Re: It's the Bible or evolution

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Mon Sep 26 2005 - 20:52:25 EDT

Let me suggest/guess Robert Boyle's answers to Cornelius' questions:
Actually, no, I do not define creation as excluding evolutionary
Again, the mechanism *per se* is not the issue. The issue is what meaning
poured into the mechanism. Is the mechanism merely a deterministic tool
God uses, or does the mechanism itself determine, to some extent, the
outcome, exclusive of divine will?

Boyle/Ted: It's both. The properties and powers given to matter by the
creator are real entities that have causal efficacy, but they (like all of
the creation) depend *moment by moment* for their very existence on the
ongoing, continuous activity of the creator. If, as Boyle put it once, God
were to withdraw his ordinary concourse, the whole creation would lapse into
its first nothing. One might say, God wills that the creation behave with
great regularity, partly so that we ourselves can understand and control it.
 But *our* understanding of the creation is always limited and partial, and
our understanding of the "laws" of nature (which are for Boyle "but notional
thing[s]"), is not wholly limiting on God, who remains free to act in other
ways at times and places.

Simply put, the issue is whether or not creation is what God intended. Is
divine action efficacious so nature represents divine will, or is divine
action limited or otherwise not efficacious so nature is not a divine

Boyle/Ted: It's both. Special providence is to a significant degree
subordinated to general providence, as Boyle points out in his treatise on
the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature. Thus, God designed the mechanism of
swallowing for the benefit of animals, but the mechanism does sometimes
cause creatures to choke. God does not will the deaths of those creatures,
but God is the designer of those mechanisms.

Of course, evolution is and always has been the latter. Burnet, Leibniz,
Kant, etc, on up to Darwin argued forcefully that this *must* be the case.

And Darwin presented dozens of such theological arguments which continue to

be persuasive today. The whole point is that God *wouldn't* have made it
this way (pace so many biblical verses). Hence, evolution. We can't then
turn around and say evolution is orthodox.

Boyle/Ted: In natural philosophy we must not appeal to miracles. Miracles
have in fact happened, however--as biblical testimony makes clear (for
Boyle, I would say *makes very, very clear*). But NP cannot argue about
what God, raised above the power of nature, could do; rather about what the
created properties and powers can do. And the limits of those properties
and powers, when combined with historical knowledge about the biblical
miracles, indicate powerfully the truly miraculous nature of those biblical

As for orthodoxy (continues Ted, not Boyle), what Cornelius defines as
"unorthodoxy" (I am judging from his comments) does not begin with Thomas
Burnet in the 1680s. At least as far back as Jean Buridan and Nicole Oresme
(natural philosophers in 14th century Paris, both of whom readily granted
God's absolute power), there was a desire to minimize miracles in
understanding nature--precisely b/c the goal was to understand nature, not
be left simply in amazement. The bad guys, as it were, have a longer
pedigree it seems.

Received on Mon Sep 26 20:53:59 2005

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