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The Father of Intelligent Design

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January 9, 2014 Tags: Christianity & Science - Then and Now, Image of God, Science as Christian Calling
The Father of Intelligent Design
Vignette by Hubert-François Gravelot, from the title page of Thomas Birch’s six-volume quarto edition of The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle (London, 1772); the same image had graced the five-volume folio edition of 1744. The objects on the shelf represent Boyle’s contributions to chemistry (the furnace, pots, and ladle), pneumatics (the air pump and associated glassware), and scholarship (the books), all inspired by a Muse. The Latin words running across the shelf (“From the causes of things to know the Supreme Cause [God]”) echo Boyle’s pre-eminence in natural theology—a role that eighteenth-century readers would have immediately recognized. Only a handful of scientists have ever matched the intensity of Boyle’s emphasis on arguments for proving God’s existence, and none has done more to advance the whole enterprise.

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

Early in this series, I said that Boyle’s abiding interest in Christian apologetics reflects the lifelong conversation he had with his own religious doubts. Right in the center of this conversation we find his outspoken advocacy of the design argument for God’s existence. Indeed, considering the depth of his commitment to it, the substantial financial support he provided for others to promote it after his death, and the close resemblance between his attitudes and arguments and those of modern ID advocates, it’s entirely appropriate to see Boyle as the “Father of Intelligent Design.”

Boyle on Design in Nature

As we’ve already seen, Boyle saw the mechanical philosophy as a powerful ally for religion, and the clock metaphor was integral to his apologetics. He found the mechanical philosophy attractive for two nearly opposite reasons. On the one hand, it drew our attention more deeply into nature, by stressing the created mechanisms themselves as the proper subjects of our scientific investigations. On the other hand, it drew our attention away from nature itself, pointing clearly and powerfully to the One who had fashioned it exquisitely as the proper object of our worship.

Thus, Boyle argued that design principles—what Aristotle had called “final causes”— have a proper place within natural philosophy. However, he added a crucial caveat, printed in italics for emphasis: “That the Naturalist should not suffer the Search or the Discovery of a Final Cause of Nature’s Works, to make him Undervalue or Neglect the studious Indagation of their Efficient Causes.” What Aristotle called “efficient causes” were just the actual physical causes at hand. Francis Bacon had offered the same caution decades earlier in The Advancement of Learning. Given that Bacon was a regular part of Boyle’s intellectual diet, it’s safe to assume a specific influence here. Although neglecting efficient causes “would render Physiology [i.e., scientific investigation] Useless,” Boyle added, “the studious Indagation of them, will not Prejudice the Contemplation of Final Causes” (A Disquisition on the Final Causes of Natural Things, in The Works of Robert Boyle, vol. 11, pp. 149-50).


Book cover: “A Disquisition on the Final Causes of Natural Things”
Boyle’s important treatise, A Disquisition on the Final Causes of Natural Things (1688), examines the role of design arguments (final causes) in biology. The subtitle is important: “Wherein it is inquir’d, whether, and (if at all) with what cautions, a naturalist should admit them?” Boyle steered a moderate course, in between those (like Descartes) who denied that humans could know any of God’s purposes, and those who thought that all of God’s purposes were always clearly displayed in the creation. Boyle published this work under the initials, “by T[he]. H[onourable]. R[obert]. B[oyle].,” a transparent mask, perhaps out of respect for the Royal Society’s stated practice of avoiding religious and political topics to steer clear of controversy. In this copy, owned by the Royal Society, his name has been lightly penciled into the right-hand margin next to the byline. Photograph by Edward B. Davis, used by kind permission of the Royal Society.

In other words, diligently pursue the physical causes of things, for that’s how science is done; but, at the same time, design is sometimes evident in the whole contrivance one is studying. Indeed, “the Wise Author of Nature has so excellently Contriv’d the Universe, that the more Clearly and Particularly we Discern, how Congruous the Means are to the Ends to be obtain’d by them, the more Plainly we Discern the Admirable Wisdom of the Omniscient Author of Things; of whom it is Truly said by a Prophet, that He is Wonderful in Counsel, and Excellent in Working.” Consequently, neither the present “Fabrick of the Universe” nor the “First Formation of the Universe” could rationally be ascribed to “so Blind a Cause as Chance” (Final Causes, in Works, vol. 11, pp. 150-51, quoting Isa. 28:29).

Throughout his voluminous writings, Boyle insisted that intelligence be invoked as a principle of world-formation; the appeal to “chance” or “nature” alone without God guiding the parts of matter was religiously dangerous. He loved to cite the Presocratic philosopher Anaxagoras as an example of a mechanical philosopher with similar views. Anaxagoras saw nature as an ordered cosmos rather than a random chaos; he stressed the formative influence of an immaterial nous (intellect or mind). In a fascinating unfinished essay, Boyle even described himself as an “Anaxagorean” philosopher to set himself apart from the “Epicurean & such like Attomists who after Leucippus & Democritus ascribe not only the particular effects produc’d in the world but the first formation of the world it selfe to the casual concourse of indivissible Corpuscles of Uncreated Matter moveing from all Eternity in an infinite empty space without takeing in any Diety or other incorporeal substance to sett these Attomes a moveing or regulate their Motions” (Works, vol. 14, pp. 148). Never has there been a more strongly committed proponent of Intelligent Design.

The Boyle Lectures, “Atheists,” and Boyle’s Priestly Role

In truth, Boyle went even further than most contemporary ID advocates. In his view, science did not merely establish the existence of an intelligent designer for the universe and some of its parts; science could actually show the truth of Christianity itself. For this reason, he put a provision in his will to endow a lectureship for “proveing the Christian Religion against notorious Infidels (viz) Atheists, Theists [today we would say “deists”], Pagans, Jews and Mahometans, not descending lower to any Controversies that are among Christians themselves” (Maddison, Life of Boyle, p. 274). The specific language here, uncharacteristically (for Boyle) pointed against Jews and Muslims while characteristically generous toward fellow Christians of all types, was apparently based on a similar phrase from the title page of A Woorke concerning the trewnesse of the Christian Religion (1587), a treatise by Philippe de Mornay that Boyle had read as a young man. Mornay had announced that his book was written “Against Atheists, Epicures, Paynims, Jewes, Mahumetists, and other Infidels.”

The Boyle Lectures began in March 1692, scarcely two months after Boyle’s death, when theologian Richard Bentley spoke in a London church. They continued for forty years before ceasing, but many similar events in subsequent centuries have been called “Boyle Lectures” by their sponsors. In 2004, a group including the current Earl of Cork and Orrery revived them yet again.

Although Boyle often targeted “atheists” in his writings, using that word or a cognate several dozen times, he realized that genuine philosophical atheism was rare in his day. His real targets were the lust, greed, vanity, and open mockery of the Bible exhibited by courtiers and self-styled literary “wits,” the type of people whom he called “practical Atheists,” or “baptized infidels,” who lived as if there were no God to judge them—and here he thought the design argument had its greatest value. As he stated in his book about design, he desired “that my Reader should not barely observe the Wisdom of God, but be in some measure Affectively Convinc’d of it.” Note that he said “affectively,” not “effectively,” a subtlety that we must not overlook: natural theology was a means to make his own intense piety more contagious.

There was no better way, in Boyle’s opinion, to “give us so great a Wonder and Veneration” for God’s wisdom, than “by Knowing and Considering the Admirable Contrivance of the Particular Productions of that Immense Wisdom,” by which he mainly meant the exquisitely fashioned parts of animals both great and small. Thereby, Boyle believed, “Men may be brought, upon the same account, both to acknowledge God, to admire Him, and to thank Him” (Final Causes, in Works, vol. 11, pp. 145 and 195). Surely, this is the ultimate goal of the modern ID movement, despite a certain reluctance to speak openly about God.

For reasons such as these, Boyle unhesitatingly described himself as a “priest of nature” (Christian Virtuoso, II, in Works, vol. 12, p. 490, his italics). He believed it was “an act of Piety to offer up [on behalf of] the Creatures the Sacrifice of Praise to the Creator” (Usefulness of Natural Philosophy, in Works, vol. 3, p. 203). God wanted us “to have his Works regarded & taken Notice of,” Boyle emphasized. From this he inferred that “the study of the Booke of Nature, is one of the Ends of the Institution of the Sabbath,” adding that ‘I scruple not (when Opportunity invites) to spend some [time on the Sabbath] in Studying the Booke of the Creatures, either by instructing my selfe in the Theory of Nature; or trying those Experiments, that may improve my Acquaintance with her” (“Of the Study of the Book of Nature,” in Works, vol. 13, pp. 154-5). No Puritan view of the Sabbath for Boyle, apparently.

Looking Ahead

Boyle’s Christian beliefs had two further consequences for his science that we will explore in the final parts of the series. Later this month, we will see how his understanding of God’s freedom and power influenced his view of scientific knowledge and its limits. The series concludes in early February, with Boyle’s reflections on how the practice of science actually makes one a better Christian.

References and Suggestions for Further Reading

This material is adapted from Edward B. Davis, “Robert Boyle’s Religious Life, Attitudes, and Vocation,” Science & Christian Belief 19 (2007): 117-38. Additional information is from Edward B. Davis, “Parcere nominibus: Boyle, Hooke, and the Rhetorical Interpretation of Descartes,” in Robert Boyle Reconsidered, ed. Michael Hunter (Cambridge, 1994), 157-75; and Science and Religion in the Twenty-first Century: The Boyle Lectures, ed. Russell Re Manning and Michael Byrne (SCM Press, 2013). Quotations are from The Works of Robert Boyle (Pickering & Chatto, 1999-2000), 14 vols., ed. Michael Hunter and Edward B. Davis; R. E. W. Maddison, The Life of the Honourable Robert Boyle (Taylor & Francis, 1969); and Philippe de Mornay, A Woorke concerning the trewnesse of the Christian Religion (London, 1587), as translated by Sir Philip Sydney and Arthur Golding.


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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Jon Garvey - #84082

January 9th 2014

An extremely interesting and relevant facet of Boyle’s thought, Ted. Thanks for this significant post in a BioLogian setting. I’m interested in how it relates to ID and other modern streams in detail.

From what you write it seems Boyle was especially interested in pointing out final causes (ie, I suppose, how beautifully nature functions towards ends), primarily as an affective argument to excite admiration rather than a logical scientific one to prove God’s final causation. Is that a fair assessment?

If so, he seems pretty close to Paley’s programme (not to mention early TEs such as Gray or Warfield). In fact, I wonder if he’s closer to them than to modern ID which, although as you point out is theologically reticent and, perhaps, philosophically not that self-aware, seems to me in its detailed work to be more concerned with formal causation (in the matter of information, especially). Final causation in ID seems to be simply assumed in recognising function, much as most biology does when it’s not defending materialism.

Perhaps one could summarise that as “formal causation is evidence for final causation” - which is slightly different from Boyle’s line (as I understand it) that efficient causation alone fails to account for reality, if chance is the only formal cause.

Ted Davis - #84084

January 9th 2014

Thank you for expressing appreciation for this one, Jon. To answer your question: Boyle thought it was both and, relative to effective and affective, but he obviously thought the affective is what ultimately mattered. I’ll quote a paragraph near the beginning of his book on final causes—which I think you would find worth the time reading for yourself, the next time you are in one of those wonderful English university libraries. Or, just buy a brand new print-on-demand copy for no more than 15 pounds, since the copyright hasn’t been in effect for quite some time. 

Here’s that passage I promised: “there may be some grand and General Ends of the whole World, such as the Exercising and Displaying the Creators immense Power and admirable Wisdom, the Communication of his Goodness, and the Admiration and Thanks due to him from his Intelligent Creatures, for these his divine Excellencies, whose Productions manifest his Glory. And these Ends, because they regard the Creation of the whole Universe, I call the Universal Ends of God or Nature.” (p. 7 in 1688 edition)

Overall, Boyle was concerned (a) not to block natural philosophers from inferring “the admirable wisdom of the omnisicient author of things” from nature and (b) not to allow the knowledge of ultimate purposes to interfere with the search for efficient causes—in other words, not to use design as a “science stopper,” to put a modern term into an old debate. Even then, this danger was recognized; that’s what Bacon had cautioned, and Boyle agreed with him.

More than this calls for a treatise of my own, which I’m not promising to write, and certainly not here. 

Ted Davis - #84086

January 9th 2014

Let me gloss my previous comment somewhat. I’ve often felt that the great natural theologians (among the scientists) of the Scientific Revolution—people like Boyle and Kepler and John Ray—tended to deal either cursorily or too glibly with what I sometimes call “the dark side of nature,” namely, things like parasitism and disease and natural disasters that kill thousands (or more) of individual creatues. These do seem to have implications for “the universal ends of God” (to borrow Boyle’s words yet again), and they are among the things that deeply troubled Darwin, who might otherwise have become one of the great natural theologians of the 19th century.

This is one of the reasons (not the only one) why a great natural theologian of the 20th century, John Polkinghorne, is keen to emphasize the importance of “theology of nature,” vis-a-vis natural theology. For more on this, see http://biologos.org/blog/belief-in-god-in-an-age-of-science-john-polkinghorne-part-three and http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-ii, with elaborations on his theology of nature in subsequent columns to the latter citation.

Eddie - #84093

January 9th 2014


Surely the earlier theologians would have recognized the suffering and cruelty of nature, but would have explained it one of two ways:

1.  Some of the suffering proceeds from the effects of the Fall; those cannot be blamed on Creation itself but on man’s disobedience.

2.  Even that suffering which does not proceed from the Fall, but is built into the structure of creation, can be explained by God’s long-term plan, which we mere mortals cannot see.  Suffering can be pedagogical, redemptive, etc.  And things which seem intended only for evil may serve some good which has not yet been revealed to us.

In any case, I don’t see how the modern understanding of nature in any way softens the so-called problem of evil.  Instead of God directly constructing a world in which there can be pain and suffering (the old view), God leaves the construction of a world to blind forces and contingencies which are indifferent to pain and suffering (the new view).  According to the new view (since Laplace, Lyell, Darwin, etc.) the vast majority of species are now extinct, destroyed by a pitiless evolutionary process which God left “free” to do whatever it would; the asteroid which blindly struck the earth and killed the dinosaurs had no compassion for them; and if the sun one day goes supernova and disintegrates us all, those are just the breaks, in a universe where God does not “tinker” or “steer” but leaves nature “free.”  God thus seems to responsible for evil in nature either directly, as in traditional Christianity and ID, or through gross neglect (as in many versions of TE).  God either generates a world of massive suffering, or looks the other way and permits massive suffering that he could easily stop.  What moral or theological problem is solved by the newer view of nature?  On the face of it, God is as complicit in evil under the new view as under the old; and the new view has the disadvantage of making God seem like a weakling who never does anything, but just watches the world happen.


Hanan D - #84101

January 10th 2014

I agree with Eddie on the issue of suffering. All TE’s have done is move the goal post. I had a conversation with Karl Gilberson and he started talking to me about process theology and how it basically wipes God’s clean from anything nature has done. Of course, I don’t think he truly grasped taht God is STILL implicated in this stince Who else gave nature that freedom from the get go? It’s not like nature and God are both equal and infinite. 

And things which seem intended only for evil may serve some good which has not yet been revealed to us.

This can potentially answer some, but you are left with the suffering of animals of all sorts that humans have no connection to. This goes back to the wasp Darwin was speaking of.

Ted Davis - #84125

January 12th 2014

You say, Hanan, that Karl Giberson apparently endorsed a prcoess theological view realtive to theodicy. I wasn’t privy to that conversation and I am not at all sure that you have adequately understood Giberson’s position—but, since he isn’t part of this exchange I will not pursue that point.

I will say only that I do not hold to process theology myself, and that neither does Polkinghorne. I bring him in b/c I’ve written many columns about both TE and Polkinghorne; and, I sometimes hear folks say or imply that P is a process theist. Anyone interested in seeing examples of how some non-process TEs approach theodicy, should review my columns on TE and Polkinghorne, paying attention to what I say there, including quotations from P, Robert Russell, and others. Neither Russell nor P is a process theist, but both are TEs and both discuss theodicy extensively in their writings.

beaglelady - #84197

January 15th 2014

Giberson is not deeply into process theology; he simply finds some of it useful for understanding divine action. 

Ted Davis - #84118

January 12th 2014

The earlier theologians certainly had option 1, Eddie, and Boyle invoked that explanation. But, it’s no longer available: we know that creatures suffered for hundreds of millions of years before anyone sinned. The only way to maintain a variant of option 1 is to follow Demski in “The End of Christianity” and adopt a version of Edward Hitchcock’s supralapsarian view of the Fall (see my columns on the OEC view on that).

We agree that modern views of nature don’t help theodicy, for the reasons you spelled out so clearly. theodicy is, like the design question from which it can’t be fully separated, an issue that is not settled by science.

Eddie - #84120

January 12th 2014


I certainly agree that theodicy cannot be settled by science.  This is why I get so irritated when TEs keep bringing theodicy questions into discussions of design in nature.  From an ID point of view the question “whether not something is designed” should be strictly separated from the question “what sort of God would design a nasty thing like that?”  But I and others have failed to prevent TEs from conflating these two questions.  

Thus, Ayala, Miller and others will argue that Darwinian evolution rather than design must be true because God would never directly create anything so nasty as creature X; they use a theological premise (“God is never directly responsible for pain or suffering”) to settle a question about nature (“Are the intricate structures which make creature X so nasty the result of design or chance”?).  It’s no part of natural scientific investigation to rule any explanation in or out on the basis of what the particular scientist would like to believe about God.

If the most horrible disease appears, upon inspection, to have been deliberately designed as a killing machine, then any problems that poses for Christian theology are, well, problems for Christians, not problems for ID theory as such.  Christian theology will simply have to deal with the fallout if design inferences are valid.  I’m fine with that.  But many TEs seem to want to block design inferences altogether to forestall the possibility of such a problem.  They seem to object to design inferences as much for theological reasons as for scientific ones; they don’t want design inferences to be valid because if they were valid, they would have to believe some things about God that they don’t want to believe.

I take a more detached approach.  Nature is what it is.  And if “what it is” doesn’t fit with some claims made by Christians, well, those Christian claims will have to be modified.  

The strange thing is that the theodicy these TEs are invoking is not even consistently Biblical.  In the Hebraic conception, God is clearly sometimes the direct author of evil (Isaiah 45, for example.)  Indeed, it seems to me that TE theodicy is often shaped more by Enlightenment sentiments than by Biblical ones.  TE arguments about what God would or would not create often seem to me to be much more in the spirit of Hume, Lessing, Voltaire, etc. than in the spirit of the Bible.  But that of course is another subject.

Ted Davis - #84126

January 12th 2014

Your comments here about theodicy and (many) TEs are on target, Eddie, especially the part about Enlightenment sentiments. Keeping Boyle in mind for a moment, he expicitly denied the notion (associated with Leibniz) that God is obliged to make the best possible world; as a theological voluntarist, that notion had no traction for him.

To the best of my knowledge, Francisco Ayala is not a Christian believer at this point in his life, although many years ago he was a Dominican priest. His writings on theodicy, to the best of my knowledge, reflect his current thinking. He does make the kind of argument you mention here, of course, and your comment on that argument is not affected by what I just said. Since my goal here is to educate, not necessarily to persuade, I wanted to point this out.

Ted Davis - #84119

January 12th 2014

The whole point of doing theology of nature (as P calls it) vis-a-vis natural theology, is to say, nature is the OBJECT of theological reflection, in which we take insights from theology (including that of the Crucified God) and use them to help us understand nature—including modern views of nature.

In passing I’ll just remind everyone that, for Polkinghorne (and others, since he’s not alone in this), natural theology is also important—he doesn’t ignore it or despair of doing it; he simply doesn’t see it as part of science itself.

Eddie - #84121

January 12th 2014


I have no objection to Christians doing “theology of nature” any more than I have against them doing a “theology of politics” or a “theology of art” or anything else.

If someone suggests that the fact that Jesus suffered is relevant to the theology of creation, I have no objection to hearing the arguments for that.  But as far as I can tell, the argument is vague.  It seems to be based on some analogy between the suffering of Jesus and the “suffering” that nature supposedly undergoes in the cosmic and biological evolutionary processes.  It seems to be saying that the evolutionary process is the appropriate way of creating because “suffering” is the way of God.  Just as God submits to suffering, so species submit to pain and extinction as part of the evolutionary process.

Well, it’s a pretty and even poetic parallel, but it’s not a particularly strong one; in the crucifixion, God suffers, whereas in the evolutionary process, not God but nature suffers.  Further, in the Bible, suffering is the way of God sometimes —not all the time.  Is it necessary that God should suffer not only on the Cross, but also in Creation?  

I wonder if any of the theologians who have advanced the notion of “creation as the Christlike suffering of nature” have ever compiled a list of all the creation passages in the Bible (from both Testaments) and determined how often the notion of a suffering nature is found there, as opposed to the notion of a mighty and wise God who arranges nature in accord with a plan.  I would guess that the textual indications for a “suffering” rather than a “design” account of creation are meager, but I’m willing to be convinced by the evidence.

I am not denying that suffering plays an important role in Christian theology—in the Incarnation and Redemption, and elsewhere.  What I’m questioning is the role of suffering in the creation of the world.  I don’t see much Biblical evidence for the connection, or even a theological need for it. 

Ted Davis - #84129

January 12th 2014

Relative to your final paragraph here, Eddie, I respect your opinion. You are very well informed on this topic and you write with clarity—a genuine virtue in this type of discourse. I am more sympatheitic to the kinds of views I talked about in my columns on TE, for reasons stated there. In other words, we assess the situation differently.

I won’t get into a lengthy conversation about biblical passages, relative to suffering in and of nature; I will note only that the idea of nature groaning for redemption has real biblical basis, while granting that this can be understood/interpreted in multiple ways.

Eddie - #84131

January 12th 2014

Hi, Ted.
Thanks for all your replies here. You are a rare person in internet debates over evolution, creation, and design, in that you handle strong disagreements without becoming defensive, and you always seem to take a genuine intellectual interest in positions other than your own. Instead of trying to demolish the position of people who disagree with you, you leave them with the feeling that they have contributed something positive to the discussion. If everyone involved in these debates were like you, the debates would be much more pleasant, and much more profitable. I’d say your students at Messiah are fortunate to have such a teacher.
I grant that the famous passage about creation “groaning” and “travailing” (Romans 8:22) sounds, on the surface, as if it could be given an evolutionary interpretation (higher things emerge later through the suffering of things in the earlier stages).  The difficulty is of course that the passage is brief, and says very little about the character of the struggle which the wider creation is undergoing, and thus provides only a sketchy basis for an evolutionary (or for a kenotic) theology of nature.  So it would have to be supplemented by other Biblical material in order to provide a firm basis.  I’m not saying that this can’t or shouldn’t be done, but I’ve yet to see it done very thoroughly.
I guess I would be less resistant to “certain passages in the Bible are compatible with a kenotic and evolutionary theology of creation” than I would be to “the Bible teaches a primarily kenotic and evolutionary theology of creation.”  Perhaps all that you are defending is the former statement.
Ted Davis - #84132

January 12th 2014

Thank you very kindly, Eddie, for your kind words.

I don’t see a basis to “give the Bible an evolutionary interpretation” as you defined it here. I doubt that such things were anywhere in the minds of biblical authors or their audience.

It’s another thing, however (IMO), to say that certain passages might be teaching the idea that all of creation (“all things” as Paul says in Colossians chap 1) needs to be redeemed; and, since Christians already believe with much greater warrant that Christ has redeemed us (humanity), doesn’t it make sense that some thinkers today are trying to connect those dots, by suggesting that the Crucified God is also the Maker of Heaven and Earth, and that thereby the creation might bear the marks of its Maker? This is what is meant when certain scholars describe the creation as “cruciform.”

Now, perhaps that is just inappropriate speculation (as I think Jon Garvey would say, though I invite him to speak for himself and to correct me if I am mistaken). Or, perhaps it’s appropriate speculation (as I think). Those who take this view are often TEs, and I don’t doubt the relevance of that fact. But, the theological point remains, whether or not evolution is true. Belief in evolution might motivate people to receive such a view favorably, but that’s a separate matter from whether it’s a tenable interpretation of the relevant text(s).

I say this only to clarify further my original point. I’ll try not to come back to this again here, but of course others may wish to chime in. Your final paragraph is a fair statement of my attitude toward this matter. My main concern, relative to those who just deny the validity of such a view, simply b/c it’s not been the way in which most of the best Christian thinkers have approached the doctrine of creation until recently, is to remind everyone of what Galileo wanted to accomplish in his “Letter to Christina,” a text that we discussed at some length some time ago. (http://biologos.org/blog/galileo-and-other-good-books-about-science-and-the-bible) Whatever else he wanted to accomplish—and he wanted to do quite a bit—Galileo wanted to forestall the premature condemnation of a view of the universe that turned out to be true—*and* a view of how to interpret the Bible vis-a-vis that particular piece of science. I regard his caution as properly placed. In so many ways, I am convinced, we Christians find ourselves once again in a Galileo moment.

Eddie - #84137

January 12th 2014

Thanks for this reply, Ted. I now better understand your position than I did before.
We agree that the Bible is not teaching evolutionary creation, and that such a thing was far from the mind of the Biblical authors.
I now see more clearly the connection you are trying to establish between the Bible and evolutionary thinking: not that the Bible teaches evolution, or even that its authors could have imagined an evolutionary progression of things, but that the Bible sees creation as in need of redemption, i.e., as not in its intended final form, but struggling, groaning, undergoing painful transformations, awaiting to emerge into its proper final state. Because the modern mind is used to evolutionary thinking, it is used to thinking of nature in fluid rather than static terms, as something that undergoes transformations, sometimes painful and destructive transformations. So the modern mind may be more receptive than earlier generations to the parts of the Bible that see creation as “in travail.”
I certainly see how the Romans passage could point in that direction, and yes, some words from Colossians as well. Possibly, too, some other New Testament passages. I’m not certain how amenable the Old Testament literature is to such a view of creation, but there might be some material there as well.
So by all means, speculate on such things—but you (or at least those theologians and scholars you are speaking about) need to tie the speculations to Biblical passages. Anchoring a new theological view in Biblical passages is the time-honored way of proceeding, and I think it is even more important to do so in the evangelical Christian world than in the mainline Christian world, because the evangelical world, unlike many of the mainline churches these days, still defines itself Biblically.
Ted Davis - #84087

January 9th 2014

A futher gloss. In Boyle and almost all of the other pre-modern natural theologians in the Protestant tradition, we don’t see a significant role for the Second person of the Trinity in creation; we have only the First person, God the Father, creating the universe. The significance of this, for me, is as follows: without an appropriate emphasis on the role of the suffering Servant (the Second person) in creation, there is no adequate Christian basis from which to approach the problem of “natural evil” to which I just referred. I’m not going to elaborate on that here, even though I should. To do so properly would just take too long. Nevertheless, I’ll say just this much about that.

Eddie - #84092

January 9th 2014


I agree with your main point about lack of discussion of the Second Person in early modern Protestant creation thinking.  However, your emphasis is interesting.  You move quickly from “the Second Person” to “the suffering servant.”  I understand, of course, that the Second Person is incarnate in Jesus, and that Jesus is, among other things, a suffering servant.  But the first thought in a pre-20th-century Christian theologian’s mind, when thinking of the Second Person, has never been “the suffering servant.”  It has been either “the Son” or “the Logos.”  And I think that when such terms are employed, there are some historical examples (though perhaps medieval rather than Protestant) of the involvement of the Son, but it is the Son as Logos rather than as suffering servant.  I’ve read, for example, that in medieval art the “detail work” of creation (as opposed to the overall initiative and creation of gross matter) is often pictured as the work of the Son or Logos.  (“Logos” suggesting science, reason, mathematics, and hence architecture, engineering, etc.)  So it is not so much that the Second Person is excluded but that the Second Person is seen as “God in his technical, mathematical aspect” rather than “the man who suffered on the cross.”

And I have to say, that strikes me as quite a natural association.  The creation of the world is presented in the Bible as an act of power and wisdom, not as an act of suffering.  The all-wise Logos thus strikes me as having a more natural place in creation doctrine than the suffering servant.  (Which is not to say that “the suffering servant” doesn’t have an important place in other areas of Christian doctrine—eschatology, ethics, etc.)

Jon Garvey - #84097

January 10th 2014


Ted is the expert on how the early “natural creation” boys thought - perhaps they were over-influenced by the proto-deists. But there was no lack of insight whatsoever into the Second Person as Creator in theology generally then. Aquinas had gone so far as attributing (especially) formal causation to the Son in executing the Father’s final causation, the Spirit, of course, being the active agent.

You have only to look at Calvin’s commentary on John 1 (happens to be to hand) to read:

Sometimes, indeed, Paul simply says that ‘all things are of God’. But when the Son is compared with the Father He is usually distinguished by this mark [creative divinity]. Accordingly the ordinary manner of speaking is used here -the Father made all things by the Son, and all things are by God through the Son.

He goes on to expound v3 as leaving no exceptions at all from the Son’s origination of those things that have been made, expressly to quench the devil’s pretensions - clearly referring to what Satan might be thought to do in creation by those who failed to grasp providence.

Similarly Matthew Henry’s commentary, a little later but a good summary of mainstream Protestant thought, also says of Colossians 1.3:

[Christ] is so far from being himself a creature that he is the Creator.

Or one could cite the Westminster Confession, thoroughly familiar to Boyle - Hetherington even suggests it was the wellspring of the intellectual movement that included him -  which states that God (the triune God, of course)

is alone the fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth.

Westminster was well up to speed on secondary causation, too, but expressly excluded the modernist nature-God dualism:

God from all eternity did, by the most weise and holy counsel of his will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

There was simply no theological framework in Scripture or tradition for a secondary creation that was autonomous and partly “evil” - even at this stage, when “natural evil” was beginning to replace the “good creation” theology of the older tradition, these evils were seen universally as the result of God’s judgement - witness the ubiquitous descriptions of the Great Fire of London or similar events as exceptional punishments, not as sad exceptions to God’s universal providence.

And as Eddie says, nobody in 1600 years of careful theology had managed to see creation in Scripture as anything other than a work of Christ’s joyful power and wisdom, not as something for which he had to atone through suffering. Yet they were fully aware that redemption by his blood for human sin was part of the eternal covenant between Father and Son even before creation.

I have little doubt that those like Boyle would not have welcomed recent hyper-kenoticism and free-process theodicy as enlightening christocentric correctives to their overly Unitarian views of creation, but would have assumed they originated from Socinus or others who sat light to sound biblical doctrine.

Ted Davis - #84117

January 12th 2014

Well I don’t know what you mean by “hyper-kenoticism,” Jon. If you mean simply applying the idea of kenosis, which (according to a theologian who took a course of mine once) some Lutherans were thinking about in non-creation contexts centuries ago, to a creation context, then we simply disagree about the potential value of exploring that line of inquiry. We don’t know what Boyle would have thought of it. he regarded Socinianism as a heresy, but I don’t equate keno tic thinking with the view that Christ was not fully divine.

Jon Garvey - #84124

January 12th 2014


There is the possibility of exploring a line of enquiry, and the arguments put for it, and finding it to be inconsistent with the Bible, and with historical theology, and to produce a theology of nature which is rather incoherent and largely dependent (as Eddie suggests below) on strangely applied analogies.

In other words one can be underwhelmed with it, after exploring it, even when it’s popular. Given how much core Christian teaching has to be changed to accommodate it, one might even become antagonistic towards it, some ancient Lutherans notwithstanding.

Ted Davis - #84128

January 12th 2014

Yes, of course, Jon. Honest and well informed inquirers often evaluate a given idea very differently.

Just so no one misuderstands me: I have indicated numerous times in my columns that I believe that core Christian beliefs (as understood in the ecumenical creeds, e.g.) have not been falsified by modern science, and that the Christian engagement with science should still (for the most part) take place from a classical theological perspective. For the benefit of newer readers, I invite readers to read the column in which I introduced myself (http://biologos.org/blog/introducing-ted-davis), and—especially—to listen to the podcast interview that is linked in the penultimate paragraph there. It should be clear to listeners that I can put real substance into what I just said about my position. Also please note that I said that theodicy may need to be re-thought, in light of modern natural history—though we were running out of time so I didn’t go very far with that.

My classical instincts and commitments notwithstanding, there are nevertheless times when Christians might need new conceptual boxes. To give an unrelated example: the Bible and traditonal theology were not always as strongly and obviously opposed to slavery as most Christians are today. It’s good (IMO) that we haven’t simply left things alone there.

I appreciate you taking time carefully to spell out your problems with the kinds of views on theodicy that I’ve found attractive, Jon.

beaglelady - #84142

January 13th 2014

The way we regard Jews and Judaism is another example of where new conceptual boxes are needed.  The church once saw Judaism as a failed religion,  completely replaced by Christianity,  its old covenant no longer in effect.   Thankfully, that view has mostly fallen by the wayside as far as I can see, but who knows?  We have centuries of anti-semitism to answer for.   

Richard W - #84203

January 15th 2014

What view has, “fallen by the wayside”.  That the OT is no longer in effect?  I could reference a lot more, but here is one passage that clearly refutes that:  Hebrews 8:13,

“By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
beaglelady - #84204

January 15th 2014

What has fallen by the wayside (in most circles)  is replacement theology—the view that Judaism is an outdated and failed religion.   And I know all about your texts that seem to indicate otherwise.  

Richard W - #84219

January 16th 2014

It’s not that Judaism is, “outdated”, it just no longers offers a way of salvation.  Everyone needs to have their sins forgiven through the blood of Jesus to be saved, that’s why he came here an allowed himself tortured and murdered.  Having that conviction is not being anti-semetic, it’s having the conviction of a disciple of Christ.  The scriptures that you say, “seem to indicate otherwise” do so because everything in the new testament agrees with what Jesus put so simply and clearly (as usual):  John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Ted Davis - #84116

January 12th 2014

I agree particularly with your second paragraph, Eddie. That is partly what I was pointing out in my columns about TE in 2012—that until relatively recently theologians have not typically viewed creation in light of the fact that the God revealed in the passion week (who suffers unto death And is then raised again into a new life) is the One who made heaven and earth. I would hardly expect Jewish creation texts to be Christian (in this way), but (speaking for myself) I think it’s high time that Christian thinkers try to think more Christocentrically about creation.

Eddie - #84122

January 12th 2014


See my reply 84121 above.

cfauster - #84083

January 9th 2014

Philip Clayton’s Boyle Lecture for 2006 entitled The Emergence of Spirit: From Complexity to Anthropology to Theology? also addresses this fascinating issue. 

From Clayton’s introduction: “The contemporary naturalist should be pulled in two directions by the growth of science. On the one hand, the sciences suggest nature’s self-sufficiency as a closed and coherent system; on the other, they hint at what we may credibly view as a transcendent source for nature.”

From Clayton’s conclusion: “Science therefore does not undercut the belief that this rich and diverse natural order may reflect an intentional act of creation. Science certainly constrains our beliefs about divine action, but it does not eliminate the possibility that a Creator is engaged at least with humanity, and perhaps elsewhere in the universe as well.”

cfauster - #84085

January 9th 2014

Alas, the link to Clayton’s 2006 Boyle Lecture is missing the last slash, and in this case that makes all the difference.


does not work, but


should work.

Lou Jost - #84088

January 9th 2014

There was no better way, in Boyle’s opinion, to “give us so great a Wonder and Veneration” for God’s wisdom, than “by Knowing and Considering the Admirable Contrivance of the Particular Productions of that Immense Wisdom,” by which he mainly meant the exquisitely fashioned parts of animals both great and small.

Before Darwin, this was a viable argument, and Boyle can’t be faulted for it. Darwin changed the theological landscape when he showed that final causes were not needed in order to explain the “admirable contrivances” of animals and plants, and in fact an explanation purely in terms of efficient causes leads to a more accurate description of what we see than an explanation in terms of final causes. Of course one can always put sufficiently subtle final causes in, but the point is that they are not needed and would often mislead. The Boyle Lecturer Clayton, mentioned by cfauster above, recognized this;

“Clearly some of the arguments of Robert Boyle, the early modern apologist, will simply not serve us in todays context. In particular one thinks of the various proofs from design, the repeated and detailed attempts to move from complex natural systems to divine Providence, which we post-Darwinians can no longer endorse.”

Boyle puts all his god’s influence at the moment of creation, (making exceptions, I presume, for some biblical miracles). Modern IDers rarely seem to do that. They often talk about directed mutations, for example. Boyle would deride this as an after-game play. Yet the laws we now know do not permit evolution to be deterministic in the sense needed by Boyle, if (as I expect) he thought that humans are the intended results of creation. I think IDers need these little miracles if humans (or something like them) must result. Modern Christian ID theory would seem to be fundamentally opposed to Boyle’s core philosophy.

Eddie - #84089

January 9th 2014

Lou, you wrote:
“Boyle puts all his god’s influence at the moment of creation, (making exceptions, I presume, for some biblical miracles). Modern IDers rarely seem to do that. They often talk about directed mutations, for example. Boyle would deride this as an after-game play. Yet the laws we now know do not permit evolution to be deterministic in the sense needed by Boyle, if (as I expect) he thought that humans are the intended results of creation. I think IDers need these little miracles if humans (or something like them) must result. Modern Christian ID theory would seem to be fundamentally opposed to Boyle’s core philosophy.”

I don’t understand this comment, Lou. Do you mean that God sets off creation with a single supernatural act, and after that everything is created by unguided natural causes? (E.g., creating the matter necessary for the Big Bang, plus the natural laws and constants, and then keeping his hands off?) That sounds to me like the view of Michael Denton, not like the view of Boyle.
I’d defer to Ted’s historical expertise, but I expect that Boyle envisioned the creation of the world as involving a whole set of supernatural actions. I don’t think Boyle envisioned the first life as arising out of the blind combination of atoms through natural laws, for example. I doubt he envisioned the solar system as arising out a swirling cloud of hydrogen gas, either; I expect that he thought God was very “hands-on” in setting the solar system up. Indeed, it seems to me that Boyle’s philosophy could easily support a distinction between “origins questions” and “operational science”—whereby “God” is banned from “operational science” but freely invoked to explain the origin of the laws and structures which operational science studies. That would be in agreement with the view, not of Denton, but of the view of many of the Christian ID folks you are talking about.
I am not saying that we have to accept Boyle’s view of origins as correct; I’m merely questioning your summary of the view of Boyle on origins. I suspect he saw God as acting not merely in Biblical miracles but in the direct creation of most of the features of nature that we know.
Lou Jost - #84094

January 9th 2014

Eddie, I’m no expert on Boyle, and am only basing my comment on what I have read in Ted’s posts, in the Clayton Boyle Lecture, and a few other sources. I wasn’t making claims about how or when the clockwork universe was created. My focus was on what happens after it is created. I understood that Boyle’s clockwork universe, once it was created, was perfect and did not need tinkering, maintenance, or repair work. Boyle disparaged those possibilities. Once created, the clockwork universe would have included all the “contrivances” of life as we know it, according to Boyle.

Obviously I’m not arguing Boyle is right, just that this view does not support modern ID. Modern IDers need to have an interfering god, if one accepts our current laws of physics and if one thinks humans are the intended product.

Eddie - #84095

January 9th 2014

We may be saying the same thing in different words about what Boyle believed, but we are still having a puzzling disagreement.  I’ll elaborate.
I take it (subject to Ted’s correction) that Boyle would have seen the creation of the universe as accomplished by supernatural means, i.e., the deliberate and direct actions of God. And in this I presume Boyle would have included the establishment of the “laws of nature” (if he used that term) and the properties of matter and so on, and also the particular arrangement of the solar system, the origin of life, and at least the basic types of living things (though he may have allowed for a degree of variation afterward) such as mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, trees, grasses, etc.
I also take it that Boyle would say that once this world was established, i.e., once the creative work expressed in Genesis 1 was accomplished, the world does not require special supernatural operations or new creations to operate. Its operations (though not its origins) can therefore be studied by a natural science which does not allow God as a hypothesis to explain particular details.
Are we agreed so far on what Boyle would say?
Now let’s look at what modern ID folks seem to say. They seem to be saying that natural science can quite properly study the operations of nature as it is now, and that it should not need to intrude “God” as a working hypothesis. For example, if a natural scientist explains eye color in terms of a certain gene, or certain developmental processes, etc., it will explain other phenotypical features in the same way. It won’t offer a genetic explanation for blue eyes but say that people who have green eyes got that color from angelic intervention. Or if a scientist explains a volcanic eruption in the Philippines in terms of magma and vents etc., the scientist won’t turn around next week and say that the eruption on Mt. Etna is caused by the underground activity of the god Vulcan working in his smithy. Etc. Now as far as I know, Dembski, Behe, Meyer, Axe, etc. all think that natural science should proceed in this way. I’ve never heard any of them explain any current regular operation of nature (earthquakes, chemical bonds, mitosis, meiosis, capillary action, stalactite formation, the speed of a falling object, etc.) in terms of special divine intervention. Have you?
However, many (though not all) modern ID folks also seem to say that before you can have any scientific, efficient-cause-only study of genetics, you have to have organisms, and that the creation of (at the very least) the first organisms would need the hands-on activity of God. Some of they also seem to imply that evolution, if it occurred, would need steering or intervention by God to keep it on-track to produce man and other goals desired by God. So they seem to say that “origins” cannot be explained by the same naturalistic methods that suffice for “current operations of nature.” Are we agreed on that?
Now, my point is that there appears to be no difference between the position of Boyle and the position of many ID people today: naturalistic, efficient-cause explanation is fine and is the recommended means of studying nature for “current operations”; but it is inappropriate for studying origins, because things did not originate by purely natural means.
So how does Boyle’s fundamental position differ in outline from that of the ID folks you are talking about? Both would endorse “methodological naturalism” for everyday science, and both would say “methodological naturalism” was an inappropriate restriction when requiring into origins.
Lou Jost - #84099

January 10th 2014

Eddie, yes, we agree about the distinction Boyle makes regarding the supernatural creation and the subsequent naturalistic running of his clockwork universe.

But I see that you and I  meant different things by “creation”. We now know that the universe was created many billions of years before the appearance of first life (something Boyle did not know). So the view that a god set up the universe and then let it run without tinkering contradicts the claim that this god later tinkered by adding life.

My point is not primarily a historical one, though. I am claiming that both the first view (the view that a god set up the universe with laws and initial conditions designed to produce  human life) and the second view (that god additionally tinkered later by adding life) are now known to be inadequate, if one believes that humans are the intended goal, and if one accepts what we currently know about physics. A god would have to continue to tinker to get us, or the laws of nature have to be dramatically different from those we know today. 

I think most IDers do believe in a tinkering god, directing mutations and asteroids, and my claim is that they are right, within their belief system, and the progressive “hands off” IDers are implicitly invoking new physical laws which seem to be falsified on closer examination.

Granville Sewell, in his recent “Introduction to ID” on Uncommon Descent, characterized ID this way: “This is what you have to believe to not believe in intelligent design, that the origin and evolution of life, and the evolution of human consciousness and intelligence, are due entirely to a few unintelligent forces of physics.” I take this to mean that the majority of IDers do not think the universe, once created, would have produced human life (or maybe any life at all) if only the known laws of physics were at work (even if the laws and initial conditions were made by a god).

And they’d be right. We now know that the universe is not clocklike and no set of initial conditions would deterministically lead to human life, given the laws of physics as we know them today. If that were the goal of the universe, one would need either a tinkering god, or new teleological laws of physics. And I think the evidence is against the latter. Nature has done the critical experiment for us. For much of its history, life evolved independently on several continents. If nature had an innate tendency to organize and produce humans, then it is strange that humans only arose in one isolated lineage on one continent. Australian and South American lineages never produced anything remotely like humans. The traditional explanation of evolution, or a tinkering god, fits the data better than the hands-off god who made universal laws designed to produce humans.

As you say, Eddie, most IDers do think god tinkered, at least by seeding the universe with life long after the Big Bang. I think this still isn’t enough to deterministically get humans. We know the ancestral genomes of simple organisms are not front-loaded to lead to us. We know that evolution of humans depended on quantum-mechanically contingent events. A god would have to keep tinkering if he wanted to produce us, contrary to the spirit of Boyle’s view.





Hanan D - #84102

January 10th 2014

The traditional explanation of evolution, or a tinkering god, fits the data better than the hands-off god who made universal laws designed to produce humans.


Can you elaborate on that? If God made nature with laws and goals, why would those goals be fullfilled only if every continent produced humans? Or, are you talking about deism here?

BTW, like you, I never understand what “tinkering” means. Seem to me tinkering implies that something is not going in the direction you need and you need to quickly step in, lest you blow an opportunity. Personally, I see God working through the evolutionary process to fulfill his goals sounds better than a “tinkering” God.

Lou Jost - #84104

January 10th 2014

If God made nature with laws and goals, why would those goals be fullfilled only if every continent produced humans?

Hanan, some IDers have imagined that a god tinkers here and there in the evolutionary process in order to get humans, while others claim that the god set up universal laws which led to humans. Habitats were similar in both South America and Africa. The evolution of human-like forms only in a single very localized lineage in Africa is an argument against the existence of some unknown universal law everywhere pushing matter towards the production of humans.

“I see God working through the evolutionary process to fulfill his goals”

The main point of my comment is that setting up an evolutionary process does not guarantee humans come out of it. The IDers’ god must tinker if his goal is to make humans.

Needless to say, I think the evidence favors the view that there is no goal and no tinkering god.

Lou Jost - #84105

January 10th 2014

If IDers were to give up the notion that human-like creatures are the goal, they wouldn’t need a tinkering god. That is a somewhat more defensible position.

beaglelady - #84143

January 13th 2014

The lack of marsupial primates is certainly a problem for those who think the universe is primed to produce primates like us.  I only mention this because it has been argued that convergence shows that certain forms  are bound to appear; after all, there are marsupial wolves, rats, tigers, etc. But marsupial primates are conspicuously absent.  Marsupial marine mammals are understandably absent,  but there is no reason why marsupial primates cannot exist.     

Hanan D - #84146

January 13th 2014

>but there is no reason why marsupial primates cannot exist.  

Who says they can’t exist. Maybe God just didn’t want them to exist.

Hanan D - #84147

January 13th 2014

Damnit. I italisized the wrong word. Now the whole thing is ruined

beaglelady - #84148

January 13th 2014

You aren’t getting the context.  There is a good reason why marsupial whales don’t exist—they would never be able to make it to the pouch after birth.   But if the world is programmed to pop out primates then you’d think that marsupial primates would exist.   

Hanan D - #84149

January 13th 2014

No. I got the context. The world is “programmed” to give whatever it has given. Your issue arrises from some autopilot philosophy, remember? That neither primates, sponges, hamburgers or humans were meant to arise. 

beaglelady - #84150

January 13th 2014

I was augmenting Lou’s statement, and this is what he said:

 Habitats were similar in both South America and Africa. The evolution of human-like forms only in a single very localized lineage in Africa is an argument against the existence of some unknown universal law everywhere pushing matter towards the production of humans.  

We see convergent evolution many times over.  We see this quite clearly in the existence of marsupials that are strikingly similar to placental mammals.  There are no marsupial great apes, however.   This weakens the position that some universal law pushes matter towards the production of humans. 

Hanan D - #84151

January 13th 2014

This weakens the position that some universal law pushes matter towards the production of humans. 

It does nothing of the sort. Nobody ever made a charge or argument that every inch of land must produce primates or that all matter on earth everywhere must produce humans, as opposed to it centralized then spreading. You are making an assumption as to what guided evolution should look like had the intent been what it is now. 

Afterall, humans were produced. (yes I realize that is rather circular, but your objection makes no sense from a theological point of view. )

Lou Jost - #84152

January 13th 2014

Hanan, you are missing the main point here. We are here arguing only that there doesn’t appear to be any universal law driving matter to produce primates.  We are not here arguing against guided evolution (though of course I don’t think evolution was guided). 


Hanan D - #84153

January 13th 2014

Is there any universal law to produce anything?

beaglelady - #84158

January 13th 2014

The idea that convergent evolution is evidence that the earth is geared to bring forth certain forms has been advanced in posts here on BioLogos. See this very short video:  

A Deeper Pattern 

I’m simply suggesting that it doesn’t help the case when we observe that there are no marsupial primates.  

Jon Garvey - #84162

January 14th 2014


I’m trying to get some understanding of what you’re trying to achieve from this line of reasoning, theologically.

Conway Morris argues from the ubiquity of apparent convergence that evolution has a limited range of (recurrent) outcomes built-in. His approach lacks any mechanism and admits of other explanations, but has been co-opted by many TEs looking for a non-directed version of evolution that is nevertheless under God.

From my reading (including the Haarsmas’ own book) this appears to be to in order to be able to embrace a completely open-ended “Gouldian” form of Neodarwinism, but yet admit some low level of providence through convergence. This could account for some intelligent outcome rather like us by more than sheer fluke - at least enough to be able to say, “God intended man, but not necessaily pentadactyl or land-dwelling, let alone a primate or of genus Homo”.

Your marsupial primate exception is essentially a downgrading of convergence either to an even more crude form of non-contingency or to just another example of contingency: Conway Morris is mistaken, and convergence fortuitous or illusory, or at best sporadic.

Result: intelligence (and certainly rational, lingusitic intelligence) appears completely adventitious, and might never have arisen at all, agreeable to the best traditions of atheism.

So bringing in the “theistic” apect at last, we have a God who creates the conditions for a biological world whose only certain and essential outcomes are ruthless competition for survival, death, predation, parasitism and extinctions (which a good few TEs say God would never sanction except as the possible cost of allowing “freedom” to secondary causes). The rest is unpredictable even to God, and certainly contains no internal mechanisms through which he could fulfil any particular creative intentions even as broad as “intelligence.”

To ask why God would create in such an ad-hoc manner is neither scientific nor theological: science disregards God and ought merely to see what is. Theologically God could do what he likes, I suppose, at least until he empties himself of his divine attributes if it is his nature so to do.

But one is entitled to say that it appears to be a pretty bleak and comfortless interpretation of Christian evolutionary creation, and to have nothing at all in common with the doctrine of creation itself.

beaglelady - #84165

January 14th 2014

Let’s not get excited. I was simply trying to help Lou explain why the lack of marsupial apes is a problem for the view that the earth is primed to produce humans.  We do indeed see convergence all over the place.   

Lou Jost - #84168

January 14th 2014

And I don’t have any opinion about the theology, of course.

Hanan D - #84171

January 14th 2014

> lack of marsupial apes is a problem for the view that the earth is primed to produce humans 

No it isn’t. You are making a problem where none exists. I dont understand how you are making this assumption. IF God wanted humans, why did he need it to start everywhere instead of concentrated in one place and spreading? I mean, did God’s plan work? Did we spread to all the corners of the world? Yes. In fact we did. The earth DID produce humans. It doesn’t have to be on every continent independently for God’s purpose to be achieved.

Beaglelady, we are arguing theology. Theologically, it is not Earth that is producing humans by chance. Convergance is not an issue here at all. If you believe humans are part of God’s plan, than your whole line of reasoning is false, since his plan was achieved the way he wanted it. 

If you had marcupial primates, would they evolve to the same humans we have today? 

beaglelady - #84198

January 15th 2014

What I am saying is that convergent evolution has been advanced on this forum as an argument that certain forms are favored to appear.   As a matter of fact, I just learned about another form of convergent evolution yesterday—batteries of teeth. They appear in unrelated species.  

Eddie - #84107

January 10th 2014

Hi, Lou.

OK, I think we now we understand each other.

When I said that Boyle’s position was similar to that of ID, what I had in mind was that Boyle envisioned a “period of creation” which extended from the appearance of the first matter to the appearance of life and at least the main types of living creatures (leaving aside the question—unimportant in this context—whether Boyle might have imagined that slight modifications of basic types were within the capacity of nature; we don’t know what Boyle thought about that, so we can’t discuss it).  Whether Boyle thought in terms of 6 days or several billion years, I am saying that Boyle would have thought of a “creative” block of time in which all the “miracles” or “interventions” of God occurred, after which “the laws of nature” would be sufficient to keep things going.  So if you adjust for that, I don’t think we were saying anything different about what Boyle intended.

Now, regarding ID, the “tinkering” with evolution that some ID people seem to envision would occur during Boyle’s extended period of “creation.”  ID people don’t seem to think that God is tinkering now with genomes, or with planetary systems, or with anything else.  Once man is created (whether that occurred in 4004 B.C. or in 2 million B.C.), the period of “tinkering” would be over, because the execution of creation would be complete.  So again, I see ID’s overall conception as quite compatible with Boyle’s, not as “contrary to the spirit of Boyle’s view.”

What would be “contrary to the spirit of Boyle’s view” would be a belief that God still tinkers all the time with natural phenomena, to the point where science has to constantly consider miraculous intervention as an explanation for everday phenomena.  But no ID proponent invokes special actions of God to explain osmosis, stalactite formation, diamond formation, the orbit of Mercury, mitosis, ionic bonding, rainbows, the development of embryos, the lengthening of Galapagos finch beaks, the development of antibiotic resistance, etc.  The “everyday science” of ID folks (e.g., in Behe’s 35+ published articles on biochemistry) is no different from the everyday science of atheists, TEs, etc.   IDers are good “Boyleans” when it comes to “operational science.”  Their conflict with certain parts of consensus science (very few parts, actually) is in the area of the “historical” sciences. 

However, I think your argument is that Boyle had an excuse for believing in a distinct period of creation (in which natural laws and the order of the world and life were not yet established), whereas modern ID people do not, since we know more about the world (in particular, due to the historical sciences) than Boyle did.  Much could be said about that, but I won’t take it up at the moment; I just want to confirm that I have your argument right.

The question whether front-loading is scientifically (as opposed to theologically) defensible is a separate one, which I don’t propose to debate at the moment.  It should be noted, however, that most front-loaders (like Denton) don’t claim to be Christian and aren’t restricted by notions of providence etc. that would “nail down” the exact time and place of the emergence of man.  They don’t seem too worried about the precise location or timing of the emergence of intelligent species, so that, in a universe of “billions and billions of stars” something like man would be almost certain to appear somewhere (if not on Earth, then somewhere else) if there were a strong evolutionary tendency toward such complexity to start with.

Of course, Gould’s view of evolution denies any such tendency, so obviously if Gould is right, front-loading can’t be.  I would guess that Conway Morris, the big evolutionary biologist at Cambridge, sits somewhere in between Gould and Denton on this question, but I don’t know that for sure.  And anyway, that’s another debate.

Lou Jost - #84108

January 10th 2014

Eddie, if the tinkering or creative period is supposed to extend from the Big Bang to a couple million years ago, then we are basically agreeing about the claims of ID, though we disagree about the relatively unimportant and unanswerable question of whether Boyle would have been happy with that. I mainly wanted to clarify that ID requires tinkering after the Big Bang, not merely a god designing the laws at the beginning so that they would definitely produce humans on this earth.

I don’t see the importance of the date at which tinkering stops. Whether god tinkered until 2 million years ago, or whether he stopped yesterday, he would have been tinkering through most of history.

Also, since nothing about the pace of evolution seems to change at t= 2000000 years ago, the claim that tinkering stopped at that time is difficult to justify. It would seem to confirm my naturalistic claim that evolution doesn’t require tinkering in the first place. Many of the high Andean species I study diverged much more recently than 2 million years ago.

I agree with you that if the target is widened, IDers can require less tinkering. Given the laws as we know them, intelligent life seems bound to arise somewhere in the universe without any tinkering at all. Tinkering is only required if we are the pre-specified goal that has to be reached on the first run of the tape (as many Christians seem to believe).

I hope we get to talk about front-loading some day.

Hanan D - #84112

January 11th 2014

Tinkering is only required if we are the pre-specified goal that has to be reached on the first run of the tape (as many Christians seem to believe).

On the contrary, since nobody has really defined what tinkering means, tinkering to me conotates having to re-route something in the destination you want which has sort of gone off track. If we are the goal, then I would say setting that in motion from the get go is the best way (through the art and laws of nature as a paintbrush)....and not a little tinker here and a little tinker there. I certainly hope that is not what some ID’ers believe. 

Eddie - #84114

January 11th 2014

The problem with the word “tinkering” is that it suggests that something was not made right in the first place, and therefore has to be modified, or that something originally made correctly has become broken, and therefore needs repairs.
I think the notion of “tinkering” in the above sense is alien to traditional Christian theology, and therefore I think that when discussions are about Christian notions of God and creation (and probably the same applies to Jewish notions), the word “tinkering” should not be used. (I say that even though I’ve occasionally used the term myself.)
I think it would be better, from a Christian point of view, to say that God “guides” or “steers” evolution—which conveys the idea that God intended to be actively involved in the evolutionary process from the start, rather than the idea that he got involved only because the process broke down or went off-course.
Regarding ID folks—I’m speaking of the sub-group of ID people who accept macroevolution—I think that most of them would avoid the word “tinker” (for the reason given above) but that most of them would say that God steers or guides evolution, inputting biological information at points, or frequently, or constantly. Then there are a few who would say that God “front-loaded” evolution, into the first living cells or even into the Big Bang itself—so that man or something like man was bound to eventually arise somewhere—and therefore God does not have to steer the process once it has begun.  Speaking somewhat loosely, one might say that the first group of ID folks take a more “theistic” approach and the second group takes a more “deistic” approach.

I trust you understand that I am not here undertaking to defend either of these ID positions, but only to set them forth, in order to answer your question.  To defend either of them properly would require more time than I have at the moment.  In any case, attacking and defending a position should not be undertaken until everyone has a common understanding of what the position is.

Lou Jost - #84127

January 12th 2014

Eddie and Hanan, I am arguing here that the second option, the deistic approach, is not viable, given our current understanding of physics.

Either “tinkering” or “guiding” (it doesn’t matter to me what you call it) is needed if one wants to have a high probability of getting humans on earth after the Big Bang.

This means to me that one kind of IDers (those who accept that creation has the specific goal of getting humans on earth) must implicitly believe that their god has been fooling around with matter more or less continuously for most of the history of the universe.

Jon Garvey - #84139

January 13th 2014


Apart from Deists Christian and Jewish theologians (and scientists like Boyle, of course) for millennia have held that matter remains in being only because of God’s ongoing activity, and that he is the Primary Cause of all the genuine efficient causes operating in nature.

Terms like “tinkering” or “fooling round”, then, are the equivalent of accusing a cook of tinkering because he doesn’t simply reheat a ready-meal - or better, perhaps, accusing a painter or musician of “fooling around” because he wields the brush or plays the instrument. Or given the Fatherhood of God, accusing a parent of interfering with their children by raising them.

The non-believer can be excused for assuming there’s no God behind the efficient causes, but when the believer does so, it’s a strange anomaly.

Eddie - #84164

January 14th 2014


I agree that the narrower the target, the less likely it is that it could be guaranteed by a mere unfolding of events following the Big Bang without hands-on guidance.

Thus, to say that the Big Bang could have been set up so that man would appear on the third planet from a particular star in this particular galaxy, in 4,000 B.C., on a continent shaped exactly like Africa, without God doing anything but lighting a match to the Big Bang, seems preposterous; but saying that that the Big Bang could have been set up so that some form of intelligent life would appear on some planet, at some time, during the lifespan of the universe, seems more plausible.  The latter appears to be Denton’s position.  But I agree that Denton’s is a minority view among ID proponents, and that Denton does not try to wed this account to a traditional Christian scheme.

Lou Jost - #84169

January 14th 2014

...To say that the Big Bang could have been set up so that man would appear on the third planet from a particular star in this particular galaxy, in 4,000 B.C., on a continent shaped exactly like Africa, without God doing anything but lighting a match to the Big Bang, seems preposterous…

We agree then, Eddie. You could leave out the dates and the continents—-to expect to get intelligent primates on a particular planet around a particular star is preposterous, though it would not have seemed so to Boyle.

I also agree that lighting the fuse and then taking a long siesta would work, if the goal were only to get intelligent life somewhere in the universe.

Lou Jost - #84111

January 11th 2014

And yes, I am arguing that Gould is right; the laws of nature don’t determine that humans would evolve on earth. They don’t even determine the existence of earth. Quantum-mechanically indeterminate events were critically important for both. The universe is not clock-like. If the tape were run again, the results would be very different.

Jon Garvey - #84123

January 12th 2014

As a scientific statement, Gould’s position is speculative (does he have any more, or less, evidence on his side than Conway Morris?). Though I’m not sure how scientific it is to speculate on as unlikely a contingency as a second run of the creation.

But as a theological statement (or a scientific stement applied to theology) it’s pretty meaningless, because the universe has not been , and will not be run again - just the once. If God’s providence covers contingent events, as traditional Christian teaching says, then what happened by chance this time round is the history of the universe - there is no other story to be told. Man exists because he is an unchangeable reality.

Things would have been different, in other words, if only they weren’t the same.

Lou Jost - #84130

January 12th 2014

I don’t think Gould’s position is speculative, and I think Conway-Morris’s view is demonstrably wrong, if his claim is that something very like today’s humans are inevitable on earth. A more reasonable claim is that a kind of intelligence would evolve somewhere in the universe.

This would be a long discussion; maybe we can have it someday somewhere.

GJDS - #84133

January 12th 2014

The notion that the science that we currently understand could not ‘explain’ the earth, humanity, or perhaps the universe, (or the laws of science), is a difficult one to discuss. If we agree with such a statement, then all scientific statements are  tentative and any inferences are spuculative. Appealing to QM for some indeterminate “something” is unscientific. Atheists are forced to look to periods when they claim the law of physics did not apply, and views of endless other universes, to try and sustain their views.

The present state of scientific knowledge is clearly inadequate, be it Gould’s re-winding of some hypothetical tape, of tinkering by some god or other. Gould, if he had a tape, would in fact hane one that had breaks, holes, and blanks, so re-running it would produce a jumble, not a scientific outcome.

I guess both camps are left with little scientific credibility and a great deal of useless argumentation. It makes sense to accpt the limitations of science regarding these matters (I know there are typos, but this reply gives me a litle time to reply).

GJDS - #84134

January 12th 2014

I should have said, Gould’s tape would also be without a beginning, since no credible scientific statement can be found on the origins of life - speculation is not established science.

Lou Jost - #84135

January 12th 2014

The QM arguments just use today’s standard equations, the same ones you use in your daily work as a chemist. There is no need to go back to a time when the laws did not apply.

GJDS - #84136

January 12th 2014

Various notions are used to deal with the origin of the Universe - some are maths that are truly exotic (to me) which reduce to the standard wave function when measured, others postulate a period when the laws of physics would apply only to this universe but not to so called other multi-universes. This is not argued but simply assumed depending on ones inclinations.

On biology and Darwinian speculation, some people use QM undertainty in a bizzare attempt to justify some sort of random or unpredictability in Darwins outlook. This is odd - the information in genes presents astronomical combinations - this is not QM based.

Origins of life and speculations on these are generally described as fanciful and downright odd - thus my comments on some sort of re-doing something that is so poorly grounded in science.

Lou Jost - #84140

January 13th 2014

The argumenht I gave has nothing to do with the origin of the universe or “exotic math”.  Just simple QM as you use it. Many kinds of mutations, for example, are quantum effects with large uncertainties about their location in the genome and their timing. Muller showed experimentally that some mutations were quantum-mechanical almost a hundred years ago.

And today’s arrrangement of galaxies and planets is the result of small quantum-mechanical fluctuations in the distribution of energy and matter in the past.

GJDS - #84141

January 13th 2014

Your generalisations regarding evolution are such that they either infer, or directly argue origins of the universe, multi-universes and the fine tuning arguments, and one may extrapolate from your remarks origins of life and so on.

Your phrase has been “QM indeterminate effects…” Muller has not shown anything of the kind - his work has dealt with energy supplied either as heat or radiation and how this may have impacted on various groups and bonds within the macromolecules that make up genes. It is just plain wrong to then argue for anything except the excitation provided by such sources and the various energy levels in molecular bonds - this is mundane and has nothing to do with QM indeterminacy.

What work such as Muller shows is the unpredictability of which bond/molecualr groups may absorb a photon and subsequently undergo changes which are mutations. The way to try and work out such processes is statistics - this is again mundane stuff.

Lou Jost - #84154

January 13th 2014

Why do you keep misrepresenting what I said? The QM arguments I made in the preceding comment do not involve multiverses, and do not involve speculations about the origin of the universe. They just involve ordinary garden-variety quantum mechanics. 

Your two paragraphs about Muller contradict each other. The first claims Muller’s work showed nothing about quantum indeterminacy of mutations, but your second paragraph (correctly) notes that Muller showed mutations are often caused by absorption of a single quantum of energy, a photon. This happens with probability p where p <<1. This p is a strictly quantum-mechanical probability calculated from the relevant wave functions and cross-sections. It is a “mundane” case of quantum indeterminacy.

GJDS - #84155

January 13th 2014

The only one who misrepresents science is you - you invoked QM indeterminancy for the Universe and also for Muller mutations work. You are either ignorant or simply dishonest, or both. Look up any work and you will find the uncertainty principle has nothing to do with Muller type measurements.

The notion of origins of the Universe range fron equations that are aimed at a few moments as the Universe became. It is here that quantum theory and maths are used to examine various notions. Consequently the uncertainty principle and many facets of QM are relevant,

Muller’s work discusses the changes in molecules that make up genes, and how these are effected by heat and radiation of various wavelengths. I do not have time or inclination to educate you on such phenomina, but obviously you should become informed before making your odd statements. Anything such experiment may lead to the formation of ionic species, radical species, bond breaking and perhaps other excited molecular states. None of these are dealt with by the uncertainty principle - most are wither related to measurements and a range of values, and also the heterogeneity of the sample and the possible pathways that may be contemplated. Muller himself states that his work cannot be seen on a molar (single molecule) scale, and thus a range of results would be anticipated. Get your facts right!!!!!

Lou Jost - #84170

January 14th 2014

Do you really know what quantum mechanics is about? Any time you throw a high-energy photon or an electron at an atom, there is a certain probability that the atom will be excited into a new state, and then drop to a (possibly new) stable or semi-stable state, emitting radiation as it does so. The probability of such a jump is a fundamentally quantum mechanical one; there are no underlying deterministic laws which could tell us that this particular atom will definitely be excited by this particular photon or electron.  In bulk matter, with lots of incoming photons or electrons, we can reliably predict the probability distribution of excited states, but we can say nothing definite about individual  excitations. Any introductory QM text can explain that to you.

What Muller showed was that even when incoming beams had such a low intensity that only one electron or photon was passing through a germ cell at any given time, mutations were still induced. He concluded that a single quantum of energy was enough to induce a mutation. It follows that the location and timing of some mutations are quantum-mechanically indeterminate in the sense I just explained in the preceding paragraph. Subsequent work showed that the photons or electrons may be causing mutations by hitting something other than a gene, but that doesn’t matter. The “hits” are indeterminate.

Here is Muller in his  “The Modern Concept of Nature”(1970), p 138: “Each individual mutation remains a chance and uncontrollable event, from the macroscopic standpoint, and is no doubt the result of a quantum exchange caused by a suitable form of thermal agitation or radiation, as the case may be…Thus the quanta of physics become the quanta of evolution (Muller 1935b), and the ultramicroscopic events, with all their statistical randomness and even of their ulterior physical indeterminacy, become  translated into macroscopic ones…”

GJDS - #84183

January 14th 2014

I have replied below

beaglelady - #84199

January 15th 2014

So the ID world really accepts meiosis as random?

Eddie - #84209

January 15th 2014


You should not talk about “the ID world” as if it is a monolith;  ID proponents disagree with each other on many things, just as creationists (e.g., YEC, OEC) disagree with each other on many things, and just as TEs (e.g., Robert Russell, Darrel Falk) disagree with each other on many things.  What you should be inquiring about is Behe’s view of meiosis, Wells’s view of meiosis, Sternberg’s view of meiosis, Denton’s view of meiosis, etc.

Second, I would be surprised if any ID proponent denied that meiosis was “random” in the everyday sense, i.e., not predictable by any formula or natural law known to us.  Many of them, however, might say that it is not always random at the deepest level; they might say that God has subtle means of control over individual microscopic events such that our instruments could never tell the difference between a random and a rigged event, at the level of the individual event.  (A whole pattern of events is another matter—it is upon patterns of events, not individual events, that design inferences can be brought to bear.)

However, I am only generalizing from conversations I’ve had with scores of design proponents over the years, and I would not advise anyone to rely on this generalization; the safest thing is always to write to the individual ID proponent, or consult his or her writings, to find out what he or she thinks.  Unfortunately, too many people in these debates are sure (based on hearsay and speculation) that they know what ID proponents think, and won’t take the trouble to find out from the horse’s mouth.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84090

January 9th 2014

Ted wrote:

A futher gloss. In Boyle and almost all of the other pre-modern natural theologians in the Protestant tradition, we don’t see a significant role for the Second person of the Trinity in creation; we have only the First person, God the Father, creating the universe.

This is a very apt and important insight into “natural theology.”  It is unitarian.  The reason I suspect for this is that unitarian natural theology is more compatible with traditional philosophy than trinitarian thinking.

Science has been more attracted to unitarian Deism, which is philosophy in religious dress, rather than a Trinitarian point of view.  The problem today is not that Christian natural theology has failed because it has never been seriously tried.

The problem today is that traditional unitarian philosophy has failed, taking natural theology with it.  Now the choice is seen as to be between science and theology.  Philosophy is a dead letter.

Unitarian theology results in either monism or dualism.  If we choose monism we have determinism as Lou pointed out and some still maintain.

Most choose dualism as most compatible which Christianity, but neither really works so we are trapped into opposing a false worlod view with a inadequate world- view.

We need to stop hitting our head against the wall and develop a real Christian triune worldview.  I am very interested, Ted, in what you come up with.         

Eddie - #84091

January 9th 2014

Good column, Ted. I agree with you that Boyle seems like a true progenitor of ID.

It is interesting how emphases shift. Boyle wanted people to be careful not to introduce “God of the gaps” thinking into science, and to that end he recommended diligent search into efficient causes, but he said this in a way that made it clear that it was not unreasonable for scientists to speak also about final causes. In modern discussion of these questions, I find that both atheists and TEs tend to agree with Boyle about diligently looking for efficient causes and avoiding God of the gaps, but don’t have any sympathy for his praise of final causes in science. I suppose that their reasoning, reconstructed (since they aren’t always explicit), is something like this: “Since even the most obviously “final” arrangements in nature (e.g., the solar system, the structure of the camera eye) may one day (e.g., after Laplace, after Darwin) be explained in terms of efficient causes alone (e.g., swirling clouds of hydrogen, random mutations plus natural selection), it is *never* safe to introduce final causation into scientific discussion.” So they either toss final cause from the study of nature altogether (atheists) or they allow it, but shove it into the aesthetic or personal appreciation of nature, i.e., move it out of the NOMA “science” compartment into the NOMA “personal faith” compartment (many TEs).


Ted Davis - #84115

January 12th 2014

Or, they move it out of “science” into “metaphysics”—larger philosophical and theological issues that science can raise. Personal faith does indeed have a role in that sphere, both for those who profess a particular religious view and those who don’t. As Polkinghorne often points out, this is not a place where one finds knock-down arguments. Indeed, as I’ve tried to point out in other places, a basic difference between ID and TE (perhaps with individual exceptions) involves this very question: are design inferences (when it comes to nature) wholly “scientific,” or do they go “beyond science” (to borrow the title of a book by Polkinghorne) into larger, metaphysical questions that “science” cannot answer?

GJDS - #84096

January 9th 2014

Another useful post in this interesting series – it is instructive to read the thinking of prominent persons such as Boyle, and how their views were inevitably grounded in ancient philosophies. I hope to keep this comment brief so I will not discuss ancient Hellenic views, except to note they were part of the thinking in Boyle’s time in the study of natural philosophy. On the matter of a causal chain, both Aquinas and Kant noted the need to avoid an infinite regress, and Aquinas chose to include the Primal cause in his thinking to avoid such a regress. The Aquinas outlook commences with God as that Primal cause, and the remaining causal chain leads to the final causes. This view requires the investigation of such things as efficient causes.

One outcome of this outlook has been to give the Creator a philosophical garment, which has been the cause imo of the current controversy: (1) a final end or purpose to the creation, opposed to (ii) a chaotic and purposeless/goaless view. One result seems to me to have led to an inverted view of good and evil as present as part of in the Creation; I think this is error, but once we derive a purpose from a primal cause as what God is, it is easy to add to this as God creating something that is good and evil. Theologically this view is unsound (but I will not comment further).

Science seeks to understand what constitutes nature, but any additional questions need to be understood within their historical context, and I think much of these should be abandoned regarding their scientific ground(s). For example, we may argue that God chose to use the elements in the periodic table, but within the context of this discussion, we can just as easily ask, why have so many elements, and why make some of them radioactive? Does this make part of this creation destructive and evil? Why not work with 20 elements? Such questions are used to cloak matters such as Theodicy with science, but in fact they are vacuous, because scientific questions must regard facts, observations and measurements of these elements.

I enjoy this series because it shows that people such as Boyle could live as a Christian and also seek to understand nature – without seeking conflicting theories spanning science and religion, nor seek to create contradictions when there are none.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84098

January 10th 2014

Eddie wrote:

In any case, I don’t see how the modern understanding of nature in any way softens the so-called problem of evil.  Instead of God directly constructing a world in which there can be pain and suffering (the old view), God leaves the construction of a world to blind forces and contingencies which are indifferent to pain and suffering (the new view). 

Eddie is right.

So What is the answer to the problem of natural evil?  Jesus Christ!  So Ted is right there.

If death were evil, Jesus Christ would not have died because evil has no power over God.  If suffering were evil, Jesus Christ would not have suffered for the same reason.  You could say that this is the same message as found in the book of Job.  Job was not evil because he suffered.

Suffering and death can be the result of sin, but they are not sinful and thus evil. So suffering and death per se are not part of the problem of evil. 

Evil and sin are manifest in disorder and hatred.  While humans are subject to suffering and death which are the effects of evil and sin, they can overcome them through the Power of the Father found in salvation through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is not the manifestation of God’s Wisdom.  Jesus is the Second and equal Member of the Trinity Whose Logos is built into the Creation.    

This is why we need a true Trinitarian worldview and philosophy.      

Hanan D - #84103

January 10th 2014

 While humans are subject to suffering and death which are the effects of evil and sin,


Roger, but haven’t we already concluded there was suffering and death long before a single human was around?

Jon Garvey - #84110

January 11th 2014


Seems to me the Bible teaches that only human suffering and death were the result of the fall. The projection of this on to all harm and death whatsoever is a relatively recent theological development, even though the earlier thinkers did not have to take into consideration any long period between creation and fall: almost universally they considered that God created carnivores as carnivores, and that it was good. That goes back to the Tanakh itself, of course, not only in Job but in several psalms - and it is echoed in Jesus’s attitude towards animal death and eating meat (and fish).

That strand of thinking was certainly still around in Boyle’s time - one can read it, for example in the poetry of John Milton and the meditations of Thomas Traherne. As I said above, from just before Boyle’s time there was an increasing sense that bad weather, crop failure and other human hardships were a change in the created order since the Fall, but it seems to have only been a century or so later that much was said about carnivores and the conflicts in nature generally being in any way a result of sin, still less of Satan’s or some Demiurgic natural agent of creation.

Hence my reason for thinking that the focus on nature as a problem for theodicy was not an oversight by the likes of Boyle, but an entirely consistent outworking of creation doctrine which would not have been in the least threatened by deep time or evolution (even the Malthus-influenced Darwinian “red in tooth and claw” version, though they might perhaps have challenged such an overly gloomy view of nature’s processes in favour of emphasising God’s wise provision for all creatures, as historical Christianity always had).

Hanan D - #84113

January 11th 2014

Well, anyone before us clearly had no idea of millions of years of very slow evolution, let alone the slow evolution of man for thousands of years. Hence, death, bad weather, diseases and tooth aches could absolutely not be attritubted to the fall. 

GJDS - #84138

January 12th 2014

I am inclided to the view that the creation was made by God as good, and our outlook on suffering is coloured by modern ideas of cruelty in nature and especially in the animal kingdom. The notion the creation is now in turmoil, or has faults, is part of the Salvation doctrine, in that Christ has redeemed humanity and the creation. The Gospel thus speaks of a new heaven and a new earth - this must also mean that God considers this earth/universe as simply made to fulfil His purpose - classical/orthodox theology  has discussed the absence of good (or cut of from God because of sin) as the equivalent of evil as such.

The earth is replenished by what we humans often regard as cruel events - the biodiversity of all species is also established and continues with all natural events. The role of humanit and human agency, human intent and choice however, does not fit in with the natural order. I would be very interested to hear or read if Boyle expressed views on these matters.

Christ suffered for all of the creation so that He may redeem it - but the redemtion was to deal with the power of the law, and the need for humanity to be saved from our own choices and evils - which cut us from God.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84106

January 10th 2014

Hanan D.,

You miss my point.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84156

January 13th 2014

GJDS wrote:

Christ suffered for all of the creation so that He may redeem it - but the redemtion was to deal with the power of the law, and the need for humanity to be saved from our own choices and evils - which cut us from God.

Sin is alienation and causes discord, separation from God and separation from others.  God created the world to work in harmony and people to live in peace and love with God and each other.

Sin brought discord into the universe, crime, war, and greed.  God gave humans control over God’s world.  Sin has also brought discord to nature through ecological disaster.  

The Kingdom of God brings harmony to humans and nature. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84159

January 13th 2014

Eddie wrote:

Anchoring a new theological view in Biblical passages is the time-honored way of proceeding, and I think it is even more important to do so in the evangelical Christian world

Eddie, you are right in saying that this is the traditional way of doing theology, but it won’t work here.  Why?  Because the Bible is not a book of divine science, but a book of divine theology.

The human writers of the Bible accepted the scientific world view of their contemporaries, so they did not know that the world had changed over millions of years, as we know now.  There was no need for a Biblical view of evolution, because their was no real evidence of evolution.

The problem of evolution is the problem of change.  For philosophy change is bad.  Science until recently did not accept a changing universe.  The Bible on the other hand is the story of change, the unfolding history of God’s plan of redemption.

The OT is how Abraham’s offspring evolved from a nuclear family to an extended family to tribes to a federation of tribes to a kingdom to an empire to a divided kingdom to a people in exile to a religion/nation.  Thed NT is about the evolution of the Church.

Thus the Bible is about change, while philosophy and science was not.  Then science discovered change and now is claimed to be about change and instability.  Philosophy has lost its appeal because it cannot explain change.

Theology is caught in the middle.  It is about change, but in part dependent on traditional philosophy which is anti-change. 

The reason why there is a legitimate theology of evolution is because the Bible is about a theology of change.  The Bible is also about continuity as naturalist science is not.  We need a theology/ philosophy/science that explains both change and continuity which Darwinism does not.  


Eddie - #84160

January 13th 2014

Hi, Roger.

I can’t follow all your points, but it seems that you are making a simple point more complicated than necessary.  

It is a matter of historical fact that American evangelicals, at least up until recently, have looked to the Bible as their final authority, above all secular learning and even above all the traditions of the Church.  They have taken the phrase “sola scriptura” quite seriously.  They have thought that all core doctrines must be derived from the Scriptures alone, and that no doctrine in conflict with the Scriptures is to be accepted.  In saying all of this, I am not being prescriptive—I am not presuming to tell evangelicals what they must do.  I am telling them what their ancestors from the days of Plymouth Rock onwards have in fact done, and therefore what they need to keep doing if they wish to remain in theological continuity with those ancestors.

If, on the other hand, evangelicals today wish to turn around and say, “To heck with the past!  We no longer think the Bible is the only authority, or even that it is always correct!  We are going to improvise Christianity from now on, in accord with our inner religious feelings, and modify it in radical ways to fit in with contemporary culture and values!  We will take out the Bible only what we still find valid, and forget the rest!” then of course they may do as they please.  But then they should stop calling themselves “evangelicals” because the term would be false advertising, a lie both to the public and to themselves about what they are.  They should call themselves “liberals.”

Far be it from me to say that someone can’t be a liberal if he or she wants to be.  It doesn’t bother me that e.g. beaglelady or anyone else here is a liberal.  It only bothers me if liberals pretend that they are being true to evangelical tradition when they are in fact departing from it.  

The difficulty with most of Protestant Christianity today (outside of fundamentalism) is not so much that it is so liberal (that’s old news!), but that so many of the liberals have such a bad conscience that they won’t openly avow themselves as liberals.  This leads to all kinds of dialogical dishonesty.  When I speak to a Christian liberal, I am far less upset over the fact that he (e.g.) doesn’t believe in the Fall than I am over the fact that he plays games with words to make it hard to tell whether or not he believes in the Fall.  Similarly, I am less upset with an Open Theist who (e.g.) says outright that he thinks God doesn’t do a blessed thing in evolution other than throw out the hydrogen atoms and watch the universe unfold in whatever way randomness takes it, than with a Christian who says that God “ordains” the results of evolution but when asked about any specific results, says, “Oh, no, those details aren’t determined by God, but spring from the genetic roll of the dice; God never tinkers or micromanages.”  Such a person wants to have his cake and eat it, too; he wants the theological results of the Open Theist but wants to escape the doctrinal reprobation that goes with Open Theism.  Give me the out-of-the-closet Open Theist any day.

A Christian liberal with a clear conscience, one who can say outright that he thinks that some parts of the Bible are simply not the word of God, but only the word of man, and have to be left behind as part of the world’s primitive religious past—that sort of person I can deal with.  I may not agree with him, but I can deal with him respectully.  It’s the one who says that he thinks the Bible is all the word of God, while acting and speaking in a hundred ways as if he regards much of it as only the word of man, that I have trouble respecting.  That person is not a truly evangelical Christian, no matter how much he flaunts that label.

Evangelical Christianity in America is at a crossroads.  A good chunk of it, maybe as much as a third to a half of it, is poised to follow in the path that the mainstream, liberal churches embarked upon 100 years ago—the path to secular humanism with a Christian veneer.  Another chunk of it, disgusted with the liberalism of the first chunk, is ready to jump into fundamentalism in order to find a faith that takes the Bible seriously.  I think that both of these paths would be wrong.  Evangelicals have to find a path that is neither fundamentalist nor liberal.  I am not saying that is an easy task.  But certainly the right path does not involve inventing new theological doctrines without trying to firmly ground them in the Bible.  If Biblical exegesis is not central to a form of Christianity, that form of Christianity, whatever it is, is not evangelical.

GJDS - #84161

January 13th 2014

Just one point that I feel needs to be made - Orthodoxy (west and east) has at all times based doctrine on the Bible - the authority of the Church is derived from Apostolic teachings contained in the NT, and they referred to the OT. My understanding is that the prominat teachings of Protestant/Reformist/Evangelical traditions have followed this path, although they have disagreements on lesser matters, such as the role of the Pope and various traditional activities that each tradition has embraced over the history of Christianity. The only difference that I can observe is that the Orthodox approach to new and novel doctrinal matters has been to examine them, and if they are not based on the Bible, declared such as heresies - it seems the Evangelical(s) may have forgotten this.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84163

January 14th 2014


Please read carefully.  I am in no way suggesting that evangelicals or anyone else stop from firmly grounding their faith on the Bible.

However we must be honest in saying that the teachers of the Law and the priests who opposed Jesus also firmly grounded their faith on the Bible, or at least so they thought.

Jesus stood for change and He defended this change in understanding the Bible and breaking with traditional Judaism with the Parable of the Wineskins.”

(Mark 2:21 NIV)  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he (or she) does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.

(Mark 2:22 NIV)  And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he (or she) does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” See also Mt 9:16-17 and Lk 5:37-38.  Luke says the old wine is better,

Faith like new wine needs new winskins, new forms, new theology, based on the Spirit of the Bible, not the Letter of the Bible as Paul pointed out. 

God does not change, but humans do.  We have new understandings of ourselves and new challenges in our world. 

I am trying to show you how these changes can be made based on good Biblical theology.  You seem to insist that this cannot be done or that it must be done only on your philosophical specifications. 

Please, do not fall into the trap of the Pharisees and the Saducees.



Eddie - #84166

January 14th 2014


Nothing that I said requires a stupid, partisan, or narrow-minded interpretation of the Bible.  My criticism was aimed at those who brush the Bible aside, or settle for a few scattered proof-texts that can be made to support a particular theological idea that they got, not from the Bible, but from the Enlightenment or evolutionary thought or some other aspect of modern culture.

The view I expressed is entirely compatible with radical new insights into the meaning of the Biblical text.  What I won’t accept from evangelicals is, e.g., a cheap grabbing of “creation groaneth and travaileth” out of context, and saying:  “See!  Nature wasn’t created as in Genesis 1, where God specified particular ends and made sure that they happened, but through an evolutionary process in which everything was up for grabs!”  That sort of shallow proof-texting is increasingly common in the evangelical world, not just regarding evolution, but regarding everything, because many evangelicals are frankly embarrassed about what their Reformation ancestors believed, and want the Bible to teach feminism, democracy, evolution, saving the whales, or whatever else intellectuals are currently supposed to believe.  The only check on this tendency to read modern values and beliefs back into the Bible is disciplined exegesis of the Greek and Hebrew texts, with a desire to understand what the Biblical authors were trying to teach, not to bring the Bible up to date so that Christians aren’t embarrassed in conversations with secular humanists.  

All you have to do, Roger, to see the difference that I am talking about, is to read the writings of Calvin along with the writings of John Shelby Spong.  Or read the original writings of John Wesley on the Biblical understanding of creation, and compare them with the so-called “Wesleyan” approach to the Biblical creation story taken by some Christian biologists today.

I’m not saying that Christians are stuck forever with the opinions of Calvin or Wesley.  I think it’s amply possible to disagree with Calvin or Wesley.  But it’s irresponsible to do so if you don’t know the Bible as well as Calvin and Wesley did.  And the problem is that many modern evangelicals are offering superficial readings of the Bible, quick stitchings together of proof-texts, driven by extra-Biblical concerns, and won’t discipline themselves to the kind of systematic, lifelong Biblical study that Calvin and Wesley exemplified.  Their concern to make the Bible relevant corrupts their interpretation.

The proper procedure is to read the text lovingly and with deep concentration and discipline, and not to try to force “relevance” upon it, but to wait for the Holy Spirit to show us the “relevance.”  But liberal evangelicals start with prior convictions, derived not from the Bible but from modern thought, about what is “relevant,” and then mine the Bible for passages that are “relevant,” ignoring everything else that doesn’t fit.  The Bible thus becomes a tool in a culture war, rather than the guide of Christian life.  This is the error of liberal evangelicals, not that they want to give the Bible a fresh look in light of modern life (every generation of Christians rightly does that!), but that they sit in judgment on the Bible, deciding what it must teach if it is to be acceptable to them, and that they treat it as a sort of theological buffet dinner, where they can put on their plates only the items they want, and spurn the rest.

Your remarks about Pharisees and Sadducees are silly.  The Pharisees and Sadducees would have me stoned if they knew my views.  For that matter, Calvin would have burned me at the stake in Geneva.  (Though he would have burned most modern TEs first.)  I’m not defending any particular rigid interpretation of the Bible.  I’m defending a certain attitude to interpreting the Bible.  I’m pointing out that “picking and choosing” is entirely the wrong spirit in which to read the Bible—if you are a true traditional evangelical, as opposed to John Shelby Spong, Katharine Jefferts Schori, or Gene Robinson.

The right attitude for an evangelical is:  “This is the word of God, and I will try my hardest to determine what it is teaching me.  And once I have determined that, I will try to follow it, even if following it causes me to be laughed at or thought intellectually backwards or socially out of date by Harvard professors, educated middle-class people generally, wised-up businessmen or civil servants, clever journalists, writers of blog columns on evolution, etc.  I will accept the humiliation of the world before I will depart from what I think the Bible teaches.”  It seems to me that most evangelicals used to take this attitude, but that increasingly they are abandoning it, in favor of “updating” Christianity to be “relevant” (i.e., acceptable to non-Christians who start from secular humanist presuppositions).

If evangelicals do this, they will become exactly what the mainstream churches have become—vacuous, liberal, and, increasingly, empty of parishioners.  And they will drive the remaining true Protestants over to fundamentalism by way of reaction—which I am sure you would agree is not desirable.

It astounds me that you, a former clergyman, seem much less able to see the bigger picture, the larger trajectory of Christian thought and life in America, than I am.  I think you are so panicky about the damage done by fundamentalism that you cannot see the even greater damage that is being done by liberalism.  You need to understand both sides of the picture, or you will never understand what Jon and I are talking about.  We are not calling for evangelicals to become fundamentalists.  We are, rather, noting the voluntary abandonment of basic evangelical principles by the evangelical community, as it chases after respectability in the world’s eyes.  If you would read our posts with this in mind, you could avoid the gross misunderstandings of our arguments that you have displayed. 

Ted Davis - #84167

January 14th 2014

In light of various comments from Roger, Jon, and Eddie, I should clarify my overall point about natural theology, theology of nature, theodicy, and the Second Person of the Trinity in creation.

When I said that the great natural theologians of the early modern period left Christ out of the picture, I didn’t quite say enough, and I gave some folks the wrong impression. I was thinking primarily of natural philosophers, not theologians (such as Calvin), since it’s mainly the natural philosophers of the 17th century (Boyle is a prime example, but there are many others) who did the kind of natural theology that set up the Darwinian challenge to natural theology. The later theologians of the 18th and 19th centuries who did natural theology, including the two most influential ones—Joseph Butler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Butler) and William Paley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Paley)—were following in Boyle’s footsteps to a large degree. Boyle actually wrote a great deal about Jesus, including his sacrificial death, in works that he himself regarded as “theological” rather than “philosophical” (this is a distinction he explicitly made in his own private catalogs of his various writings). But, he left all of that out when writing about design in nature. Ditto for all of the others I was thinking of.

I don’t recall Boyle doing very much (if anything) with Christ’s role in creation. Interestingly, Newton actually did assign Christ a role there, following the prologue to John’s gospel, but he kept quiet about it because he rejected the deity of Jesus and the Trinity, views that would have had serious consequences if they had been openly stated at the time. However, Newton didn’t bring the Suffering Servant into creation either.

Now, this is hardly surprising. Natural theology has always involved efforts to infer God’s existence and attributes from nature and reason, without bringing in the Bible. That’s the whole point. However, because the natural theologians in this tradition (as I’ve spelled it out here) were sharply focused on “contrivances” in the biological world (in addition to other aspects of the whole creation), as Boyle, Newton, Butler, and Paley all were, parasitism and “the dark side of nature” (as I like to call it) only created more and more tension within their own project: what sort of God is this, who’s character is revealed in nature? This is indeed one of the main reasons why many Christian scientists and theologians today, including lots who are “orthodox” in their thinking, are reluctant to speak about “design” in some unqualified sense; they prefer to talk about “purpose,” which is more of a theological concept than a scientific one. In their view, natural theology done independently of theology of nature is not usually a good idea. Specific views of God are involved when doing theology of nature, and so theodicy can be talked about—indeed, IMO, must be talked about, when doing that. I don’t think it’s an accident, that Polkinghorne’s most prominent statement of natural theology, namely the opening chapter in Belief in God in an Age of Science (http://biologos.org/blog/belief-in-god-in-an-age-of-science-john-polkinghorne-part-one and the others in that series), is followed immediately by a chapter about the Crucified God.

That’s what’s changed recently, and I think that’s a very good thing.

Eddie - #84174

January 14th 2014


Your comments are pertinent and helpful.

I’ll make two points:

1. Critics of natural theology (including, but not limited to, TEs) seem to me to greatly exaggerate the dangers of natural theology, because they greatly exaggerate the scope and purpose of natural theology.  Natural theology has a very limited goal:  to show that we can know something of God (his existence, and his most basic features) without recourse to revelation.  It was never intended to replace revealed religion, or even to be a necessary prologue to revealed religion; the person incapable of following the arguments of Paley or Aquinas can learn everything that natural theology teaches through revelation.

Natural theology’s main function is to refute the claim that “reason” or “science” lead to atheism.  It shows, on the contrary, that reason or science (in the broader, classical sense of “science”) can demonstrate the existence of some kind of God.  It thus facilitates religious faith by removing an impediment to it. (“Didn’t Lucretius disprove the existence of God, Daddy?”  “No, son; read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Boyle, Newton, and Paley.”)

I think that many critics of natural theology confuse it with “natural religion”—which was in vogue in the 18th and 19th centuries.  “Natural religion,” unlike natural theology, tried to replace revealed religion.  We see this in the writings of Deists such as Thomas Paine, who thought that reason alone could bring us to Christian sentiments and Christian virtue (without need for Christian religion).  I think there is a fear among some TEs that natural theology will undercut the need for the revelation of Christ (hence their constant references to Barth and Pascal), but in fact it is not natural theology, but natural religion, which does this.

2.  I don’t see what is gained by substituting God’s “purpose” for God’s “design” when it comes to unpleasant things like parasites.  It strikes me a sheer euphemism.  When I was young, there were classes for “retarded” children, but the word “retarded” was thought of as humiliating, so various euphemisms were substituted.  First there was “slow learners” but then that was deemed too humiliating, so we got “academically challenged” and so on.  Everyone knows what is really being said in such cases, and euphemisms do no good.  

There are basically two Christian explanations for parasites, etc.:  (1) They didn’t exist before the Fall, so they are man’s fault.  This exonerates God from any role in “the problem of evil.”  (2) They did exist before the Fall, so God is responsible for them.  This implicates God in “the problem of evil.”

YECs pick (1).  I disagree with them.  I think that parasites, animal suffering, etc. were intended as part of creation from the beginning.  Not only do I think that this is what science shows; I think it’s what the Bible teaches.  (Job, etc.)  So, yes, I do think that God “designed” parasites, and even if we substitute the more euphemistic “intended” or “purposed” (or the deliberately vague “ordained”) for “designed,” the problem doesn’t go away.  That’s why I bite the bullet and say “designed.”  The things wouldn’t have the nasty features they have (which show a quite precise adjustment of means to ends) if God wasn’t fully cognizant of those features and didn’t approve of their production.

Did natural theologians spend too much time talking about the designed things that were “nice” and not enough time talking about the designed things that were “nasty”?  Probably.  But that is because the purpose of natural theology is to show that God exists, not to vindicate the justice of God.  To show that God exists, the fact of design is all you need.  The examples—whether of nice or nasty design—are incidental.

To vindicate the justice of God, on the other hand, you need to take into account a much wider range of considerations than whether or not something is designed, and therefore you need to know much more about God than natural theology can tell you.  You need to have revelation.  Nothing in natural theology forbids revelation, and nothing in natural theology forbids the use of revelation to vindicate the justice of God.  Therefore, theodicy arguments against natural theology strike me as off-base.

(The case is different for YECs, who could argue that natural theology arguments are unreliable because nature, being fallen, no longer tells us the original design of God.  But TEs don’t believe that evil in nature comes from the Fall, so that argument is not available to TEs.  And in any case, I haven’t noticed that YECs very often object to natural theology arguments.  It is the TEs who seem to be leading the charge against natural theology.)

GJDS - #84189

January 14th 2014

“Specific views of God are involved when doing theology of nature .....” This is the crux of the matter - do these views rest on the doctrine of God as the Creator and Sustainer of the creation, or do they seek an elebration of this doctrine that would then re-state  and change its meaning? There is a profound theological difference between the orthodox meaning of the doctrine, and that of say, process theology, and/or open theism. These profound changes work through the entire message of the Gospel, as they seek to limit and qualify the attribute of Creator. Even the sacrifice of Christ, the central teaching of the Christian faith, may be modified into a helpless ‘was-god’ who seems to have realised his mistake in making things that cause pain (or whatever notions Theodociy may bring with these elaborations) and is now sharing in this pain as a type of penenance.

Seeing nature within the theological context is to gain a deeper understanding of the creation and to once again understand how it points to its creator - this includes the most fundamental realities that physics may provide. It cannot seek to change the meaning of any god that some people may embrace, since the character of any god is understood only once people have created such a god and defined his character.

Jon Garvey - #84194

January 15th 2014

Thanks, GJDS. Couldn’t put it better.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84172

January 14th 2014


Are you sure you have a Ph D or am I confusing you with someone else?

I apologize if you don’t understand what I am trying to say or it does not conform to what your views, but please stay on the issue, which is a theology of evolution.

And please do not talk about what you do not know such as my state of mind and my status as a minister.


Eddie - #84176

January 14th 2014


I wrote you two long posts explaining what I meant by the deep connection between American evangelical Protestantism and the Bible.  I suspect that everyone here understood both posts, and indeed that most of them would not have needed the second post (which I wrote for you alone, because you did not seem to see my point in the first post).  I can’t really spend any more time explaining to you what should already be sufficiently clear.

If I made a mistake about your status as a minister, you can clarify the facts.  You indicated that you had been to seminary and your website (or at least a church website containing a picture of you and your biography) indicates that you have been at least involved in lay ministry, even if you were never an ordained cleric.  

But since you are complaining about my dialogical procedure, you might want to consider whether accusing someone of resembling the Gospel portrait of the Pharisees or Sadducees, merely because he says that evangelicals are not paying enough attention to the Bible, is likely to provoke constructive discussion.  I was actually more offended by your comparison than I let on.  (Not that I have anything against the actual historical Pharisees and Sadducees, but you were using them as symbolic of stubbornness, narrow-mindedness, and wrongheadedness in Biblical interpretation, and thus to belittle my comments.)

Regarding my comment on your “state of mind,” if you are referring to my inference about your thoughts on fundamentalism, it is based on very explicit statements you have made about fundamentalism on this site.  I think my characterization of your reaction to fundamentalism is right on target.  If I’m wrong, tell me what you actually think of fundamentalism and I’ll stand corrected.

As for staying on topic, if you can’t see the connection between “a theology of evolution” and “the need for evangelicals to engage in thorough and rigorous Biblical study before endorsing any theology of evolution,” then there is no hope for intelligent discussion between us. 

Lou Jost - #84185

January 14th 2014

Eddie, I thought your comments were clear and helpful.

Eddie - #84191

January 14th 2014

Thanks, Lou.  I try very hard to be clear—I edit my posts carefully before sending them.  I try to consider what the person I’m talking to needs to hear in order to better understand my position.  I try to take into account past conversations with that person, etc.  I try to give examples, I elaborate, I try to cover all the points raised (except where I simply don’t know what the person is talking about).  But still, with some people, it seems to do no good.  They seem to have already decided, in advance of reading my answers, what I am going to say and what is wrong with it, and when they respond, they respond not to what I wrote but to what they imagine I am thinking (even though I’m not thinking that).

Thus, my answers are continually read as supporting “dualism” even though I have never introduced the term, have never suggested that I endorse the concept represented by the word, and have even denied being a “dualist”; and when I make a historical point that many evangelicals are not being true to evangelical tradition regarding the authority and centrality of the Bible, I am taken to be saying that evangelicals are wrong because they don’t agree with my particular interpretation of the Bible on this or that specific topic.  I cannot figure out whether such continual misreadings proceed from some personal animus against me, or from a serious problem in reading comprehension, or from some other cause.  But it certainly is wearying to be continually challenged on positions that I have never taken.

Anyhow, thanks again for your support.  I’m glad to hear that someone understood me, even though my primary addressee did not.  At least my carefully chosen words weren’t entirely in vain.

Lou Jost - #84242

January 19th 2014

I sympathize with your frustration, and appreciate that you take pride in the craftsmanship of your posts. I’ve had my own problems discussing topics surrounding natural selection and ecology with Roger (as have others here)....


GJDS - #84184

January 14th 2014

Reply to Lou,

Once again your need to cause argument and disharmony surfaces. I have stated explicitly the uncertainty principle is not invoked, nor does it need to be invoked. From Muller’s Noble Prize speech (I suspect your irrational response will again scream of quote mining),

“On this conception, ....., from caprices of thermal agitation, that occur on a molecular and submolecular scale….., have shown that the amount of increase in mutation frequency with rising temperature is not merely that of an ordinary test-tube chemical reaction,.....” and “Now this inference concerning the non-molar nature of the individual mutation process, which sets it in so different a class from most other grossly observable chemical changes in nature, led naturally to the expectation that some of the “point effects” brought about by high-energy radiation like X-rays would also work to produce alterations in the hereditary material. For if even the relatively mild events of thermal agitation can, some of them, have such consequences, surely the energetically far more potent point changes caused by powerful radiation should succeed.”

This shows that energy supplied via increases in temperature or radiation leads to changes .... changes to a molecular system can be conformational, rearrangements of H-bonds, to excitation of electrons, and these may occur via a number of mechanisms, and we can calculate the electron densities in higher MO (often we may use terms such as anti-bonding MO). Seeking probabilities for such experimental systems is again obvious, as we cannot monitor events on a molecular level. At no point would we seek to invoke the uncertainty principle – the techniques for estimating where and how energy may be absorbed can be complicated, and accurate QM computations need accurate molecular structural information – this makes such computations impossible for the large molecules found in bio-systems. It is obvious that QM is utilised in these studies ... that is all that can be implied by Muller’s remark.

You again parrot some test book stuff to try and make yourself appear as an authority when in fact you are not.

Lou Jost - #84186

January 14th 2014

My graduate work in physics was on the foundations of quantum mechanics. I am no authority but the issue we are discussing here is elementary. Your quotes don’t address the issue at hand. Mutations can be caused by single quanta, and the interaction of a single quantum of energy with a particular atom is not deterministic. What part of that do you disagree with? Where is Muller wrong when he contradicts you in the quote I gave above?

“Thus the quanta of physics become the quanta of evolution ..., and the ultramicroscopic events, with all their statistical randomness and even of their ulterior physical indeterminacy, become  translated into macroscopic ones…”

GJDS - #84187

January 14th 2014

You invoked the uncertainty principle as if it provided some insight into evolution - this is simple nonsense - now you provide some trivia to wit, quantum means quantum, and this again reveals some nonsense of yours regarding evolution. Quantum is used because of discreet energy levels - to use this type of statement in your ‘arguments’ is vaccuous generilisation and is similar to saying electrons and chemical bonds are the tools of evolution. Genes and cells are hugely complicated and their molecular arrangements are extremely difficult to discuss at ab inition QM level. Thus you statements are nonsense and instead speak to your motivation regarding Darwinism, cloked under an odd presentation of science. 

Lou Jost - #84188

January 14th 2014

Muller’s experiments and conclusions are clear, and the quote I just gave directly contradicts what you say. Yet you insist.

Tell me, then, when a light wave interacts with an atom, can the result be predicted with certainty (in principle) if you knew the exact initial conditions of both the light wave and the atom? Or does quantum theory produce an irreducible probability for each possible transition?

This is high school stuff and I am amazed at your hostility to anything I say, even about such basic things.

GJDS - #84190

January 14th 2014

You can obfuscate until your turn blue in the face, but this pointless exchange commenced with you invoking the uncertainty principle regarding generalised comments about Darwinian evolution and origins - you must be desperate to reduce this to light waves and single atoms, unless you are argueing that genes, variation of species, mutations, and what else, are expaliend by theories of light waves - and when can you get a single atom for studies regarding interactions with any photon? My hostility, as you put it, is to reject your nonsense - just except f for goodness sake and stop this nonsense.

Lou Jost - #84192

January 14th 2014

Muller’s experiments showed that mutations really can be caused by single-photon and single-particle interactions with matter. And these kinds of interactions are subject to quantum-mechanical uncertainties, as you can check in your textbooks if you don’t believe me. So yes, as Muller says, quantum-level indeterminacy affects evolution through the timing and location of mutations. The exact course of evolution is not deterministic.


GJDS - #84193

January 14th 2014

Only desperation would cause you to adopt such nonsense - macromolecules subjected to a range of thermal and radiation conditions and walah - we have the uncertainty principle and gooness knows what other bull on evolution = desperation.

Lou Jost - #84196

January 15th 2014

Yes, mutations caused by single photons or cosmic rays are quantum-mechanically indeterminate, and this is a consequence of elementary physics. If those mutations are ever favorable, then evolution is like a Geiger counter, magnifying the quantum-mechanically random event to a macroscopic level as it spreads through a population and perhaps changes an entire ecosystem.

GJDS - #84202

January 15th 2014

Warning! warning! man with Geiger counter will detect all mutant Ninja chaps. You remind me of the people of Muller’s generation who encouraged people to drink radioactive water so they would be powered by the strongest force in the Universe. How sad.

Lou Jost - #84210

January 15th 2014

Finally, a comment from you whose logic and rigor leave me speechless.

GJDS - #84213

January 15th 2014

Your welcomed - note I resisted the temptation(!) to quote proverbs in case your sensitive scientific self was offended/ insulted again. Hopefully science will survive your august insights.

Lou Jost - #84215

January 15th 2014

Very considerate of you. By the way, the Geiger counter analogy was Muller’s.

GJDS - #84218

January 15th 2014

Once again you (and now Muller) are welcomed - btw I will continue to carry ot QM molecular modelling and reaction pathways without refering (or needing insights on QM) to you or Muller or Darwin or etc etc - do not get upset again.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84195

January 15th 2014


A word to the wise is sufficient.

Eddie - #84200

January 15th 2014


Your seven-word reply above shows deep engagement with the two or three hours of work I put into the two long replies above.  I thank you for that energetic and appropriately self-critical response.

I note in passing that my conception of your particular (and to me hitherto unknown) branch of the Methodist Church—its clergy, its theology, its grasp of the Bible, its status as orthodox or liberal—has been shaped entirely by my encounter with you on this site.  Your embassy for your tradition has had an effect which perhaps you did not intend.

It is unlikely that I will reply to you again.  My parting advice to you is that you should learn what “dualism” means before you misuse it on this site for the hundredth time, and that you should take a course on the history of Christian thought at a serious university, and learn what the Trinity is about before you write further confusing and misleading statements about it.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84208

January 15th 2014


You can do research on my brand of Methodism on your own.  It doesn’t hurt to learn new things and see how others view the world.

You know the time will soon come if it has not already arrived when Christianity will no longer be predominately White and European.    

My advice to you is to engage rather than reject.  Then maybe you will understand the sage proverb that I shared with you.   

Eddie - #84211

January 15th 2014


That’s “predominantly”; and whether Christians are white and European, or black and African, or any other imaginable combination, has absolutely nothing to do with what I have been talking about.  I have been talking about the authority of the Bible—for truly evangelical Christians of any continent or skin hue—as the basis of all new doctrines.  

Indeed, Roger, you will find that the “black” Christians of Nigeria (for example) have a much firmer belief in the reliability and authority of the Bible than most “white and European” Christians do.  Ditto for the “yellow” Christians of Korea.  So if I were you, I would not be arguing that my perspective is too “white and European”; indeed, it is the “white and European” Christians who are the biggest champions of the liberalism I’ve been constantly criticizing on this site.  Your inability to comprehend lucidly expressed (and many times repeated and clarified) arguments continues to amaze me.      

I would also point out that you have no way of knowing the shade of my own skin, which makes your remark about my alleged prejudice in favor of “white” Christianity utterly presumptuous.

As for my alleged lack of engagement, the majority here (even my frequent foe beaglelady!) will testify that I have “engaged” with you on a very frequent basis, Roger.  But I’ve found the discussion always ends up wandering in bizarre directions, far off topic, because of your inability to stay focused on the precise words that I write and your bad conversational habit of diverting every discussion on this website into a discussion of your pet topics (dualism, Trinitarian reality, ecology).  You are entitled to your hobbies, but you aren’t entitled have others “engage” with them when you refuse to engage others yourself, by keeping the discussion to what they are actually talking about.

As for proverbs, out of context they can mean almost anything.  As you provided zero context for your proverb, I simply (and rightly) ignored it as an evasion of my previous criticisms.  And not only is it evasive, it is a personal insult to someone who has worked three hours to explain something to you to brush aside everything they wrote by replying with an enigmatic proverb.  And I’m tired of being insulted by your repeated refusals to reply to the vast majority of points I make in my posts, most of which are direct attempts to deal with your own objections and questions.  You might as well order a steak dinner in a fancy restaurant, and then, when the waiter arrives, tell him you don’t eat meat.  I feel like that waiter, and I’m not going to serve your table again.  Happy New Year, and adios.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84216

January 15th 2014

Ted and all,

I love historyand I love the Bible, but I know that history and the Bible need to point beyond themselves to God and to purpose of our lives today to make sense.

God spoke to the prophets to tell then what needed to be done to grow God’s Kingdom in their day.  God led Boyle, Newton, and Galileo to address the issues of science, philosophy, and faith of their day.

Maybe you have read the excellect book, Jesus through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan showing how people have seen Jesus differently each century.  This is not bad unless we absolutize on view of Jesus and condemn the rest. 

We are not called to answer yesterday’s problems, but today’s questions.  This is what we can learn from Boyle and others. 

So what are these questions and how does our Christian perpective enable us to give some new, creative, positive responses?  This is the question we need to be exploring.

I reject the view that Christianity is a dead system of thinking, because it has stopped growing and changing.  We have not exhausted God’s Will, God’s Knowledge, and God’s Wisdom. 

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84220

January 16th 2014


Less is often More. 

Eddie - #84224

January 16th 2014

An excellent proverb, Roger.  Perhaps those who have posted literally hundreds of times on this site on “dualism” will heed its advice, and post considerably fewer times on the subject in the future.

I close with another proverb, from the ancient Orient:  “Man who reply to articulate argument with proverb, have no articulate argument himself.”

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84226

January 17th 2014

Interesting.  I prefer, “Man who has an articulate argument does not resort to ad hominem attacks.”

What I said stands.  We need a new theology/philosophy of change based on the Bible that helps us understand evolution better than traditional philosophy/theology does.

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