Re: [asa] Rejoinder 7A from Timaeus – to David Opderbeck

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Oct 21 2008 - 15:31:25 EDT

Timeaus said: The only difference between me and some TEs appears to be
that I'm prepared to say that "chance is bunk", whereas some TEs still want
to hang onto it.

I respond: It seems to me that this is a semantic difference only for many
of the TE's I know of in the ASA. Those who hold to a classical
understanding of providence agree that "chance" metaphysically is bunk even
though some outworkings of God's providence seem like "chance" to us

There are some Christian TEs who are attracted to open theism who might
argue that there really is such a thing as "chance" at least insofar as God
does not predetermine or foresee all outcomes. That is an interesting
difference, worthy of discussion IMHO, but not necessarily the prevailing
view of ASA TE's, at least in my limited experience.

You reference Moltmann, Pannenberg and Hartshorne I guess because of the
slide in their thought towards panentheism and/ or process theology (not
really sure if Pannenberg fits here, but ok...). Some Christian TEs as far
as I can tell lean in this direction. But not all do.

So again -- it's unfair to lump together a very diverse and so far as I can
tell not very cohesive range of opinions about what "random" means in
connection with God and evolution.
On Tue, Oct 21, 2008 at 2:18 PM, Ted Davis <> wrote:

> Mr. Opderbeck:
> Contrary to your assertion, I have been discussing causation, in various
> ways, all along. The whole point of my "God gun" scenario was to get at the
> distinction between "secondary causation" and "primary causation", or "God's
> ordinary activity in nature" and "God's extraordinary activity in nature".
> I have been asking, in many different ways, none of which have elicited
> clear answers, whether or not people conceive evolution to have occurred
> solely through "secondary causation", or whether they think it requires some
> "primary causation" on God's part as well. Most people have simply not
> answered, or have answered vaguely, saying that maybe God intervened but
> maybe he didn't. In other words, the notion of the causality behind
> evolution among TEs, at least insofar as I have been able to determine it
> from this discussion, is nebulous at best.
> The point, of course, is that both Darwin and traditional neo-Darwinism
> (Mayr, Simpson, Dawkins, Scott, Coyne, Ken Miller [when he's not waffling],
> etc.) have insisted that evolution has occurred entirely through secondary
> causation. ID says that evolution COULD have occurred entirely through
> secondary causation, but if so, the "chance" element was zero, or minimal,
> and the necessitarian, front-loaded element was very high, and that
> front-loading amounts to design, being just design at a great temporal
> distance. Alternately, many ID supporters say that evolution was dependent
> to some degree on "primary causation", i.e., extraordinary personal
> interventions of God, to make sure that it went in certain directions. What
> ID denies is what is at the heart of Darwin and neo-Darwinism, i.e.: that
> evolution occurred entirely through secondary causation, and there was no
> front-loading of, or intervention in, the system by God; that chance and
> natural selection produced !
> whatever they could, in an open-ended, radically free way. ID denies this
> on the scientific level, because it does not believe that chance has such
> power, and because in 150 years Darwin's followers have been unable to show
> that it has such power, and because the new intricacies revealed by
> biochemistry and biology are upping the "chance" component to
> ever-more-unbelievable levels. And Christian supporters of ID deny it on
> the theological level, because it is incompatible with the sovereignty of
> God.
> Similarly, I have tried to distinguish, many times, and in replies to many
> different people, between "truly random" and only "apparently random"
> causes. And I've said that "truly random" causes exclude an omnipotent,
> providential God, because nothing is outside of his omnipotence and
> providence. "Apparently random" causes are another matter. Ted has
> suggested, for example, that the radiation which causes mutations, and hence
> is one of the causes driving evolutionary change, is given off in random
> patterns, from the human point of view, but God could still be behind it.
> I've never denied this, not for an instant. (Nor do I know any Christian
> ID supporter who would deny in principle that God could have acted in this
> way.) I've only insisted that people look at the logical implication of
> such a suggestion. It implies that nature-God is an open system, where God
> can influence nature. Classical neo-Darwinism, like Darwin himself, is
> committed to natu!
> re as a closed system. Pure Darwinism, in all its forms, is either
> atheistic or deistic. Whatever "chance" occurs in a pure Darwinian view, it
> doesn't come from God. And that's not merely a gratuitous extra theological
> postulate thrown in by Darwin, on top of a scientific theory that doesn't
> require it. It's at the very heart of Darwin; it's a rock-bottom premise in
> his thinking about nature that he would never give up. It's precisely
> because Darwin's understanding of science won't "allow a Divine foot in the
> door", as Provine puts it, that he has to put such immense weight on
> variation (which we now attribute to random or chance mutations) and natural
> selection. In Darwin, the metaphysics and religion wasn't added on to the
> science arbitrarily; in Darwin, the metaphysics and religion drove the
> science from the beginning. I do not know how to make this case more solid
> at this point, other than to recommend that those who have not read The Or!
> igin of Species in its entirety (preferably the 6th edition) t!
> o take a
> few months to read it through slowly, and then follow that up with
> Darwin's autobiography and correspondence. Darwin was a wonderful
> observational biologist, and on one level is a completely honest, even model
> scientist, and is a joy to read. (He makes the NCSE people look like
> data-manipulating, unscrupulous ideologues by comparison.) On the other
> hand, his thought is nonetheless driven by metaphysical a priori conditions
> about the way nature works and epistemological a priori conditions about
> what counts as "science".
> I'm fine with theistic evolution as such. I'm probably a theistic
> evolutionist myself. The only difference between me and some TEs appears to
> be that I'm prepared to say that "chance is bunk", whereas some TEs still
> want to hang onto it. And I'm prepared to argue that design is confirmable
> (whether "scientifically" or not) in nature, whereas many TEs are reticent
> to do so. I am left scratching my head, because I don't know of any
> pre-Enlightenment philosopher or Christian theologian (outside of the
> philosophers in the atheist tradition) who denied design in nature. The
> denial of design, in the ancient world, in the Patristic era, in the Middle
> Ages, in the Reformation, and in the Renaissance, was found only among the
> atheists; in the modern world, it's found among both atheists and a certain
> kind of Christian - a certain kind of theistic evolutionist. One has to
> wonder what it is about the modern world, or modern thought, that has led
> some modern Ch!
> ristians to oppose all their forbears on the question of design.
> It seems to me that one of the main misunderstandings is that TE supporters
> think that ID people point to particular EVENTS and say: "God is acting
> there, because that event couldn't have occurred by natural causes". ID
> does not do this. ID cannot tell, any better than TE can, whether or not a
> particular atomic or mutational event is or is not miraculous. Nor does it
> claim to. ID looks at the overall RESULT of a series of events, and says:
> "That overall result (e.g., the Cambrian explosion) could not have occurred
> without a guiding design". And even then, ID does not say: "Therefore, God
> jumped in and did some miracles during the Cambrian Explosion." ID says:
> "Real, not apparent, design was realized during the Cambrian explosion. It
> might have been due to miraculous interventions, visible or [as in Ted's
> suggestion] invisible. It might have been due to the wholly naturalistic
> emergence of planned-for forms, established at the time of the beginni!
> ng of life, or earlier. But the design is real; chance plus natural
> selection is not a sufficient explanation for the observations." That's as
> far as ID goes. And I can't find a single sentence in Augustine, Aquinas,
> Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Hooker, St. John Chrysostom, C. S. Lewis, etc.
> which indicates that this inference contradicts any fundamental principle of
> Christian theology. Whether Hartshorne or Pannenberg or Moltmann think
> differently about design, I can't say.
> From: David Opderbeck <>
> Date: Mon Oct 20 2008 - 10:34:05 EDT
> Timaeus, there are many things you say in these responses that I agree
> with. But, again and again, you assume that "random" must mean "no God
> involved." Various people have tried from various angles to show that an
> event that appears stochastic to us does not exclude purposeful action by
> God -- e.g., the birth of a baby, the casting of lots. Several people have
> taken up the question of "causation" and notions such as primary and
> secondary causation. I haven't seen you address this at all, except to
> imply that TEs are using these ideas to avoid conflict with "prominent
> biologists." That's unfair.
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David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
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Received on Tue Oct 21 15:31:41 2008

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