Two comments

Ted Davis (
Fri, 12 Sep 1997 16:24:45 -0400

Two comments on recent posts.

(1) I've been asked whether the Boyle text is available on-line. It isn't,
and probably won't be, since the edited text is a copyrited text and the
publishers aren't presently interested in putting it on the net; it isn't my
decision to make. However several hundred academic libraries own copies.
And the paperback is cheap (under $20). In addition, the text is available
in various other versions, such as both editions (1744 and 1772, the latter
reprinted in the 1960s) of the WORKS OF ROBERT BOYLE. Obviously the
passages in question would have different pagination; nor would they be as
readable, unless the modern editors were incompetent (which I don't rule
out). ;-)

(2) I entirely agree that the term, "semi-deism," which (I think) may have
been coined by the late Reijer Hooykaas (in his book on the principle of
uniformity), is not very helpful. Frankly, I think that the term, "deism,"
is also very inappropriately used by many persons in the religion/science
dialogue. Properly speaking, deism in theology is the denial of divine
immancence, just as pantheism is the denial of divine transcendence.
Historically speaking, deism is marked not by a denial of ID -- folks like
Jefferson and Voltaire and Lyell were convinced that the world had been made
by a rational God -- but by a denial of special revelation, including the
veracity of biblical miracles.

Unfortunately, some contemporary theologians (no requests for names, please)
speak of "deism" as if it were equivalent to believing in miracles. I
myself have been asked by professional theologians how I can believe in
divine immanence if I believe that God actually did create the world ex
nihilo. I become, for them, a type of deist, because I affirm God's freedom
and power. This is utter nonsense and also dangerous nonsense, because it
scares people off believing in the truth of the empty tomb and the
post-Resurrection appearances (among many other true things).

On the other hand, the word "deist" is also misused by people who DO believe
in God's absolute power. Sometimes people who want to emphasize special
divine actions are called "deists" or "semi-desists"; but the truth is quite
the opposite, since they are usually doing so for biblical reasons. If they
are seen as believing therefore in a "god-of-the-gaps," this is not deism.
Nor is it necessarily accurate in itself: persons who think that God acts as
God acts, whether or not we purblind mortals (to borrow from Boyle) can
understand how God acts, do not think that God acts only when we can't
understand it. Yes, scientific knowledge might contain gaps, in principle,
on this view; but no, that ain't a "god of the gaps" in Bonhoffer's sense,
because God is always acting (the question is whether the mode of divine
activity is comprehensible to us). However it might be a "god of the gaps"
in Newton's sense, where the gaps DO provide apologetic evidence that is at
risk to be refuted. If/when it gets refuted our faith is also refuted, then
of course we have a problem. This is the aspect of the ID that makes me

Can we try to be more careful about our labels?

Ted Davis