Re: Don't forget about me! (distal vs. proximate)

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Mon Apr 16 2001 - 09:48:56 EDT

  • Next message: Moorad Alexanian: "Re: Don't forget about me! (distal vs. proximate)"


    The following may sound a bit picky, but I'd like to use your exchange with
    George to get at some important issues of vocabulary that are relevant to
    much of our discussion on this list. Please don't take it as a personal

    In response to George Murphy, Bob wrote:

    > I picture in a crude sort of way the action of God re the creation as being
    > on a continuum with the horizontal-axis being historic time and the
    > vertical-axis bring the percentage of the phenomenon in question being he
    > result of God's intervention. At the left hand pole is the big bang, which
    > was 100 percent the result of God's action.

    But the concept of God giving being to something from nothing at the
    beginning does not at all fall into the category of an intervention. A
    divine intervention is an act in which the flow of creaturely cause/effect
    relationships is interrupted and something that could not (or would not)
    have happened is made to occur as a consequence of non-creaturely causes.
    The act of giving being to an entire Creation at a temporal beginning cannot
    interrupt a flow of creaturely causes/effect relationships because there was
    nothing there to interrupt. This act falls in a category of its own.

    > At the right hand extreme are
    > natural processes that can proceed with no input from God other than his
    > general providence.

    I'm sure Bob did not so intend, but this statement sounds like a
    trivialization of general providence. Giving and maintaining the existence
    of a Creation as robustly equipped with the resources, potentialities and
    capabilities that this universe possesses, both for its formational history
    and its daily functioning, strikes me as very far from the "no input" axis.

    > This continuum could be plotted as a rapidly descending
    > curve from the high point with the big bang at the beginning of time to the
    > recent times when natural selection is the major non-human force for change
    > in the environment. I would see spikes of activity before or at the origin of
    > life, perhaps at the assembly of metazoan body plans, and certainly near or
    > at the origin of humanity.

    1. As noted above, an act of "exnihilation" at the beginning could not be
    plotted on the intervention axis.

    2. Why propose these ad hoc spikes? Isn't it striking that these irruptive
    interventions are hypothesized to be located either at places where our
    scientific understanding is (at present) least developed, or where the
    relationship of our species to the rest of God's creatures is at issue?

    > By the way, do you also hold that human beings came into being without divine
    > intervention?

    Yes, I certainly would. That's one of the joys of the fully-gifted Creation
    perspective. I should, however, clarify that a bit. Because I think that we
    must recognize the potentialities for the entire array of physical
    structures and life forms as profoundly important parts of the being given
    to the Creation at the beginning, one could say that Homo Sapiens had
    (potential) being from time zero. What happened in time was not their coming
    into being, but their actualization.

    And that actualization was not the outcome of mere mechanism, but the
    outcome of processes/events in which creatures (members of the Creation)
    used their God-given formational capabilities to explore the rich
    potentiality space of viable organisms/species and to effect the Creator's
    will for the Creation's formational history.

    To employ the language of mechanism alone is to accept the limited
    conceptual vocabulary of naturalism. That's why I continue to complain when
    I see the leaders of the ID movement speak about "purposeless, naturalistic,
    unguided, mechanistic processes" as their only alternative to occasional
    episodes of form-imposing intervention (or spikes along the divine
    intervention axis :).


    Howard Van Till

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