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Searching for Motivated Belief: Understanding John Polkinghorne, Part 1

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February 28, 2013 Tags: Lives of Faith
Searching for Motivated Belief: Understanding John Polkinghorne, Part 1

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

My previous column offered a brief overview of the life and work of John Polkinghorne. This column introduces a few of the ideas and attitudes at the core of his thought.

Understanding John Polkinghorne: Natural Theology

John Polkinghorne likes to describe himself as a “bottom-up thinker,” whereas many theologians (in his view) are “top-down” thinkers. What does he mean by this?

“I like to start with the phenomena, with things that have happened, and then try to build up an explanation and an understanding from there,” Polkinghorne explains. The “top-down” thinker, on the other hand, will, “go the other way: start with some grand general ideas and use them to explain particular events.” He sees the former as the “natural” route for the scientist, who looks for “ideas which have reasons backing them up; these reasons will lie in the experience we consider, the events that motivate our belief.” (Searching for Truth, p. 14)

Thus, for Polkinghorne, theology and science are “cousinly” disciplines, in that both are open-minded searches for “motivated belief.” This contrasts starkly with the attitude of the “New Atheists,” for whom religion is a wholly unjustified leap of faith, in the complete absence of any evidence. Let’s be honest: many Christians do match that stereotype. Polkinghorne addresses this implicitly, when he says, “Revelation is not the presentation of unchallengeable dogmas for reception by the unquestioning faithful. Rather, it is the record of those transparent events or persons in which the divine will and presence have been most clearly seen.” (The Faith of a Physicist, pp. 5-6) For some Christians, this may be a step too far, but for many Christians who work in scientific fields it’s an accurate description of what makes sense. They want to know why something is worthy of belief, in religion no less than in science. Blind faith is not enough for them, and it’s not enough for Polkinghorne.

Perhaps his most fundamental challenge to the New Atheists, however, is his view that both nature and our ability to have a science of nature (i.e., our ability to understand nature at all) make more sense within a theistic worldview than without it. Where Dawkins and others seem to think that science comes with an atheist worldview attached at the hip, Polkinghorne realizes that, “Physics constrains metaphysics, but it no more determines it than the foundations of a house determine the precise form of the building erected on them.” In short, it’s a two-way street. While, “Science offers an illuminating context within which much theological reflection can take place,” science in turn, “needs to be considered in the wider and deeper context of intelligibility that a belief in God affords.” In the next few months, we’ll see more precisely what Polkinghorne has in mind. (Theology in the Context of Science, pp. 60 and 95)

As I’ve just implied, Polkinghorne devotes considerable attention to natural theology, more indeed than many other contemporary theologians, who largely ignore it for a combination of reasons that I cannot explore adequately here. However, his approach to natural theology is more modest than that of many previous authors, especially those who stand strongly in the line of William Paley, by emphasizing the inexplicable, stunning intricacy of living things as irrefutable evidence for God’s existence. I’ll develop this point more fully in a future column. Instead of seeking knock-down “proofs” of design in nature—thereby “proving” God’s existence to skeptics—Polkinghorne claims instead that theism makes more sense of our whole experience of the world than atheism does, all things considered. For more on this, see my earlier column.

His approach to natural theology can be understood specifically in terms of three larger, metaphysical questions about nature and our ability to understand it. I’ll present these in the words of three non-Christian scientists who also voiced them.

Why does the world make sense at all?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” (Antonina Vallentin, Einstein: A Biography, p. 24) Polkinghorne wants to know why a science of nature is possible at all—a fundamental question that science itself cannot answer.

Why is mathematics so powerful for understanding nature, down deep?

No one got at this issue better than Eugene Wigner. In his wonderful paper, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” (1960), Wigner spoke eloquently of, “the two miracles of the existence of laws of nature and of the human mind’s capacity to divine them.” Polkinghorne sees this as, “a hint of the presence of the Creator, given to us creatures who are made in the divine image.” He also underscores a related question, “Are mathematical truths invented or discovered?” (Belief in God in an Age of Science, pp. 4 and 126)

Paul Dirac (Source)

Why, specifically, is “beautiful” mathematics exactly what we need to understand nature?

Wigner’s brother-in-law, Paul Dirac, once said, “God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.” (Behram N. Kursunoglu and Eugene Paul Wigner, eds., Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist, p. xv) I don’t mean to imply that Dirac believed in God—quite the opposite. But, like Einstein, he was not averse to invoking “God” to express his deepest convictions about nature.

Polkinghorne wants to go more deeply than Dirac into this astonishing fact about nature: “There is no a priori reason why beautiful equations should prove to be the clue to understanding nature; why fundamental physics should be possible; why our minds should have such ready access to the deep structure of the universe. It is a contingent fact that this is true of us and of our world, but it does not seem sufficient simply to regard it as a happy accident.” (Belief in God in an Age of Science, p. 4)

Overall, Polkinghorne seeks to go “beyond science,” to borrow the title of one of his books, in search of deeper explanations for such things as these. The New Atheists reject that sort of enterprise out of hand. Since science cannot provide the answers, they proclaim, the questions themselves are meaningless; therefore, our efforts to answer them cannot produce evidence for God’s existence.

I beg to differ. Surely it’s fully in keeping with the scientific enterprise to search for deeper answers than science alone can give about the intelligibility of nature, questions that many great scientists have raised about the ultimate mysteries that confront them when they do their work as well as they can.

Looking Ahead

Our discussion of Polkinghorne’s views will continue in about two weeks, when we will explore aspects of his theology of nature and his overall attitude toward science and Christianity, as seen in his approach to the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. In the meantime, please read the essay by Eugene Wigner that I linked above, as background for understanding Polkinghorne’s natural theology.


John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998).

John Polkinghorne, From Physicist to Priest: An Autobiography (2008).

John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom-Up Thinker (1994). This book contains the Gifford Lectures for 1993-94. Lutheran theologian Ted Peters, another major figure in the science-religion “dialogue,” wrote an appreciative review. A review by Jewish physicist Baruch Sterman summarizes the book’s overall religious attitude.

John Polkinghorne, Searching for Truth: Lenten Meditations on Science & Faith (1996).

John Polkinghorne, Theology in the Context of Science (2009). My review for First Things online is here


Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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GJDS - #76952

February 28th 2013

A great deal of effort in needed to appreciate the views of John Polkinghorne; perhaps a start can be made by considering his introductory remarks in Faraday Paper 1 “The Science and Religion Debate - an Introduction,” Faraday Institute of Science and Religion. I offer some comment on some major aspects of his nuanced approach to faith and science. Unfortunately I cannot make this shorter without loosing clarity.

The language of Science and Theology (Faith) discussions needs to be circumspect – the subject matter of science differs from faith. Humans are limited and we are prone to err.

The tenets of the Christian faith state God is creator of heaven and earth. Any discussion concerning faith and science requires this as its basis. Consequently a clear delineation exists between theistic and atheistic outlooks. Given this, any dialogue must begin with acknowledging the differing views of the sciences by theists than by atheists. This consideration extends into all fields of science, and is not confined to the acerbic and visceral debates concerning Darwinian ideas. I understand this is often considered a ‘metaphysical commitment’, but I prefer to state it as theological necessity.

Polkinghorne states, “Theology’s concern is with the quest for truth about the nature of God, ….. not available to be put to the experimental test…..” And “Religious belief has its own proper motivations and its appeal to revelation is concerned with the interpretation of uniquely significant occasions of divine disclosure, rather than to propositional truths mysteriously conveyed.”

Here we should note a separation between liberal and traditional theologies – liberal theology does not speak with, or from, authority, whereas traditional theology seeks Apostolic and Biblical authority. Anyone may claim a ‘quest for truth’, but we would understand the attributes of God from Biblical and traditional Orthodox sources. Anything else is often used to camouflage views that are heterodox and heretical. Atheists also make grand claims they provide testable ascertains, but such claims rarely survive close scrutiny (e.g. A. McGrath, Faraday paper 9).

“Both science and theology have been subjected to postmodernist assertions that their meta-narratives are simply made-up tales, communally endorsed.”

Liberal theologians and some atheists use this to say faith is a fairly tale, and believe they can accommodate materialistic interpretations of faith and religion. This is obviously untrue, but they will use science for such an enterprise – for us who reject such an outlook, it is not enough to claim the Bible is not a scientific text book. We must show why it is inappropriate to twist the article of faith (God is creator) into a modernistic or post modernistic, cynical claim that nothing is true, but nonetheless an outlook based on scientific notions is testable and thus is believable – if nothing is true, nothing is believable. Sophistry of this magnitude should be rejected… Continued

Ted Davis - #76960

February 28th 2013

I’ll add a link to the Faraday Papers collection, which includes the essay by P that GJDS quotes: https://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/Papers.php

This is something that many readers may wish to bookmark.

GJDS - #76953

February 28th 2013

.... Continued

The discussion regarding science amongst theists inevitably involves natural theology (NT). This appears to continue from Thomism discussions, but has taken a ‘turn’ with the ‘clockwork universe’ of Paisley, and I think a tradition has developed to accommodate Newtonian notions with theology, and eventually to include Darwin’s ideas. Polkinghorne claims that, “Contemporary natural theology is more modest in its character.” I am uncertain of this – some discussions amount to a belief that people ‘know how God went about creating things’, and some even believe He set everything up and is waiting to see how it all turns out.

The notion that God went about using evolution is a deceptively simple statement that ignores a number of difficulties – Christianity faith places knowledge of God as revealed as the highest truth – it is extremely difficult for any Christian to place evolution on the same level. Indeed evolution has undergone numerous changes and even now is filled with debate and argument. Any attempt to accommodate this within theology will result in a nebulous ‘what if God ….” view, in which people are ‘at ease’ with statements that God may intervene, God may adjust, may front-load, and many such arbitrary and nonsense terms. God is the creator and sustains the creation. If science provides insights of the highest quality and certainty, without serious questions and debates amongst scientists, we may consider such insights within the faith science discussion. I am astonished when I see evolutionists obsess with Darwinian semantic statements that defy the clarity required for this debate.

I think everyone accepts a general (albeit nebulous) ascertain that events have occurred over lengthy geological time spans. Details within such lengthy periods are filled with speculation and revision. Why not wait until some clarity and perhaps a level of certainty has been achieved before extending NT to accommodate such speculation? We may give the evolutionary view a ‘nod’, place it to one side, and wait until the matters has been settled – we do not, and should not, make a theology on the run, which changes with every twist and turn of evolutionary thinking. Faith does not need this, and science and scientist do not find such an attitude helpful.  .... continued

Ted Davis - #76959

February 28th 2013


When P says, “Contemporary natural theology is more modest in its character,” (your quotation), he means something quite specific—namely, that it is not Paleyan or Thomistic, seeking “proofs” of God from (in Paley’s case) “contrivances” in nature. We’ll come back to this in a couple of months, when we let P speak for himself from his book, Belief in God in an Age of Science.

GJDS - #76954

February 28th 2013


Polkinghorne continues, “Natural theology’s relationship to science is one of complementarity rather than rivalry……  the intelligibility of the universe itself …… The given character of the basic laws of nature had to take a quantitatively specific form for life to be possible anywhere within the universe.”

I agree with the general thrust of this statement, but I think we need insights from Philosophy of Science for a clear understanding of what the laws of nature amount to. Often such a discussion includes ambiguity, uncertainty and limitations and often people posit their view of theory, hypothesis, data, and somehow all of this becomes rock solid science to them – such a view is naïve. I do not think scientists enjoy seeing their work form part of culture wars or used as material for an ideology – this is so for all of the sciences, although evolution has attracted a larger share of such activity.

Polkinghorne regards unpredictability is a property concerned with what can or cannot be known about future behaviour. It is a contentious philosophical problem …..It is then natural to interpret intrinsic unpredictabilities as signs of a causal openness to the future. This does not imply that the future is some kind of random lottery, but simply that the causes that bring it about are not limited to science’s conventional account in terms of the exchange of energy between constituents. A plausible candidate for additional causal factors is the exercise of agency, either by human individuals or through divine providential action.

Instead of a view of ‘openness’, I think that human reason is confronted by a complex interaction between human freedom and law as understood by science. Human agency can add and remove from the world around us – yet we are also constrained by our physical limitation (nature’s laws). Human freedom is given by God to us, as unique agents in the world – we are also subject to the outcomes of the Law of God – this is theological and not a scientific matter.

Random can be seen as a range of possible outcomes; others prefer a selection criteria imposed by nature to the random and unpredictable processes and mechanisms in the bio-world. These however, can be articulated as systems of extreme complexity that cannot be quantified by ‘normal’ scientific methods, but require stochastic approaches. This provides an alternative outlook, does not necessitate intrinsic randomness.

Intrinsic unpredictability may be argued from the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics; but this is also our inability to obtain complete knowledge or information at the quantum level. I am not convinced that this necessarily requires a causal openness to time and space, since we as human beings are part of this, and for us, the information is incomplete. We can say, with equal conviction, that we cannot predict the future, to account for unpredictability. This is an excellent example of our limitations and would require us to exercise great care before we would modify our theology to accommodate this scientific insight.

Lou Jost - #76982

February 28th 2013

Even if Polkinghorne’s premises were true (which is quite a generous concession), it does not follow that his arguments support Christianity over, say, Hinduism or Islam.  Indeed, the Hindu cosmological time scale fits modern science much better than the Christian one, and the Islamic creation myth also is closer to the truth than the Genesis myths. Yet Polkinghorne is a Christian. He openly bases his beliefs on unexamined wishful thinking: “I do not want to be just a fly in the amber of divine remembrance….I look forward to a destiny and a continuing life beyond death.” Who wouldn’t like that? But he offers no evidence; he just wishes it were so. That does not make it so.

His arguments regarding the mathematical nature of physical laws are irrelevant to these conclusions. The universe obeys mathematical laws, therefore Jesus? This kind of argument reveals a deep prior commitment to its conclusion, and in any other context it would be mercilessly skewered.

beaglelady - #76989

March 1st 2013

Why would anyone think that Polkinghorne does not accept the age of the universe as determined by scientific concensus?  He’s a member of the Royal Society!

Lou Jost - #76991

March 1st 2013

You miss my point. Of course he accepts the consensus date. My point is: Why does this not influence his choice of religion? Some non-Christian religions are closer to the scientific consensu. Isn’t it obvious that he is simply trying to rationalize the religion of the culture he was born into? The Anglican Church of all things!!!!

The arguments from the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” also do not lead to Christianity. I had the honor of talking to Wigner about this, years ago when I was a graduate student in physics, and he certainly did not think this effectiveness even implied a creator. And he was right about that. He did not even think that humans were qualitatively special in regard to their ability to weave apparantly-correct theories about the world.

By the way, how does the author of this post know that science will never be able to answer the question of why math describes the world? There are already decent hypotheses about that question.

Ted Davis - #77072

March 3rd 2013

Welcome to BioLogos, Lou. I appreciate you taking time to throw some flies into the ointment (if I can also use a metaphor involving flies).

This will be a faily lengthy series of columns, many of which will have P speaking for himself, in excerpts from a couple of his chapters (with permission from Yale U Press). I see you have put several questions and/or challenges here, in response to this short presentation of some of P’s views. We’ll talk about these things quite a bit in coming weeks, so his ideas might be seen more fully in time. Some of your comments are clearly based on partial knowledge and others on fair differences of opinion. I won’t reply to everything right now, but I invite you to come back and continue the discussion when those issues come up again, as his ideas are seen more fully. For the time being I’ll reply only to a few of your points that would be good to answer at this point, before going more deeply into his thought. Thereby I hope to head off any misunderstandings either or your part or on the part of other readers, who might be misled by some of your comments.

Lou Jost - #77079

March 3rd 2013

Thanks for the welcome and for clarifying anything I have misunderstood. As I said in my earlier comments, I don’t know much about his positions, and will gladly amend or sharpen my comments as this series unfolds.

Ted Davis - #77073

March 3rd 2013

Let respond me first to this, Lou: “Even if Polkinghorne’s premises were true (which is quite a generous concession), it does not follow that his arguments support Christianity over, say, Hinduism or Islam.” (SNIP) “The universe obeys mathematical laws, therefore Jesus?”

P does not believe that we can arrive at Christianity or Jesus from natural theological arugments. Nothing in my column is meant to say or imply that, and I don’t think it actually does; but, in case anyone thinks it does, let me correct the impression.

When we present excerpts from his book, Belief in God in an Age of Science (in a couple of months), it will be very clear that P views natural theology as helpful to theism generally, not to Christianity narrowly. I won’t preview that chapter further at this point, but the opening lines will document what I’m saying. There he takes a broadly monotheistic view, with Judaism and Islam in mind alongside Christianity.

Hinduism is another story. He doesn’t speak to that in what I’ll be presenting, and I don’t know enough about Hinduism to speak for myself. I understand your point about the Hindu timescale, but I’m a bit puzzled by your claim that “the Islamic creation myth ... is closer to the truth than the Genesis myths.” Would you care to elaborate?

Lou Jost - #77081

March 3rd 2013

I really didn’t intend to defend the Islamic creation myth. It does have a few interesting features that the Genesis myth lacks, though. There is something that could be interpreted by zealots as a notion of an expanding universe and dark energy: “The heavens, We have built them with power. And verily, We are expanding it” 51:47. There is also a more ambiguous word used for “day” in the Quran’s six-day story; the Hebrew word is less ambiguous and usually refers to a 24 hour day, though of course that is often debated. Of course the Quranic myth also has some quite silly parts, so really it is hard to say which of these myths is more plausible, and I should have qualified my statement. In fact, none of these myths are really consistent with what we now know.

Ted Davis - #77123

March 4th 2013

Whether any ancient creation “myth” is “really consistent with what we now know” depends on the content you take from the “myth” and the modern knowledge you are comparing it with. I would be wary of making any blanket claims.

Concerning Genesis and (speaking broadly) themes from other parts of the Bible,  I would say at least this much: the idea that God ceated the universe freely, not out of necessity (as in Plato’s Timaeus), and the idea that God determined the nature of nature in an act of will, rather than having to use “pure” geometric forms out of rational necessity, has been highly influential on modern science. Indeed, it underlies the modern scientific attitude that nature is a “contingent order” (to borrow a term from Thomas Torrance) that needs to be investigated by a method of “rational empiricism” (to borrow a term from Reijer Hooykaas). The early modern natural philosophers who debated the nature of scientific knowledge were not unaware of the strong theological dimension to those debates, and several of them were not at all reluctant to give specific theological reasons why science ought to be done in one way rather in than another way.

In other words, Lou, I think some core biblical or theological ideas are actually central to the modern scientific enteprise. The fact that few scientists realize this or acknowledge it anymore does not nullify what I just said.

Don’t be quite so quick to dismiss Bronze Age stories as irrelvant to Space Age science.

Lou Jost - #77125

March 4th 2013

You are a historian of science, and I am not, but I have to confess to some skepticism about that. It seems like a thesis put together post hoc by modern theologians. Did Bacon or Galileo express those views? Do you think that if the Bible had not existed, the emergence of science would have been delayed? I rather suspect it would have been accelerated.

Ted Davis - #77127

March 4th 2013

As you say, Lou, I’m an historian of science. My original expertise was the Scientific Revolution (in recent years I do modern America), and my sub-specialty is theology and early modern science. The people I studied during and after my doctoral work were Galileo, Descartes, Boyle, and Newton. If you contact me privately (tdavisATmessiahDOTedu), I can fill you in box with pertinent publications by many authors, including a few of my own. I’m reluctant to bombard you or any other readers with a ton of information on a topic not closely related to this column.

Suffice it to say that many historians of science who have worked on the general topic, regardless of their own religious beliefs or lack thereof, agree that specific views about God, nature, and the human mind were relevant to the conversation that produced “modern science.” I have yet to encounter the view (among those scholars) that the Bible in any way held back the emergence of science. The Scientific Revolution was, to a significant degree, a result of both Greek and Biblical influences—as was the Renaissance.

For an audio overview of some of my ideas, go here (http://biologos.org/blog/introducing-ted-davis) and listen to the inteview linked near the end of the column. 

Ted Davis - #77135

March 4th 2013

As I say, I won’t bombard readers on this tangential (but important) topic, but this exchange with Lou suggests that I should add something vague and general, and all too brief.

I don’t know which specific sources of information lie behind Lou’s impression that the Bible (or religion or Christianity) impeded the rise of modern science; there are frankly many candidates that come to mind. I’ll identify just a few: Carl Sagan, Andrew Dickson White (whose great work of historical fiction is available in its entirety from infidels.org), John William Draper (ditto at positiveatheism.org), Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Isaac Asimov, ... that’s enough to start with.

The historians I have in mind are legion, and if they have a common ideology other than a commitment to the truth I am unable to identify it. I could give several score of names, but I’ll give just ten here, some of whom who are better known—but few known at all outside of the profession. John Brooke, J. E. (Ted) McGuire, Francis Oakley, the late Margaret Osler, John Henry, Peter Harrison, the late Reijer Hooykaas, the late Ernan McMullin, Stephen Snobelen, and Steven Matthews. Reading work by any of them will indicate the kinds of problems historians have with the (all too common) view that the Bible or Christianity or religion held back the progress of science. Every one of them knows far more about the actual historical sources than anyone in that first list. But, none of them is nearly as well known as anyone on that list, either.

Jon Garvey - #77166

March 6th 2013

None of them is nearly as well known as anyone on that list either.

Societies accept the myths they want to believe at the time. And of course that goes for “scientific” societies too.

Jon Garvey - #76994

March 1st 2013

By the way, how does the author of this post know that science will never be able to answer the question of why math describes the world? There are already decent hypotheses about that question.

I’ve never understood this argument. Isn’t the usual thing about opinions and convictions that you wait until data comes in and then change your mind?

“You can’t convict me, because for all you know one day evidence of my innocence may emerge.” It won’t even help my case to say that science might develop a new way to test my guilt. Science on 100 years free credit ain’t science.

Lou Jost - #76995

March 1st 2013

“Isn’t the usual thing about opinions and convictions that you wait until the data come in and then change your mind?”

The author of the post is welcome to his conviction that science will never explain the effectiveness of math. However, he should have made it clearer that this is an opinion, not a factual assertion, and if this conviction forms a central pillar of his argument, then the argument itself is really nothing more than an extension of this opinion. And it is an opinion which is not well founded. There are hypotheses out there which go some way towards explaining the effectiveness of math, and this counts as evidence that science could conceivably answer this question.You may not like the particular hypotheses that are out there (and I am not defending them), but their existence shows the question is not beyond our reach.

This may seem like I am granting a promissory note to science, but I am not saying that science will answer this question. I am only saying that it might. The author of the post, though, seems to make a categorical statement that science can never explain it. Such a categorical negative statement with no evidence to back it up is a dangerous hitching post for a belief system, as history has shown many times.

Ted Davis - #77074

March 3rd 2013


“The author of this post” is Ted Davis. He doesn’t mind if you call him that, but please do as you wish. I’ll address you by name, however.

When we get more fully into this, Lou, it will be come very clear that P’s conclusions about the effectiveness of math and the other things I mentioned are his convictions, i.e., matters of opinion, not matters of fact. As for my own attitude toward such things, I am very sceptical that “science” can answer such questions, without appealing implicitly or explicitly to metaphysical assumptions that can properly be said to be going “beyond science,” that is, beyond what science itself can demonstrate. I would presently (e.g.) put some forms of “multiverse” theory in that category—i.e., they go well beyond science, at least science as classically understood in terms of observability and falsifiability and avoiding the profligate use of explanatory entities.

I hope this clarifies my own view on this (not necessarily that of P, though I think his is pretty close to mine). In order to persuade me that “science” might be able to answer such questions satisfactorily, it will be necessary to persuade me (among other things) that naturalism (vis-a-vis theism) adequately accounts for the deeply mathematical nature of the universe, which (as James Jeans like to observe) looks like a “great thought” from the mind of a “pure mathematician.”

Lou Jost - #77082

March 3rd 2013

Ted, I will wait for your future posts to delve into this specifically.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77098

March 4th 2013

Jon Garvey at 76994

“It won’t even help my case to say that science might develop a new way to test my guilt [or some other hypothesis].  Science on 100 year free credit ain’t science.”

But Jon, do not Evolutionists make an exception in regards to “evolution”?  For at least 153 years now since Darwin, “science” (and this goes to the credibility thereto) has been absolutely certain that evolution is true.  Indeed, Evolutionists have even gone so far as to, soon after Darwin,  label “evolution” a “fact.”  Is it not your view that the hypothesis of common descent, i.e., “evolution” in the minds of most, that Darwin accepted is definitely true?  As an Evolutionist, do you not believe that “evolutrion” is true?  Do you accept “evolution” as a “fact”?

And, of course, in addition to “evolution” being a “fact,” Evolutionists also have multiple lines of evidence to demonstrate conclusively that it is a fact.  I.e., Evolutionist have been, seemingly, confirming that their “fact” is indeed a “fact” ever sing Darwin—- obviously absurd from a scientific point of view.

But Jon, the bottom line is that there are no common ancestors.  Common ancestors are mythical, unnamed, unidentified, inferesnces.  The posit of common ancestry is not the more parsimonious naturalistic hypothesis.  And as I am sure you know in science, the facts of , say geocentricism would also be some of the facts of heliocentricism.  Facts are facts; theories are theories.  They are of different categories and subject to different truth-value determinations.  Is that not what you, as a scientist, accept?

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy



Lou Jost - #77116

March 4th 2013

Dan, I am not sure if you are serious or writing a parody here. However, if you are serious, I’ll dispute your statement that common ancestry is not the most parsimonious naturalistic explanation. Consider the immensely complex interconnected suite of data to be explained: molecular genetic data, morphological data, biogeographical data, and fossil data. One simple idea, common ancestry, instantly and succincly explains all the millions of coincidences between these kinds of data. It is a breathtaking tour-de-force, the epitome of parsimony. I would love to hear your more parsimonious naturalistic explanation.

By the way, yes, evolution is a fact, in the same sense that the existence of atoms is a fact. There is a lot we don’t know about evolution, and some things we surely have wrong (one of these is the subject of my own research), but common ancestry (of at least the vertebrates) and descent with modification are historic facts.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77145

March 5th 2013

Darwin Guy Dan - #77146

March 5th 2013

Lou Jost at 77116

Lou, yes, over the years I have considered, the best that one person can, all the complex data and lines of evidence you have mentioned.  “Multiple lines of evidence” has long been one of those standard cliches of Evolutionism (my definition) as it relates to Natural History Studies going all the way back to Darwin when, soon afterward, “evolution” became a supposed “fact.”

You say, “yes, evolution is a fact” and then ask me to consider an “atom.”  But this is the first I’ve seen an Evolutionist get to this level of reality in discussing “evolution” as “fact.”  The usual statement compares “evolution” to “gravity” but as we both know scientists are hard pressed to tell us what gravity is.  In my understanding of science, gravity is not a fact.  Rather the facts are related to falling apples and the such.  As I recall, Newton explicated gravity as a “phenomenon.”  Another term that has been used is “construct” but, unfortunately, I’ve not seen that term used on a regular basis and apparently the word has yet to catch on.

In my view, “fact” is one of those words of science that has long been in need of rigorous explication by empirical scientists.  I can understand the philosophers reluctance to accept the logical positivists’ understanding due to, as you implied,  the theory-ladenness that can be attached to our observations and thus to “facts.”  Nevertheless, I have long thought that the philosophers have often made much to do about very little.  Everyday scientists know what a fact is and its distinction from some hypothesis or theory.  I thus tend to lean more toward the likes of Rudolph Carnap, Einstein, Reichenbach, Heisenberg, etc.  Just recently I have found Claude Bernard’s AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE ([1927], 1957) to also be quite excellent and relevant. These philosophers and scientists all would certainly implore scientists to remain committed to the notion of observables, direct and indirect.

Consider the Higgs boson and what it is that adds truth-value to the original hypothesis with the hope of ever more concrete confirmation.

What is the nature of your research there in Latin America?

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy


Lou Jost - #77154

March 5th 2013

Your last question is the easiest so I’ll answer that first! I study the biogeography of plants, specifically orchids, and try to understand the factors (including evolutionary factors) that led to their observed distributions. DNA sequencing and other techniques are involved. I also discover and describe many new species of plants. And now that I have found previously unknown centers of endemism in the Andes, I work to conserve those areas and find sustainable livelihoods for local people, via a foundation my friends and I started, EcoMinga. I also work on the mathematical foundations of ecology and population genetics, especially regarding the concepts of diversity and differentiation. I’m best known for deriving the relationship between diversity and differentiation, and showing that past literature on the subject was often wrong. I am currently applying the new math to simple genetic models in order to revise our understanding of the factors that control speciation. These factors have been misidentified in the past.

Regarding gravity, as you probably know we have a decent though incomplete understanding of gravity as a distortion in the space-time continuum caused by the presence of localized energy. Though this might sound like gobbledygook, each of those terms has a prceise mathematical definition, and we can predict with astonishing exactness exactly what will happen to space-time in the presence of energy (matter), and exactly how an object will move in that space-time.

But that is a side issue. I claim that common descent of at least the vertebrates is a fact like the fact that atoms exist. Yes, it is theory-laden but no more so than the atomic hypothesis. We can see the fossil transitions, and most importantly we can make detailed molecular, geological, and biogeographical predictions from the hypothesis, and they are regularly verified. It is especially amazing to realize that we can make molecular predictions about the genomes of putative common ancestors, and we can verify those, since we can now sequence some ancient DNA if it is not too old. Dennis’ course and other posts on this website give quite nice treatments of the “multiple lines of evidence” that convince virtually everyone that common descent of at least the vertebrates is proven.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77365

March 11th 2013

Lou Jost at 77154

”[....] common descent of at least the vertebrates is proven.”

Lou, Stanley N. Salthe’s statement in his DEVELOPMENT AND EVOLUTION: COMPLEXITY AND CHANGE IN BIOLOGY (1993; p.27) is applicable:

“This Darwinian perspective fails to explain certain important facts that can have a structuralist interpretation.  These facts are subsumed under the names convergent evolution, parallel evolution, iterative evolution, and ecological vicarage.  What we have here are homoplasies (similarities) that are not the results of recent common ancestry.  Examples abound—- comparisons of form and niche structure between the hummingbirds, some honeycreepers, and some sunbirds; between Old World and New World vultures; between New World and Old Wworld tree frogs and those of Australia; betrween cacti and some Aricaneuphorbias; between Africa and North American porcupines; between orchids of different families on different continents’ between fish body types (e.g., pikes, eels, and panfish) in several entirely different, distantly related faunas in the fossil record as one group replaced another (iterative evolution); between ichthyosaurs and porpoises.  One could go on and on.  Examples even pop up even on television animal shows; e.g., it appears that tropical montane forests in every part of the world have some kind of ‘bellbird’ whose voice rings out of the mists.”

I would make an even stronger statement than Salthe (an Evolutionist) and exclude “recent” from “not the results of recent common ancestry.”

(Note that Salthe’s book also contains some quite interesting discussions regards Hierarchy Theory.  I find his book difficult and am still attempting to understand some of the ideas.  But it has long seemed to me that the notion of hierarchy could even be sensibly applied (in the spirit of Louis Agassiz who advocated for standards in science) to the creation of a standard dictionary whereby only the best definition of a particular word is finally able to make it to the top of the hierarchy as having been broadly agreed upon across all relevant disciplines.  Only then would the word and its singular definition become permanent throughout time.)


Darwin Guy Dan - #77147

March 5th 2013

Lou Jost at 77116, continued

The conundrum between the definition of a scientific “fact,” as related to observables and what philosophers have come to label the “theory-ladenness” of a fact—- this conundrum, in my view, is another example of the difficulties that have been presented to us by the Queen’s English as said language relates to Natural History Studies and the various sciences, et. al., that have traditionally informed such studies.  That is, in my view, it seems to me that we have long been over burdened with far too many definitions per word and with far too few words with unique definitions and with little agreement, even within particular domains, on some of those definitions.

(Note that there are several very interesting on-line discussions of “theory-ladenness of observables.”  Some of these seem to diverge a little from the following in that they relate to choice of data being considered as being dependent on the theory, or etc.  My understanding over the years has only considered the nature of the data, i.e., observable itself such as your “atom” or etc.)

Regards Natural History Studies, it seems to me that the level of reality that we are dealing with is essentially the same regardless of whether we are discussing extant organic beings, supposed common ancestors, or 3.8 billion year old carbon tracings (as opposed to carbon as an atom).

One can also safely assume, it seems to me, an entirely different level of reality, the atomic / molecular level, that also extends through time.  Here, the closest that Evolutionists have come, as far as I am currently aware, is the posit of Urbilateria, a made-up genetic construction hypothesized to be an ancient common ancestor.  But there is absolutely no hope of observations in this regards and, despite whatever logical inferences might occur, it would be silly to label such a hypothesis, a “fact.” Do you not agree?

(Another level of reality that might be considered is the cosmological level:  the supposed big bang, supposed black wholes, etc.  What is it that we are actually observing as opposed to the inferences from those observations?)

Ideally, it seems to me, the notion of “fact” could be subdivided so as to reflect the different levels of truth-value one might attach to the observables from the inferences often based on the selected observables.  It is unfortunate that the invention of new words is such a challenge.  Terminology such as fact(type I), fact(II), fact(III) to indicate different truth-value levels surely is problematical.  In any case, if I see an apple falling off a tree and collect data in that regards, surely the veracity of that, iff verified, is much greater than the inference we make at subatomic levels or at cosmological levels.

The multiple lines of evidence that you mentioned are explanations that infer common ancestors in the minds of Evolutionists.  but at best, these are inferences and even if there weren’t a more parsimonious theory (which there is), inferences based on facts are not facts.  Also note another distinction in comparing supposed CAs to atoms.  Atoms can be consistently identified, named, and categorized.

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy


beaglelady - #77160

March 5th 2013

I’d guess that he is a poe. Remember Poe’s Law

Jon Garvey - #77167

March 6th 2013

Didn’t see your post, Dan, till now. People seem to have covered a lot of what needs saying in comment.

I quite agree that there is an awful lot of “buy now pay later” science in origins discussions. It’s caused largely by mental blinkers that put, say, design arguments in a category marked “HIGHLY TOXIC - DO NOT OPEN”. Better to put trust in the belief that a theory will one day poof into existence than explore (or even allow!) an existing working hypothesis of divine action.

So, whereas hypotheses like panspermia are considered up for discussion until further evidence overturns them, someone suggesting the involvement of God in nature is thought to drag the whole locomotive of science off the rails. In reality, of course, if someone were to deliver a naturalistic explanation for (say) the origin of life, the supernaturalist would just have to back down. That’s no skin off science’s nose, though it’s not good for the individual supernaturalist, or for any theists who took his explanation as fact, rather than hypothesis… But what’s the big deal: the fact that Newton was wrong about divine tinkering with orbits in the end simply meant he was wrong about that - science is supposed to be self correcting anyway. It was Kepler, who believed the whole show was God’s work, who improved on Newton, so neither religion or science suffered actually.

Which is how I reply to your “evolution as fact” thoughts. Such a belief is as meaningless as saying “theology is true”. Whose theology? Augustine on the Trinity, or Joseph Smith on Jewish tribes in America?

So personally, the evidence seems to me more parsimonious for “descent with modification” than for “special creation of new suites of organisms”. Neither do I think secondary (“natural”) causes in any way contradicts Scripture, or overturns God’s final, purposeful, causation. It doesn’t even contradict God’s detailed providential supervision of the whole thing.

But that last point does directly contradict much of what is usually considered part of the so-called “fact” of evolution, even by many theistic evolutionists (hence the term “statistical deism” for some versions of TE). As soon as someone uses the “errors” in creation to “prove” an autonomous evolutionary process, they are stating metaphysical prejudice as scientific “fact”. And it’s not even scientific evidence: just raw data for science, philosophy and theology to interpret by fallible human reason.

Fear of “God of the gaps” is only relevant to the faulty Enlightenment dichotomy of “natural” and “supernatural”. If one knows God is closely responsible for both, the stakes are not especially high. One might as well talk about “natural selection of the gaps” because neutral theory changes its role somewhat in evolutionary theory.

So I conclude that claiming evolution is a fact is (a) usually meaningless and (b) going beyond the evidence. Suggesting as fact what has not even got a workable hypothesis attached (like OOL) is just hubris.

Lou Jost - #77171

March 6th 2013

Jon, you are mixed up on some things. First, Kepler didn’t “improve on” Newton, since Kepler came before Newton. Kepler posited orbital laws, but Newton finally explained them from first principles. This was one of Newton’s greatest achievements. Newton still thought he needed god to set special initial conditions for stable orbits. Later mathematical results showed that god was not needed even for that. 

We don’t have “mental blinkers” on when we say there is no evidence for ID, any more than you have mental blinkers on if you do not believe in leprechauns or tooth fairies. As I have argued elsewhere, scientists should not rule out miracles a priori, but belief in miracles is a “Get out of jail free” card and should only be used as a last resort, else science grinds to a halt at every minor challenge. It is in principle possible to show that ID happens (which is why I do not treat it as necessarily a pseudoscience, in principle, though the way it is done today is often pseudoscientific). For example, it could perhaps be shown that there has not been enough time between now and the date of our divergence from other apes for drift + natural selection to account for our genetic differences relative to other ape species. This has not been done. (Behe’s probability calculations are flawed and have been refuted.) Until someone does this, ID remains just wishful thinking.

Finally, the evolution of all vertebrates from a common ancestor is a historic fact, confirmed by fossil, molecular, and biogeographic evidence. The origin of life is on the other hand a great unsolved mystery. But lack of an explanation does not mean “god”. Attempts at “impossibility proofs” (usually involving confused notions of information) have so far not been valid. Until some day somebody can make a solid argument that a miracle is needed here, scientists will be justified to ignore this hypothesis.

Finally, I can’t help but mention the extraordinary hubris of someone who believes (on the flimsiest of evidence) in the “fact” of the resurrection and a flying Jesus, to say that one of science’s best-supported facts (common descent of all vertebrates) is “just a hypothesis”.


Jon Garvey - #77178

March 6th 2013


You’re quite right about Kepler - owing to fatigue and fuddled mental database I swapped his role for that of Laplace in Newton’s case. Laplace had no need of the god hypothesis, famously.

It doesn’t alter my main point about Newton and naturalism: Newton, like Kepler, did not believe their laws removed God from the equation at all, but rather showed the regularity of his actions. And Newton’s being forced to invoke divine action to explain the stability of the solar system did not stop science, but encouraged it.

However ... in checking and repenting of my errors I found some interesting stuff about Laplace vis a vis Newton. Newton had said the solar system ought to be inherently unstable. Laplace’s proof showed that he needn’t have worried because it is stable.

Except that it was his proof, rather than Newton’s conclusion on instability, that has been shown to be faulty, a fact apparently not really appreciated outside the mathematical community. Even the BioLogos FAQ on God of the Gaps hasn’t noted the fact. But see here and here .

The latter link shows that the solar system is, indeed, chaotic (neither Newton nor Laplace understood the idea, but Newton’s unpredictability fits it and Laplace’s determinism does not). Computer projections are still the best way of projecting the future of planetary motion. Look at the notes on the computer simulations made using small (millimeter) variations in the present positions of planets, and the fact that a percentage of simulations involve the eventual collision of Mercury with Venus, and so on).

Though that article speaks of the present relative stability of the solar system in terms of a celestial form of survival of the fittest, the underlying truths for 21st century seem to be that (a) Newton’s divine action might still be necessary, assuming God wanted to keep the solar system in being long term, (b) Laplace’s maths, and the underlying determinism, are wrong as the system is inherently unpredictable - and so equally invalid is the argument that says God would have to be incompetent to need to “interfere” to keep it going and (c) the present stability seems to owe a lot to quite marked fine-tuning of the local variables, simply situating Newton’s “special case” back into the past rather than forward into the future.

The long history of earth’s habitability because of its stable orbit (which is the contemporary material issue behind Newton’s argument for the faithfulness of God) remains, therefore, something of a mystery.

Finally, who is this person you mention who believes in a flying Jesus and thinks common descent of vertebrates is just a hypothesis? I didn’t notice such in Darwin Guy’s post, and it certainly isn’t in mine. Be careful, or you’ll start talking Dawkinese.

Lou Jost - #77184

March 6th 2013

Jon, I think this is the second or third time here that you have implied I misread something or made things up…

DarwinGuy repeatedly says in his posts above that there are no common ancestors. To you he said  “But Jon, the bottom line is that there are no common ancestors.  Common ancestors are mythical, unnamed, unidentified, inferesnces.  The posit of common ancestry is not the more parsimonious naturalistic hypothesis.”

As for the flying Jesus, you are the authority on what you believe, so if you say you don’t believe in the Ascension or Jesus’ walking on water, I’ll take your word for it and sincerely apologize. However, many people have been taking great pains to point out in this thread that they do believe Biblical miracles.

The Scott Tremaine article you cite is excellent. You have misrepresented it somewhat. Chaos (due to uncertainty in initial conditions) does not imply instability but lack of predictability. The uncertainty is mostly in the orbital planes and this does not usually lead to collisions. Most of the simulation outcomes exhibit stable orbits many billions of years into the future. No fine tuning is suggested and none is needed. The article points out that the current “full” state of the solar system may have been caused by past collisions of planets, though. There is no basis for the theological conclusions you draw from this article.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77368

March 11th 2013


Jon Garvey at 77178 continued

Jon and Lou,

Lou, Jon is correct.  When you write “The evolution of all vertebrates is a historical fact, confirmed by [....]” clearly you are not making a scientific statement.  In empirical science, facts are not confirmed.  Facts are true by definition.  Facts are repeatedly verified by empirical methods.  Thus, if there is a written record of the facts that, say Ptolemy, used those facts would continue to be valid.  Facts are not the same as theories, even well-confirmed theories.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77367

March 11th 2013

Jon Garvey at 77178

Jon and Lou,

Jon, Lou is right.  Indeed, yours truly DarwinGuyDan goes even further and makes an even stronger statement.  The hypothesis that all vertebrates share a common ancestor would clearly seem to be not only falsifiable, but most likely false.  Note my quote of Stan Salthe (an Evolutionist;  see at Lou Jost #77154).  I am confident that the literature could be scoured to find many more such statements.

A theory of Naturalistic Parallelism begins with different assumptions than the theory of Evolution.  While insisting that Evolution is not a theory of origins of life but rather of speciation, Evolutionists have, nevertheless, at least seemed to have been dependent upon the singularity of origins of life.  Current Evolutionist thought holds, bizarrely in my view, to at least two singularities: (1) a singularity of origins of life, followed by a web of life, followed by (2) a last universal common ancestor (LUCA).

NP theory accepts instead, (1) the more parsimonious understanding of the fossil record regards early carbon tracings and thereafter.  Thus gazillions of origins of lives are assumed.  (I personally find cellular biology, in conjunction with EMFs, as presumably related to origins of lives to be of primary interest.)  (2) NP theory assumes a web-of-life as would be a standard accepted view of a Steward Newman (noted for DPMs, dynamic patterning modules) or a Carl Woese (origins of life researcher) or a Lynn Margulis (noted for symbiogenesis).  Included here are lots of complexities arising due to horizontal transfers, symbiosis, dynamic patterning modules, hox genes, etc.  Lots of sorting out of data, time frames, etc., that could be done.  (3) While Evolutionists have long noted that all major body plans (34? phyla) were evident by the Cambrian, NPists go further and suggest that most all species (acutally lineages or kinds would be more appropriate) were well established by the Cambrian.  (4) NP theory has no problem accepting descent with modifications since the Cambrian.  Epigenetic factors are also clearly relevevant.  But NP theory rejects common ancestry.  There is no parsimony in suggesting that apes shared a more human-like ancestor with themselves or vice versa.


Darwin Guy Dan - #77366

March 11th 2013

Jon Garvey at 77167:

“So personally, the evidence seems more parsimonious for ‘descent with modifications’ than for [.....]”

Jon, a problem arises due to the muddle handed down to us regards the definition of “evolution.”

I’m not aware of anyone who doesn’t accept “descent with modifications.”  Even most Creationists (which I am not) accept the reality of inherited variations.  For me, Evolution (evolution for most) is defined by ‘descent with modifications from common ancestors.’  Do you  not see the the difference?  One needs to incorporate the entirety of the BioLogos “In a Nutshell” definition, especially the last sentence.  It is the latter, CAs, that I reject as not being parsimonious.  I place the blame for this confusion regards the meaning of “evolution” going all the way back to Darwin’s times.  George John Romanes, for examle, clearly indicates the confusion of terminology in his free ebook, THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCES OF ORGANIC EVOLUTION (1882).  It is unfortunate that Natural History researchers never bothered to correct the error.  The argument even back then was not about descent with modification but rather with “evolution,” descent from common ancestors (by means of Natural Selection). 

“So claiming evolution is a fact [....]”

Again, I see this vernacular use of “fact” (equivalent to ‘a true statement’) as being what some philosophers of science might label a category error.  Even if the empirical evidence confirmed a particular hypothesis, in my view the use of the label “fact” would be inappropriate.  A hypothesis (or theory) entails facts (and laws) but the facts are not the hypothesis.   Words are in short supply and, in my view, “facts” need to be preserved for singular observables.


Jon Garvey - #76998

March 1st 2013

Well., Lou, you seem to be able to find claims both in Polkinghorne’s quotations and in Ted’s writing that I can’t see. But if you say there’s a categorical statement in there that science can never explain the effectiveness of maths, I’ll take your word for it.

But on the question itself, how can science find an answer to a question that’s not scientific, but philosophical and metaphysical?

I’d be intrigued, though, to hear perhaps half a dozen of your “many examples” from history of claims that science won’t discover things that proved to be dangerous hitching posts for belief systems. As you say, statements without evidence are dangerous hitching posts for belief systems.

Lou Jost - #77006

March 1st 2013

Jon, I am not an expert on Polkinghorne’s writing. I was basing my statement on lines like this in Ted’s post: “Polkinghorne wants to know why a science of nature is possible at all—a fundamental question that science itself cannot answer.” If that is not P’s position, feel free to correct me.

You say this is a metaphysical question, but it seems to me a natural scientific question. Indeed that is why Wigner was considering it. Yes, it is a hard and deep question, but why is it beyond the reach of evidence-based reasoning?

You asked for some examples of claims that science won’t be able to explain X. I’ll give you one recent one: it was long thought (even by scientists) that we could never find out whether the universe was created suddenly or had always existed in roughly its present state. This was thought to be a metaphysical question. Then along came the discovery of the red shift and later the echo of the Big Bang, and cosmological history became an everyday course in physics. Another one: people used to think it was a metaphysical question whether quantum states had definite values even when they were not observed. Then along came Bell’s Theorem and subsequent experiments which put strong empirical constraints on the answer to that question. Another one: many people thought that science could never explain how the many forms of life on earth arose. Dennis Venema’s course on this site will show how far we have gone towards answering this question. Planetary motion is yet another thing that initially was thought to require divine intervention, but we now know this is not so.

Jon Garvey - #77023

March 2nd 2013

Well, Lou, it seems to me that Polkinghorne (not Davis) is saying that science cannot answer the question because it’s outside the purview of science, not because we lack empirical evidence.

And that seems to be Wigner’s argument too - maths consists of universals that underlie the Universe, not empiral specifics within it. What possible experiment could uncover why 2+2 always = 4 in counting real objects? Indeed, his nightmare scenario is that science might discover a theory of the human consciousness that performs science and maths, and find it is incompatible with physics.

But your example of the longevity of the Universe is instructive.

As I understand it, Thomas Aquinas, living in the 13th century, did believe it was practically impossible to uncover whether the Universe had a begining or was eternal. That’s hardly surprising, as natural philosophy and practical technology hadn’t yet united to form empirical science. It was a practical impossibility to him, not a metaphysical one. Nevertherless he reasoned, on philosophical grounds, that in either case, since the Universe consisted of efficient causes and effects, it was necessary to postulate God as the final cause. In other words, his doubts of science’s abilities did not dictate his belief system.

Contrast the skeptical scientists of the Enlightenment, who rejected Aquinas’ concept of final causation. To them, almost universally, the Universe must be eternal because otherwise, it would need a cause in the shape of God, who didn’t figure in their belief system. They believed that empirical science must eventually confirm that etranl existence. However, as we know the Big Band cosmology eventually triumphed on empirical grounds, though it met stiff opposition on metaphysical grounds… and rather than accept that they’d been wrong about their rejection of final causation (ie change their belief system based on evidence), they set about suggesting how efficient causes might cause themselves, ie the Universe creates itself from nothing.

In doing so, some have committed entry level philosophical errors by redefining “nothing” as “an unusual kind of something.”

As for the next two cases, I disagree factually. Quantum theory certainly raised metaphysical issues before Bell (and still does), but I’m not aware that anyone predicted it must be impossible for science to make progress in resolving the conundrums.

As for the variations of life, I don’t think there was ever a serious question - scientists on all sides were jostling for elbow room with competing hypotheses, from spontaneous generation based on simple chemistry, through Lamarkian adaptation, various forms of vitalism, Darwin’s random change and natural selection, or Wallace’s directed change and natural selection. Even special creationists expected to find evidence for the manner  and order of creation in the fossils.

In neither case, I think, was any belief system at stake, even had doubts about the ability of science to provide answers eventually been in question (which they weren’t) - and that was the claim you made.

Your last example, planetary motion, has changed the goalposts, as you began to do earlier. You initially claimed there were many cases where people said science could never find the answers, in order to maintain a belief system. Now you’re slipping into a bog standard atheist canard about science showing belief in God to be unnecessary.

The truth, of course, is very different. The Christian Copernicus wrote:

To know the mighty works of God…to appreciate, in degree, the wonderful workings of his laws, surely this must be a pleasing and acceptable mode of worship to the Most High, to whom ignorance cannot be more grateful than knowledge.

Newton similarly sought to think God’s thoughts after him. His laws were God’s usual, ordered, way of working: his invocation of special divine action for the anomalies was an (erroneous) empirical conclusion, not the bolstering of a belief system. He said:

It is the perfection of God’s works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity. He is the God of order and not of confusion.

I’ll miss the Catholic Galileo, because Ted has done entire posts on him which you can find by searching. And so we come to Kepler, the devoted Lutheran, who solves the planetary motion problem. He says:

The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony that has been imposed on it by God and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.

Which makes the theory of planetary motion thoroughly a matter of divine action as far as all its major discoverers are concerned, and also brings us conveniently back to the mystery  of mathematics.

Lou Jost - #77027

March 2nd 2013

But Jon, why is the question of the efficacy of math outside the purview of science?

Yes, many early scientists were Christian and Muslim and Hindu, and thought that they were revealing how their gods interacted with the world. Like Polkinghorne, they always fell into the trap of believing it was the god of their particular culture.

I agree with part of your analysis of the history of cosmology. There was initial prejudice against the big bang and for Hoyle’s steady state theory, because the Big Bang smacked of religious creationism. There was a similar prejudice in geology in the late 1800s and early 1900s against catastrophism and in favor of strict gradualism, after the disproof of the Biblical universal flood. We now know that catastrophic events do sometimes puncture the gradual march of geological processes. Scientists also show cultural bias; for a time, there was a debate about the nature of gravity that split along national lines, with French siding with Descartes and Brits siding with Newton.

What is different about science and religion is that scientists try hard to escape those prejudices. Eventually, each of those debates was resolved by the evidence. Most scientists even from the losing side adopted the new consensus. In religion it is rarely like that. It is rare that two major, distinct religions like Islam and Hinduism unite becuase one agreed that the other was better supported by evidence. Religious choice seems to be mainly cultural rather than evidential. That should be cause for concern among people seeking truth.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77103

March 4th 2013

Lou Jost at 77027:

“What is different about science and religion is that scientists try hard to escape [biases and prejudices].  Eventually, each of these debates was reached [more or less resolved?] by evidence.”

Lou, be sure to keep this in mind when considering the history of naturalistic “evolution” versus the then supernaturalistic alternatives.  Who were those who, almost immediately after Darwin, concluded (in the context of their culture) that “evolution” is a “fact” and why did they come to such an absurd unscientific conclusion?  (The science I know would not designate even a well confirmed theory as being a “fact.”)  I think there may be a book somewhere titled “The Power of Belief.”

Despite the evidence, there are no common ancestors.  Despite the consensus view, “evolution” is clearly false.  The belief that there are non-trivial common ancestors is a myth.  Naturalistic Parallelism is the obvious, more parsimonious, null hypothesis.  Despite more parsimonious naturalistic explanations, the Evolutionists have consistently insisted along that Evolution is true.  But Evolution is not true.  Evolution is false.

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy

P.S. Tangential to several comments by others, I tend to think that if one were living in Aristotle’s time, or even during the couple of millenia afterwards, it would have been difficult not to believe the obvious “evidence” that heavy objects fall faster than light objects.  But of course since (most notably in this context) Galileo, the use of empirical experiments and also, in more recent times, use of a Gedankenexperiments (as Einstein might label them), the seemingly obvious has long been negated——  Note to grade-school students:  Given 3 bricks of equal weight, why in the world would Professor Aristotle think that 2 of them tied together would fall faster than just one?


Lou Jost - #77118

March 4th 2013

What is your “Naturalistic Parallelism”?

Darwin Guy Dan - #77148

March 5th 2013

Lou Jost at 77118:

[Note to beaglelady:  Sometime ago, via other channels, I put in a request for a billion in shovel-ready project money.  Don’t suppose you have heard anything.  Seems like that would be a small down-payment as compared to all the Evolutionists have spent over the last 153 years.]


Lou Jost - #77153

March 5th 2013

I’d still like yto know what is your “naturalistic parallelism”....

Ted Davis - #77182

March 6th 2013

It’s worth noting that Galileo himself used a thought experiment, not an actual experiment, to arrive at the conclusion that all bodies should fall at the same rate, in the absence of air resistance. I don’t mean to imply that he didn’t do actual experiments on “falling” bodies (balls rolling down inclined planes, in which he didn’t realize that the kinetic energy of rolling affects the rate of acceleration, since no one knew about energy then). He did such experiments. But, he used a thought experiment taken from (if memory serves well) Benedetti to argue for this, in his early, unpublished treatise, De motu (on motion).

Ted Davis - #77075

March 3rd 2013


Is it your view that physics now constrains metaphysics, relative to QM, to such an extent that the metaphysical questions are all settled?

I do not think so. Indeed, experiments such as this (http://pra.aps.org/abstract/PRA/v67/i4/e042115) suggest to some physicists (and to me, though I am not a physicist) that there may be a larger reality outside of, or underneath (I’m not too particular about the language), the space-time framework that we ordinarily access via experiments.

Are you familiar with this particular topic? If so, what is your view of the situation at present?

Lou Jost - #77083

March 3rd 2013


Definitely not settled! Only the particular issue that I mentioned is fairly settled.

The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is probably the leading interpretation today. It was a hot topic when I was a grad student. My physics department had two of the three “fathers” of the theory, John Wheeler (who was the thesis supervisor of the originator of the theory, Hugh Everett) and Bryce DeWitt (who coined the term “many-universe interpretation”). A case can be made that this is the most natural interpretation, directly suggested by the equations. Nevertheless it is somewhat unsatisfying and there are many other popular interpretations. In fact many phyicists feel it is silly to think too hard about these interpretations, and insist that the equations themselves (which are usually unambiguous) completely define the theory. I am not so sure about that; a profound interpretation might suggest new insights, especially into uniting quantum mechanics with relativity.

Lou Jost - #77091

March 3rd 2013

“Many-Worlds”, not “Many-universe”. Sorry!

Merv - #77002

March 1st 2013

Lou wrote: 

You miss my point. Of course he accepts the consensus date. My point is: Why does this not influence his choice of religion? Some non-Christian religions are closer to the scientific consensus.

And I think you are missing Polkinghorne’s point (at least as I see it).  He isn’t presenting anything as compulsary evidence for religion, much less theism, much less Christianity.   He’s claiming that the religious framework provides (for him) a very satisfying context for the fact that this universe is so regulated and intelligible as such.  It isn’t [yet] a scientific claim, nor a mathematical one—but the point is, it doesn’t have to be.  These days one doesn’t (typically) start from science and reason themselves to religion (though I won’t say God has never made use of such a path, with a nod to all the Paleys of the past.)  I see Polkinghorne and many other scientifically-minded Christians today starting from their faith basis, and finding in that a satisfying context for science (and everything else.)  Think of it as a mathematician declaring that a theorem is beautiful or a physicist seeing beauty in symmetry.  The beauty itself isn’t scientifically quantifiable and doesn’t count as proof (though perhaps is allowed as subjective persuasion).  Yet it is a satisfying thing that does not escape their notice.


Lou Jost - #77007

March 1st 2013

I am no expert on P’s work. If he is only saying that his Anglican faith makes him feel better when faced with the mysteries of the universe, well, that’s his right. That is not a very interesting statement, though.

Particularly for biological mysteries, the perspective that a higher power was involved is generally going to cause a scientist to miss the right answer. Life’s history is sloppy and undirected, according to all available evidence.

Ted Davis - #77181

March 6th 2013

Lou writes, “If he is only saying that his Anglican faith makes him feel better when faced with the mysteries of the universe, well, that’s his right. That is not a very interesting statement, though.”

P is saying this, at minimum, but he’s really saying more. Even at minimum, however, it’s significant, regardless of whether it’s interesting to anyone else. What is interesting to me, as an historian of science and religion, is that many contemporary scientists would say that X (some sort of traditional Christian faith, in P’s case Anglican faith) provides a satisfying context in which to understand science. For much of the past two centuries, those types of statements were not too common. They are more common now. Scientists are more likely now publicly to identify both as scientists and as traditional Christians (Christians who believe e.g. in the and the Deity of Jesus) than they were even 50 years ago. As far as I can tell. I have not done a survey. It’s a personal impression with all of the limitations those have, but at least I have some basis to say it.

Moreover, when P talks about satisfaction, he doesn’t mean simply a psychological state. He means intellectual satisfaction: science poses certain questions about itself that theology can help it answer. I realize, Lou, that you just do not accept that possibility. Fair enough. I’ll let P put it forth as a challenge to other views. Certainly he knows as much science and as much about science (not the same thing) as other leading scientists. The fact that he draws different conclusions about the meaning(s) of science is IMO significant in itself. It helps show, rather strongly, that science does not come with its own meanings. Contrary to Dawkins and some others.

beaglelady - #77005

March 1st 2013

You miss my point. Of course he accepts the consensus date. My point is: Why does this not influence his choice of religion?

Why on earth would it influence his choice of religion? the age of the universe isn’t a spiritual matter.   Do you think he should search different religions to see where they stand on quarks, his specialty? (Or maybe start a new faith—Quarkianity!)  He is a Christian because he had an “encounter with Christ.” 

Lou Jost - #77008

March 1st 2013

Yes, I do think a person should try hard to be objective and escape his or her cultural bias when investigating religions, especially those that purport to be based on revealed truth written in a book. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that someone would accept a book as the revealed truth when it contradicts so many facts about the world? Wouldn’t you be more likely to accept a book as the revealed truth if it meshed better with what we now know?

I don’t know anything about his “encounter with Christ”, but I do know that there is a huge cultural element in mystical experiences. Anglicans rarely encounter Allah, and Sufis rarely encounter Christ, in their mystical experiences. Why should such culturally-determined experiences be taken as evidential for one religion or another?


beaglelady - #77012

March 1st 2013

The timeless truth in the Bible has nothing to do with science. The Bible contains the ancient science of its day, which is incidental to its message. Besides,  some of the science of our own day may very well prove to be false at some point in the future.  

Polkinghorne has pointed out that in theological matters the dust never settles.


Lou Jost - #77014

March 1st 2013

The Bible is a product of the culture that compiled it. Christian interpretations of the bible do slowly advance, primarily in response to ethical advances in our own society.

beaglelady - #77028

March 2nd 2013

That is a reductionist view of the Bible, but you are welcome to your opinion. Of course the Bible reflects the culture in which it was written.  So do our comments!

As for ethics,  Christians (sometimes individuals, sometimes groups) are out in front in matters of reform and ethics.  (And yes, sometimes we leave a lot to be desired.)

Lou Jost - #77030

March 2nd 2013

Certainly some Christians have been leaders rather than obstacles in our ethical advances. They deserve recognition.

Many people here seem to think that the Bible contains revealed truth. Indeed this is one of the foundations of the Biologos creed. Where is the evidence for that? It is not just my opinion that the Bible is a human document. It is the obvious null hypothesis, and I know of no good evidence to the contrary. The arguments for the divine inspiration of the Bible are same kind of arguments made by Muslims to support the divine inspiration of the Quran. Everyone here surely can see how transparently false those arguments are when applied to the Quran, and every Muslim can see how transparently bad the corresponding Christian arguments are. If you could break out of your culture and religion for just a minute, I think you might see that the claims of the Muslims and the claims of the Christians are equally weak.

beaglelady - #77032

March 2nd 2013

The life of Jesus Christ is the best evidence Christians have for the existence of God. 

(It’s nice that you have been able to somehow completely transcend  your own culture and see all things truly objectively with no bias whatsoever!)

Lou Jost - #77035

March 2nd 2013

I said ” Scientists also show cultural bias” and I know very well I have my own. I do think it is worthwhile to try to get over them as much as possible.

What little we really know about the life of Jesus is not more convincing of divinity than the life of an Indian guru or the life of Mohammed. I think it is interesting that the life of Jesus did not even convince most of his Judean contemporaries that he was divine. Most Jews who lived at the time, and most who came after, did not think he was the messiah. Why is that?

beaglelady - #77037

March 2nd 2013

Because he condescended and veiled his divinity for his earthly ministry.  Additionally, he wasn’t coercive and wasn’t interested in putting on a show.    

beaglelady - #77038

March 2nd 2013

Another point—Jesus wasn’t the kind of messiah the Jews were expecting. They were looking for a military leader who would defeat the Romans immediately.  Even Peter was expecting this.  As a matter of fact, there was a string of would-be messiahs trying to do this.

Eddie - #77040

March 2nd 2013


“he wasn’t coercive”

There is the case of the fig tree.

“he wasn’t interested in putting on a show”

I wonder.  I suppose it depends on what you mean by “putting on a show.”  Obviously he did not intend his words and deeds for entertainment.  But certainly he often drew attention to himself.

Jesus goes out of his way to feed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes.  And it was not as if the people would have starved to death if he hadn’t—poor people often went for a half-day or even a day with empty bellies in the ancient world; and none of the Galilean crowd were more than a few miles from their homes (and even 10 miles they could have walked in 5 hours); they could have procured food after hearing his teaching (they would have eaten maybe at 10 in the evening instead of 5).  So it wasn’t life-saving.  What was the point, then, if not to “put on a show” of Jesus’s power over matter?

The same could be said of his walk on the water, or his calming of the storm.  What was the point, other than to “put on a show” about faith?  (I’m not bashing these stories, by the way.  I’m saying that the events they described definitely drew attention to Jesus, and that they were intended to do so.  In a sense, they were a “show” of his power in order to impress something upon the viewers and hearers.)

So are you saying that these events never happened as described, or that they happened as described, but were not “shows” of anything?  I’m just looking for clarification here.

Eddie - #77039

March 2nd 2013

beaglelady, you wrote:

“The life of Jesus Christ is the best evidence Christians have for the existence of God.”

I find this interesting, first of all because the original audience of Jesus already believed in “the existence of God” and was not asking for “evidence” of it.

In any case, what are you including in “the life of Jesus”?  The full account that we have in the Gospels?  Including the physical resurrection of his tangible body?  And all the healings and miracles?  Arey they part of the evidence for the existence of God? If Jesus had never performed a single miracle, if he had simply taught (e.g., parables, Sermon on the Mount), and then gone to his death, would his life still be our best evidence for the existence of God?

I’m not quarrelling here, just trying to figure out what you mean by “evidence” for God’s existence and whether it is Jesus’s teaching or his extraordinary deeds that strike you as such evidence.

Lou Jost - #77042

March 2nd 2013

Eddie, those are interesting points. If those miracles had really happened (especially ones involving thousands of people), shouldn’t Jesus have had a bigger impact on the people of the area at the time? Doesn’t this cast at least a bit of doubt on the miracles? And what about the many other alleged miracle-workers throughout history? Are they gods too? If not, why not?

Jon Garvey - #77046

March 2nd 2013


Our best first century sources for Judaea by far are the four Gospels and Acts, the latter of which points to 3000 converts by the Pentecost after the crucifixion, and “many thousands, including many priests” by the time of Paul’s last Jerualem visit @ maybe 58AD. Since the dates of the gospels are not seriously disputed, it would be a fool who claimed that for a hole-in-corner sect, when Jews had only to check it when they went up to Jerusalem annually for Passover.

If one discounts the probable later interpolations of Josephus, there are still significant mentions of, for example, James the brother of Jesus, James the apostle (death), John the Baptist: Christianity was a significant Judaean movement in mid 1st century, despite official opposition and persecution.

Then of course the famous references in Roman authors of spread (and resulting upheavals) elsewhere in the Empire.

Then the curses and slander of Jesus in the Mishnah, demonstrating how it threatened Pharisaic Judaism in the 1st-2nd centuries.

Then there’s the evidence of how extremely early the first Christians proclaimed the resurrection (excellent video by leading NT scholar here: the leading skeptical (ie agnostic) scholar puts it at 1-2 years maximum - others 6 months. And that of course is why other miracles-workers weren’t considered gods, and particularly by Jews who only did One God - the Resurrection was the big one, and one of the easiest to disprove.

Incidentally there’s an interesting scholarly work on miracles (which I’ve not read, I confess) suggesting how culturally conditioned disbelief in miracles is in the Educated West! I believe earlier you were suggesting how we usually take on our cultural belief system uncritically…

Lou Jost - #77049

March 2nd 2013

I’ll check out the video in detail, but I am surprised at his statement that “bodily resurrection is the dominant view in the academy”. That is not my impression.

Yes, science and education does tend to make one skeptical of miracles. Knowing science makes it easier to predict what happens under given conditions, and makes us less likely to be fooled by unusual events. Are you saying that this is a cultural bias?

In uneducated countries many people are quick to see miracles everywhere. My quechua friends in the Amazon are sure that their grandfathers turned into jaguars and hunted animals at night. They take me to duendis (mischievous beings) living inside trees, and “prove” their presence by having me listen to the knocking sounds that come out of trees as they cool at dusk. I am skeptical of my friends’ explanations of these sounds, because I know physics. Is that bad? Does physics not apply in non-western cultures?

Lou Jost - #77055

March 2nd 2013

Jon, thanks for the video link to Gary Habermas’ lecture, which I just listened to.

He makes much of Paul’s early contact with some of the apostles, perhaps within a year or two after the resurrection. He also emphasizes the fact that Paul and the apostles agreed on all major doctrinal points. He then claims that Paul’s writings are great primary evidence for the resurrection. Remember that the Gospels were written AFTER Paul’s writings, so this is indeed the earliest and most authoritative testament to the resurrection.

Yet when we actually look at what Paul says about the resurrection (something Habermas does not do in any detail), we find a surprising lack of clarity, and in fact some Christian theologians think that Paul believed in a non-corporeal resurrection (essentially like the non-corporeal Jesus that appeared to him on the road to Damascus).

If (as Habermas says) Paul and the apostles agreed on everything, then it follows that the apostles themselves were at best unclear about the nature of the resurrection, and possibly also thought it was non-corporeal. So to me, Paul’s early rather ambiguous testimony about the nature of the resurrection weakens rather than strengthens the story that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. It suggests that the Gospels’ physical resurrection details are later elaborations. (It is worth noticing that some of the Gospel details are in line with a non-physical rather than physical resurrection, suggesting confusion on this point, just like Paul’s writing.)

Jon Garvey - #77064

March 3rd 2013


This may have eluded you you if you’re not aware of the NT scholarship milieu, but Habermas’ whole point is that there’s been  a steady trend away from the “spiritual resurrection” idea since people like David Jenkins were mainstream, within his own academic community. Those scholars who don’t believe in the resurrection nevertheless increasingly believe that’s what the Church believed, very early.

More significantly the change is due to examination of the evidence, whereas the “spiritual resurrection” scholars show the clear influence of their own cultural prejudices - unlike Paul or the Judean Church, they’ve been exposed to Hume.

1 Corinthians 15 is not “vague” (except to hyper-skeptics)once you factor in that Paul is a Jew quoting a Judaean creed - to the Jews, the only kind of resurrection was physical, so the list of eyewitnesses is just that - testimony to physical encounters that started with the resurrection and stopped, bar “untimely born” Paul, by Pentecost. It was not the universal spiritual experience of the Church.

And the assumption that Paul’s own vision wasn’t physical is also just that - assumption - the fact that others didn’t see it doesn’t settle the case.

Paul has to spell out “resurrection bodies” later on to his Greek Corinthian readers, to whom physcial resurrection wasn’t part of their worldview, whereas disembodied spirits were.

Plus of course he writes within a decade of the accepted date for Mark, usually considered to embody Peter’s testimony, and that speaks clearly of the empty tomb.

So the main point is still that many Jews did believe there had been a miracle, and the new faith did make great progress in its original locale partly as a result.

Lou Jost - #77065

March 3rd 2013

I’m certainly no expert on the NT but Paul’s ambiguity is there for all to see. And your comment that Paul’s encounter with Jesus could have been a physical encounter, even though he himself says that no one else who was present saw Jesus there, suggests you have your own prejudices.

However I do agree that you have shown evidence that a fair number of Jews did think a miracle happened.

beaglelady - #77045

March 2nd 2013

Yes to both; the life of Jesus included teaching and miracles.     Are you going to try to make a case that I or TEs in general  don’t believe in miracles? 

Lou Jost - #77047

March 2nd 2013

You and TEs in general shouldn’t believe in miracles, given the level of evidence we have for them. If someone does believe in them, I wish they would explain to me why they (probably) believe only the miracles mentioned in their holy book and not any of the miracles of other faiths. Why do you think Jesus can fly up into the sky but not Mohammed or today’s levitating Indian gurus? The evidence for Mohammed’s flight is at least claimed to be first-hand evidence, while it is generally thought that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. It seems to me that Christians are using a double standard here, as elsewhere. They can (usually) recognize the miracle claims of other religions for what they are, but insist that their own miracle claims are valid.

Ted Davis - #77076

March 3rd 2013


In late March (I expect), we’ll start exploring P’s case for “motivated belief” in the bodily Resurrection, letting him (for the most part) speak for himself. You raise a lot of good questions here, and I apologize that I won’t go into most of them, but we will at least tackle “the big one,” as Jon Garvey calls it. In general I share to some extent (not fully) your scepticism about miracles, but I think it’s wise also to show some scepticism toward scepticism, when it might be over-reaching. IMO, the evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection is actually very strong; strong enough at least for me to be sceptical of too much scepticism.

At the same time, I doubt that a purely objective view of the Resurrection is actually possible to formulate; it could well be that rational people rationally come to different conclusions, partly b/c they cannot entirely escape their biases.

As I say, we’ll be coming to this fairly soon.

Lou Jost - #77085

March 3rd 2013

I certainly look forward to discussing “the big one” in detail. I hope you will also compare it to resurrection stories from other religions, and contemporary resurrection stories (see Jon’s #77046 for a reference to the latter). I hope we discuss not only whether there was a resurrection but also, if there was, does it really imply that Jesus was a god?

Ted Davis - #77102

March 4th 2013


Your call for that kind of wide-ranging discussion (of the resurrection) is certainly appropriate, and perhaps it will happen. I say “perhaps,” b/c it will depend on others to take up those questions/themes. I lack the competence myself. Polkinghorne doesn’t take them up very much, either, in the source we’ll be presenting.

However, P’s friend N. T. Wright wrote a great study of a enormous range of ancient accounts of “resurrections,” life after death, ghosts, etc, comparing the biblical narratives to them at much length and enormous detail. I refer to this book: http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796

P cites Wright in a few places, leaving it to his readers to do that digging. I will do likewise. It’s hardly possible for me to digest 740 pages of detailed argument into 1500 words, and I won’t try to. I invite other readers to put in a few paragraphs from Wright, and perhaps I’ll be able to find time to do that as well. In my next column, however, I’ll just mention Wright briefly. Perhaps readers will take it upon themselves to say quite a bit more.

Wright has done some columns for BL (http://biologos.org/blog/author/wright-n.t), but none apparently on this topic—a curious omission.

More coming…

Ted Davis - #77104

March 4th 2013


I’ve read major sections of that book by Wright, but not (yet) all of it. The section on “Easter and History” that deals with Enlightenment historiography (a term that means the writing of history with its various assumptions and metanarratives) is IMO the single best treatment of the topic I have ever seen, as an historian. This obviously doesn’t mean that he’s right, or I’m right; it means that all of my historical instincts align with his. I’ve sometimes said that, if I’d had the knowledge to write that book myself (I don’t), I would not have changed one single word in that entire section. I don’t think I’ve said this about any other book on any topic, so for me at least this is very high praise.

I gather that you live somewhere in the Amazon basin (maybe I’m inferring too much), such that finding a copy of that book could be challenging; on the other hand, Amazon can probably find the Amazon, if you really want to read it.

I feel like another really bad pun. What Wright writes is right. IMO. Sorry to pile it on.

Lou Jost - #77119

March 4th 2013

Thanks for that, bad puns and all. I do live on the edge of the Amazon. Books are hard to get, but I’ll check it out on the internet for starters.

Eddie - #77053

March 2nd 2013

Well, beaglelady, you said that Jesus “wasn’t interested in putting on a show”—but feeding five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, or calming a storm, would be quite a show of Jesus’s control the powers of nature.  So I assume that either you don’t believe those events happened as described, or that you believe they did, but don’t consider them as done for the purpose of making a show of something.  (See my 77040 above, which you may have missed).  But if they weren’t done for the purpose of making a show of something, for what purpose were they done?  And if they didn’t happen as described, what happened in their place?

beaglelady - #77078

March 3rd 2013

I never said miracles didn’t happen as described, I merely said he wasn’t putting on a show. 

He wasn’t squeezing blood out of turnips or pulling bunnies out of top hats or even making clay pigeons fly.  All shows sold out! 

You like to try to put words in my mouth so you can bash TEs.  His miracles are important signs—e.g. the feeding of the 5,000 points to the Eucharist, because to this day Jesus feeds his church. 

Jon Garvey - #77084

March 3rd 2013

Doing evangelism amongst young people once (when I was a young person, in fact), one of the kids said, “Yeah, I know about Jesus - turning bricks into water and all that.”

Our team had visions of Jesus waving his hands over the temple, and producing a sudden cataclysmic flood. A prize for the most useless miracle ever!

Merv - #77087

March 3rd 2013

Eddie, the popularity for Jesus does seem to be all over the map in the gospels.  In the early parts of his ministry he seems to be trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get *away* from people into those lonely spots either completely by himself or else just with his closest disciples.  Crowds find him.  And they are fickle crowds at that (the same kind that can be singing ‘Hosanna!’ one moment and incited to yell ‘Crucify him!’ in the next.)   The feeding of the large crowds doesn’t seem to have been the point the several afternoon outings Jesus ended up hosting (despite his own efforts), but more of a “Wow—it’s getting late out here and we’re hungry—what should we do?” kind of affair.  (As an interesting side note, for how many teachers would you take an unscheduled hike out into nowhere to find him so you could listen to what he has to say?)

As to calming a storm—that is quite a show-stopper, but it was just for the benefit of the disciples in the boat.  I think Beaglelady is right.  If Jesus had *really* wanted to put the show in in large fashion, then we would have had a different kind of messiah and the Jews would have been quite happy to rally to him as he threw off those brutish Romans in grand style.  They pressed him to go that direction more than once I think (along with another accomplice whom Jesus had to have words with out in the desert after he was baptised.)


beaglelady - #77157

March 5th 2013

Thanks, Merv.  And look at the Transfiguration, surely one of the most important events in the life of Christ. And yet he took only 3 Apostles with him to witness it!

Eddie - #77088

March 3rd 2013


I never put any words into your mouth.  I asked for clarification regarding what you asserted.

I agree with you—and already said that I did—that Jesus was not trying to provide spectacular entertainment.

But, as you know, some prominent TEs doubt the historicity of a number of the OT and NT miracles.  Some of them have said so publically; others have hinted at it publically; others will say so privately.  I know of one prominent one who told me that he didn’t know if Jesus actually walked on the water and didn’t particularly care.  And I’ve seen another prominent one skilfully duck the same question.  Others have spoken of “exaggeration” in the Biblical stories.  I’m here neither condemning nor approving of such reactions, merely recording them.

I asked you in particular because I don’t know where you stand on these issues.  Your skepticism about possible direct divine involvement in the evolutionary process seems quite hard-boiled—akin in tone to that of Shermer etc.  It would be consistent with that if you tried to explain away as many miracle stories as possible.

You have above stated “I never said miracles didn’t happen as described.”  Granted.  But you have not asserted, “The miracles happened as described.”

So let me get this straight.  Are you saying that the feeding of the 5,000 not only points to the Eucharist (which it would do even if the story were wholly an invention), but also that Jesus did in fact feed 5,000 with an original stock of food which could not, in the normal course of nature, feed more than 10 or 15?  So that Jesus had to either create new matter ex nihilo, or transform other matter in the universe into sufficient food?

Again, I do not here condemn you for either believing or not believing in such an assertion.  I just want to know what your assertion is.  If your assertion is that the miracles did not happen as described, that tells us one thing about your position.  If your assertion is that they did happen as described, that tells us another thing.  My response would proceed differently, depending on your answer.

Believing in the historicity of miracles, per se, is no great indicator of spirituality.  I have known people who believe in every single Gospel miracle who are not in any sense Christlike, and I have known people who believe in none of them who are closer to Christlike behavior than many churchgoing people.  But in the context of science/theology discourse—which is what BioLogos is about—it is important to know where people are “coming from” regarding the historicity of miracles.  Either they accept them, or they deny them, or they accept some but not others, or they honestly aren’t sure what they believe.  Any of those answers could be reasonable, but an evasive answer isn’t reasonable, because it may well conceal a dogmatic basis for one’s theology/science judgments, a basis that should be visible to others in the discussion.

Eddie - #77144

March 5th 2013

beaglelady (re your 77078 above):

I see that you haven’t responded to my post of March 3rd (77088) yet.  Are you planning to do so?

I realize that you may be busy.  But my question doesn’t require a long answer.  Do you believe that the story of the feeding of the 5,000 happened basically as described, or not?  And whatever your answer, would you take a similar position regarding calming the storm, raising Lazarus, walking on water, cursing the fig tree, etc.?

All you’ve told me is that you haven’t said these things never happened.  You haven’t affirmed that they did happen.  I’m just looking for clarity.  And again, as I explained, I’m not going to argue that if you don’t accept these miracles as history, you aren’t Christian.  But I will apply whatever answer you give to your thoughts on evolution, creation, TE, and ID.  So if you don’t want to pin yourself down, that’s your prerogative.  But if you won’t answer, I will draw what I believe to be reasonable inferences from your silence, based on the history of your comments here.  

beaglelady - #77158

March 5th 2013

Give me a break for Pete’s sake—I’ve been busy.   You are too fixated on what happens on this forum. I take the feeding of the 5000 to be historical, just like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.

You seem to be obsessed with what TEs believe about miracles.  Let’s look at the ID side: Dr. Dembski used to take Genesis figuratively. Then his seminary cracked down and he recanted. So what does he actually believe about the flood of Noah?  He knows he’ll get booted if he speaks his mind. Are you even interested?

And look at Dr. Jonathan Wells. As a member of the Unification Church founded by the late Rev. Moon,  he surely believes that Jesus appeared to Rev Moon and asked him to fulfill the mission that Jesus himself had failed to accomplish.  So what is with that? Are you interested?

Eddie - #77159

March 5th 2013


I’m not Dembski or Wells and can’t speak for them.  My religious views are different from both of theirs, and while I endorse their general views on ID, and their critique of neo-Darwinism, I do not endorse their specific theologies.  

So you take the feeding of the 5,000 to be historical.  Fine.  So you believe that Jesus (by himself or with God’s aid, depending on how you conceive of his relationship with God during his earthly time) either (a) violated the conservation laws by introducing new matter (food) into the universe or (b) preserved the conservation laws, but transformed other matter (atoms and molecules from the nearby air, water, and soil, perhaps) into food.  Either way, Jesus “intervened in” or “steered” or “guided” (pick whatever words you like) material events in a way they would not have have gone in the normal course of nature.

It follows that you can have no objection in principle to direct divine interaction of a supernatural kind.  It therefore follows that you can have no objection in principle to the possibility that God created the first life ex nihilo or by putting together molecules in a hands-on way, and that you can have no objection in principle to the idea that the Cambrian Explosion could have been a massive ex nihilo creation of phyla or could have involved a massive tinkering with the genomes of existing phyla.  Etc.

So, speaking as a theistic evolutionist, what is your view about God’s action within the evolutionary process?  Did he tinker, guide, steer, intervene?  Or did he merely set up the process, and let nature take its course?  Or did he do a bit of both—periods of hands-off natural changes, punctuated by periods of hands-on supernatural changes?  

And if you think he did do some steering or guiding, where in the process, in your view, is it most likely that he did this?  To create life?  To create man?  And if you think he did no steering or guiding, how, in your view, did he control the outcomes?  Or did he perhaps not control the outcomes?

Again, just seeking clarification.

beaglelady - #77162

March 5th 2013

I’m not Dembski or Wells and can’t speak for them.

If we can talk about what TEs believe, then we can talk about what IDers believe.   That’s only fair.  Was Wells raised in a Unification Church family, or was he converted as an adult? Is it true that Rev Moon inspired him to fight evolution?   


Eddie - #77163

March 5th 2013


You are free to talk about whatever you want, but I don’t know Wells’s biography, so I won’t be answering.  Why don’t you write to him and ask him these questions, if it is so important for you to learn the answers?

What puzzles me is why you are so sure that God monkeyed with nature many times in the first century A.D. and yet so sure that he never monkeyed with it to produce life, species, or man.  The idea of a God with fixed designs for nature, who acts upon nature so as to realize those designs, seems preposterous to you—in the past you have frequently ridiculed the idea as “poofing” things into existence.  But a God who “poofs” 5,000 bag lunches into existence doesn’t seem to bother you at all.  I guess it’s true that belief in miracles is literally a matter of taste.

beaglelady - #77206

March 7th 2013

I suspect that Wells really believes in a lot of the biblical miracles.   He takes Adam and Eve to be historical people.  Too bad he takes Moon to be anther messiah to make things right where Christ messed up!

Ted Davis - #77183

March 6th 2013

Yes, beaglelady, Wells combats evolution b/c of his devotion to the late Rev Moon. I talked about this with sources, including a source in which Wells himself talks about it, in an earlier column (http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-intelligent-design-part-4).

beaglelady - #77205

March 7th 2013

Thanks, Ted. The Unification Church web site has a whole bunch of stuff Wells has written for them . He talks about his motivation for attacking “Darwinsm”  in his essay

Darwinism: Why I went for a 2nd Ph.D.

Eddie - #77208

March 7th 2013


If you could show (hypothetically) that Wells’s arguments (e.g., about junk DNA, or the design of life) are invalid, then an account of his personal motivations might be interesting, as an explanation for why he employs such (allegedly) bad arguments.  Otherwise, his motives are not very important.

In the meantime, you seem disinclined to explain why I shouldn’t ridicule you for believing that Jesus “poofed” 5,000 lunches into existence, when you have ridiculed many ID people here for (allegedly) arguing that God “poofed” [your word] life or new species into existence.  I see no substantive difference between the two cases.  But since you aren’t interested in pursuing the subject, I’ll leave you in peace.

beaglelady - #77232

March 7th 2013

Most of the biblical miracles had eyewitnesses. And they had a point to make (called “signs” by John).  

There is no evidence that any extra push was needed to help evolution work—it seems to work quite well.

If there is no difference between creating species and biblical miracles,  woud you expect another virgin birth in the future?  If somebody reported a virgin birth in the future, how would you take it?

Eddie - #77238

March 7th 2013

“There is no evidence that any extra push was needed to help evolution work.”

Glad to hear it.  So direct me to the book or article which provides a full wholly naturalistic pathway from non-life to life, or from a land mammal to a whale.

Regarding the virgin birth, according to your own argument here, if there are witnesses to the virginity of the mother, I ought to believe it.  There were lots of witnesses to the Fatima miracle, too, so on your principle I should believe that as well. 


beaglelady - #77258

March 8th 2013

That’s not my principle; I’m just saying that the Biblical miracles had witnesses and that they had a point to make.  It wasn’t like pulling a rabbit of a hat. 

As for your demand for a step-by-step pathway… that is an unrealistic demand, and the absense of such knowledge does NOT mean that ID wins by default (unless we have a video of the designer working in his lab messing around with our genetic material) . 

Eddie - #77279

March 8th 2013


I never said that ID wins by default if a step-by-step pathway can’t be provided.  But if a step-by-step pathway (which could be hypothetical, not actual—I’m interested only in plausibility, not proof) can’t be provided, there is no reason to believe that the neo-Darwinian mechanism is capable of doing what it claims.

Regarding miracles, the point is that you think Biblical testimony (why the Bible only?  why not the Koran, Hindu texts, Apollonius of Tyana, etc.?) is evidence that they happened.  In other words, if the Bible explicitly says that God “poofed” something into existence (like 5,000 lunches), you will believe that it happened; but if the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that God “poofed” the first life or a new animal into existence, you won’t believe that it happened that way, but will stubbornly assert that natural causes were enough, though you don’t have the slightest idea what the molecular pathways might be.  

The epistemological inconsistencies here would make for many philosophy papers.  You make a pick-and-mix of the Christian doctrines that you want to believe, and the scientific theories that you want to believe, and reject the religious and scientific views that you don’t want to believe, with no apparent theoretical justification for your selection.  This is why we don’t get along, and probably never will.  I don’t care what people believe; I care only why they believe it.  And your reasons for believing what you believe aren’t very good.

beaglelady - #77291

March 8th 2013

Bollocks. You’re just upset because I don’t embrace ID.

Eddie - #77331

March 9th 2013

“Bollocks”—now there’s a sophisticated, educated, urbane reply.

beaglelady - #77324

March 9th 2013

 I don’t care what people believe; I care only why they believe it. 

Are you sure you don’t care what people believe?  Is this something recent? You’ve been going on for some time now about what TEs believe. 

GJDS - #77009

March 1st 2013

Lou Jost,

I have been mystified for many years by the concern expressed by atheists regarding those who espouse a faith. Just why are they so concerned when others freely declare their beliefs and discuss them with others – sometimes agreeing and at other times disagreeing on some matters? Is it that they want to save us from our beliefs? Or do they feel they have a mysterious and unique ability to know what is believably true, while the rest of us lack this capability? If so, what evidence do they put forward to support such a position? If not, I go back to my original point – what motivates them to publicly argue against other people’s beliefs?

Lou Jost - #77011

March 1st 2013

I’ll speak only for myself, of course. I generally assume that people are interested in the truth, and we get closer to truth by debating different viewpoints than by letting bad arguments slide. I think letting bad arguments go unchallenged is a sign of disrespect for the person making those bad arguments. And of course I would hope that if I make a bad argument, someone will tell me. I am interested in getting at the truth.

Another reason why it seems important to me to have debates on these subjects is that most of us live in democracies. Our countries will only be healthy if the majority of voters make wise decisions. If people base their lives and their votes on old books like the Quran or the Bible, debate is stopped cold, and the whole country (perhaps the whole world) can suffer. It is difficult to reason with someone who insists that God is on his side. Look at Muslim fundamentalism as an example of faith-based government. I dream of a world that is not ruined by superstition.

sy - #77051

March 2nd 2013

Yes, Lou, it is very difficult to reason with someone who insists that God is on his side. But, that isnt because they are theists, its because many people are convinced of many things, and are not generally open minded. Ever argue with a die hard communist? Or a believer in the 911 conspiracy theory? Or an ultra right wing nationalist? Or a vegetarian? Or an animal rights activist? Should I go on? How about a committed anti theistic atheist. 

What really disturbs me, quite frankly is what I have recently seen on the part of certain atheist proponents who have begun to question well established science, based on their agenda to undercut certain arguments made by theists. Two examples in my own field spring to mind. I have read in the past few years that some anti theistic scientists have begun claiming that DNA is not really an informational molecule. This presumably to counter some ID arguments that DNA is the first example of symbolic information, and its sourse is unclear.

A second is a strong defense of RNA as a alternative genetic molecule, in defence of the RNA world theory of the origin of life.

The problem is that neither of these ideas are really scientifically tenable, and appear to be advanced to back up a faith based (atheism) agenda, and are therefore very dangerous, since they are being advanced under false premises of being scientific arguments. These are similar to some of the same kind of anti Big Bang comments before that idea became general consensus.

My point is that theists are not the only ones who make claims based on their own faith based agendas. Harris is a great example (see my post here on Biologos from a few days earlier.)

Lou Jost - #77058

March 2nd 2013

Sy, I appreciate that fundamentalist religious folk aren’t the only kinds of people who are closed-minded, but at least one can argue with an animal rights person and maybe logic will win. No amount of logic trumps a book that a fundie thinks is written by God.

I am surprised that any scientist would claim that DNA does not carry information; maybe there is some nuance you have left out? Are you sure this proposal really is motivated by the desire to undercut the ID argument? I would be surprised if any geneticist takes the IDers’ information arguments seriously enough to make proposals just to undercut them. Since information is not conserved, the ID argument never gets off the ground.

Anyway, my comment above addressed the reason why I feel the need to challenge people of faith. Their faith-based decisions affect my life and everyone else’s. I think their faith is misplaced, and their decisions are often wrong and dangerous. You may think the same about my decisions. So we both have legitimate reasons to debate,  and no one should find it mysterious that we try to challenge each other’s beliefs.

Merv - #77010

March 1st 2013

Lou responded:

That is not a very interesting statement, though.

Excellent!  Non-scientific statements are okay—and may well be true despite their non-scientific nature.

Life’s history is sloppy and undirected, according to all available evidence.

Also good (except the clause at the end).  Now the next step is to help you realize that these claims have no scientific basis (or evidence) whatsoever, unless you want to put some sort of definition on ‘sloppy’.  

An uninitiated spectator may look into a classroom, see chaos and leave with a low opinion of the teacher’s management skills and the perception that not much good learning is happening there.  The spectator could be right.  They could also be dreadfully wrong with their premature judgment.  Some of the best classrooms in our educational systems today look like chaos and yet have activities happening that are well-within the designs a very astute teacher.    Life sure does appear messy.  You probably won’t get much argument from Christians on that.  To conclude it is undirected or directed is beyond science to address.


Lou Jost - #77013

March 1st 2013

My claim that life’s history is sloppy is well-grounded in evidence. I agree that I should not have claimed as fact that life’s history is undirected. Rather, the best I can claim is that there is no evidence that life’s history is directed.

It is not beyond science to find such evidence, though. It is easy to detect some kinds of direction. The best we can say is that if there is direction, it is so weak as to be undetectable at present. And if there is direction, we might ask what is the direction? Looking only at earth, I’d conclude that god is a bacteria.

GJDS - #77015

March 1st 2013

Reply to Lou Jost #77011

Seeking the truth is a goal all of us share – claiming that someone has this truth while others cannot get to it is spurious (if such an ascertain comes from atheists or theists). The point I am making is that atheists, who by definition have come to their ‘truth position’ based on an absence of belief in God, cannot then argue from an objective position. Theists also start from a settled position regarding their faith. I cannot see any grounds for an argument on who has truth on such a matters – each adoptas a position they feel is reasonable and true.

I make a distinction between reasoned debate on specific topics and generalisations, such as ‘well look at all the harm done by so and so ..”, as if this has now been clinically defined on who are bad from those who are good. For example, matters pertaining to the Christian faith have been discussed and debated (sometimes with heat and violence) for centuries – and their claim was also to seek the truth. Pathological tyrants have performed cruel acts that defy our comprehension, and some have declared themselves atheists and others theists. I am suspicious of those who make great generalisations that they are seeking the truth. I also accept that within our limitations, atheists and theists, through reason, may come to a view that overlaps on what is good and bad, truthful and untrue. Debates however, need to be just that, based on a reason and an acceptance that people may disagree for equally sound reasons. Trying to argue from a position that makes unwarranted assumptions on matters of faith imo is unsound.

Lou Jost - #77025

March 2nd 2013

I take it for granted that most people visiting this website are looking for the truth, and so they expect debate from different viewpoints, including an atheist one.

You say “The point I am making is that atheists, who by definition have come to their ‘truth position’ based on an absence of belief in God, cannot then argue from an objective position.” This is backwards. Very few atheists start off so. I was a catholic. I came to my position by reason, and getting there was painful but exciting. If you were to show me good evidence for your beliefs, I could change my mind again. I think it is the Christians here who are less than objective, as they are simply reflecting the culture in which they happened to be born. I have yet to hear a single rational argument justifying a belief in the Christian god, Jesus flying up into heaven, etc as opposed to a Muslim or Jain or Hindu god(s). Even Polkinghorne is mostly going on about how nice it is to imagine a vague creator-god; his jump from that to his particular Anglican Christian god is transparently due to his cultural background rather than any kind of reasoned argument.

Merv - #77033

March 2nd 2013

Most Christians poking around here probably won’t take the bait and try to convince you that reasoning must bring you specifically to Jesus (though no doubt there are Christians who feel compelled to try).  When you refer to a lack of any “rational argument”, that alone betrays the fact that none of us, including you, are standing on that illusory “objectively pure” platform from which all reasoning is evaluated.  Instead we have our “reasons” for considering some arguments “sound” or “reasonable” or “rational” or whatever code word you wish to use for how you let you bias play out in its selection of arguments to approve.  Reasoning is easily a two-way street among or away from religions.  Other motivations standing apart from it will determine which way you want to travel on that road.  You won’t be coming back because of any brilliant reasoning or argumentation anybody here will offer (you would find it ‘irrational’ anyway).  You will only come back when God gets ahold of you which, if or when it happens, will be in God’s time.  And if God doesn’t exist, then I guess you have nothing to worry about!   (Now if it’s Zeus or Jannis or somebody that makes a spectacle of your former reasoning fortresses, then tell us about that too!)


Lou Jost - #77034

March 2nd 2013

That’s my point—- reason doesn’t get you to Jesus, or Allah, or Zeus. That is why it is so important to question the paths we are on.

I can’t help thinking of Francis Collins and his three waterfalls. Is that really best interpreted as “God getting ahold of him”, or would a more objective person recognize it as something else?

Anyway, I promise that if Zeus or Jannis or Jesus knocks me off my horse, I’ll let you know which it was. I live in an area full of exotic Amazonian gods, so anything could turn up…

Darwin Guy Dan - #77101

March 4th 2013

Lou Jost at 77034

Bow before me and repeat the following creed at least 5 times each day:

“I, Lou, believe that the new Pope has the power and authority to decanonize Genesis and that he will do so.”

If it turns out that you are wrong in your belief, have no fear.  I have confidence that sy, beaglelady, you yourself, or others at BioLogos would enlighten us regards the appropriate procedures.

So, Lou, given your own cultural context, continue your thoughts regards Evolution, i.e., the hypothesis regards the existence of mythical, unnamed, unidentified, common ancestors—- you know, the “fact” of “evolution.”

Also, I have been curious of your views regards “infrastructure.” 

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy/LocalTransportationGuy

[Note to beaglelady:  Are you still in charge?  I have been studying on my Kindle eReader the Wigner link that Ted Davis pointed to.  Wow!  Marvelous.  Would I had more time and some staffing to further explore those ideas.  Also, an office in the back of the library would be great.  Also, see if you can’t get the programming people to download an APP or something so that the comments are better formatted on eReaders.]


Darwin Guy Dan - #77099

March 4th 2013

Merv at 77033,

As usual, very well stated.

I have been wondering what your thoughts regards “infrastructure” might be.

a.k.a LocalTransportationGuy

Ref.  WHAT DO WE MEAN WHEN WE SAY GOD? (1991) by Deidre Sullivan, compiler.

GJDS - #77050

March 2nd 2013

I also take it for granted that we are all looking for the truth and do not question peoples sincerity - thus you and I may look and thing using the same evidence, and yet you conclude for atheism and I conclude for faith in Christ. You claim that Christians are less objective because we do not provide rational arguments to you to justify ourselves or our beliefs. Yet we may not seek to justify ourselves to atheists (or anyone else) since we seek justification before God through Christ. Polkinghorne makes a major point in discussing motivated belief, and shows that his (considerable) understanding of physics is consistent with his faith. Why would he (or I or others) seek to go beyond that? I cannot follow your reasoning regarding cultural background. If I accept my upbringing and apply my intellect and reason to consider the evidence you have, why should you think my conclusions are unsound while you think yours are sound?

Lou Jost - #77060

March 2nd 2013

The culture you were born into is random. Yet you accept its mythology as fact. If you had been born elsewhere, you would have accepted a different mythology as fact. That should bother you if you are interested in truth.

GJDS - #77061

March 2nd 2013

Your assumptions are breathtaking - you take it as given that I have not examined my background (as you claim to have examined your upbringing) and that I am some mindless person who “accept its mythology as fact”. Perhaps you have some scientific facts to support your assumption (i.e. I accept mythology as fact), in which case I would welcome a debate. I note you have failed to address my ascertain, in that I have applied my intellect, reason and understanding, to arive at my position regarding these matters. Do you have a scientific argument regarding my ability to reason and examine matters? Or is it your position that only atheists have this ability and the rest of us have some mysterious illness or gene that prevents us from reasoning and examine matters, as you claim to have done?

Lou Jost - #77062

March 2nd 2013

I am sorry if I incorrectly assumed you were born into a Christian culture. I would love to hear your reasons for choosing Christianity over other religions.

GJDS - #77063

March 2nd 2013

I was born in a Christian Orthox family and I am certainly not sorry for this. I have gone to considerable lenghts to examine my own beliefs and also the tradition that I was born into, as well as considering at length my understanding of the Sciences and PoS. However, you have stated you seek truth, wish for a debate, and yet I cannot as yet find a topic on Polkinghorne, what Ted Davies has stated, nor my (lengthy) comment on this topic, that you have identified and wish to debate. Thus I have no choice but to conlcude that you are a dissapointed ex-Catholic who wishes to express an opinion as an atheist, and has little else to say. Please show me if you have something of substance you wish to debate, instead of making unfounded ascertains.

Lou Jost - #77067

March 3rd 2013

That is an unfair characterization of my comments here. My comments have addressed others but not yours because you insist, without giving a single non-theological reason, that your holy book should take precedence over all we have learned in the last 2000 years. You say “The tenets of the Christian faith state God is creator of heaven and earth. Any discussion concerning faith and science requires this as its basis.” No, any discussion of faith and science must ask for justification of these tenets of faith. If you take your myth as given, and beyond discussion, what is there to discuss?

You say “we do not, and should not, make a theology on the run, which changes with every twist and turn of evolutionary thinking.” This amounts to saying (again) that faith trumps science. You have far less justification for believing in your tenets than scientists have for believing in evolution and an old earth. The evidence that evolution happened is on a par with the evidence that the earth is not flat (though there are still many open questions about the details of how it happens), while the evidence for the veracity of your tenets of faith is close to zero (and about on a par with the evidence for the veracity of many other, contradictory faiths). If you want to count personal “encounters with god” as evidence (and psychologists would be quick to point out the pitfalls with that), you must explain why people from other cultures have similar experiences of their own culture’s gods, including gods with characteristics quite contradictory to the Christian god.

If you place your faith in the Bible’s statements above any facts about the world, you have insulated yourself against any debate.

Lou Jost - #77070

March 3rd 2013

Another strange thing you said was “I think everyone accepts a general (albeit nebulous) ascertain that events have occurred over lengthy geological time spans. Details within such lengthy periods are filled with speculation and revision. Why not wait until some clarity and perhaps a level of certainty has been achieved before extending NT to accommodate such speculation? “

Your statement implies there is uncertainty about the broad history of geological events. Sure, there are many details we do not know (especially the farther back we go), but we have good knowledge of the events of the last 500 million years or so, including the movement of the continents and the approximate uplifting dates of most major mountain systems. We certainly know enough to dismiss as incorrect almost all of the Bible’s cosmology, the existence of Adam and Eve just 6000 years ago, the global flood myth, etc.

sy - #77138

March 5th 2013


I was born into a culture very different from Christianity. My parents were devoted Marxists, and militant anti theists. I grew up believing that all religions were not only false, but evil, and that Christianity was the most villainous of all.

Yet today I am a Christian with no doubt at all that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I believe in all the tenets of the Christian faith.

I came to that faith through a slow process, that included reading, thinking, reasoning, my knowledge of science, and in the end, through the intervention of the Spirit and the call of Christ. There was nothing random about it.

Lou Jost - #77161

March 5th 2013

The fact that you changed beliefs is good evidence that you gave it some thought. I hope you’ll explain somewhere why you think science points to Christianity rather than atheism or some non-Christian religion. I of course strongly disagree with your conclusions so I’d like to know how you got there from an initial position not too different from mine.  (I don’t think Christianity is the worst myth though; today’s version of fundamentalist Islam is much worse).

Merv - #77016

March 1st 2013

Rather, the best I can claim is that there is no evidence that life’s history is directed.

I pretty much agree here, as long as by ‘evidence’ you were referring to strictly scientific evidence.  You may insist there is no other kind of evidence, but then Christians here would generally disagree (and science cannot adjudicate on the question of its own sufficiency, though it can point to insufficiencies of some other general claims such as ‘prayer always leads to physical healing’.)

The problem with detecting direction or design is that we have to have access to some basis for a director’s goals or criteria for what constitutes “progress”.  If a director’s highest aspiration was for sheer numbers of self-replicating entities, then I guess bacteria would be most impressive.  If the director wants ‘big’ then blue whales or some other prehistoric behemoth may have been the final triumph.  Some of us entertain ideas that such a director (if one exists) could possibly have had other less simplistic things in mind than “many” or “big”.    Our only possible access to such information would be if the said director chose to reveal something about these goals/purposes to some species in the creation that is able to appreciate it.   We Christians think this has happened.  Some, in their enthusiasm want to find and share affirmation of all this everywhere including from science.  Folks like you do a good job reminding us that science just doesn’t fence people in to any religious presuppositional stance.  I think what some forget is that science doesn’t force anybody into any presuppositional stances at all—including atheism.  In the end all of us bring our axioms to the table where science is one of the courses being served.  Some may get indigestion from the dish—if for example they hold to  <10000 yr old earth as one of their axioms.  Some think that Christians should have serious cognitive dissonance believing that a dead person was resurrected.  But science doesn’t speak for/against all special events of history.  We only have access to “the norm” for our studies.  Studies of gravity tell us that things normally fall when unrestrained.   But they don’t tell us that nothing ever levitated—only that an apparently hovering rock should command our surprised attention if we ever saw it.  If no similar “science-mindedness” had ever existed among ancient cultures, then they would have had no basis for surprise to see someone walk on water or come back to life.  Regularity is the backdrop against which we appreciate the anomaly.  It is not the disproof of it.  In fact, strictly speaking science doesn’t even disprove young-earth creationism.  It just shows that if God created that way, then He went to an awful lot of trouble to make an astounding number of things consistently look like He didn’t.  In the face of this some Christians still hold so firmly to their received understanding that they are willing to set aside the substantial science for the sake of their committment.  This level of conviction doesn’t make their understanding of time-scales correct, but it is too bad that outsiders see in this only evidence of a belief soundly disproven, rather than asking what positive thing these folks are so strongly attracted to that makes them willing to jettison all else, no matter how valuable that they have been led to perceive as hostile.   True friends of science will not attempt to maintain science as a battle ground provoking unnecessary enemies for it.

Just like creation, people seem to be a glorious mess of disagreements about all this.   I’m glad you interact here on a site where we can too easily stew only with folks like-minded to ourselves.  Keep pushing back to keep us straight.


Lou Jost - #77026

March 2nd 2013

Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you that science is not necessarily atheist, and does not (or at least, should not) presuppose the absence of a personal creator. It could well have provided evidence for such a being. We just have not found such evidence. And of course, if we had, we would still have a very long way to go to figure out which of the thousands of historic gods (if any) it is.

Jon Garvey - #77024

March 2nd 2013

If anyone’s interested, an interesting blog post by William Lane Craig on the strengths of the different approaches to mathematics and reality compared between theist and non-theists.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77029

March 2nd 2013

In the quest for truth, one of the questions I’ve been wondering about regards Polkinghorne (and the Pope, etc.) is when he sings that old tune, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings flow,”—- assuming he does sing that one—- who, or what, is it that he is actually praising?  As the hierarchs of religion partake of their wine, steak, etc., laptop comuters, marvelous retirement homes, etc., where do the farm laborers who have picked the grapes and tended to the steers or the butchers who have butchered the steers, etc.—- where do they fit into the equation?  What is their motivation for belief? Surely such workers are looking for more than praise.  In these contemplations, do you all not draw a distinction between theology and religion?  How does theology intersect with the practicalities of everyday religion?  Or does it?  Why ought other workers care about what Polkinghorne or others think or believe?

I am also a bit perplexed that the scientists among you have yet to mention Kurt Godel’s ON FORMALLY UNDECIDABLE PROPOSITIONS OF PRINCIPIAMATHEMTICA AND RELATED SYSTEMS.   Even prior to encountering Godel’s theorem, I got a chuckle when, for the first time (in a book by the self-avowed atheist, Victor Stenger), I came across the actual mathematical representation of the Universe (which I define as ‘all that there is’).  Surely, the “wave equation of the Universe” is not equivalent to the “Universe.”

Bringing other theologies / religions such as Hinduism, Islam, etc., into the discussion I find to be enormously laudable and long overdue among theologists.  But attention atheists; don’t dismiss Judeo-Christianity out of hand.  A couple of books by the M.I.T. trained physicist and theologian, Gerald L. Schroeder, might be of interest.  In his THE SCIENCE OF GOD: THE CONVERGENCE OF SCIENTIFIC AND BIBLICAL WISDOM (1997; p.7), Schroeder writes:

“Actually, the Bible, properly understood,m can be  handmaiden of science (and vice versa).  As such it is instructive to note that Ussher’s and Kepler’s calculations of an approximately six-thousand-year-old universe are infinitely closer to our current estimate of time since the big bang than was either Aristotle’s opinion or that of two thirds of the leading U.S. astronomers and physicists, who in a 1959 survey agreed with Aristotle.”

a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy


Lou Jost - #77031

March 2nd 2013

Just a short comment—anyone can play Schroeder’s game. You may remember a popular book from the 1980’s,  “The Tao of Physics” by Fritjof Capra, which argued that quantum mechanics had converged on the worldview of Greek and Hindu and Buddhist mystics. There have been many other books taking this line. Muslims have their own similar literature on the subject. Inspiration in science is welcome from any source, mystic or religious or secular.

Darwin Guy Dan - #77043

March 2nd 2013


No, I have been aware of the name, Capra, but have not delved into his thinking at all.  I have read a couple of quantum physicist Amit Goswami’s books.  However, I could go just so far with his CREATIVE EVOLUTION.  Great attempt at bridging some philosophical gaps. Actually, in my view, he may have more going for him than the more traditional research of, say, Stuart Kaufman (or Kauffman?) of complexity theory note.

I have begun to think that Rubert Sheldrake may have long been on to something with his morphic resonance ideas. What you think? Clearly, there is a distinction that needs to be made between the well accepted naturalistic “teleonomic” factors versus the more mystical “teleological” / quantum physical implications of Sheldrake’s hypothesis of formulative causation.  Apparently, Sheldrake has been doing some experiments on his own with rats and so forth.  What is needed, I would think, is some unbiased reviews of his very interesting ideas.

Well, my time at the library is about up.  Perhaps I’ll go back and contemplate 2 + 3 = 5 some more.  But quite frankly, I’d much prefer to have 1 apple.   Even if the apple is not a Platonic ideal, it seems to me it would nevertheless still be preferable to a Platonic ‘5.’  I just wonder what grade children ought to start getting into mixed fruit.

Lou Jost - #77044

March 2nd 2013

Dan, I haven’t looked deeply into Sheldrake’s stuff. What little I have seen makes me very skeptical. Just looking at his experimental results, I am shocked at the high rate of telepathy he reports. The rate is far higher than those reported by other paranormal investigators. In the past, such high rates have always been due to fraud or to sloppy experimental controls.

GJDS - #77048

March 2nd 2013

Jon and Merv,

I agree that we should consider all data and information that would enable us to understand the latest thinking and reasoning; I ask however, if we are not ‘sliding’ to the old argument of trying to prove that God exists or does not exist; I would have thought we have dispensed with this some time ago.

On matters of truth and belief, I inevitably come back to the maxim, that we need faith and good works, which means doing something that would bring tangible benefits to others and our planet. This is (ironically for Lou and others) a biblical teaching, that faith without good works is pointless.

Merv - #77052

March 2nd 2013

 I ask however, if we are not ‘sliding’ to the old argument of trying to prove that God exists or does not exist; I would have thought we have dispensed with this some time ago.

We did.  Or a lot of us have anyway.    Christianity used to be the big force in town and was aggressive on every front including science because it could be.  Apologetic claims were strong and held sway in the public mind.  Then the Huxleys of the world got tired of having to contend with the big bully and fought back.  They were successful.  And heady with their own sense of victory they quickly switched from defensive stances to strongly worded claims of their own.  Now [they thought] they had made it demonstrably irrational to believe in God and the attack plunged forward as Christians began reeling back in confusion in the face of science and its new ‘friends’.  It didn’t take long, though, for Christian thinkers to realize that anti-theists had overstepped their own proclaimed bounds, Christians began picking up a new form of [this time more defensive and modest] apologetics:  showing that theism is *compatible* with science.  I.e.  that while it is true you may not be able to use rationality as  a club to corral people into the religious fold, that same club is equally impotent to keep people out or compel them away from belief.  The Collinses and  Polkinghornes are these kinds of apologists.  They make no grand positive claims that science points to Jesus; only that it doesn’t point away from him either.  New anti-theists though long for the old glory days when they could enjoy unhorsing their foe, and the only way for them to relive that is to put out the bait to see if they can lure Christians back into the old fight.  And plenty of Christians are willing to take them up because they too long for the even older glory days when Christianity had all sorts of power—both sword and science at its disposal to chastise the heathen.   Skeptics of all flavors did the world a service knocking us off that horse.  But now that we have been humbled and hopefully made a bit wiser for it.   That is why the only response commonly seen from anti-theists now is typically fashioned into some sort of provocation like “well, if religion did have any truth to it, which religion would it be ...”   hoping that somebody in their audience will take the old bait and try to enlist science on behalf of some particular flavor of deism, giving them something they can shoot at again.

This is one of the keys I think to the hostility so many TEs feel towards the stronger IDism.  While it technically doesn’t enlist or endorse any kind of deity, it just ‘feels’ too much like a less than subtle nudging back towards that dust-bin battle of Huxley’s.  And TEs are understandably not willing to encourage something that looks like it would just lead to more unnecessary hostility and abuse of science both ways.

Enough of a ramble for now.


Eddie - #77092

March 3rd 2013

Hi, Merv.

I agree with your analysis of the cultural shifts above, as far as it goes.  I disagree only with your application of it to ID.

And I don’t disagree entirely even there.   I agree with you that to many TEs, ID does look as you say it does.  And I agree with you that some ID proponents have given grounds for that impression.  But when you look at the best ID theory—Behe’s two books, for example, or Denton’s books, or or Sternberg’s writing—you don’t get that militant flavor.  And Behe has said explicitly in debate that his purpose is not to try to prove the existence of God (still less to prove the truth of Christianity) but to improve science by allowing design (not miracles, but design) as a legitimate cause, where it provides the best explanation for the arrangement of things.  And of course none of the gentlemen named have anything in common with literalist fundamentalism.

I would caution you, also, about reactions based on how something “feels.”  To many, TE “feels” like liberal, Enlightenment-soaked Christianity which has bent over backwards in order to please the opinion leaders of the modern age.  To many it “feels” as if TE (certainly some BioLogos columnists) have completely caved in to modern Biblical criticism, and to others it “feels” as if TE, with its default understanding of pure naturalism in origins, is, when it comes to Creation doctrine,  just Deism with an evangelical Christian propaganda machine (to make it seem more personal and less Deistic).  Hence the strong reaction of OECs, YECs, etc. against BioLogos.  Yet I’m sure that you personally wouldn’t agree with many of the extremes (theological and Biblical) to which some TEs and some BioLogos columnists have gone; similarly, many ID supporters do not agree with some of the extreme statements that sometimes crop up in the writings of Johnson or on Uncommon Descent. 

I personally have no use for fundamentalism, and I think the “war between science and religion” is the creation of journalism, atheism, fundamentalism, and bad scholarship.  And in this connection I’d like to mention that very distinguished scientists, such as Newton and Maclaurin (whose famous series, Merv, you have undoubtedly taught to your students), thought that nature provided grounds for believing in the existence of a Deity; yet this did not cause them to subscribe to any “warfare” thesis.

Of course, ID in itself isn’t natural theology, but it can be applied to support natural theology, I see no objection to that—if it’s done carefully and in full awareness of the very narrow scope of natural theology, and the inability of natural theology to reveal specifically Christian truths.  And I’ve yet to meet an ID proponent in whom natural theology slides into natural religion.  Most ID proponents are hard-core revelationists who think that saving knowledge comes from God, not from human reasoning about nature.

So ID, per se, doesn’t require any return to the “warfare” situation.  The problem is that many ID supporters, in addition to being ID supporters, also have commitments to certain modern American forms of Biblicist religion which do presuppose—and even relish—a confrontation between reason and revelation.  These forms of religion are populist and tend to feed on the resentment of the masses against the elite, of the uneducated against the educated, etc., and to the extent that they prey upon those sentiments, they are in my view low and un-Christian.  I’m not one of those ID supporters.

Merv - #77560

March 17th 2013

Hi, Eddie; I’ve a few thoughts (nothing major) that you provoked above and I’ll try to be orderly about getting them down.  If there was something specific in your reply above that you wanted my reaction on and I miss it, then certainly let me know.

I regret that I’ve still read none of Denton’s work (despite hearing strong recommendations from those who want to see ID ideas fairly considered).  It isn’t that I’m avoiding him—far from it.  And I haven’t read Behe’s recent work (not since Darwin’s Black Box).  Though I have read Meyers’ ‘Signature’ and some (theological) work by Dembski.    So I certainly don’t pass myself off as any ID (or anti-ID expert).  But from what I do know about it, I still have what I would consider a ‘soft skepticism’ and certainly I don’t share in the hostilities towards it that you see in most TEs around here.  I agree with you that all the polarizing heat generated by the media is far from necessary.  Teaching in a private school like I do, we have a greater measure of luxury (for now) of being a bit cavalier about the ideological constraints that may be raining down one way or another from the judicial bench.  So whenever I get the chance to cool the flames fueled by either pro or anti ID militants, I will do so or at the very least not fan the flames.  So I am not scared of ID in the classroom or considered as science—I think open discussion is healthy across classroom and laboratory.  If we stop being scared of it and let it run its course as science, then it will either die on its own because it turned out to be poor or unproductive science, or it may revolutionize existing views and open up great avenues of exploration.  Either way—win; but since we aren’t patient enough to wait for any of that we get out the fear machine and froth up the constituencies for whatever side we favor against the demonized “science-wreckers” and try to force our science through capital hill and courtroom instead of in classrooms and laboratories where it belongs.  So I appreciate your saying that you don’t appreciate the tactics of some who give ID its radically militant relgious look in the public perception.  

And for my part, I don’t think of myself as a TE who is rabidly against IDism even though I may lean towards accepting some criticisms of it given by others with much more biological expertise than I have.  In some sense, I fall prey to the criticism then of being biased by my choice of who to listen to.  In that game, I usually have read the primary source (such as Behe), and then heard a rebuttal that sounds legitimate to me, and then wait to see if the rebuttal gets rebutted.  (Think Proverbs 18:17—I’ll make you look that up.)  This is where so many sites like ICR fall down so badly.  They put up an argument that will sound good at first glance, then one can wonder over to some site like ‘talk origins’ and find the same argument more than soundly answered or even outright refuted.  Then one looks in vain for the creationist rebuttal to that rebuttal.  We are all conditioned to want to have the last word for this reason, not that this guarantees arrival finally at truth, but if the last word is an intelligent one (not resorting to ad-hominem, etc.) then this does carry power in a lay audience who must depend to some extent on expert interpretation.  I think this is why it is so important for IDers (in their own interest) to not be secluded but to be included in the public discussion here and elsewhere.  It may be that their argument won’t stand.  That is always a risk.  But if one just drops out or is not even allowed in, the discussion is prematurely truncated for less than ethical-pursuit-of-truth reasons.

Your warnings about leaning on “feelings” is so noted.  

What you said about natural theology not sliding into natural religion (for every ID proponent you know of) would not be very reassuring to atheists who don’t make any distinction between theology and religion.   Not that they are or should be the default platform to consider this from.  For my part, I have no axe to grind if ID proponents want to be very specifically religious.  But they rightly realize that they don’t want to make their tent any smaller with unecessary restrictions.   Whatever they have to say scientifically though, probably can’t have their specific religious content in it since that would make it non-scientific.  But it can certainly be motivated by whatever religious outlook they have.  It would be unreasonable to expect otherwise.

It sounds like you and I are on the same page regarding these particular culture wars.


Eddie - #77565

March 17th 2013

Hi, Merv.  Yes, I’m very sympathetic with most of your conclusions and even more with your relaxed, commonsensical attitude regarding how we should handle various claims:  instead of reacting in fear or anger, let the claims be discussed, and let them live or die according to their merits.  That’s all I’ve ever asked for regarding ID.  

Regarding rebuttals, I understand you when you say that people tend to go with the rebuttal that isn’t answered.  But I always want to remind people that some rebuttals have been answered.  People repeat endlessly the criticisms of Behe’s second book, but almost none of them mention that Behe in fact responded—often in technical detail—to every serious review of his work; all those responses are found on his blog at Uncommon Descent (where it was moved from Amazon.com), and he has responded to criticism of his earlier work as well, e.g., he responds to Miller on the flagellum in the Debating Design book.

Denton’s second book will appeal more to TEs than his first book.  His first book is largely negative—it criticizes neo-Darwinism but offers no alternative, and left some readers with the impression that he opted for creationism and rejected evolution altogether.  (Actually, all he argued was that the protein and fossil data are more consonant with creationism than with NDE, and left the matter up in the air.)  But his second book unabashedly affirms evolution, and even evolution wholly through natural causes—no miracles, no tinkering, etc.—which should make TEs feel secure.  But at the same time it’s heavily critical of neo-Darwinism—to which many TEs (more the biologists than the physicists) will object—and it freely uses the language of design.  So his position is a sort of blending of ID and TE elements.  I would think that everyone interested in the question “How can I put together belief in a creator God with belief in evolution?” would find Denton’s Nature’s Destiny immensely interesting, and I think it is a must-read.  I would guess that the TE closest to Denton’s approach is Simon Conway Morris, but I haven’t yet had time to read Conway Morris’s book, so I can’t say that authoritatively.  

I hope you will continue to be one of the voices of moderation here, Merv, along with Sy, Jon, and a few others, including of course Ted Davis.  Best wishes.  And thanks for getting back to me.

Merv - #77054

March 2nd 2013

GJDS—you also wrote:

On matters of truth and belief, I inevitably come back to the maxim, that we need faith and good works, which means doing something that would bring tangible benefits to others and our planet. This is (ironically for Lou and others) a biblical teaching, that faith without good works is pointless.

I suppose Christians would also point out the converse; that good works without faith is also pointless (if not impossible).  But I add a hearty ‘amen’ to the conviction that both are needed.


GJDS - #77057

March 2nd 2013

Merv, ”.. that good works without faith is also pointless…” agreed for those who aspouse faith or belief in God - Abraham believed and this was counted by God as righteousness. However I am inclined to widen this topic for discussion purposes, in that a person has faith because of the Grace of God. Thus an atheist can do good deeds (as can a theists), and his/her community would appreciate this (and some may thank God for it), while the atheist clearly states that he does not believe. I think religious people should also recognise this (along with making modest claims as you pointed out in your previous post).

Lou Jost - #77059

March 2nd 2013

Merv, I am not sure what you mean by “Good works without faith are also pointless (if not impossible).” An atheist is even more motivated than a theist to make the world a better place. We know that this is all there is, so it is important to contribute to making it better, for our own good and the good of those we love, and those who follow. Many Christians (especially here in Latin America) often accept the world’s injustice because they think it is the “will of God”, and they imagine that no matter how bad things are here, they will get their reward in their afterlife. This does not exactly motivate them to change the world for the better (my interpretation of “good works”).

Merv - #77068

March 3rd 2013

I have no problems accepting and rejoicing that atheists (or any follower of some form of religion or anti-religion) can and do many good works.  It is their claimed ‘lack of faith’ that I’m more than skeptical about (especially if they really are doing good works.)  Especially if their hostility to faith turns out more to be just hostility against insitutionalized Christianity which in large part (but not entirely) has become so complacent.

So, Lou, if you are working on behalf of the poor in Latin America, then I have utmost respect for you and your endeavors.  I’m not saying that you are really some sort of ‘covert Christian’ when you insist that you aren’t.  Let’s just say I’m fairly agnostic about accepting people’s ‘anti-faith’ claims as opposed to seeing their actions.  The Bible is more than a little clear about this -that there will be surpises in heaven.   “Lord, when did we ever ...?”   as well as “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter ...”  from Matthew 7:21-23.    I like C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of this very teaching when in his Narnia stories he has the young Calorman who has spent his life worshipping a false god come with trepidation before the true deity of the stories (Aslan) only to be told that it was impossible that he could do anything of virtue or honor unless he was really doing it for Aslan.  (And impossible for apparent followers of Aslan, if they were doing foul deeds to really have been doing it for Him.)  There are more than a few things Jesus taught that should make all of us ‘insitutional Christians’ shudder.  

And whether you like it or not, Lou, the reality is that so many people in the world do have as their one lasting solace the comfort of committing their soul here and ever after into God’s hands through Christ.  You are right that we must not let that be an excuse not to improve their circumstances here and now.  That is a very Biblically sound trajectory you seem to be on.  If only  the world had more ‘atheists’ like you!


Lou Jost - #77069

March 3rd 2013

Thanks I guess! In my experience, atheists are just as concerned about the state of the world as religious people are. Maybe moreso. The very secular countries of northern Europe have some of the best social safety nets for their poorer citizens, have very low crime rates, and generally do well on measures of quality-of-life. I don’t claim there is necessarily a causal relationship, but I would claim that these countries are proof that religion is not necessary in order to have a caring and just society.

Here in Latin America I often meet members of Doctors Without Borders, a completely non-religious medical aid organization. Many of the doctors I meet are atheists, and they are some of kindest and most committed and selfless people I have ever known. Likewise I have two atheist friends from Europe who have spent a year of their lives living as human shields in the poor communities of Colombia to try to save them from the guerrilla-paramilitary conflicts there.

My own work bears no comparison to theirs. But I work hard here in Latin America for tropical forest conservation and sustainability, along with doing my scientific work.


beaglelady - #77080

March 3rd 2013

I agree that non-religious people can do some remarkable good works, and  I admire them very much for it.  For example, Bill Gates uses his considerable fortune in trying to eradicate malaria and polio. 

Ted Davis - #77077

March 3rd 2013


I realize that “atheists” are no more monolithic in their thinking than “theists” or even “Christians,” so I say this with some hesitation.

You speak here of “good,” and how an atheist has even more motivation than a theist to make things better. Some of the more vocal atheists, however—Dawkins would be an example—deny the existence of “good” in the sense in which Christians affirm it. I’m thinking at the moment of what Dawkins says, “Good and evil—I don’t believe that there is hanging out there, anywhere, something called good and something called evil. I think that there are good things that happen and bad things that happen.” (http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/4047?page=5)

You’re involved a lot of the exchanges here right now, Lou, and I don’t want you to feel compelled to comment on this further point, which is not really to the point of my column. I don’t know whether you even agree with Dawkins; I’m not attributing his position to you. However, I do not see in Dawkins an adequate basis for morality, since there really isn’t a “good” or “evil” to work for or against, when all is said and done.

Lou Jost - #77086

March 3rd 2013

Ted, thanks for asking about that. It is a question that needs a longer answer than I have time to give now, and as you say, it is not the point of your column. Let’s get back to it another day. A short thought though—-I don’t see a battle between good and evil in the world, I see a struggle between “better” and “worse”.

Eddie - #77089

March 3rd 2013


Even if you limit yourself to “better” and “worse” you are still using the language of good and evil.  You’ve merely avoided the positive degree of the adjective and switched to the comparative degree.

How do you decide what is “better” and “worse” if you are limited to “scientific” or “neutral” description?  And supposing you could decide this “neutrally”—e.g., suppose you could establish that pleasure is objectively “better” and pain is objectively “worse” for human beings to experience—what if there are some human beings who get pleasure out of inflicting pain on other human beings?  If their own personal “pleasure index” is their guide to moral action, they will deem it right to inflict pain on others.  And if you say, they should be concerned with the pleasure or pain of others, not of themselves, where does your “should” come from?  Why is the morality of Mother Teresa preferable to the morality of De Sade?  The question of good and evil can be evaded, postponed, obscured—but it will never go away.

Jon Garvey - #77095

March 4th 2013

An example, in European racism, of the non-scientific basis of all morality. It seems that belief in white superiority was almost universal in white Europe/US the 19th century.

White slave-owners often justified it on the basis of highly distorted Bible interpretations about Ham’s curse, or Eve’s serpent being a black (and soulless) man. More Christians believed in equality before God (as Adam’s offspring) but assumed, culturally, white superiority. Even many abolitionists didn’t believe in racial equality.

Scientists’ racial views (on balance, I’ve read, more negative than the those based on religion) were justified by the science of the day up to Darwin in speaking of polygenism (and the cultural biases mixed in inequality). Darwin’s work favoured ultimate monogenism, but didn’t preclude separate humnan species, and could be turned by Haeckel and many others to a policy of racial Eugenics on the basis of social Darwinism - the worst manifestation of what was, essentially, just a cultural moral prejudice propped up by whatever evidence was to hand.

It changed for various reasons, I think, such as Civil Rights movements, and specifically the Holocaust. It was long after that that evolutionary science provided evidence confirming not only the single species of modern man, but denying that the differences even constituted biological races. There is a welcome scientific confirmation of the brotherhood of man, which makes racism harder to justify (so now we can hate people because of their religious beliefs instead!).

But supposing the science had turned out differently? We might easily have found the races were derived from different hominins, and then what would have been the “scientific” basis of racial morality? It would have been very consistent with a classic Malthusian struggle between species, with genocide as quite a logical solution to all kinds of issues.

Or tolerance could be argued on some grounds like biodiversity ... which as morality doesn’t stir the heart and as science is dubious.

Lou Jost - #77105

March 4th 2013

Jon, as I mentioned below in #77100, evolution teaches us that our empathy should extend to other higher animals, not just us. Evolution teaches us that dolphins and great apes and wolves are not that different from us, and may feel many of the sentiments we feel, and are worthy of respect. If it had turned out that there were different hominid lineages, our knowledge that we had a recent common ancestor would have led us to embrace them as brothers and co-travellers.

On the other hand, Christians would have insisted that only one lineage (their own) was created in the image of god. The Bible has a chequered history with respect to racism. It did not clearly condemn slavery, and both slavers and abolitionists could find support in it. For your god, it was more important to tell his readers not to wear clothes made of two kinds of threads than to tell them not to enslave other people. Your god chose to say it was ok to beat a slave nearly to death as long as he can get up after a few days, rather than to say that slavery was prohibited. All he did was prohibit Israelites from making slaves of their own countrymen.

Some semi-Christian spin-offs like the Mormon church continued to think blacks were cursed by god until the 1970s. Granted, there were also some scientists who thought blacks were inferior to whites. But bad science is eventually overturned. Bad holy books are rarely updated.

Jon Garvey - #77109

March 4th 2013

I’m not sure evolution “teaches” us empathy. Or if it does, it also taught Victorian scientists that there was a deadly struggle for survival that might require the unfortunate necessity of culling the poor, the indigent and the lesser races for the sake of the greater good. That’s as ambiguous as one could wish.

The Bible was teaching the monogenism of man from the beginning, of course. If it is neutral regarding slavery, that certainly wasn’t how it was interpreted increasingly by Christians, despite slavery’s crucial role in the world’s economic systems. That was why it was virtually eliminated in most of Christian Europe by 700 AD, until it began to be commercially profitable in early modern times (15th century), when humanism began to challenge the teachings of Christianity. Human autonomy, the nation state and commerce became the new values.

That was a tangled time ecclesiastically, and the Pope in 1452 permitted enslavement of Muslim and pagan prisoners (but not on the basis of race), only to have his successor condemn it as a “great crime” just a decade later. The Pope of 1435 had already excommunicated Europeans for enslaving Canary Islanders; Paul III in 1537 demanded the freeing of Amerindian slaves, as did Gregory XIV in 1591. Urban VIII condemned slavery universally, as did the Roman inquisition in 1686.

People were no more obedient to religious leaders then than they are now… and society was no more homogenous, either - unless you want to blame today’s sex trade, torture of prisoners, global warming and gun crime on the dominant liberal democratic morality. There is, of course, plenty of slavery today - even in the liberal democracies: seldom justified on either biblical or scientific grounds, but tolerated just the same.

The Protestant anti-slavery movement was a latecomer around 1750, but its role is better known.

The roots of racism, largely in 17th century heterodox polygenism, are well documented in D Livingstone’s “Adam’s Ancestors”, and shows the evils of European supremicism in both religion and science - but the simplistic myth of science’s universal moral beneficence after the darkness of Christian morality is just fiction.

Lou Jost - #77111

March 4th 2013

 One quick comment—I didn’t say that science teaches us empathy. It justifies extending whatever empathy we have to some other species.

I agree that slavery was a mixed bag, with both religion and science playing the villain sometimes. I can understand why science (and religious leaders) would be wrong sometimes. I can’t understand why an allegedly divinely-inspired book would not have bothered to make a clear statement against slavery, especially considering all the trivia that it did bother to condemn. Think of the millions of lives that were made miserable by that omission. Shouldn’t that count as evidence that your book is not divinely inspired?

Lou Jost - #77112

March 4th 2013

I hope somewhere in this Forum we will discuss what kind of evidence it would take to convince people that the Bible is or is not divinely inspired and/or inerrant.

All it would have taken to convince me that a holy book was inspired by a god is an unequivocal statement of a difficult-to-guess fact which was not known at the time of its writing. For example, the correct description of the solar system.  Or a correct number of continents. Or a clever math theorem. It would have been so easy for a real god to have included such things. Of course theologians will find all kinds of obfuscations about why a god wouldn’t want to be that clear about his existence. Yet that same god didn’t seem so shy in the OT, or even in the gospels.

Ted Davis - #77114

March 4th 2013

Forgive my scepticism, Lou, but I have the impression that it would take quite a bit more than an accurate description of the solar system to convince you of the divine inspiration of the Bible. Quite a bit more.

If you want those kinds of statements, however, there are many books by fundamentalists full of them. How God told us about (say) the expanding universe, or airplanes, or atomic bombs. I’ll spare you the citations; you could probably provide a few yourself, unless I’m mistaken.

Of course, if “a real god” had described in detail just how (say) atoms work, with negatively-charged electrons rotating in orbits shaped like conic sections about tiny, positively charged nuclei, you’d have thoroughly grounded your Catholic faith in the Bible—back around 1915. And, by the late 1920s, you’d have changed your mind. That god wouldn’t look as smart to you then, after all.

Lou Jost - #77120

March 4th 2013

Ted, I honestly think it would have changed my mind if I had found any unequivocal instance of this sort of thing. Your point about changing science is well-taken, but even if a 2000 year old sacred book had unambiguously described 19th century atomic theory, I’d have been impressed.

A neat math theorem would be timeless. Though in that case I probably would weasel out of it, because there have been math geniuses far ahead of their time. (Fermat, Ramanujan come to mind.)

Anyway god sure seems lazy on this issue. That is surprising considering the effort he went through to convince people of his existence in other times, and considering how much he says he likes to be worshipped.

Ted Davis - #77151

March 5th 2013


I don’t know how that god would be able to have told the ancient Hebrews about most modern scientific ideas, in such a way that would have satisfied your criteria. I base this on the fact that the Hebrews had neither the verbal nor the conceptual vocabulary that would have enabled them to comprehend any of it. Even a moving earth would have been, for them, incomprehensible. As Thomas Kuhn said (speaking of the “incommensurability” of competing paradigms, in the context of Copernicanism), “Consider ... the men who called Copernicus mad because he proclaimed that the earth moved. They were not either just wrong or quite wrong. Their earth, at least, could not be moved.”

Or, as Galileo noted in his “Letter to the Grand Duchess,” if God had told us about the earth’s motion in the Bible, everyone would have dismissed it as erroneous and then disregarded what God said about the Resurrection….

We both have limited time, Lou, as much as we might like sparring. Don’t feel any obligation to respond to this or my other comments, any more than I will feel compelled to respond to all of yours.

Lou Jost - #77177

March 6th 2013

Well, surely he could have thought of something that would be convincing. If not a scientific statement, then a clear prophecy. And yet, the clearest prophecy Jesus made was wrong…or so radically misinterpreted that it should not have been made in that form. Again, we have a god that seems to lack knowledge, either of real events in the future or of how to write clearly.

Lou Jost - #77124

March 4th 2013

Any thoughts about the other side of my question? What would it take to convince you that the bible is not inspired by a god? And for someone who believes it is inerrant, what would it take to dispell that notion?

We already know the bible is factually wrong about its cosmology, the origin of earth, the great flood; it contains  horrendous ethical precepts and advocates genocide and orders the murder of children; it contains Jesus’ failed prophecies that he would come again while some of those present were still alive. If it is divinely inspired, I would not want to meet its inspirer!

Ted Davis - #77152

March 5th 2013

I will let Polkinghorne address this issue himself, starting in roughly a month’s time. His conception of inspiration may not satisfy you (or any other individual reader), but he will offer one for consideration.

Ted Davis - #77113

March 4th 2013


Bad holy books are rarely updated, as you say, but bad theologies are updated quite often. The “fundies” you worry about don’t often make that distinction, but many other Christians do. Would you agree?

As for “some scientists who thought blacks were inferior to whites,” that’s an understatement. I don’t want to digress very far from the themes of this column, so I’ll give just two quite pertinent examples among the many that might be given.

First, I’ll quote Duke anthropologist Matt Cartmill, who write a fascinating book on the history of his discipline and related matters: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/View-to-a-Death-in-the-Morning/Matt-Cartmill/e/9780674937369

As he says (p. 199), “From Darwin’s time down to the beginning of World War II, most scientists who studied human evolution were shocking racists by today’s standards.” There’s a lot more to say about this, of course, and Cartmill says some of it, but this one sentence is fully in context.

Second, I’ll note that the book used to teach evolution in Tennessee prior to the famous Scopes trial, Hunter’s “A Civic Biology,” was replete with scientific racism and eugenics. Readers can get a glance here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_Biology and http://www.bradburyac.mistral.co.uk/tenness7.html.

Did “science” correct itself on these things, or were they corrected by other forces? That’s a good question, and I’m not entirley clear on the answer. For example, what pretty much shut down American eugenics research was the horrific information leaking out of Germany around the time of the Second World War, not changes in genetics or evolutionary biology.

Lou Jost - #77121

March 4th 2013

Yes, I agree with everything you say in this comment. I agree that an ethical sense and a reaction to the German eugenics did have a lot to do with the change. But science did change. The scientific method is the best way we have to get beyond cultural biases like this, but science is done by humans, and they can be slow!

Yes, theology does evolve. I suspect much of that is in response to the ethical and scientific advances of secular society (see for example the treatment of women by religion, or all the ways theology has adapted to our new cosmology, and to old earth geology, and to evolution). But I grant that over time, closer study of the bible by more and more workers, coupled with new empirical insights from archaeology or new discoveries of related ancient texts, will also surely improve our interpretations of it.

Ted Davis - #77174

March 6th 2013


You seem to think that theology is not, or never, self-correcting, whereas it is in the grain of science to correct itself—i.e., to correct itself internally, as it were, not simply in response to external pressures as in the eugenics case (about which we agree).

I would not say that the Protestant Reformation took place in a vacuum, such that external factors had no role in it. Quite the contrary; one of the people on my doctoral committee was the late Gerald Strauss (http://www.indiana.edu/~bfc/docs/circulars/10-11/B9-2011.pdf), who did as much as anyone to emphasize (to borrow the title of one of his books) “Manifestations of Discontent in Germany on the Eve of the Reformation.”

But I would say that the theology developed by Luther and Calvin, based to a significant extent on existing currents in medieval theology (on that, see the great work of Heiko Oberman and others), was substantially an internal correction, within the Christian theological tradition.

Now you might not think that this is very signficant, but the Reformation had enormous consequences in many areas “outside” of religion, and probably a few also for early modern science that you might appreciate.

Theology can in fact change owing to internal conversations. Science does so much more, but then science isn’t about the types of things that we need to be careful about not changing—such as whether or not certain specific values are held, regardless of what “science” or “reason” is thought to indicate. I have yet to see (e.g.) how Dawkins’ view of humanity is consistent with the Declaration of Independence. Science absolutely does not tell us that “all men are created equal.”

Jon Garvey - #77096

March 4th 2013

Further thoughts. The comparison of de Sade, and Mother Theresa, though perhaps clichéd, is instructive.

In pure Darwinian terms, de Sade has many descendants, and Theresa has none. Even if one dragged in some oblique kin-selection theory of altruism, de Sade’s direct descendant is stil a well-to-do Marquis, involved in scholarly studies of his ancestor, whereas Theresa has only enabled adding more to the “problem poor” of Calcutta. In the days when it was courageous and scientific to talk of “preserving the health the species” against sentimental religious obscurantism, that in itself would be an immoral act.

Morally, de Sade’s belief in radical autonomy is now the basis of western morality, though with “thou shalt not harm others” added rather gratuitously from religion. Mother Theresa’s morality of “love for and surrender to God” finds few influential supporters.

Taking Wikipedia as an example, de Sade’s thought and work are discussed by scholars seriously. Theresa has only a section of academic criticism of her work.

And you can make a fortune nowadays writing a sado-masochistic novel - whereas one on faith and celibacy is not likely to go far: indeed, in my country people of faith have lost their jobs for “discriminating” against people following some of de Sade’s practices.

So all in all, the “divine Marquis” seems to be at a considerable selective advantage over the nun as far as evolutionary morality goes.

Lou Jost - #77100

March 4th 2013

Hi Eddie,

There are many different “questions of good and evil”, as you know. The versions of the problem for theologians are hard. Why did their god create or allow or sustain evil? Why do disasters kill innocent people? Why does prayer for good causes have no effect? Why do Christians have proportionately just as many accidents as Muslims? Why did god allow the Holocaust, etc….the theist god seems unconcerned with good and evil today. The universe behaves just as if there were no god: good and evil things happen as expected by the laws of nature.

Atheists (and IDers, as you pointed out in an earlier post) don’t have this problem. For atheists, good and evil are human constructs, though no less real for that. For us, the problem is how to decide what course of action is better than another. That can be hard, but as I said earlier, many of today’s secular societies have been able to do it, and generally with better results than religious societies. I think we can have purely secular debates about particular policies, and these would be more illuminating and productive than debates based on quoting 2000 year old books.

It is often said (even by scientists) that evolution offers no moral guidance. I think that is not quite right. Evolution shows us that there is no sharp dividing line between other animals and ourselves, and that we are not in any sense the goal of the process. This suggests that empathy and concern for especially higher animals is justified, and that the world is not ours to do with as we wish. In contrast, most Christian theists (and IDers) conclude that man is a completely different kind of being (the only being with a “soul” and a destiny) than other animals.

GJDS - #77090

March 3rd 2013

Reply Lou Jost #77070

Thanks for your detailed response. My comments (which you feel are unfair) are on your ascertain that my (and others) culture is all that there is to my faith and outlook. I disagree and have responded to the effect that I have examined these matters and am convinced that I have come to a reasoned position. You may disagree with my position, but I think it unfair of you to assume otherwise.

On my comments regarding faith and theology – I commence with an assumption that we have examined the Patristic writings, have become familiar with the discussions and arguments that formulated Orthodoxy, have delved into the Bible, and have examined one’s conscience, and also made a commitment on what ‘living by faith’ means; this amounts to a free choice regarding my faith and my overall outlook.

I have not included scientific insights when I consider faith – this is because as a scientist I cannot find a scientific definition of faith. I however, have considered past opinions/beliefs regarding our physical makeup and our world. It is good to consider nature and our knowledge of these things and see how science has corrected some of errors of these matters. My main point however, has been to see if faith and science are in conflict or if they are not. I understand that such an exercise has a good deal of subjectivity to it. I have already stated a position regarding faith and that of science. As a practicing research scientist I am aware that much of the tenets taught (in my field) when I was a University student were changed, ignored, or now rejected. More particularly, I also understand that I enjoy a sceptical approach to science because this enables me to ask questions and be more aware of what is not known or well understood – this is the rational for scientific research. It is in this light that my remarks should be understood. Much of science is speculation and uncertain – faith is more on what I think is good and bad, and how to live as a Christian.

I trust this clarifies my remarks to you.

GJDS - #77093

March 4th 2013

Oh yes, I have yet to recieve a reasonable response to my question (the I am mystified) why atheists (who declare they have a set and reasoned position which is often anti-theist) are so concerned and are actively seeking to declare faith is an odd anti-scientific ‘stuff’.

Lou Jost - #77106

March 4th 2013

I did answer that. I gave you two reasons. First, on a website like this, I assume we are all interested in arriving at the truth. That means if someone gives an argument that I think is wrong, I should tell them why I think it is wrong. Second, most of us live in democracies, so people’s beliefs are not really private. They affect all of us through their votes. Grounds for belief are therefore important to discuss. Why should that mystify you?

I do indeed think faith of the kind practiced by many Americans (probably not those reading this site) is generally anti-scientific. Nowadays faith-based activists are constantly trying to introduce anti-science legislation in many state legislatures. These activists elect extraordinarily ignorant US congressional representatives like the now-infamous Rep Broun from Georgia, who claimed that the big bang and evolution and embryology (!) were “lies from the pit of hell”. This guy and other ignorant representatives run the US House of Representatives Science Comittee. They are the ones who set government policy. This is not good for science in America.

Ted Davis - #77115

March 4th 2013

I agree with you, Lou, that many Americans are woefully ignorant of science; and, I agree that “the kind of faith practiced by many Americans” is indeed “generally anti-scientific.” The substantial opposition to AGW among American Christians is a good illustration of this. The only religious “justification” for this that I can find anywhere, is the belief that God wouldn’t have created a world that we could screw up that badly. In light of what Christianity has (pretty consistently) taught about human nature and our great ability to do great wrong, I’m truly baffled by this. It has to be politics driving religion, in this case, not religion driving politics.

Lou Jost - #77117

March 4th 2013

Thanks for this comment, Ted. I think the idea that “faith” is a virtue may be behind the ease with which so many Americans deny science. For many, faith trumps facts every time.

Merv - #77130

March 4th 2013

“Faith” is not a virtue.  Faith in the true and good things or people *might* lead one to be virtuous.  Faith in Hitler, faith in guns, faith in Jesus, faith in the goodness of humanity,  faith in education, faith in the scientific method, faith in the tooth fairy——all are extremely different, and lead in variously catastrophic or benign directions.  I don’t know anyone (except maybe a few athiests who wish to maintain the self-delusion that they alone have no faith) who would think all faith is equal. If people have faith in Jesus but not something or someone else, it’s probably because they have reasons to have faith in Jesus, but have no similar reasons for the other.  So it isn’t any good trying to pretend that the world is neatly divided into “faith” and “no faith”.  And to say of those who maintain a faith that you don’t share that “facts trump faith every time” is an unrealistic caricature.  Everybody has reasons for thinking and believing the way they do.  They may be irrational or evil or misled reasons—but they will be reasons nonetheless.  And once embarked on, that may become a filter to be skeptical of all other contrary lines of thought after that.  Confirmation bias is an enemy to watch for in the smaller world of science, as it should be.  But it is not always evil in its every application.  There are times when such a filter is wisely applied and saves us much wasted time or heartache.


Merv - #77131

March 4th 2013

correction to something I mistyped above:

I misquoted Lou as having said “facts trump faith every time” when he actually said that “for many faith trumps facts every time.”—which of course triggered my responding ramble.

Lou Jost - #77134

March 4th 2013

Merv, of course I agree with you that faith is not a virtue. However I find that many people with strong faith in their religion do consider their faith a virtue, and are very quick to reject science that they think contradicts that faith. They often do this even when the science is settled and non-controversial, and even though they themselves have only very weak evidence for their particular object of faith. I don’t think I am making a caricature of these folks, though of course you might have met a different mix of people than me, and maybe such people are rare in your experience. I think US polling data supports my impression that these people are common.


Eddie - #77137

March 4th 2013


When you say “faith is not a virtue,” do I detect a free-church background?  In the Middle Ages, of course, faith was indeed a virtue, one of the three “theological virtues” (faith, hope, and charity), as distinguished from the four “cardinal virtues” (courage, prudence, moderation, justice).  This categorization is still found among Catholics, Anglicans, and others.

By the way, you may have missed my reply to you regarding natural theology and ID, #77092 above. 

Merv - #77150

March 5th 2013

Diving in for a few minutes here while my students take a test…

Lou first (but this may address your question too, Eddie)—faith *in God* is a virtue;  I was just making the point that faith in its general dictionary sense could mean nearly anything both good or bad, so I’m holding open the door that faith generally could well *be* a virtue whereas you seem to be wanting that door to stay shut.  And my other point still stands as well:  that you too have faith.  Your faith is probably in something like the scientific method.  And as such it is faith as well.  You may have good reasons for putting your faith there (such as seeming workability of many things—but be reminded that Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmology worked quite well for many centuries, so workability really proves nothing, though it does count as evidence).  People who have faith in Jesus (or in other religious doctrines of various kinds) also have reasons for their faith even if they aren’t scientific reasons.  And just like your reasons for trusting science, their reasons may be good or evil, rational or irrational or so forth—but most of us lean on ‘workability’ to a great extent to support our reasons.  I.e.  airplanes fly so we think technology is pretty sound.  Jesus transforms broken lives, so we think He is worthy of our trust, etc.

I’m sure you would agree, Eddie, that if my faith was in money to solve all my problems…that such a faith would not be what the Apostle Paul meant when he speaks of ‘faith’, ‘hope’, and ‘love’ as the greatest gifts.  Perhaps I should use a capital letter to differentiate these ‘Big three gifts’ from those concepts generally.  Eddie, I’m not sure where you were going with the ‘free church’ query.  I am a Mennonite (Anabaptist heritage) if that helps answer your question. 

Eddie, I’ll have to get back to your other reply above at another time.


Eddie - #77155

March 5th 2013


Thanks for answering my question about faith as a virtue.  We have no disagreement.

I wasn’t “going anywhere” with the remark about “free church”—just giving you a playful elbow, as a Harvard man might to a Yale man, or an East Coast person might to a Californian.  I’ve often found that traditional phrases such as “the three theological virtues” draw a blank with some Protestants, who find such phrases “Catholic”-sounding and strange.  As I’ve already indicated to you my respect for you and your posts, I hope you will take such inter-denominational banter on my part as affectionate rather than malevolent.


Merv - #77156

March 5th 2013

I wasn’t worried and just thought that your comment had passed over my head because of my unfamiliarity with something. 

The respect is certainly mutual and humor always welcome; I’ll keep my helmet on!


Lou Jost - #77108

March 4th 2013

Darn, I wrote a rather long response to this and it disappeared. I’ll just say that I don’t understand your comments about faith, and why you seem to insulate it from evidence-based evaluation. And yes, science changes as our knowledge increases. That is a good thing.

Lou Jost - #77110

March 4th 2013

This was in response to your post 77070, not 77093.

GJDS - #77128

March 4th 2013

Lou Jost,

I understand a debate would provide opposing views to the subject and I also accept that each side believes their arguments may be weighty or ‘more correct’; I do not think that any particular human being however, has the total truth. Having said that, I do not think I am insulating my faith from evidence, nor do I see any great (theological) difference between the good a theist may do compared to that of an atheist. The test of faith (or if you prefer regarding yourself, the absence of such faith and instead belief in evidence) is imo how a person lives and the content of his/her character. My faith position is that God also, after all is said and done, has a similar view. Consequently, I prefer to see these matters as positions taken by either party – the public judgment would still be based on what each person does, in terms of good and evil (or perhaps as you say, for better or worse).

In passing, I agree with Jon’s view that I summarize as, “White supremacy underpinned by an inane belief that science and technology has granted them power over the planet”. I think this is contrary to the teachings of the Christian faith. I also think we should distinguish between those who seek power and would use any device, science, religion, culture, etc., to achieve their aims, from those who have chosen a position they believe underpins goodwill and a desire to do what is good. This is a big topic that has been, and will continue to be debated for many years.

GJDS - #77172

March 6th 2013

Hi Ted, (#77115)

We can find many opinions expressed by politicians and bigots, and I do not think the “kind of faith practiced” in the USA, or Europe , has a monopoly on odd views. I am reminded of a prominent US politician that wants to see a statue of Darwin (presumably) next to Abraham Lincoln – listening to the reasons he gave convinces me that ‘reason has evaporated’ from such people and has been replaced by blind belief – I ask the question, “How many ‘fundies’ and self-referential authorities, be it faith against science, or evolution against faith, can we find if we decide to look for such, to bolster some sort of nebulous debate?” I think we can all come up with a lot, but how helpful would this be in the pursuit of truth?

beaglelady - #77176

March 6th 2013

How interesting! Just who is this prominent politician who wants to “see a statue of Darwin (presumably) next to Abraham Lincoln” and what are the reasons he gives?  And what does “presumably” mean in the context of your sentence? 

Lou Jost - #77179

March 6th 2013

GJDS, I am afraid I don’t understand your comment at all. Many large surveys support my view about the anti-scientific bent of the typical person of faith in the US. And the Republican party presidential candidates in the last election were almost without exception religiously-driven people with strongly anti-science views. And many of them were very popular.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #77173

March 6th 2013

It seems to me that this discussion has floundered on the basis of the perceived duality of the universe.  If there are two sides and only two sides to every question, then we can never know the truth, because neither of these sides contains the whole truth and a third view by definition does not exist.

Ted began his essay with the view that theology was top down while science was bottom up.  P is interested in doing theology a better way which incorporates the best of top down and bottom up, which makes it a third way.  Of course as a result P is criticized by both theologians and scientists.

The truth is that while theology does begin at the top with God, it cannot ignore the bottom, which is nature and history, and while science does begin with nature, it cannot ignore the Top which gives unity and and meaning to science.  The differences between theology and science is based more in emphasis and subject matter, than in methodology.

The need again is to go beyond the dualism of Science and Theology, and that should be clear because the three pillars of Western culture are theology, philosophy, and modern science.  Science helps us understand the physical, while theology helps us understand the spiritual.  However there is another area of life, the rational, which is the domain of philosophy, and the lack of understanding of this area causes our discussions to fail. 

In some sense philosophy begins not at the top or the bottom, but in the middle and moves both up and down in order to understand how we know nature, that which is primarily physical, and how we best relate to God and others through morality. 

I commend to you the book, Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio.  He uses this work to try to reconcile math with philosophy.  I used many of the ideas found here in my book DARWIN’S MYTH to determine if Darwinism is scientiffically defensible.

Isn’t it interesting that many nonbelievers still use the concept of God.  It reminds me of the words of the old nonbeliever, Voltaire, “If God did not exist, humanity would have to invent Him.”  


Lou Jost - #77180

March 6th 2013

I have that book and enjoyed it. In spite of the title, it is not a religious book. I am curious how you used it in a book about Darwin and evolution….

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