Re: Johnson's Concluding Remarks

Gene Dunbar Godbold (
Wed, 29 Jan 1997 13:33:26 -0500 (EST)

This small thread started as a reaction I had to Johnson's remarks. It
kind of changed into a question on the limits of our knowledge. I'm
posting it with George's permission.

Gene Godbold wrote:
> I have a question that I have kind of implied in several forums and
nobody has called me on it. I ask it here explicity: If you have
evidence that certain organisms are descended from certain other
organisms--related through an evolutionary pathwa--does this then mean for
the theist that you have figured out how God created all life? Just
because you can show the former, it seems presumptuous to declare the
latter. Humility seems to dictate that you say that in such and such
cases it seems very likely that evolution happened for such and such
reasons. Outside of these cases, it should be admitted that we aren't
sure what happened.

George Murphy wrote:
> As scientists we do have to say that [you limit yourself to the
evidence you have to the case at hand--GDG]. Belief that the
universe is rational, whether on Christian grounds or otherwise, will lead
one to trust that a scientific explanation can be found, even if we don't
know it yet (&, we have to admit, may never know it).
There is a story about Einstein being asked what he would have done
if the 1919 eclipse observations had agreed with Newton's theory rather
than his own. Einstein is supposed to have replied, "Then I would have
been sorry for the dear Lord."

Gene then writes:
> Why, theologically, must I believe that the universe is rational as you
suggest: that is "a scientific (cause and effect) explanation can be
found, even if we don't know it yet".

> I propose that the foundation of the universe is miraculous and that
only a subset of things in it is "rational" as you suppose. As a
corollary, I suggest that the rules by which God is keeping the universe
in existence are only partly "on the surface" and thus knowable by us in
our current state.

> What evidence (either scriptural or scientific) might you give for the
view you advocate being superior to the one I am suggesting?

George wrote:
I wouldn't say you "must" believe that the universe is rational.
But this seems to me suggested by the following:
a. The whole creation is "very good" (Gen.1:31).
b. God did not create it a chaos (Is.45:18).
(A couple of texts to start with - I don't claim they
answer the question by themselves.)
c. The _hiddenness_ of God's work - Is.45:15, but central to
the theology of the cross, which is the fundamental approach
I try to take to science-theology matters.
I.e., the universe can be understood "though God were not
given". & if God were only partially hidden - if there were
some natural phenomena which we could explain only by
explicit reference to God - then God wouldn't be hidden at
d. I believe that God created humanity to live in the universe
as mature children of God able to understand it. The
commissions in Gen.1:26-28 & 2:15 to care for the world
point in this direction.
e. All that might be pure theological speculation if science
had not, in fact, shown considerable ability to understand
the world. But it has.
a. I think Goedel's theorem suggests that the mathematical
pattern of our universe cannot be logically closed. Thus
there must be scientific questions to which science cannot
give unambiguous answers.
b. I think that science can explain what goes on in the
universe in terms of laws of physics, but not that it can
explain why there are those particular laws or why they (&
not others) are embodied. In that sense science can explain
what happens in the universe, but not the existence of the

Gene finishes:
I'm not sure that there is any difference 'in practice' between George's
position and mine. His says that, in theory, any situation in nature (I
suppose that this excludes the Biblical miracles, but I may be wrong) has
a rational explanation and is explicable experimentally.

In my view, I think that many things are not subject to experimental
inquiry, but that there is no way to determine what they are ahead of
time. So if we study a problem that is, in fact, insoluble, by the
scientific method, the experiment just won't work and we won't know why it
doesn't. George's position would be that it might result from bad
technique or improper controls (and it might very well be!). I would add
the possibility that we cannot know what we tried to investigate, but I
wouldn't know that for sure either.

Has anybody tread this ground before? I'd like to read somebody who can
think about it harder than I can.