RFEP: response to Will

Howard J. Van Till (110661.1365@compuserve.com)
Mon, 30 Mar 1998 19:32:51 -0500

Dear Will,

Thanks for responding to my recent comments re the RFE Prnciple and MN. Let
me respond further to selected portions of your post of 3-28-98.

WP: We differ in BASIC ASSUMPTIONS about how physical structures and
life forms evolve over time. You can, however, state with confidence that
created the universe, and I along with most astrophysicists, feel ignorant.

My response: I think it would be more accurate to say that we differ in
basic assumptions regarding the SOURCE OF THE UNIVERSE'S BEING. As I
understand the worldview of Naturalism, you presume (perhaps by free choice
:<) that the universe is self-existent, that it needs no transcendent
Creator to give it being. I, on the other hand, see no basis for ascribing
the power of self-existence to the physical/material universe and appeal to
God as the One who is not only self-existent but is also capable of giving
existence (being) to something other than himself (pardon my failure to
employ inclusive language here).

On the matter of "how physical structures and life forms evolve over time"
we may be fairly close in agreement, if by this phrase you mean some sort
of chronicle of what happened when, and by what physical/material
processes. We both have a measure of confidence that the natural sciences
are on the right track in their reconstructions of the formational history
of the universe.

What can astrophysicists contribute? The reconstruction of a portion of
that formational history, nothing more. Taking the word 'creation' to mean
'the giving of being,' neither astrophysics nor any of the other natural
sciences have the competence to say how being might have come from
non-being. As scientists we are able to say a great deal about how the
extant universe acts, including its formational history, but we
have--within the limited conceptual vocabulary of the natural
sciences--nothing to contribute regarding the ultimate origin of the
universe's being. For that discussion we will have to go elsewhere, whether
to theology, metaphysics, revelation, or ....

So, on your point that most astrophysicists "feel ignorant" about ultimate
origins, I agree.

WP: Howard says something else that is wholly inconsistent with his RFE
Principle that he believes by faith.

> Suppose, on the other hand, that a person were to begin with a commitment
> to the worldview of Naturalism--Nature is all there is. There is no
> Creator; Nature is its own source of being. How does something--a
> say--come to exist in place of 'absolute nothing'? If P. W. Atkins'
> rhetoric is taken to be representative, then Naturalism's answer is
> "chance," or, to employ his more colorful prose, "the haphazard,
> unmotivated action" of nothingness. (This type of rhetoric can be found
> his brief book, _The Creation_.) Not very satisfying or convincing
> Mr. Atkins.
> But there is far more that Naturalism must yet explain. Naturalism must
> account for the existence not merely of a nondescript something in place
> nothing, but rather of a SOMETHING as remarkable as a universe that
> contains us! In other words, Naturalism must accept the challenge of
> explaining the existence of a universe that is equipped with a
> economy sufficiently robust to account for the formation of the elements,
> of space, of galaxies, of stars, of planets, of plants, of animals, and
> human beings. How does the "haphazard, unmotivated action" of nothingness
> do that?

WP again: Howard, now you are saying loud and clear a matter that has
nothing whatever to do with faith. You have said that from the observation
of plants and animals
and all the others you list, the Christian God can be deduced. This is a
different matter from an RFE Principle one must take on faith. I, with my
observational powers, should be convinced by the same reasoning.

My response: Will, we seem to have a communication problem here. I made no
such Christian exclusivist claim on the basis of empirical evidence alone.
I said, or at least intended to say, that neither the existence of the
universe nor the robustness of its formational economy is self-explanatory.
To this I would add that I find the historic Christian doctrine of creation
to give a far more intellectually and spiritually satisfying answer
regarding the ultimate source of both than does Naturalism. But now you and
I are back at our original disagreement.

WP: Of course, I am not convinced.

HVT: I know that.

WP: In these paragraphs ..., you sound to me rather like Phil Johnson.

HVT: I suspect Phil and I would agree to contest you on that one, Will :<)

WP In other words, these assertions of yours are not only inconsistent with
argument about RFE Principle, but they place you in direct opposition to
science. If you put the two paragraphs above in a physical and a biological
journal, you would be branded a creationist who believes in a long history
the universe and earth. Is this what you want? I thought you were trying to
avoid this charge.

HVT: Will, I'm not sure I get your point here. I am a 'creationist' in the
traditional _theological_ sense of seeing the universe as something that
has being only because it was given being by a Creator-God. I am not,
however, a 'special creationist' or an 'episodic creationist' who: a)
rejects the RFE Principle, b) presumes the existence of gaps in the
formational economy of the universe, and c) posits episodes of
gap-bridging, form-imposing, divine interventions in the course of time as
necessary elements of the universe's formational history.

What I said in the paragraphs you quoted would rightly be rejected by a
professional scientific journal as commenatry on matters far beyond the
competence of the natural sciences to judge.

Let me know if I have correctly read your contribution to the discussion.
Where I have missed the mark, please try again.


Howard Van Till