Re: [asa] ID as theological necessity (old Timaeus discussion, new PSCF artic...

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 14:22:48 EST

I would distinguish things that are essential to the Gospel from things that
are necessarily entailed by Christian theism. The Gospel is one specific
component of Christian theism. One can be a Christian in the sense of
having believed the Gospel without being completely consistent in
understanding or believing all the Christian theism necessarily entails.
I think we'd agree that belief in God as creator is necessarily entailed by
Christian theism. I think we'd also agree that belief in God as creator
means that God is, in the words of the Nicene Creed, "maker of heaven and
earth, and of all things visible and invisible." I think we'd further agree
that we can observe at least some of what God has made -- trees, hills,
birds, etc.

If God has made something, it seems to follow that thing thing God made
reflects something about God as maker. A created thing always embodies
something of the personality of its creator. It seems to follow, then, that
when we observe creation, we are observing something that God made and that
embodies in some way his personality as creator. And this is confirmed by
Ps. 19 and Romans 1.

So in this very limited sense, I think Christian theism logically entails
the observability of God's design in creation.

David W. Opderbeck
Associate Professor of Law
Seton Hall University Law School
Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology

On Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 1:58 PM, <> wrote:

> We may be at diminishing returns with this exchange, but I want to try
> one more time because I think David missed an important distinction I was
> trying to make.
> There is a big distinction between saying a doctrine is CORRECT and saying
> that it is NECESSARY. David says below that, with a sufficiently broad
> definition of "observable", it is CORRECT to assert the observability of
> God's design in nature. I don't particularly disagree (at least if we allow
> the observable aspects to be things accessible to Paul when Romans 1 was
> written [so sunsets but not the flagellum] and if we allow that our sinful
> state means we cannot expect that all will see it).
> But once you go from saying a doctrine is CORRECT to saying it is NECESSARY
> (as Groothuis seems to do for the observability of God in nature), that is
> "adding to the Gospel". For example, if somebody claims that the Earth
> being young is a CORRECT doctrine, I would disagree but would not get too
> upset. But if they say that a young Earth is NECESSARY for Christian
> theism, that's adding to the Gospel and worthy of condemnation. Body/soul
> dualism may or may not be CORRECT, but it would be wrong to insist that it
> is NECESSARY for theism. This is the difference between essential and
> non-essential doctrines, and the list of (necessary) essentials should be a
> small subset of all doctrines we hold.
> Similarly, the sort of natural theology advocated by Groothuis may or may
> not have some correctness. My objection is not to the claim that it is
> correct, but to the claim that it is necessary -- that theism *requires*
> this "observability" of God's design (under however broad a definition) to
> be a true proposition.
> It is necessary that God be the creator. Even if a couple of verses may
> reasonably be interpreted to suggest that God's design is "observable" in
> nature in some sense, I see no justification for promoting this doctrine
> of observability from the "correct" category to the "necessary" category.
> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
> Dr. Allan H. Harvey, Boulder, Colorado |
> (ASA member)
> In a message dated 12/16/2008 8:28:19 A.M. Mountain Standard Time,
> writes:
> Again, I need to know exactly what he meant by "observable." If it means
> the sort of empirical observation we associate with scientific
> instrumentation and precise description, then I agree with you. If it means
> only what Psalm 19 and Romans 1 say, then I think proposition (3) is a fair
> statement. Remember, "observable" means only that it's capable of
> observation; it doesn't mean that everyone will in fact exercise that
> capability. I think Ps. 19 and Romans 1 tell us that if we have the
> "spiritual eyes" to see it, there is no denying that the creation declares
> the glory of God. So God's design in creation is "observable," but of
> course Romans 1 also tells us that in general we fail to see it because of
> sin. What we need to remedy this is not some mathematical design-detecting
> filter, but a spiritual filter.
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
> On Mon, Dec 15, 2008 at 10:00 PM, <> wrote:
>> I did not mean to imply that Groothuis was calling modern ID arguments
>> essential to Christian theology. Let me try another angle to get at what I
>> found offensive.
>> Let's consider the following 3 statements (Note that this is NOT a
>> syllogism):
>> 1) It is a necessary part of Christian theology that God is the designer
>> of nature.
>> 2) God's design in nature is observable.
>> 3) It is a necessary part of Christian theology that God's design be
>> observable in nature.
>> #1 I would absolutely agree with.
>> #2 is an opinion or doctrine (which some might base on an interpretation
>> of Romans 1) that I might or might not agree with, but I don't find it
>> particularly objectionable (at least if not accompanied by bad arguments
>> about claimed observation).
>> #3, however, is what Groothuis actually said. If he had only said #1 (in
>> a paper that makes clear he advocates #2 as well), that would be fine. But
>> #3 does not follow from the other 2, because it adds the "observable"
>> condition to the list of what is "necessary". In my book (and in a more
>> important book) that sort of thing is called "adding to the gospel".
>> Even if one can make a case (Biblical and/or scientific) that the design
>> really is observable, in no way is that observability *necessary*. It may
>> be necessary to some "God of the gaps" form of theism, but not to a healthy
>> Christian theism where God is not required to show himself in the ways our
>> Enlightenment-warped fallen minds think he ought to. Groothuis is not just
>> arguing for natural theology; he seems to be saying that theism can't work
>> without it.
>> Maybe a parallel would also help make the point. A statement parallel to
>> that of Groothuis would be "A necessary component of Christian theism is
>> that God's miraculous healing power be observed today." Now, the fact that
>> God has such power is necessary. And if somebody wants to claim such
>> observation today (I am not a cessationist despite not having observed it
>> myself), that is OK with me. But if such observation is made a necessity
>> (so that lack of observable miracles entails lack of God), we are adding to
>> the gospel and need to reject the statement.
>> Allan Harvey (ASA member)
>> In a message dated 12/15/2008 1:34:24 P.M. Mountain Standard Time,
>> writes:
>> I am not a Groothuis fan by any stretch (see, e.g., my letter to the
>> editor in the current Books & Culture).
>> However, to be fair, Groothuis does not in the quoted sentence say that
>> modern ID arguments are essential to Christian theology. He says it
>> is necessary to hold that "God's designing intelligence is observable in
>> nature." As to ID, he says ID arguments "lend rationality" to
>> this necessary proposition. His claim therefore is that ID arguments are
>> merely supportive of, and not necessary to, the observability of God's
>> designing intelligence in nature.
>> That said, the argument remains clunky. First, I'm not sure scripture or
>> the Tradition would agree with the notion that God's designing intelligence
>> is "observable in nature," depending on what we mean by "observable" and
>> "nature". The point of Romans 1, of course, is that human beings shut their
>> eyes to the evidence of God from nature. Second, "nature" means all of
>> creation, not some particular aspects of it that might or might not be
>> irreducibly complex. So the claim of Christian theology really is the basic
>> claim that all of creation declares God's glory -- which in some ways cuts
>> against ID's claims about particular, narrow aspects of creation.
>> Finally, I have no idea what "lend rationality" means. I think he means
>> "lends empirical support." But that's a (highly debateable) empirical
>> claim, which is weaker than a claim compelled by rationality. The more
>> basic claim that creation declares God's glory seems to be rational in
>> itself.
>> On Sat, Dec 13, 2008 at 1:11 PM, <> wrote:
>> > In the article by Douglas Groothuis in the latest PSCF (arguing for ID
>> in
>> > university science curricula), there was a statement that sheds further
>> > light on a conversation a while back where Timaeus commented on some
>> things
>> > Randy Isaac and I had said about the ID movement.
>> >
>> > Maybe the place to start is this post by Randy:
>> >
>> > and this post by me:
>> >
>> >
>> > Randy had raised this question in trying to get at what the essence of
>> ID
>> > was (as differentiated from evolutionary creation positions):
>> > ----(Randy)---------------
>> > "Perhaps a modification of the question could also be enlightening in
>> > differentiating ID and EC:
>> > Is it a necessary corollary of the orthodox Christian doctrine of
>> creation
>> > that God's action of design in nature must be detectable in some way
>> through
>> > unique patterns in nature (beyond the very existence of nature, its
>> > fine-tuned characteristics, and the comprehensibility of nature)?"
>> > ------------------
>> > and I observed that the "must be detectable" was the "God of the Gaps"
>> > fallacy that functionally equates "lack of (detectable) gaps" to "lack
>> of
>> > God". I suggested that it would be much better theology, and would
>> greatly
>> > reduce my hostility to the ID movement, if they would replace "must be
>> > detectable" with "might be detectable", rendering such detection a
>> > possibility that might bolster our faith rather than a theological
>> > necessity.
>> >
>> > Enter Timaeus, who objected to this characterization of ID, claiming
>> that he
>> > and ID in general were already in the "might be detectable" camp, and
>> did
>> > not make gaps a theological necessity. That was in this post:
>> >
>> > I replied here:
>> >
>> > with some examples of how, in my opinion, *most* of the ID movement
>> > (allowing for exceptions like Mike Gene or Timaeus) did indeed seem to
>> make
>> > scientifically detectable gaps into a theological necessity.
>> >
>> > Enter the Groothuis article. On p.238, he says the following:
>> > "If successful, ID arguments lend rationality to one necessary component
>> of
>> > Christian theism: namely, that God's designing intelligence is
>> observable in
>> > nature."
>> >
>> > Note the words "necessary" and "observable" -- saying that observable
>> design
>> > is a theological *necessity*. If only he had said "... that nature is
>> the
>> > result of God's designing intelligence" I would have no problem with the
>> > statement. But he didn't say that; he said our observations need to
>> detect
>> > that design in order for theism to be viable.
>> >
>> > This is another example of a prominent ID proponent (one who is training
>> > future pastors!) who appears to fit Randy's original description of
>> making
>> > scientific detection of God in nature a theological necessity. I think
>> for
>> > many of us, making the viability of theism dependent on being able to
>> find
>> > gaps in nature is what we find most objectionable (at least on the
>> > theological front) about the ID movement. That movement will continue
>> to be
>> > a detriment to the church until and unless those few ID voices who
>> disown
>> > such "God of the gaps theology" gain more influence.
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Received on Tue Dec 16 14:23:27 2008

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