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

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Tue Dec 16 2008 - 16:51:01 EST

The gospel is that "Christ died for our sins according to the
Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures..." (I Cor. 15:3-4).

The "observability" of God's glory in creation (I say) is a logically
necessary result of Christian theism. It should not be necessary for
church fellowship. Again, by "observability" I mean to include views
of natural theology that would encompass everyone from Barth to

What is necessary for church fellowship depends on context. My ideal
is simply assent to the basic outline of the ecumenical creeds
(Apostles / Nicene) and a desire to grow in faith and holiness.

All IMHO of course.

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

On Tue, Dec 16, 2008 at 4:37 PM, George Murphy <> wrote:
> Missing in this discussion seems to be consideration of several issues:
> Precisely what is "the gospel" which is not to be added to?
> For what is the observability of God in nature supposed to be "necessary"? Is it supposed to be a logical necessity? Is it a doctrine that there must be agreement on if there is to be church fellowship?
> Is agreement on "the gospel" all that is required for church fellowship?
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message -----
> From:
> To:
> Cc:
> Sent: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 1:58 PM
> Subject: Re: [asa] ID as theological necessity (old Timaeus discussion, new PSCF artic...
> 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 16:51:30 2008

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