Re: [asa] Rejoinder 2C from Timaeus: to Allan Harvey

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 15:56:01 EDT

Timeaus said: *Can theistic evolution be rescued from this mess? Sure, by
doing what I have already said, to David Opderbeck. Drop the grand claims
of self-sufficiency for the Darwinian mechanism, to make room for another
cause, on another level of causation: intelligent design. (Not "ID", just
lower-case intelligent design.)*

I respond: There seems to be a continuing disconnect here. I don't think
any Christian TE's see the Darwinian mechansim as "self-sufficient." I
think you're still confusing observed causal sufficiency with

We agree that neither the Darwinian mechanism nor any other physical law or
process is metaphysically sufficient for creation and life to exist.
Creation reflects "contingent order" as the ASA Statement of Faith puts it.
"Contingent" means that God freely chose to create *this* universe and that
the universe would not exist without this free choice of God. Moreover,
"contingent" means that the universe continues to exist only insofar as God
wills it to exist. God could will the universe to cease existing at any
moment and it would be so, notwithstanding any natural laws that would
predict its ongoing existence.

But this metaphysic allows that God created a universe with temporally
self-sufficient causes. This is not a Deistic "wind it up" universe because
it remains absolutely contingent on God's will. Nevertheless, the temporal,
physical causes of things in this universe generally are those things God
willed and continues to will to comprise the universe's structure -- in our
case, the laws of physics and the laws of genetic inheritence that underly
the development of life. We are not left, then, with a binary choice
between special puncutated miracles and front loading. The via media is a
universe of contingent causal laws.

This distinction between contingent metaphysical causes and temporal causes,
BTW, is important to the question of creaturely freedom. Aquinas phrased
this in terms of "primary" and "secondary" causation in order to avoid a
sort of "moral front-loading" argument that would make God the ultimate
author of evil. By holding that God is the contingent author of human free
will but not the proximate author of human choices to do evil, Aquinas
preserved God's sovereignty and the free will theodicy together. Though
Aquinas didn't do this himself, there seems to be no reason why we can't
make the same sort of move with respect to the degrees of freedom given to
other aspects of the creation.

Timaeus said: *Darwinian mechanisms are not even 1% of the way towards
explaining (in rigorous genetic and developmental detail, not in mere
general outline) the evolution of any complex organ, system, or organism. .
. . . If any TEs on this list would be willing to say this, or something
close to this, many ID people (many of whom are already theistic
evolutionists in a broad sense) would join hands with them immediately,
would stop doubting the sincerity of their Christianity, and would stop
accusing them of selling out to the atheists*.

I respond: true that this would bridge the gap between TE and ID -- but I
don't think most TE's would agree with the empirical claim made here. I
wish your empirical claim were true. I wish some ID person could revive my
belief that it is true. My generally conservative evangelical theology was
much more comfortable with this pessimistic view of evolutionary theory.

But, all of my friends who are working scientists tell me it's simply not
true. And their story seems much more robust and plausible than the
explanations of mechanism I've gotten from ID and/or creationism -- which
essentially amount to no explanations at all. I think there are many TE's
who are reluctant TE's based on what they believe to be the truth told by
the empirical data. If a theory of divine action, scripture, or whatever is
clearly overwhelmed by empirical data, there comes a tipping point at which
it becomes necessary to reevaluate our theories. I would agree that
theories of divine action and/or of scripture can be important enough that
this tipping point must be quite far down the scale; we need to query our
empirical presuppositions carefully. But OTOH, we can't hold to our
theological presuppositions so stubbornly that the empirical data isn't
fairly weighed.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
On Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 2:55 PM, Ted Davis <> wrote:
> Rejoinder 2C from Timaeus:  to Allan Harvey
> Continuing on my second round of rejoinders, I would like to reply to Dr.
> Harvey's second post.  He says of my argument:
> *************************************************************
To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Sep 29 15:56:39 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Sep 29 2008 - 15:56:39 EDT