Re: "Design up to Scratch?" (The Wit and Wisdom of Michael Roberts)

From: George Murphy (
Date: Thu May 01 2003 - 17:39:44 EDT

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    Josh Bembenek wrote:

    > George: "I would argue that natural processes are not only the
    > "instruments" God uses (as in traditional models of primary & secondaty
    > causation) but also (in Luther's phrase) the "masks of God, behind which he
    > wishes to remain concealed and give us all things." If this the case, our
    > scientific investigation of the world will find only the masks, not the face
    > of God."
    > -But in no way should everyone necessarily be limited to this explanation.
    > Ultimately we may have some combination of cause "types" employed during
    > creation. While many feel it unneccesary to appeal to direct action of God,
    > I don't mind remaining open to such possibilities. I don't think God's
    > actions should be fit into any box, because indeed, as George laid out
    > (thanks for the extended quotation from Luther), His use of masks may mean
    > that we will never understand it fully. Imagining how all things work out
    > for His purpose, even when those "choose" to rebel (if that's possible as
    > scripture tells us God hardened Pharoah's heart), is beyond me many times.
    > If it is difficult to understand His activity during our own lives, it may
    > be even more difficult to decipher His activity during creation, of which we
    > were not a part.

            Obviously everyone doesn't feel him/herself limited to this type of explanation!
    But it is part of a theological approach based on the belief that God's character, & the
    way God acts in the world, is revealed most fully in the cross of Christ. & it is
    prcisely the paradoxical character of that claim - that God is revealed in hiddenness -
    that is relevant here. One of the implications of that is that, as much as possible
    (slight weaseling there) God acts kenotically, within the capacities of created agents.
            In any case, what I am arguing for is not simply a philosophical theory about
    the way a generic God works or a way of accomodating to the successes of science (though
    it is certainly consistent with the way science operates). & if there's something wrong
    with my approach, I think it has to be discerned by considering its theological basis.

            Of course there's a lot we don't understand. First, we don't - & probably never
    will - have a genuine "theory of everything." Even if we did, there would still be a
    lot of problems that would be too complicated to work out from first principles. )Like
    trying to derive the coefficient of friction of rubber on concrete from the Schroedinger
    equation.) & we certainly don't understand always - or even most of the time - how God
    is working out the divine purpose in everything that goes on in the world. But I don't
    think any of these uncertainties justify saying "It's a miracle" (which is what the
    claim of unmediated divine action means) when we encounter physical phenomena we don't

    > Howard: "But we have to know what generic kind of action the word "design"
    > applies to. Inferring pre-planning by a Mind is radically different from
    > inferring occasional form-conferring interventions by a Hand. Some
    > proponents of ID want to use the same term for both, but I think it muddles
    > the discussion hopelessly."
    > George: "With all due respect, I'm not very interesting into forcing my
    > understanding of the relationship between science & theology into Dembski's
    > framework. _If_ phenomena can be understood in terms of natural processes
    > obeying known physical laws without any appeal to God - well then, they can
    > be, & thus provide no evidence for God. & thus the question of how God acts
    > is crucial. As far as "All of us here agree that *somewhere* the filter
    > should indicate a design inference" is concerned, "Gentlemen, include me
    > out." My belief in divine activity in the world is based on revelation, not
    > probability calculations &c - though the latter can be helpful, when viewed
    > in the light of revelation, in gaining further understand of how God acts."
    > Howard: "Wrong. Dembski's case for "ID" in the biological arena would fail
    > if the RFEP holds. "ID" (as defined by Dembski) is necessary only if there
    > are gaps in the universe's formational economy. "ID" action is posited to
    > compensate for what the universe (by divine intention, presumably) fails to
    > be capable of doing............... No, not if we use Dembski's meaning of
    > "design inference." Dembski's Explanatory Filter is dedicated to the task of
    > demonstrating the need for form-conferring interventions in the course of
    > time, interventions that are made necessary by what the Creation cannot do.
    > If the Creation was gifted from the outset with a robust formational
    > economy, then there would be no "design inference" in the unconventional
    > manner that Dembski uses the term "design."
    > -These quotations highlight great reservations concerning the use of
    > Dembski's filter for developing an argument about the existence of God. I'd
    > like to make a few points before George folds his hand.

            I don't intend to fold my hand (never having been impressed by the argument that
    "a gentleman never bets on a sure thing!) But I see no need to play the
    theology-science game by Dembski's rules.

    > 1. I don't think anyone advocates the use of these probablistic arguments
    > in the absence of revelation.

            One of the selling points of the ID movement in public debate is that ID is
    that its arguments are scientific, not religious. That's why they think they can get it
    into public school science curricula. How seriously one can take that claim is another

    > However, the arguments can be developed
    > without saying, "this approach is justified because of the bible or Jesus
    > Christ," that is secondary.

            If IDers would clearly start with the statement that they believe in divine
    creation because of God's revelation centered in Christ, & then present their
    probabilistic arguments &c in the spirit of "faith in search of understanding" then I
    wouldn't have as much of a theological problem with them. But then their attack on
    methodological naturalism would be weakened to such an extent that it would lose its


    George L. Murphy

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