[asa] For Timaeus, on deism and divine action

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Mon Sep 29 2008 - 21:53:18 EDT

In Rejoinder 2C from Timaeus: to Allan Harvey, Timaeus wrote:

And there is another problem with front-loading, a theological one. (And I don’t mean a problem for me, but for TEs.) Many TEs (e.g., Ken Miller) accuse ID of having a mechanical or Deistic God who does not act in a sufficiently personal way or dialogical way with his creation. They thus imply that they will accept only a dynamic, personalistic God.

12. Yet the God of front-loading is like the Deist God, a virtual absentee God; he throws the loaded dice, then retires. He cannot interact with nature any more, beyond the initial act of creation, or nature will no longer be “law-bound”, and the TE conception of “naturalistic” science will fall by the wayside. TEs should then, out of consistency, reject the front-loading God.

13. But if they do, then they have rejected both of the alternatives given above, meaning that God cannot be creator at all, if Darwinism is true. (And, as I must stress over and over again, I mean “Darwinism” in the pure form I have explained elsewhere, i.e., Darwinian evolution, evolution proceeding by Darwinian mechanisms, not simply “evolution” or “common descent”, neither of which is problematic for creation doctrine, Christianity, or theism.)

14. Therefore, theistic evolution (understood as theistic Darwinism) is, any way you slice it, a theoretical mess.

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.) And now, with the “Darwinism” part weakened, by the denial of the full efficacy of the Darwinian mechanism, the title “theistic evolutionism” will fit perfectly.
And the crucial point here is that THIS type of theistic evolutionism would not be incompatible with ID, at least, not with those types of ID that accept common descent. This type of theistic evolution would include Michael Behe and Michael Denton (if we assume that Denton believes in God as the source of the evolutionary program). Indeed, Denyse O’Leary, whom many think of as the arch-enemy of TE, has said that if theistic evolution were understood in some such way, she could be classed as a theistic evolutionist. It is not “theistic evolutionism”, understood as God creating species through an evolutionary process, that puts ID people off. It is the self-contradictory assertions made by TE people in trying to hold together pure Darwinism with orthodox Christian creation doctrine.


That’s quite a lot for me to reply to here, but I’ll respond at least to some of it.
Bur first, an introductory observation.

I started to reply to this line of argument on UcD, before an overzealous person with an oversized ego threw me off. I need to mention this in the context of responding to Timaeus’ thoughts above, b/c perhaps the most fundamental difference I can see between ID and other persons interested in “design,” is this: ID is an organized movement, closely linked with a set of ideas and very difficult to separate from them–despite statements to the contrary. There are specific persons who are able to control access to a particular inner circle that discusses the ideas amongst themselves, decides what’s “orthodox” and what’s not, and gets to define terms such as “design” and “evolution” and “Darwinism” and “theistic” (despite the fact that ID is allegedly not about theism at all), in such a way as to be able to say something like this: if you accept the Darwinian mechanism as the best way (presently) to account for the diversity of living things, then!
  you’ve all but embraced atheism. The politics of such a movement at the upper levels can present the danger of lapsing into a cult of personality. I won’t develop that idea further presently, but it is for me a genuine concern based on some hard evidence.

TE, on the other hand, is not an organized movement. It does not have an inner circle of people to locate and root out “heresy” (though some TE’s may regard others as heretical on certain points of theology), and it understands “evolution” mainly as common descent by whatever mechanism (this is essentially the Miriam Webster definition of the word). Theologically, in other words, TE is a very loose category, and lots of people who could fairly be placed in this category actually reject the term itself for various reasons. There is no TE position, per se, unlike ID. There is no orthodoxy to state and enforce. Thus, Timaeus, your calls for someone to state the TE position will probably go unanswered; and, your calls for greater clarity and precision in the TE position are probably being received with silence, simply b/c there is no TE position, per se. You can’t restate or clarify that which does not exist, as a single identifiable TE view. There are only TE!
  views, and they can be judged as “orthodox” or “heterodox” only at the level of theology, not at the level of science; and only on the basis of a particular set of theological convictions that are being used by the judge him or herself.

I realize that is very frustrating to you, Timaeus, but it would be a large error to assume that a rhetorical victory for ID results from it. Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa, in their definitive study of “Species of Origins” in modern America, place TE as part of a “muddle in the middle,” I think largely for the reasons just stated. The question, then, is whether the truth is more likely to lie somewhere in that middle than somewhere else. (Short answers to some of Timaeus’ questions about TE and divine action are found in chapter 8 of said book. I recommend those to all.)

One thing on which TE’s generally do agree, however, is this. TE’s typically see all of the sciences as on the same level, including sciences dealing with origins. ID’s, as I am coming increasingly to see (with considerable dismay), do seem to be embracing more and more, at least implicitly if not explicitly, the old YEC distinction between “operations” science and “historical” science. Timaeus used this idea, IMO, in one of the replies (I don’t recall precisely which one right now) earlier today. The harder this idea is pushed, IMO, the more ID would resemble the YEC view that it is so eager not to be identified with. I’ve cautioned some ID friends about this, only to be rebuffed. If anyone is still listening, I repeat the caution more loudly: be very careful where you step, on this particular issue, if you don’t want to collapse into a truly unscientific position that will have no credibility with most Christians who actually work in the sciences.
With good reason.

Now, to get on with the points Timaeus makes above. First, on deism. I’ve written a great deal about this on the ASA list in years past; search the archives for “deism” and my name, and some of those posts may emerge from the fog. Very briefly here: Timaeus says a lot of things that are often said, many of which I agree with partly or entirely. Historically, the genuine article of deism involved deep questions about the veracity of miracles stories in the Bible, a rejection especially of the incarnation and salvation history, and a strong emphasis on natural theology and the reality of divine action “in the beginning.” Front-loaded design, one might say. Many liberal theologians have indeed accused ID advocates of being deists, simply b/c they seem so oriented toward natural theology (as far as I can tell, this is where it’s coming from); some others might accuse ID of being deistic b/c the language of God is left out. It’s quite true that deists stresse!
 d creation over redemption and the book of nature over the book of scripture; to the extent that ID is perceived to be doing this, a charge of deism is less than completely outrageous but still unwarranted IMO. Indeed, the liberal theologians are IMO much more like the real deists, b/c of their deep doubts about biblical miracles and sin/redemption (at least the “modernists” of earlier years might fairly be seen this way, prior to the renewed emphasis on biblical theology by the neo-orthodox theologians).

One contemporary theologian who wants to get past the problems of both liberals (who seem to deny God’s ability to act within nature) and conservatives (who seem to put so much emphasis on divine “intervention” as the mode of special divine action), is Bob Russell. His view of NIODA (non-interventionist objective divine action) represents a type of position that Timaeus seems unaware of. Certainly it defies categorization in the terms presented to us above. It’s far too complicated, unfortunately, to explain briefly here, but it’s developed at length in his book, “Cosmology from Alpha to Omega.” But, conceptions of chance and law are at the heart of this concept, and I will quote a couple of paragraphs to give Timaeus and others a sense of what a third way might look like. Quoting pp. 182-3:

In previous writings, I pointed to a watershed accomplishment in theology and science when, in the 1970s, Arthur Peacocke shifted the discussion of chance from a conflict model, “law versus chance,” as urged by atheists such as Jacques Monod (unfortunately, a formulation all too often accepted by Christians who reject evolution) to an integrative framework, “law and chance.” As a result of this shift, Christians could claim that God acts through both law and chance to create physical, chemical, and biological novelty in nature. Still, the meaning of chance in this context may not be adequate for a genuine sense of non-interventionist divine action in specific events in time.
        I suggest that we now face a more fundamental shift in our discussion of “law and chance” in light of quantum physics: a shift from chance in classical physics (where chance as mere epistemic ignorance of underlying causal processes precludes NIODA) to the meaning of chance in quantum physics (where chance as ontological indeterminism is open to NIODA). Rather than saying that God deistically watches the endless unfolding of the potentialities built into nature at the beginning, we can now say that God indirectly creates order in the classical realm by 1) directly creating a quantum mechanical universe with FD/BE statistics that give rise to the classical world and 2) by acting directly in time as the continuous creator in, with and through the indeterminism of quantum events to bring about novelty in the classical world. God is thus truly the God of both order and novelty in the physical and biological realms. As [Thomas] Tracy writes, quantum physics is relevant to th!
 eology because it provides a way to describe God’s action as playing “an ongoing and pervasive role” in contributing to the world’s regular, ordered structure and as making a difference in “the direction of events” in the world through the “providential determination of otherwise undetermined events.”
        In summary, then, God’s action at the quantum level can be seen as bringing about, in a non-interventionist mode, both the general features of the world we describe in terms of general providence (or continuous creation) and those specific events in the world to which special providence refers.

For now, Timaeus, that will have to suffice.


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Received on Mon Sep 29 21:54:46 2008

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