never doubted that you were using Whewell fairly!  I was just trying to find out whether or not Whewell actually made the application of the notion of “origin through general laws” to biology.  It sounds as if he didn’t.  And I’m not saying that’s a problem; in fact, I would be surprised if he did, at a pre-Darwin date.  I just wanted to clarify what you were claiming that he said about origins.

Of course, the problem—which I don’t think you need to address or want to address here—remains; the Darwinian understanding of evolution isn’t one that lends itself to producing any definite end through natural laws.  In other words, if Whewell were alive today, and if he, after reading Darwinian theory, said:  “Ha!  Just as I expected!  Even the origin of living things now can be explained by general laws!”  —I would make the same objection: How could God, if he restricted his action to natural laws alone, guarantee any outcome via a Darwinian mechanism?  Wouldn’t he have to “tweak” the process now and then to make sure it yielded the desired results?  

Regarding your comment to Chip about whether or not I get what you are driving at—I get it.  The new style of natural theology focuses on the intelligence behind natural laws and constants rather than the intelligence behind particular structures (eyes, wings, etc.)  I understood that from the outset.  And I have no problem with natural theology argued on that basis.  But as I said before, I don’t see why Paley-theology and Polkinghorne-theology need be mutually exclusive.  Maybe God *both* sets up natural laws so that *most* things can be generated through those laws, *and* from time to time engineers new structures in a personal way.  If that’s the case, then both types of “design inference” would be warranted.

Thanks for your generous replies.  Best wishes.

Ted Davis - #72400

September 3rd 2012

I don’t see that the two styles of natural theology are mutually exclusive.

But, if one is convinced (as Polkinghorne and others are) that one approach is better than the other (perhaps for multiple reasons), then it’s not hard to understand why they tend to not to use the other one.

Polkinghorne actually does believe, that God inputs new “information” into the universe from time to time, and I would see that as consistent with the approach you apparently like. However, he does not construct natural theological arguments on that basis. Once again, we’re talking here about natural theology, not theology of nature.

It’s often said that TEs don’t like natural theology (and some are indeed quite wary of it), but in fact many TEs do endorse some arguments in natural theology. They simply tend not to be based on Paleyan “contrivances.” And, no less important, they are often seen (as with Polkinghorne) as inferences that go beyond science and are therefore not fully scientific, so there is no reason to add “design” to the “scientific” toolbox. You seem quite well informed, Eddie, and you probably know all this, but other readers might not have connected these dots.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72302

August 30th 2012

What I propose is a very different apprach.  Maybe this does not make me an EC or TE.

The beginning of the Gospel of John states that Jesus Christ is the Logos of the universe.  This is a theological, philosophical, and scientific statement which can provide the foundation for a profound Christian worldview.  Indeed it seems to me that the truth of Christianity must stand or fall based on this remarkable statement, even though it is for the most part ignored.

If Jesus Christ is the Logos, then humans have two books of God, Nature and the Bible, united by the Person of Jesus Christ.  You could say that we have three books, Nature, the Bible, and Humanity, created in the Image of God, united by the Person of Jesus Christ.

Is Evolution congruent with Jesus as the Logos?  Yes and no.  Yes, and this is most important, evolution means change and Jesus is about change, that is salvation, contrary to philosophy and mythological thinking which is based on statis, eternity.

The no is the character of this change which is for Darwin and Dawkins based on conflict, rather than Teleos.  The character of Darwinian natural selection is not in keeping with the Logos, and this gives credence to the claim that Jesus is not the Christ and science is in conflict with faith.

Thus Darwinian evolution does point to a possible real conflict between nature and the Logos, except that 1) Darwinian natural selection based on Malthus has never been scientifically proven and 2) Ecology based on symbiosis gives science a much better and well proven understanding of how real evolutionary natural selection works. 

Symbiosis is not based on conflict, but mutual support, non-zero game theory, and thus is congruent with Jesus as the Logos.           


Chip - #72314

August 30th 2012

Re: 72313 (the “Reply to this comment” functionality doesn’t seem to work…)


I have to admit your answer confuses me. 

it doesn’t matter how we describe God’s activity here. It happened.

Wow, really?  Of course it matters.  Isn’t that the point of the whole BioLogos enterprise—to describe a particular view of God’s activity here, and to additionally persuade others of its accuracy? 

There’s nothing in the natural theological discussion above… that connects closely with whether God intended to create us.

Sure there is.  Your natural theology thesis is rooted in the view that God creates primarily by means of “general law,” as opposed to “contrivances.”  This is not a problem—until one starts to unpack what general law means in the context of evolutionary theory. 

So, the TE has to somehow marry a loving, intentional, engaged and personal God to a general-law mechanism that is by definition a-teleological, thoughtless and blind, and that can’t even get out of the starting blocks without a random accident to get it going.  Pretty big hill to climb. 

But Im outa time—maybe more later.  Ciao, 

Oh, and BTW, I’d put myself in your third category.  But this doesn’t get us too far since we still have to decide what belongs in the “God controls many things” bucket, and what goes in the “free” one…

Ted Davis - #72343

September 1st 2012

We may be talking past one another, here, Chip. Time only for a brief reply now, but perhaps a helpful one.

I know you followed our earlier discussion of Gingerich’s book, God’s Universe. He writes there about how the events of natural history “are there for all to see,” or something like that, and how we can’t really know for sure just how it was accomplished. I captured that not very well in my other reply to you, but I was thinking along those lines.

On natural theology—again—I’m talking about a style of doing natural theology. I’m not restricting God to acting only in and through our category of natural laws; indeed, I am convinced that God has and does act outside that category sometimes. I’m talking about how one might do natural theology. With Whewell, I think that natural theology focusing on general laws is a good route, and the TEs I talked about appear to agree with me (or vice versa).

You and Eddie both seem to be missing what I think is the point I was making. Perhaps I’m not yet saying it clearly enough, or perhaps I simply need to keep saying it—sometimes that is true, when one is making a point that is new, or troubling, or both (I’m not sure which apply here), for one’s audience.

Natural theology and divine action are not entirely separate matters, but my point is about natural theology alone—as far as I can separate it.

Francis - #72316

August 30th 2012

Polkinghorne is quoted above:

“This new natural theology … differs from the old-style natural theology of William Paley and others by basing its arguments not upon particular occurrences (the coming-to-be of the eye or of life itself), but on the character of the physical fabric of the world, which is the necessary ground for the possibility of any occurrence.”

How different Polkinghorne’s natural theology is from his Christian faith.

His natural theology eschews particular, physical occurrences. Christianity, on the other hand, is unique among all religions in being based entirely (yes, entirely) on particular, physical occurrences – first and foremost of which is the real, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Other important physical, miraculous manifestations follow close behind, e.g. the Incarnation within a virgin, the various physical healings.)

Christianity would be just another religion without certain particular, real, physical and observed occurrences.

Such a contrast to Polkinghorne’s natural theology.

Such a contrast to evolution!

Jon Garvey - #72322

August 31st 2012

Even in open theism, however, God *knows* what *God* will do, and if God intends to create humans who look exactly like us and behave exactly like us, that’s what God will do—whether or not God does so through “evolution,” and whether or not evolution takes places mainly or partly through “random” variations.

Ted, I only respond to your open theism sentence because OT is a fringe position disproportionately represented in theistic evolution, and therefore worthy of examination in this context.

Open theisms vary quite widely, but my understanding is that in most or all of them God does not know what he will do, because like us he cannot see the as-yet-undetermined future. He may know what he’d like to do, but again the position requires that he respect, and respond to, the free actions of agents, which in the case of “open theistic evolution” seems to include this hard-to-pin-down idea of inanimate nature’s “freedom”.

So even here on BioLogos there have been heavy hints that God works with whatever a “free” evolution turned up in the way of an intelligent life-form. So when you say, “If God intends to create humans who look exactly like us and behave exactly like us, that’s what God will do…” the “filioque” word there is “if”.

God may, on open theistic assumptions, only intend outcomes of any degree of vagueness, depending on what evolution happens to turn up. That would, as Chip suggests, differ greatly from historic Christianity’s concept of an all-wise God creating teleologically through the Logos, and would even be compatible with him being happy for evolution to fail altogether and life to die out. “Billy Bean built a machine to see what it would do.”

If God does indeed intend something more specific than Stephen Gould would have predicted from Neodarwinism, then there’s nothing in the science, or the theology, that gives him the means of achieving it. Conway-Morris is popular here on BL, but even convergent evolution won’t enable God to create humans “exactly like us”. If he corrects the evolutionary process as it diverges from his goals, it’s no longer an open process but what open theists like to call, less than dispassionately, “coercive.”

Gregory - #72323

August 31st 2012

The Logos is teleological by definition, Jon. Thus, ‘BioLogos’ is a teleological concept. And theistic evolution (TE) is teleological, even if mystically or intuitively, rather than scientifically.

If one asked most people “what is the opposite of open?” they would answer ‘closed.’

How religiously ‘closed’ is your anti-Open Theism position, Jon? Or, on the other side, how ‘open’ is your theism to free will and “the free action of agents”? Do you admit any openness at all?

What you are proposing sounds quite deterministic. I know that to you it doesn’t sound that way. But to this reader, it has and does.

OT might be more mainstream than you, in a place like Down, England, could realise.

I get the feeling that there is a spectrum of theistic evolution; your preferred TE is highly deterministic and focussed on pre-destination, while Ted’s TE is highly indeterministic and focussed on free will.

Jon Garvey - #72326

August 31st 2012

“The Logos is teleological by definition, Jon.”

Which definition, Gregory? And does that also make “Christian Science” both Christian and scientific by definition?

“If one asked most people “what is the opposite of open?” they would answer ‘closed.’”

Presumably that’s why the Open Theists coined that self-description, since it automatically pejorates those who disagree with it, just as the opposite of “orthodox” is “teaching falsely”, the opposite of Catholic “schismatic”. But fortunately, we don’t have to decide the merits of positions by asking most people for one word assessments.

Ted postulated, to Chip, the situation in which God would choose to create humans like us. I infer that he meant, whatever the means used, that would be a good choice on God’s part. I don’t accept, and doubt he would, that instead it represents God acting in  a “closed” way. Indeed it can only be viewed that way with a rather perverted gaze, especially when you focus on “free will” with absolutely no attention to what that might actually mean in this situation.

Should the Christian say, “I wish God hadn’t made me like this, because he’s ridden roughshod over the legitimate freedoms of the evolutionary process”? Or should he say, “I’m a bit miffed about these design faults, my bias to sin and my lack of political and economic freedom, but it’s worth it if the cosmos got to have a say in how I turned out”?

I’m trying to explore genuine issues here with Ted, issues that also concern several others on the thread, and it bugs me that you should try to earth everything back to determinism (again!). By definition (as you like to say) creation (bara) is deterministic, because it is God’s determining of function upon functionless matter. Thus “evolutionary creation” is a deterministic concept. Touché. Except that in my case, that actually is the meaning of “create” as used in the Bible.

But maybe you could help me out. Stuck in this leafy backwater, surrounded by simple farming folk, I’ve clearly failed to appreciate just how mainstream Open Theism has become. I’d be grateful if you could give me some chapter on verse on just how prevalent it is (a) outside America (b) Outside Evangelicalism, for example within the worldwide Catholic, Orthodox and wider Protestant movements and (c) how many mainstream Evangelical (or non-Evangelical) organisations have endorsed it? And then compare that with its prevalence within the circles of theistic evolution.

Meanwhile, I hope Ted will continue to discuss the issues themselves with us.

Eddie - #72331

August 31st 2012

Jon and Gregory:

I’m confused.  What does this statement mean?

“your preferred TE is highly deterministic and focussed on pre-destination, while Ted’s TE is highly indeterministic and focussed on free will.”

I thought that Jon was talking about God’s creation of nature.  Why is Gregory talking about determinism versus free will?  That question is usually talked about in relation to human salvation and damnation, or in relation to the role of grace in determining human choices and actions.  

What has free will got to do with the vast majority of things in nature?  Do hydrogen atoms have free will?  Do stars need grace?  Do tulips have souls that can be predestined to eternal damnation?  There seems to be some category confusion going on.  

Is Gregory misunderstanding what Jon is talking about here?  Or am I misunderstanding what Gregory is talking about?

GJDS - #72324

August 31st 2012

The complimentary view as discussed by Rios, may be viewed as a response to the Imperium of Science, which is identified in this article as science providing the ultimate understanding of all reality.

 Coulson is often remembered …. must use an “act of reflection” to imagine the finished product. It was through this act of reflection that one could reconcile science and theology….They considered science as a means of revelation.

Yet it is the description of a human being that is the basis for such an exaggerated view, including how human beings may be, and how problems may be solved. Reflecting on the totality of all that is, is an attempt to place human beings at the centre of all things (anthropocentric), yet this view insists that human beings are accidents that now not only understand all that is, but may be the determining factor in this scientific proposition of the totality of being.

The aim of this complimentary view “God revealed as the Author of the whole story” is correct; the response to the claims of science, however, are suspect simply because both scientists and non-scientists come to a view that implicitly accepts the extraordinary power of the scientific method. Those aspects of science that may be regarded as certain may take human reason to the point where a human being is able to state, “This knowledge is consistent with my belief in God as the Creator, and I can now add this science derived knowledge to what has been revealed in the Bible”. This reflection however, can only be an act of freedom. Thus it is equally possible a human being may reflect the opposite!

I think that a topic that is worthy of further reflection is that of humanity; by this, I mean can we, (and how do we) come to understand ourselves as uniquely human? Is it possible for one human being to say, “I do not believe in God”, and consider this an honest reflection regarding him/herself, while another human being could also say, “I believe in God”, and this also be an equally honest reflection regarding him/herself.

This exercise may help us understand why we may have conflict, and also how we may avoid conflict, between science and religion, and between believers and non-believers. It is within this context that I question this statement in the Rios paper. Thus, complementarity not only justified Christian and scientific views, it also suggested the proper way of relating the two. I think this should say, “This method may enable Christians, who may be conflicted when considering various aspects of science, to reconcile these with a particular theological view, but it may not be a way of justifying Christian views with those of scientists pe se”...... continued

GJDS - #72325

August 31st 2012


“ …Calvin’s emphasis on divine accommodation, the idea that God necessarily accommodates himself to our finite intellect and knowledge.” This is another way of saying that we are limited in many ways and God makes allowances for this; however we need to understand that it is humanity that is justified before God by the sacrifice of Christ – not the Milton-ian view that we justify God’s ways to mankind. Passages in the Bible may not be fully understood by us, and the writers of various passages understood their own limitations and they stated this in the Bible itself. It is also important to realise the limitations of science and scientists. While I am tempted to bring in specific examples of scientific knowledge and understanding that shows the insights that science provides us, and also examples where science make many mistakes (and also the good and evil outcomes of scientific ouput), I think these general comments are appropriate in this discussion.

Thus we may question: MacKay’s logic insisted that each perspective remain self-consistent and able to provide its own complete view without appealing to the other.

Finally I ask the question, “Should we be afraid of conflict between the teachings of the Christian faith that shows us the world is suffering from sin, and the teachings of materialists who have appropriated the authority of science to progress their agenda?”

I put forward the view that the common ground between science and religion is found if each endeavour is committed to seek the truth of its enquiries, and each is motivated by a desire to serve the common good, whatever personal beliefs may be adopted by each practitioner. Beyond this, conflict will always occur when people take differing views. It is human to do so.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #72329

August 31st 2012

A fundamental flaw in this discussion is that it is dualistic, it sees reality as divided between science and theology.  Humans thus are bodies and souls.  Where does philosophy fit in to this discussion?

Doesn’t it make more sense to talk about humans as bodies, minds, and spirits?  Otherwise I expect non-believers would see the soul as the mind, while believers see the soul as the spirit.  Thus they might be talking using the same words, but with different meanings for these words. 

For clarity we need to talk about the physical (body), rational (mind), and purposeful (spirit.)  These areas of life are studied by the disciplines, Science, Philosophy, and Theology.  They are also analogous to the Father/Creator (Science), Son/Logos (Philosophy), and the Holy Spirit/Love (Theology and Ethics.)

Humans are created in the Image of God (the Trinity).  We are physical, mental, and spiritual beings, three and one, a complex/one creatures.  We live on all three levels and get into trouble when we promote one over another, causing conflict and confusion.  

Science, philosophy, and theology are basic disciplines.  We can only understand one in light of the others.  The Trinity is not only our basis for understanding God, it is also our basis for understanding the Reality that we live in.     

Francis - #72334

August 31st 2012

Eddie wrote, again:

“But physical and geological forces produce broad general categories of things—hydrogen gas clouds produce stars … I doubt that anyone in 1838 thought that the forces that turned gas clouds into stars and planets could also create life out of non-life, or turn salamanders into men.”

Why do people here continue to pronounce such things as if they’re true or proven, when the space scientists themselves admit they have no such certainty? They’re confused. They’ve got problems.

What are these “forces” and exactly how do they form stars and planets out of gas?

I already brought this up in #72293 above, and no one has responded.


Eddie, was your PhD in astrophysics?

Francis - #72335

August 31st 2012

Ignorance is bliss, among other things.

Many “theories” are held or are discussed here at BioLogos:

TE (Theistic Evolution), EC (Evolutionary Creation), OT (Open Theism), E (Evolution), E’ism (Evolutionism), C (Creationism, i.e. Genesis literalism), OEC (Old earth creationism), YEC (Young earth creationism), ID (Intelligent Design), and possibly others.

That’s about nine theories. And with many, if not all, of the nine theories, people argue and are confused over exactly what the theory is.

Only one “theory” is true. On a strictly nominal basis, each theory holder has an 8 out of 9 chance of being wrong.

Does that bother anybody else?

Gregory - #72342

September 1st 2012

“Does that bother anybody else?”

No. Most of those terms you treat with acronyms are not theories. By my estimation: 2 are philosophies of science and theology, 2 are scientific or pseudo-scientific theories, and 5 are ideologies. So it is wrong to suggest “only one ‘theory’ is true,” especially when some of the terms are interrelated and can be over-lapping.

bren - #72347

September 1st 2012


I would basically agree with your breakdown (making some reasonable assumptions as to which is which!).  Also, as you said, there does seem to be some potential overlap between some of these “theories” (clearly, the word is not a good fit here), unless one is hung up on the legitimacy of some kind of a false dichotomy between evolution and theism.  That said, I think another point would be that they simply cannot all be assessed in the same way as though they were runners on a common track (for much the same reason that positivism, for example, is not assessed using pipettes, assay plates and data capture software!)  Only a three or four of them are somewhat open to scientific critique, and even then, the conclusions would be limited (e.g. we could conclude that the specific methods and conclusions of ID in the restricted sense are false without having to conclude that the universe does not point to an intelligent designer in a more general sense).  This safely limits the scientific field of inquiry to a far more limited and manageable set of options - anything making evidential claims subject to scientific method(s), while leaving the philosophical conclusions open to other levels of investigation.

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