As a preface to his quotation from Phillip Johnson, Keith Miller suggests
> This is a rather clear statement by Johnson that evolution must be
> disproved in order to be able to accept a creator God.
Sorry, Keith, but I'm not ready to describe this as a "clear statement"
about anything. It looks more like a rambling, unrehearsed, and awkward oral
reply to a question that deserved a far more carefully crafted response. In
defense of Phil in this instance (readers may express shock at my generous
action here), unrehearsed oral responses to questions often lack the
rhetorical finesse that a written discourse might exhibit. After a public
Q&A session I usually think of far better answers than the ones I actually
Nonetheless, Keith is on the trail of an important point. Johnson's familiar
line is that the concept of biotic evolution (which he usually labels
"Darwinism" and defines in such a way as to include obviously anti-theistic
tenets) explicitly denies any need or role for a Creator. In the passage
cited by Keith, for instance, Johnson says:
>> The evolutionary naturalists have been telling us that you don't need God
>> in the system, you don't need a creator in the system because these
>> purposeless forces can do it all. If they are right on that, then I would
>> tend to think that probably Christianity should be given up as a bad show,
>> considering most of the people that come to believe that that's what they
>> conclude too.
It's not entirely clear what Johnson means here. It is true, of course, that
metaphysical naturalism (whether or not it argues its case by appeal to
biotic evolution) denies the need for a Creator. If that is all that Johnson
meant to say, I'd agree.
But Johnson has evolutionary naturalism saying that "you don't need a
creator in the system because these purposeless forces can do it all." What
does Johnson mean by "in the system"? If he means, "as one cause among other
causes operating at the same level," I would object for theological reasons.
Divine creative action is not at the same level as creaturely,
form-actualizing causes. The role of divine action is not merely to
compensate for missing creaturely capabilities. God is not a member of the
creaturely system. God is Creator, not creature. That's orthodox Christian
And why does Johnson here, and in numerous other places, appear to accept
the naturalistic rhetoric that the actions of atoms, molecules and cells are
nothing more than "purposeless forces" at work? That is what the preachers
of naturalism assert, of course, but why would a person who claims to
represent the best of Christian scholarship leave such flagrantly
naturalistic rhetoric unchallenged?
It seems to me that Christian scholarship would insist on beginning with
the historic Judeo-Christian doctrine of creation, which builds its case on
the foundational recognition that atoms, molecules and cells are members of
the Creation. As such, their action--their use of their God-given
capabilities--would necessarily fall under the comprehensive umbrella of
divine intention and purpose. By accepting the naturalistic characterization
of "natural" (creaturely) action as nothing more than "purposeless,
unguided, naturalistic, materialistic action," Johnson unwittingly
capitulates to one of the basic tenets of naturalism.
Ironically, Johnson (along with most promoters of ID) builds his case for
the need for occasional episodes of divine form-imposing intervention (the
IDers call them acts of "intelligent design," of course) on a profoundly
naturalistic concept of the action of atoms, molecules and cells. Given the
IDers familiar presumption that this "naturalistic" action is inadequate to
accomplish the full range of formational processes required for biotic
evolution, ID then proposes that this inadequate naturalistic action must
have been punctuated by occasional episodes of form-imposing divine
Bottom line: What its proponents claim to be a singular vision of
"Intelligent Design" is nothing more than "Punctuated Naturalism," a
syncretistic collage of theologically disparate elements. Proceeding from
this theological blunder, it is no wonder at all that Johnson believes that
if "purposeless forces" (his unfortunate label for "creaturely" actions) are
shown to be adequate for the actualization of all life forms, then "probably
Christianity should be given up as a bad show."
Another way to put "Johnson's blunder" is: If the universe is gifted with a
robust formational economy, then it doesn't need a Creator. Or, in still
another form: The Creator's signature is best seen in what the Creation can
not do, not in what it can do.
Inadequate theology does have consequences.
Howard Van Till
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