Re: The state of suburban theology

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Tue Jun 15 2004 - 16:57:12 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Petermann" <>
To: "George Murphy" <>; "Howard J. Van Till"
<>; "Ted Davis" <>; <>
Sent: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 3:24 PM
Subject: Re: The state of suburban theology

> George wrote:
> > It isn't surprising that virtually all views of divine action -
> > process, Neo-Thomist and the others Barbour describes - depend heavily
> > _metaphors_ like worker & tool, persuasion, soul & body, &c. I.e., we
> > our understanding of the way things interact in the world to try to get
> some
> > grasp of the way God acts in the world, but since God _isn't_ simply
> of
> > the world, such descriptions fall short of a detailed analysis of the
> > "casual joint." & maybe that's the best we can do.
> I'm sure for many people it is enough just to stick with the high level
> metphors. However, judging from the increased interest in science and
> religion, it would seem that there is a growing number who critically
> embrace religious sentiment but also look for some level of consilience
> between the faith and science. Since divine action is a center piece of
> theologies, it will also seem a focal point for deep explication. While
> level of metaphor may end up being "the best we can do" one wonders if
> metphors like those you mentioned are totally immune to some level of
> reduction that can find a reasonably happy relationship with science.
> if an attempt at this is not undertaken I don't know how the faithful will
> be armed against the continued accusations of fideism from the
> How should these suburbans be armed for this issue?

        We don't need to be content simply with vague general metaphor.
E.g., the idea that God cooperates with creatures as "instruments" can be (&
in the tradition) has been elaborated & refined with ideas about primary &
secondary causation, a division of providence into ordinary & extraordinary
& the former into preservation, cooperation/concurrence & governance and -
as I've suggested limited with the idea of kenosis.

        But I simply don't see how one is going to specify the "causal
joint" with anything like the precision that a physicist might expect.
Anyone is welcome to try, but o if someone claims to have a precise
description of the causal joint between two systems, I want as a physicist
to see some math & not just talk. If you're going to pursue that, you have
to have mathematical descriptions for the free systems which are then
coupled by the putative interaction term, & in this case that means you have
to have a mathematical description of God. & while this isn't a /reductio
ad absurdum/ in the technical sense, I think it is absurd if one has any
meaningful concept of God.

        As to the charge of fideism, I think we need to be quite honest in
saying that the reason we speak about God acting in the world in the first
place is because of our faith - in the sense of trust and commitment - that
the God revealed in Christ _does_ act in the world. I.e., we do not
"observe" God acting in the same way that we observe the earth & sun
interacting via the gravitational field. We then attempt to make sense of
that faith with our further theologies of divine action. This is why I've
argued that in addition to the Barbour's Neo-Thomist & Kenotic theologies of
divine action we also need some elements of what he called the "Existential"
theology in his 1st edition - something he unfortunately dropped in the 2d.
This is the pattern of all theology, fides quarens intellectum - cf.

        If you're going to call anything that involves faith fideism, then
this is fideism - but then we need to point out that science, & indeed any
intellectual enterprise, requires postulates, axioms &c that have to be
assumed rather than proven. In that sense everyone is a fideist. &
theologies, like scientific theories, shouldn't be evaluated in terms of the
a priori plausibility of their postulates but by their fruitfulness in
enabling us to understand ourselves and the world.

Received on Tue Jun 15 17:16:09 2004

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