Re: Strange Bedfellows, Atheism and Naturaistic Theism

From: Howard J. Van Till (
Date: Mon Sep 15 2003 - 08:27:18 EDT

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    >From: "Steve Petermann" <>

    > Could you explain what you mean by "authentic contigency"?

    Sure. I use the term to distinguish genuine contingency (things that really
    could have gone differently; individual events that could not be predicted
    with certainty, not even by God) from "apparent contingency" (a concept
    often introduced by persons who posit either that God actually controls
    events that look contingent from our point of view or that God at least has
    omniscient foreknowledge of the outcome of these events).

    >> > However, this requirement also points to a view that the cosmos is
    >> > mechanistic, controlled by the natural law. If the cosmos wasn't
    >> > mechanistic science would not be able to make sense of what is sees. No
    >> > repeatability, no science.
    >> I see this an an unrealistic caricature of the natural sciences.
    > How so? If there was no repeatability how would science validate its
    > theories? Is your objection to the use of the term "mechanistic"? If so
    > I'm open to some other term, like "unfree".

    I was reading you to mean "deterministic" or "fully repeatable at every
    level of detail." Furthermore, I wish to avoid the scientism that posits
    science to have the complete story, suggesting that if some scientific model
    is fruitful, them some particular metaphysical stance MUST be true and all
    others false.

    >> > But this also says that the cosmos has no
    >> > freedom. It does what it does and cannot do otherwise. Even if one
    >> > considers the indeterminism at the quantum level those events are
    > supposedly
    >> > random, not affording any freedom either.
    >> Far too much extrapolation here. Non sequiturs lurk this territory.
    > If the cosmos is described as unfolding using classical physics and quantum
    > events that are random, I don't see how any sense of freedom can be
    > associated with it. The definition I'm using for freedom here is "could
    > have done otherwise".

    The cosmos may be described well (but not completely) by some combination of
    classical and quantum physics and still have qualities that are not
    exhaustively comprehended by these theoretical models. I want to avoid
    equating the cosmos with scientific models of it.

    > It's a different story if a minimal naturalism is the
    > framework because that introduces the possibility of divine agency. Since
    > God as ultimate reality is unconditioned then God *can* introduce an element
    > of freedom in this reality.


    >> Correct. A purely mechanistic concept of the universe is inadequate.
    >> Treating the universe as mechanistic in character works well for some
    >> questions, not well for others.

    > The problem for science and religion is how to treat the universe in some
    > way other than mechanistic. Theism offers a solution to that either with
    > supernaturalism or naturalistic embedded divine action but for that approach
    > the issue becomes one of a causal joint. If theism cannot provide a
    > reasonable causal joint, how can it be taken seriously by science?

    Perhaps it is also a question of recognizing the categorial limits of
    science's competence to comprehend certain things. There still seems to be a
    hint of scientism in your way of framing these interesting questions.
    Nonetheless, your question about the causal joint is relevant.

    >> > The other strategy is where atheists and naturalistic theists have
    > formed an
    >> > unconscious partnership. Both want quantum indeterminacies to be the
    > source
    >> > of freedom.
    >> Show me a naturalistic theist who espouses quantum indeterminacy as the
    >> SOURCE of freedom.
    > Come to think of it you're probably right. The naturalistic theists I'm
    > familiar with cling to the idea of an *independent* freedom of the
    > individual.

    Perhaps "independent" in the sense of free from coercive divine action
    because of the natures of God, World, and the God/World relationship.

    > However, I have yet to hear a scientifically or logically
    > plausible argument for such a freedom that does not resort to some sort of
    > mind/body dualism. Human ontological freedom is, in my opinion, an example
    > of the sin of pride. In my view human freedom is *not* independent of the
    > divine but rather grounded in the freedom of the divine life.

    I'm inclined to divide the question in this way: Human freedom is not
    independent of divine relationship or of divine persuasion, but is
    independent of divine coercion.

    Howard Van Till

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