Re: Faith, Evolution, and Tax Dollars?

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Apr 06 2004 - 09:59:19 EDT

I respond to Howard's comments by inserting mine below. I am happy to let
Howard have the last word, this will be my final post on this topic (which
has a rather misleading header at this point).

ted

*****

On 4/5/04 3:54 PM, "Ted Davis" <TDavis@messiah.edu> wrote:

> Strictly speaking, we might be in agreement that creatio ex nihilo is not
an
> "intervention" in the sense defined above. I have been saying however
that it
> is something like an intervention. Howard's definition of "supernatural"
as
> "coercive power over an extant nature" is however not the same as mine.
I
> prefer a simpler definition of "sufficient power to determine the nature
of
> what is created."

That definition may be simpler, but it fails to deal with the distinction
between coercive and non-coercive categories of divine action. Not all
divine action is an exercise of sheer POWER. I sometimes get the feeling
that modern Western culture is so obsessed with POWER that its portrait of
God places OMNIPOTENCE at the top of the list of divine attributes, above
such attributes as love, compassion, grace, etc.

Ted: Actually, Howard, we agree about the importance of love, compassion,
and grace. I don't place omnipotence at the top of the list of divine
attributes, but I do think it's relevant to framing worlds and raising the
crucified. I don't see this as an obsession, and the idea doesn't originate
in modern Western culture. If anything, it is related to ancient Semitic
kingship.

If Ted Peters is right (see his essay in *Physics, Philosophy, and
Theology*, ed. Robert J. Russell et al.), then the Christian and Hebrew
understandings of creatio ex nihilo came from experiences of divine power in
those religious communities--the resurrection and the exodus,
respectively--and from reflection on moral absolutes. In my view, the
resurrection (when combined with the crucifixion, as it must be in my
understanding) is the ultimate expression of divine love for humanity and
the world, yet to perform it requires power far beyond nature. I can't
separate love and power in this case.

And that power does seem to me, as coercive. I doubt that matter, on its
own, would form itself into something that resembled the crucified Jesus and
yet somehow different. I don't recall learning this physics 30 years ago,
perhaps they have a new physics now. :-)

I would say the same thing, incidentally, for the idea of God as ground of
being (Tillich's conception, which I gather you like). I don't know how
Tillich would see this, but for myself I cannot fathom how God is necessary
for the world's ongoing existence, unless the world is in fact produced by
God through an exercise of power--at least enough power to make matter and
energy, which is something like omnipotence. Presumably, God could choose
*not* to produce the world tomorrow--or else God is so bound to eternal
decrees that God effectively has less freedom than God's creatures have,
which makes one wonder why God chose to make free creatures. The abililty
to make or unmake worlds does seem coercive to me.

> If God does not determine the nature of nature, then its
> nature is given to God as an a priori; or else it is derived from God's
own
> characteristics in some a priori fashion, as in Plato's belief that God
*had*
> to create a *good* world. God IMO did not have to create anything at
all; nor
> has the creation existed eternally with God.

I find it difficult to imagine a portrait of God that does not include
some
"other" (a World) with which God is in loving communion.

Ted: I don't find this difficult. The Trinity (as you already know) has
classically been seen as a locus of eternal loving communion, perhaps that's
sufficient, at least for a Trinitarian. Or perhaps God has made other
worlds that God has called into being and subsequently replaced. That's up
to God. But I see no necessity for God to have a world to love from
eternity to eternity. If God is the maker of heaven and earth, as I
confess, then God can make and unmake worlds as God sees fit.

> I do think of this as like
> intervention, since if God did nothing then there would be nothing. The
> Greeks taught that "nothing comes from nothing"; in this sense, the
creation
> of something from nothing (which is the classical sense of creatio ex
nihilo,
> and part of the sense in which I take it) is a kind of "intervention."
This
> is not part of the definition Howard is using: it is not an overpowering
of
> what was already there, but without overpowering agency there would be
nothing
> there now. Since that something has not always been there, God has in
this
> sense "intervened" in nothing to create something.

That appears to make "nothing" a substance to be acted upon with divine
power.
 
Ted: Yes, it does seem so. This is of course inescapable when we use Greek
categories, as I have invited us to do in my comments. Plato spoke of the
"nurse of becoming," a kind of potential being. I don't like the limits our
language places on us here.

The language of time is not adequate either, for both scientific and
philosophical reasons. So I'll speak inadequately: there was a time when
there was no time, and there was no matter or energy as we understand them.
All that we now see or otherwise detect with our instruments did not exist;
it now exists. The transition from one state to another is what I have said
is like an "intervention." If you have another, better word that expresses
the idea of a temporally bounded universe being called into being, I'm all
ears. The traditional concept of "ex nihilo creation" of course expressed
this, but I don't think you associate a temporally bounded universe with
that in your present thinking. (We probably agree that the continued
existence of the universe does depend on God willing it to be, so we
probably agree that "ex nihilo creation" has a "now-ness" as part of it. I
suspect we disagree on it having a "then-ness," at least the type of
"then-ness" that I have described above.)

> As for God breaking into nature once created, it should be clear from
many
> things I have posted at other times that I believe in such divine
activity.
> At this particular season, in fact, it is most appropriate for me to
> contemplate that kind of activity, which is the ground of my Christian
hope.
> I accept Howard's definition of "intervention" here, and I affirm my
belief in
> it.

And it has never been my intention to take that away from you. Remember
that
our conversation began with my pointing to your support of the
equivocation
on the part of ID advocates with respect to 'design' as an action. It
means
one kind of action in cosmology (giving being, ex nihilo, to a world that
satisfies the RFEP), but a very different kind of action in biology
(supernatural, form-conferring interventions within a world that does not
satisfy the RFEP).

Ted: I know you don't intend to "take this away" from me, Howard, in any
case you couldn't: that is what I mean by an article of faith.

Coming back to your main point in this paragraph, we continue to disagree.
I think that causing worlds to be, including creatio continua as well as
creatio ex nihilo, is an activity that cannot be done without conferring
form on that which does/did not have form. I see no difference when it
comes to conferring form in the plant and animal worlds. The RFEP is very
interesting, and I applaud the effort to view the history of creation
scientifically, but it's an arbitrary principle that might or might not be
true. On this score I agree with the ID folks: let the evidence indicate
whether or not it's true. I agree with their critics, however, on the
dangers of basing a particular theology on scientific evidence and on the
dangers of relying too heavily on "gaps" in our knowledge. We are
profoundly ignorant of at least two important pieces of information,
relative to ID: (1) how did life with its complexity originate? and (2) how
do minds interact with material bodies? (This latter question, not the
origins issue, is IMO the key question underlying ID. No one has ever
solved it satisfactorily, Descartes gets dumped on but there is no good
replacement. This does go far afield, I apologize.)

That is all I wish to say at this time.
Received on Tue Apr 6 10:00:22 2004

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