Re: Playing the game (was Re: [asa] Wells and traditional Christianity)

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Tue Sep 12 2006 - 11:27:50 EDT


Very well said--but I can't help but add my two cents to underscore
an aspect of your response.

You write:

> they believe it has been so successful at explaining (and not just
> describing) the natural world

This is true, but I would argue (a la Hooykaas, Klaaren, others --
without necessarily committing to the full historical thesis) that
there are Biblical and theological reasons to expect "naturalism" and
these are rooted in Biblical doctrines of Creation (don't think
origins exclusively here) and Providence. These are very traditional
headings of doctrine and don't even touch more recent reflections of
Kenosis and the Theology of the Cross that George and others have
been raising).

If one wants to go even further into the Reformed philosophy along
the lines of Dooyeweerd, you can argue that all of reality is bounded
by creational law (not just the physical and biological sciences, but
social science, economics, journalism, statecraft, all of it). There
are theological/philosophical roots to this view of "lawful behavior"

As you've pointed out, none of these deny the supernatural or even
deny the involvement of God through creational norms and providential
sustenance, governance, and concurrence. In fact, as the Westminster
Confession of Faith puts it in III, 1, the liberty or contingency of
second causes either by free agents or natural law is established by
God's involvement. In other words there is no "nature" apart from
God's involvement.

While Vernon and IDers who ask the questions he is asking are quick
to say "yes" to the above paragraph, they seem slow to see its
implications--that it is possible to think about much of the created
world in terms of internal relationships (naturalism) without
worrying about the ultimate source.

In a sense it comes down to echoing the "thinking God's thoughts
after him" (Kepler?) idea. The natural order (and I prefer to use
creational order since the term "nature" suggests some autonomous
existence) is God's way of doing things and in our science we're
coming to some, albeit limited, understanding of that.

This does not necessarily mean that we swallow, hook, line, and
sinker, the materialist, reductionist, Naturalist, agenda. I'm
somewhat friendly with some of what I hear (and can understand) of
Roy Clouser's discussion in a recent issue of PSCF (and elsewhere).
There may well be an irreducibility of some aspects of reality. There
may be a mystery that at bottom is simply "that's the way it is" or
for the theist "that's the way God does it". Here is where I begin to
sound ID friendly, in principle. To some extent I think that's an
empirical issue. Let's not be too quick to say that every unanswered
question is answered that way--the history of science is full of
unanswered questions getting answered, sometimes in surprising and
nearly trivial ways. But let's not refuse to recognize, at least
theologically/philosophically, that our "naturalism" doesn't rule out
God's involvement--especially in ways that we can't see, but perhaps
in ways that we can. (I personally don't know of any in the latter
category, which is why I'm not a practicing ID guy, but I really
don't want to rule it out in principle.)

Finally, I want to point to an interesting idea that Cornelius Van
Til brings out. No one could accuse Van Til of not being a
supernaturalist, but he develops the idea that special revelation,
including miracles, redemptive history (heilgeschichte), and
scripture itself, makes no sense apart from its grounding in general
revelation and nature. While I'm not sure that Van Til scholars would
concede to this, I think this is a form of an incarnational view of
revelation. The special speech of God is given in a way in which the
human recipients can receive it. The Bible doesn't tell us what a
"tree" is, we have to discover that from our human experience
(science?), but the idea of "tree" is throughout scripture Genesis to
Revelation. We would not know a miracle except against the backdrop
of the ordinary. Etc.

I often feel like I'm beating a drum (and a dead horse) on these
issues, but it seems that they need to be said over and over again.


On Sep 11, 2006, at 5:45 PM, Ted Davis wrote:

> Vernon,
> You ask an excellent question, as follows:
> Why is it that _supernaturalists_ have a strong tendency to behave as
> naturalists? Having received a broader understanding of reality,
> why do
> Christians - whether TE, OEC, YEC or ID - participate in a _game_
> devised by
> materialists and fellow travellers who live by the fiction that
> _science_ is
> all-in-all, is completely free of constraint, and is immune to
> preternatural
> influence? The principal rule of this game is clear enough: _nothing
> supernatural please_!
> You then go on to suggest some sociological factors that are (you
> imply)
> relevant to answering it:
> Of course, one can understand why many feel obliged to play this
> game: fear
> of career setbacks, rejection of papers by learned journals, loss of
> funding, and the ultimate sanction of dismissal, are powerful
> disincentives
> to venture too far from current scientific orthodoxy. <big SNIP>
> Please allow me to focus here only on this part of your post,
> Vernon. It's
> the most interesting part, at least to me, and I have what I think
> is a good
> answer.
> I'll begin by agreeing with you that the sociological factors
> spelled out
> above have some role in formulating an answer. However, not nearly
> IMO the
> role you probably envision for them. I would suggest this: those
> Christian
> scientists who agree with the "rules of the game" of science are
> much more
> likely to be hired by institutions that also play by the same
> rules. They
> aren't fearful of career setbacks by placing a "supernatural"
> science over
> naturalism, b/c they already agree that naturalism is appropriate
> in the
> sciences. etc. To word things as you did--and some ID friends of
> mine have
> put it similarly to me sometimes, so I've heard this more than you
> might
> think--is IMO both inaccurate to the actual state of affairs and also
> insulting to many Christian scientists.
> Let me offer a case in point: Francis Collins. You can fill in
> lots of
> other Christian scientists instead, but Collins' recent book and
> his very
> well publicized religious activities prior to writing the book
> certainly do
> not gain him "bonus points" with the secular scientific
> establishment. He
> has courage, and so do many other Christian scientists who openly
> live their
> faith in secular settings. I do not see such folks as fearful of
> reprisals
> for challenging rules they agree with. However, they might worry
> that they
> will be subjected to subtle (or even not so subtle) discrimation
> for having
> Christian lives on display so openly.
> Thus, I see your implicit answer to your own question as more than
> a little
> ironic. However, I do hear it quite often. More than a few IDs of my
> acquaintance say this type of thing in my hearing range, perhaps b/
> c they
> see themselves as potentially being in the very type of situation
> that they
> imagine other Chrsitian scientists to be in: one of denying their
> faith
> commitments in order to be "respectable" scientifically. They are
> wrong,
> however, to extend this to many others, esp to those who are not
> persuaded
> that ID is the best interpretation of scientific information.
> Where have they gone wrong? This brings us back to your question.
> Let me start to answer it by pointing out that I have actually
> written about
> this formally, to some degree. Several years ago, with my
> colleague Robin
> Collins (a philosopher of science), I wrote an essay on "Scientific
> Naturalism" for an encyclopedia of science and religion. It has
> recently
> been reprinted in a volume that consists of selections from the
> larger work,
> a volume published by Johns Hopkins University Press and designed as a
> college text. (Details are on my webpage at I also
> recommend the essay by Ronald Numbers in the recent book, "When
> Science and
> Christianity Meet," from the Univ of Chicago Press. Ron talks
> about the
> history of methodological naturalism, right down to the present
> day, and
> shows the degree to which Christians (not secularists) have
> constructed this
> notion, as a way of putting appropriate boundaries on science
> rather than as
> a way of denigrating religion. Likewise, my essay details the role
> that
> Christians played in advancing the study of nature using
> methodological
> naturalism.
> Let me add these general comments, and then I'll quit, with the
> recommendation to go out and read the essays just mentioned.
> First, so many
> Christian scientists accept naturalism (in a limited way, as mentioned
> above) not b/c they are fearful of their careers, but b/c they
> believe it
> has been so successful at explaining (and not just describing) the
> natural
> world. In parallel with this, they also have believed that
> appealing to
> supernatural agency in order to explain natural phenomena is rather
> like
> being a witch doctor. Even the most devout Christian scientists
> have seen
> it this way. Robert Boyle, for example, rejected appeals to God's
> absolute
> power in science--though he believed God to be omnipotent and to
> have acted
> out of omnipotence in biblical history. As he put it in an
> argument he had
> with the Jesuit philosopher Francis Line, we must not fly unto God's
> absolute power; we must seek to discover what God actually has
> done, not
> what God has the power to do if He wishes. Boyle and most of his
> contemporaries were not, as your question implies, atheists or
> materialists
> who were seeking to rid the world of religion. Rather, they were
> strong
> theists--indeed, supernaturalists--who still saw that the goal of
> science
> was to *understand* nature in order to control it and use it for the
> improvement of the human condition. This is not a contradiction.
> There is
> in fact a splendid essay from many years ago, by Keith Hutchinson
> (sp?),
> called "Supernaturalism and the Mechanical Philosophy," in which he
> argues
> that the mechanical philosophy was actually advanced by a belief in
> supernatural divine creation of the matter out of which all other
> things
> were made. But the search for the properties and powers imposed on
> matter
> by the creator is to be conducted at the level of natural causes.
> This is yet another reason, Vernon, why I often say that the
> crucial issues
> in science and religion were those of the seventeenth century, not the
> nineteenth century. If more IDs and YECs understood this--and if more
> secularists understood the theological aspects and subtleties of 17th
> century science--then we might not find such heated controversies
> today over
> origins and such.
> Ted
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Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
Computer Support Scientist
Chemistry Department
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
(o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801

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Received on Tue Sep 12 11:47:46 2006

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