Re: Natural Theology, Unguided Processes and Apologetics

Terry M. Gray (grayt@lamar.ColoState.EDU)
Fri, 12 Sep 1997 13:50:55 -0600

Dear Jack,

Thank you for your post--I concur with many things in it, despite your
attempt to throw in some discord. I especially agree with your comments
about the non-philosophical nature of Biblical language and the need to
distinguish between the word and the concept. You don't need to be a
specialist in Biblical languages to understand that. I don't even disagree
with the Stonehenge analogy, but I just don't see anything in our
scientific investigations that carry that specialized mark of design. On
the other hand, as Jonathon Wells as said, I believe in design because I
believe in God...I don't believe in God because I see design. This perhaps
is the gist of my question of design's apologetic value. This being the
case, even the "natural" rock formations in the American Southwest are
designed by the hand of God!

Also, I think if you read carefully my reference to idolatry and to deism
that they were very carefully qualified--they were not in the least
intended to be inflammatory. Nothing out of accord with a good Reformed
apologetic a la Cornelius Van Til.

One point that I'd like to make is that the supernaturalists folks
(according to your definition) as represented by Phil Johnson and the ID
crowd are the ones accusing me. At one point Phil Johnson claimed that my
evolutionary creation viewpoint is vacuous. They seem to be insisting that
if we just going to have providentially governed processes, well...we may
as well be atheists and naturalists and materialists, because GOD ISN'T

Now I'm not putting those words into their mouths. Certainly, C.S. Lewis
and the Westminster Divines wouldn't say that, and as you say "The
"supernaturalist" group does not deny that divine providence upholds and
concurs with everything." Maybe the historical expression of the
supernaturalist group didn't but many in the current ID crowd, especially
Phil Johnson, deny that the "anti-supernatural" (or better yet, the
"everything-is-supernatural") group really believes anything any different
from the atheistic materialists. He calls us "theistic Naturalists" and

I happen to believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith chapters on
God's Decree and on Providence support my position and I in no way deny
that God is free to work outside his ordinary means. But I want to be
Biblical here. God claims for himself just as much involvement in so-call
"natural" phenomena as he does in miracles. This is my point with the
electrolysis and wedding at Cana example.

This post may suggest that I have an emotional and personal ax to grind.
Well, maybe so. I'm tired of having my belief in God and his workings in
the world called into question, especially when my perspective is
represented by a fine line of orthodox Christian theologians going back
even before Abraham Kuyper to Calvin, Augustine, Paul, and the Psalmists.


>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

Terry M. Gray, Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department, Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523
phone: 970-491-7003 fax: 970-491-1801