Natural Theology, Unguided Processes and Apologetics

Jack Collins (
Fri, 12 Sep 1997 14:38:34 -0400


I'm a specialist in Biblical languages, and have found it interesting to
observe the discussion about natural theology and ID. The view that Terry
Gray et al. are presuppposing is presented G.C. Berkouwer's volume on
Providence, and he draws on Abraham Kuyper. Donald MacKay also advocated
this view.

They oppose a view which they refer to as "supernaturalism" but do not
define. However, it seems to include, not just Aquinas, but also the
English Puritans (Westminster Confession), Pascal, & C.S. Lewis. (The
reference Don Page was looking for is in _Miracles_, and more explicitly in
the article on "Miracles" in _God in the dock_).

The Berkouwer group wants to assert the importance of divine action in
everything, and rejects the idea that "miracles" (itself a slippery word)
are qualitatively different from other or "ordinary" forms of divine
action. The "supernaturalist" group does noy deny that divine providence
upholds and concurs with everything, but it also says that certain actions
are not a product of the natural properties of the things involved. The
Berkouwer types often call the supernaturalists semi-deists (as Terry Gray
apparently did on this list, perhaps not meaning what his words said).
This is preposterous, and name-calling (like "idolatry") unnecessarily
raises the temperature of the discussion. I hope that no one wants to
complain that the author of Ps 119:126 felt that the Lord was otherwise

One difficulty is that the Biblical vocabulary (e.g. such words as "signs")
does not correspond to the distinctions made above. (E.g. some things,
such as some of the events in Exodus, _might_ be explicable as "remarkable
providences" rather than unmediated divine action, and yet both kinds of
events can be called "signs" etc.) Some people make the erroneous
conclusion that therefore there is no _conceptual_ distinction in the Bible
between "ordinary" and "extraordinary" works. This is an egregious
semantic error that confuses "word" with "concept". (I'm asserting this,
not defending it; I'll provide examples to those who insist.)

In any event, evaluating these views is partly philosophical, and for a
Christian, partly exegetical. The striking thing about Berkouwer's
treatment of the subject is the superficiality of his exegetical
discussion. I am not saying that the supernaturalist side has produced the
definitive exegetical work either: the recent book _In defence of miracles_
basically represents the "supernaturalist" approach; interestingly, it
lacks an exegetical-theological section! Even so, the position hardly
deserves the dismissal it seems to be getting on this list (I for one think
it's got more going for it than the Berkouwer position, provided it gets
defined carefully).

The advocates of ID perhaps need to be clear on just what they mean by
"design". Hugh Ross is closer to traditional "arguments from design", but
Bill Dembski is referring to _the imposition of design by an intelligent
agent_, and this _can_ correspond to the notion of "supernatural
intervention". We all readily recognise Stonehenge as "designed" in that
sense, since its configuration is not an outcome of the natural properties
of the stones that make it up. (Or at least, most people are content to
think so.) It is clearly distinct from the rock formations one finds in
the American Southwest, which are "naturally" explicable. It's only
illegitimate to ask whether we find "Stonehenge-type design" in the world
of nature, if you are committed ahead of time to the position that such
questions are invalid; and this is not a subject in which a natural
scientist (as a natural scientist) is more qualified to give a judgment
than, say, philosophers or theologians (although obviously many scientists
are interested enough to try to gain the competence, and many theologians
and philosophers don't know what they're talking about!).

Anyhow, I thought I'd throw in some discord to this harmonious advocacy of
a position which needs more articulating and defending.

Your brother in Christ,

Jack Collins