Re: asa-digest V1 #1308

George Murphy (
Fri, 20 Aug 1999 13:24:34 -0400

John W. Burgeson wrote:
> I wrote:
> > The wine at Cana is certainly a PC intervention. I need cite only one
> to
> > make the case that all is not TE.
> Friend George replied:
> -------------------------------------
> I don't think this is the most helpful terminology since we are not
> concerned
> there with creation & evolution in the usual sense, but if you refer to
> the types of divine action contemplated in those 2 modes of development,
> OK.
> ----------------------------
> I don't really understand what you are writing in the above.

As I said, it's a matter of terminology & again maybe our abbreviations are
getting in the way. I understand TE, theistic evolution, to be a particular (though
very important) example of divine action in the world. As such it requires no
particular understanding of _how_ God acts in the world (i.e., e.g., which of Barbour's
10 theologies of divine action, or combinations thereof one uses.) One would not
normally call what happened at at Cana any kind of "evolution." PC, progressive
creationism, usually means that while development of life has taken place by God
working through natural processes, there have also been some episodes of some type of
"special" divine action. Of course the latter is similar to what is often claimed for
miracles, but it is the "specialness" of the divine action & not its role in the history
of life which is then in focus.

> George goes on:
> ---------------------------------------
> More substantively, it is not certain that a sign like that at Cana must
> be
> regarded as something which natural processes are incapable of, & thus
> outside the bounds of the type of divine action I suggest. Such signs
> might be due to seldom realized potentialities but "natural" which God
> has allowed for in creation. Augustine, e.g., was willing to consider
> this view.
> -----------------------------------------
> Let's see. If you and I had been at Cana, and had witnessed the events,
> you
> would still say that the entire process was "natural," that water
> changing
> to wine, while admittedly a rare event, does (or can) happen from time to
> time.
> Do I read you correctly?

Note that I said "might." Undoubtedly if I had been at Cana I would have
thought that what happened was outside the ordinary course of nature. The whole point
of the story as John presents it is to function as a "sign" of the presence of the
creator who can finally create as he chooses. We can't say that God must be bound by
any laws of nature. But we also cannot say that any particular sign, wonder, miracle &c
_had_ to have been something completely beyond the capabilities of nature, even though
we may not be able to provide any plausible "natural" explanation for it ourselves.

> I am aware of the current theories of quantum mechanics, BTW, in which my
> car might "leak" out of my closed garage some morning (favorite example
> of Wolfenstein, my quantum physics professor at Carnegie almost 50 years
> ago). Is it this kind of phenomenon you are thinking of? Or something
> else, entirely different?

Things like quantum theory & chaos may provide analogies which are helpful in
thinking about miracles, but I don't want to imitate the 18th & 19th century
rationalists in pretending to explain how all the miracles are "perfectly natural".
I don't know how Jesus did what he did at Cana.

> Had I been at Cana, it is as "certain" as anything I can think of that I
> would have concluded there had been something happen beyond natural
> causation. Likewise at some other of the biblical events.

If you would say "beyond the ordinary course of nature" I would agree.
If the signs point to the presence of the creator then it is not unreasonable to
suggest that they have the same character, though more sudden & dramatic, as "ordinary"
events in the world. This is the approach C.S.Lewis takes (at least with regard to
"miracles of the old creation" in _Miracles_. As he points out there, Jesus turns a
little bread into lots of grain in the feeding of the 5000, but refuses to turn stones
into bread. Jesus acts as the rightful sovereign of the world, not as an alien invader.
This doesn't prove that the signs are within the capabilities of nature but seems to me
to point in that direction.

> My argument stands: PC happened, at Cana, at Golgotha, at the 5000
> feeding, at a number of other events recorded in scripture. PC must then,
> logically, be a live consideration for other events in the history of
> planet earth. The fact that PC happened does not rule out the TE
> position; I understand that.

I remain agnostic on the question of whether or not PC happened in connection
with any particular phenomenon.

> As I understand PJ, BTW, it is this very fact that PC happened at all
> that incents him to think there may have been "tracks" left behind. But
> that is another subject! < G >

Even granting the point that the NT signs are beyond the possibilities of
natural processes, the fact that such revelatory and salvific events happened in no way
means that God's initial and ongoing creation of life required miraculous intervention.
As I have argued before, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture which requires one to
believe that the creation or development of life is miraculous in that sense.


George L. Murphy