Re: Natural Theology, Unguided Processes and Apologetics

Paul Arveson (
Mon, 15 Sep 1997 16:53:42 -0500

George L. Murphy wrote ( 12 Sep 1997):

> "Traditionally providence was divided into sustenance,
>concurrence, & governance. The 1st is what Eduardo notes, that God
>keeps things in existence. When people saw the world as consisting of
>things with more or less static natures, this was given priority over
>concurrence. With the dynamic picture of the world which quantum field
>theory gives, concurrence (or co-operation, God "operating with"
>creatures) has to be at least an equal partner. In a real sense
>substance is interaction (m = E/c^2). "
This discussion on the meaning of providence is one of the best I've seen
here, and I hope it continues awhile longer to give everyone an opportunity
to state their views. I intend to gather these threads and weave them into
my 'hypertheology' web site eventually.

After listening to Howard Van Till's lecture on 'Is evolutionary continuity
a heresy' at Messiah College, it occurred to me that in a sense Van Till
too is a believer in 'design'. However, he places design not at the level
of individual species or phyla but at the level of the fundamental physics
of the universe. I think Einstein had the same view; perhaps all
physicists do. At any rate, I think there is a sense in which Christians
all believe in design somewhere -- the question is just where it is to be
found. Lately the focus has been on biology, because that is a science
that is relatively young and full of 'gaps'. It is thus fertile ground for
eager apologists. But it is also easy for someone like Dawkins to say that
living things are 'designoid' or apparent designs found by accident. The
physicists here are more impressed with univerals such as the physical
constants that 'appear' to be finely tuned to enable biology to exist.

Physics also has its loose ends, if not gaps. Consider the weird results
of the EPR experiments and the apparent confirmation of nonlocality.
George Murphy mentioned the equivalence of mass and energy. Time, space
and matter are all interrelated. Hugh Ross uses multidimensional models
from cosmology as explanations of providence. Of course we must not think
of the Creator/creature relationship in terms of Newtonian absolute time
and space. Concepts of God's immanence or concurrence are not reducible to
physical analogies -- that would be idolatry -- but modern physics at least
softens the ground to make such doctrines more familiar.

We have to think about God analogically, perhaps, but somehow we should
strive to get beyond the crude mechanical conceptions of God's working in
the world, as though God were an engineer 'designing' and then 'building'
the world, or a mathematician 'calculating' the world, or a clockmaker
winding up the clock, or other versions of the 'Deus ex machina'. These
views are what we now can see as not only simplistic but also 'idolatries'
because they make God into part of the world-machine. These industrial-age
analogies are becoming more and more dated and unconvincing. As Ted Davis
pointed out, a lot of these ideas were already around in the 17th century
writings of Robert Boyle. He has done us a service by bringing back this
book. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and ASA has more
than its share of repetition.

As a curious Christian, I am looking for better analogies, something more
dynamic and open to the kind of chaos and yet coherence that we actually
see in the world. I'm interested in the work on complexity theory, the
work on theoretical and computational biology, genomics, intelligent
agents, hierarchical emergence, general system theory and other such
concepts that are enriching our 'toolbox'. But also as a Christian, I
realize that "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are My ways your ways.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than
your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8).

Paul Arveson, Code 724, Signatures Directorate, NSWC
(301) 227-3831 (301) 227-4511 (FAX)