Re: [asa] Doug Groothuis v. William Dembski

From: David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
Date: Fri Jan 02 2009 - 19:13:18 EST

Mike -- I'm sorry -- "ignorant" is too strong a term. I certaintly don't
think you're ignorant and I'm not accusing you of dishonesty. But, like all
of us, I'm sure you have holes in your theology. Maybe (or maybe not) this
is one.

I personally don't see any theological reason why there can't be sentient,
personal, morally aware extra-terrestrial beings. Indeed, I'm convinced
that scripture mentions at least some such beings -- angels and demons. I
would not surprise me or disturb me one bit if there were also other
"material" sentient beings in the vast universe God created.

But, I'm still convinced that scripture and the tradition strongly support
the view that God, and God alone, is the author of life on earth (and in the
universe). John 1 is a great example -- the agent of creation is the Divine
Logos, Christ. We also see, in the Genesis creation story, that God creates
life and that He alone declares it "good."

There are many possible theological pitfalls to introducting an intermediate
agent, IMHO. I think you're edging slightly towards one such pitfall when
you note that we don't live in the best of all possible worlds. This starts
to sound vaguely like the Gnostic "demiurge" -- the evil sub-god who created
the material universe in the Gnostic system. (I'm NOT suggesting you are a
Gnostic -- just that I see a resonance here).

Is it completely impossible, theologically speaking, that God employed some
sentient agent as a sub-agent in creating life on earth? I don't know. But
again, I ask, why go there? What scientific / rational / theological reason
is there to revise the Tradition to this extent? Why introduce the
possibility that life on earth has developed in some way that is contrary to
God's declaration at the end of the 6th "day" that it was "very good"?

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

On Fri, Jan 2, 2009 at 4:52 PM, Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com> wrote:

> Hi David,
>
>
>
> I want to return to this, because I think it is important.
>
>
>
> "Therefore, I think Christian advocates of ID, when they deny that the
> "designer" must be the Christian God, are either hiding the ball for
> political reasons or have not thought through their position carefully in
> theological terms."
>
>
>
> The first thing I need to say is that I would love to agree. For you are
> basically saying I am either dishonest (hiding the ball for political
> reasons) or ignorant (have not thought through their position carefully in
> theological terms). Don't worry, I don't take offense, as you seem like a
> good guy. But I have no burning desire to be perceived as such. It would
> be far easier for me to simply agree with you and better "fit in." But I
> can't make the step without betraying my own sense of intellectual honesty.
> To believe something simply to sidestep negative perceptions and better fit
> in with some form of mainstream thinking is not the way I want to go.
>
>
>
> Gregory writes, "I think you'll find that Mike Gene is not advocating
> strongly 'the possibility of aliens'"
>
>
>
> Indeed. In fact, I'm not advocating it at all. It's just that I can't *rule
> it out*. When I am told that as a Christian, I must admit that the
> designer of life on earth must be God, the first question that pops to my
> mind is, "How did we rule out ETI?" Unless we can scientifically,
> philosophically, or theologically rule out this possibility, I do not think
> it is intellectually honest to proclaim that the designer of life of this
> planet *must be* God. You might be able to come up with arguments that
> favor God, but "must be God" claims have to rule out ETI.
>
>
>
> But let me add some more stuff to help explain why I am unable to rule out
> this possibility.
>
>
>
> 1. God has a tremendous sense of irony, one that may be best illustrated
> with, "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and
> foolishness to Gentiles,"
>
>
>
> 2. God can also use sentient beings to carry out His will. This is best
> seen with the Church. Or consider the fact that millions of people exist
> today because of human technology, meaning that our designs (even designs at
> the hands of non-believers) carry out His will.
>
>
>
> 3. Point 1 and 2 can be combined, as there are many examples where God uses
> people, kings, and even entire nations, to carry out His will with great
> irony.
>
>
>
> 4. I do not believe this is the "best of all possible worlds;" I think our
> reality is deeply and fundamentally fallen and I do not have the faith in
> reason to think we can think our way out of this state.
>
>
>
> 5. Is there really any theological objection to the existence of non-human
> sentient beings? Is there really any theological objection to the existence
> of ETI?
>
>
>
> 6. If ETI exist (as many secular and religious scientists think likely),
> they would be another part of creation bonded by the same laws of Nature and
> same Creator. Why think of them as "aliens?"
>
>
>
> 7. Is there a theological reason to think humans will never be able to
> create synthetic life? Artificial intelligence? Seed other planets with
> life forms?
>
>
>
> 8. Unless someone can come up with theological reasons for answering "yes"
> to the questions in point 5 and /or a theological objection to the existence
> of ETI, how did we rule out the possibility of directed panspermy (a
> hypothesis first floated by Nobel Laureate Francis Crick)? What is the
> theological reason for insisting that life must have been spawned here on
> Earth rather than seeded on the Earth?
>
>
>
> 9. Just because the original life forms deposited on this planet may have
> been designed by ETI does not mean ETI designed us. Such directed
> panspermy may have simply been an experiment (to test evolutionary theories
> LOL) and we emerged as an off-shoot. But this does not mean there is
> anything less special about us, as among the infinite possible realities
> that could exist, God brought this one into existence precisely because this
> is the one we reside in. When viewed from this angle, what is the
> theological reason for thinking that geochemistry, rather than
> neurochemistry, it what brought life on this planet into existence?
>
>
>
> 10. Finally, what if? What if we do contact ETI and come up with
> powerful evidence that indicates they designed life on this planet? Would
> that be reason for people to abandon their Christian faith? Not me. Whether
> life was miraculously created, spawned by geochemical processes, or seeded
> by another intelligent life form, my Christian faith remains intact. In
> fact, a theological objection to directed panspermy seems to take us back to
> science having the ability to falsify Christian faith, does it not?
>
>
>
> In the end, I don't expect answers and I don't expect many to read this. I'm
> just explaining why I can't go the "designer must be God" road with a sense
> of intellectual honesty while outlining part of the landscape entailed for
> those who insist I must travel this road.
>
>
>
> - Mike Gene
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Nucacids <nucacids@wowway.com>
> *To:* asa@calvin.edu
> *Sent:* Friday, January 02, 2009 2:25 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Doug Groothuis v. William Dembski
>
> Hi David,
>
>
>
> "I don't think this holds up, Mike. If you're drawing an analogy between
> human artifacts and biological features, you're suggesting that the
> biological feature was designed by an entity that possesses some human-like
> attributes with respect to its capacity to create designed things (e.g.,
> orderliness, patterns, logic, etc.)."
>
>
>
> Yes, and that is the end of the road for any ID-based investigation. You
> cannot get any further than this if the investigation is built around
> analogy.
>
>
>
> "If the "designer" is the Christian God, then you must employ some version
> of the analogia entis to get from human-like design to the creator God."
>
>
>
> Sure, but unless someone can turn this version of the analogia entis into
> an open-ended investigative tool, this additional step is not part of the ID
> investigation.
>
>
>
> "If the "designer" is not the Christian God, then from a Christian
> perspective, the argument from design being offered is heretical (in no
> Christian creed is any entity other than "God" the "maker of heaven and
> earth")."
>
>
>
> But I'm not talking about a designer of "heaven and earth." I have always
> been focused on one topic the origin of life on this planet. I
> explained this just last month on this list:
>
> That being said, there are forms of inquiry that can get us closer to the
> identity issue. I think it is fair to ask an ID proponent a) what was
> designed and b) how was the design implemented (allthough I don't think it
> fair to demand very specific answers to the latter request).
>
> For example, if someone proposes that the Universe itself was designed,
> ETI,
> which are part of the Universe, would not be a plausible explanation. Or,
> if someone proposes that a bacterial feature, a vertebrate feature, and a
> human feature all came into existence through intelligent intervention (due
>
> to the insufficiency of natural cause), this entails a designer who
> intervenes across great spans of deep time, and again, ETI do not appear to
>
> be a plausible candidate.
>
> Yet I propose a single event of intelligent intervention the origin of
> life, and that this act of design had an eye to the future, such that these
>
> original life forms front-loaded the outcome of evolution (the echoes of
> design). In this case, ETI remains a very plausible candidate (their origin
>
> is of secondary concern). In fact, as I explain in my book, front-loading
> is the solution to a design problem how does one design the future if
> restricted to a single act of intelligent intervention (as in seeding a
> planet)? This is only a constraint for beings limited by time and space.
>
> Yet as I continue to mull over these issues, I am beginning to appreciate
> front-loading from a more divine perspective. For example, take proteins as
>
> a rational design material (I don't know if you remember me posting about
> that here). It doesn't matter whether proteins are some sophisticated
> artifact or emerged from geochemistry either way, the inherent
> rationality
> (reflection of mind) remains. So front-loading could extend back to the
> origin of the Universe, which would indicate God is the designer. What's
> more, I have come to view front-loading as a means to guide/design while
> retaining freedom. That's of theological interest.
>
> So the theological side of me urges me to push front-loading back to the
> origin of the Universe, but the investigative side of me urges restraint
> and
> caution. As a Christian, it remains an open question. What plays no role in
>
> my thinking is any cultural or political consideration.
>
> http://www.calvin.edu/archive/asa/200810/0654.html
>
>
>
> "I'm just about certain that essentially all Christian advocates of ID
> intend that any indication of a "designer" ultimately must point to an
> orthodox version of the Christian God."
>
>
>
> I don't. I see no logical or theological reason that forces me to insist
> that the designer of life on this planet must be the Christian God. I
> believe that God is indeed the creator who brought this reality into
> existence and sustains it. But that doesn't tell me how life arose on
> this planet.
>
>
>
> "Therefore, I think Christian advocates of ID, when they deny that the
> "designer" must be the Christian God, are either hiding the ball for
> political reasons or have not thought through their position carefully in
> theological terms."
>
>
>
> Political reasons do not apply to me. That would leave the other option,
> and it certainly is possible that I have not thought through my position
> carefully in theological terms. My position is simply intellectual
> agnosticism about the identity of the designer of life as I strive to remain
> intellectually honest. You would have to come up with a powerful
> theological case against the possibility of directed panspermy. So what
> are the theological reasons for favoring the spawning of life on earth vs.
> the seeding of life on earth? What are the theological reasons for
> thinking God must use geochemistry rather than neurochemistry to form life
> on this planet?
>
>
>
>
>
> - Mike
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>
> *To:* Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
> *Cc:* asa@calvin.edu
> *Sent:* Friday, January 02, 2009 1:48 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Doug Groothuis v. William Dembski
>
> But the difference is, ID, as Mike describes it, says "the designer could
> be an alien." The probabilistic / reason-based arguments made by Aquinas,
> William Lane Craig, etc. are all meant (properly) to point towards the
> Christian God. Yes, these arguments don't get you "all the way to God" --
> but they are meant to point in no direction other than towards God. If the
> result of the ontological, teleological, moral, etc. arguments is a space
> alien, those arguments have utterly failed.
>
> David W. Opderbeck
> Associate Professor of Law
> Seton Hall University Law School
> Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology
>
>
> On Fri, Jan 2, 2009 at 1:45 PM, Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com> wrote:
>
>> Heya David,
>>
>> On Fri, Jan 2, 2009 at 1:35 PM, David Opderbeck <dopderbeck@gmail.com>wrote:
>>
>>> Aquinas would *never* have said that the "designer" of creation could be
>>> other than the creator-God. For Aquinas, the teleology he saw in creation
>>> traced back to an unmoved mover, which must be God. And yes, it would have
>>> been heretical (and completely contrary to his system) if Aquinas had
>>> suggested that creation could have been designed by some other created being
>>> -- by definition, for Aquinas, all created things have a cause, and all
>>> causes trace back to an uncaused cause, which is God.
>>>
>>
>> Absolutely, but the specific arguments that Aquinas offered in proof of a
>> creator-God did not on their own indicate 'This God is triune, Christ is
>> part of the trinity which comprises this God' etc. The unmoved mover,
>> Aquinas' five ways, etc - those alone will get you to 'creator-God', but
>> they won't get you to 'the creator-God who sent his only begotten Son to die
>> on the cross for our sins'.
>>
>> Yes, Aquinas (who I'm reading of more and more lately - as an aside, I
>> suggest 'The Last Superstition' by Edward Feser for a thought-provoking
>> book) certainly did get into the more specific and Christian topics in great
>> detail. All I'm saying is that the arguments Aquinas - or even William Lane
>> Craig, among others - offer as proof of God, or inference of God, do not on
>> their own bring them to 'The God of Christianity'. Other arguments do, and
>> taken together, their whole intellectual offering could be viewed as
>> specifically leading to such a conclusion.
>>
>> But the same could be said of a Christian invested in ID. ID alone would
>> encompass a number of arguments for/proofs of a creator-God. But their
>> 'whole thought' could be comprised of ID, philosophy, even personal
>> testimony - and point unmistakably towards the God of Christianity.
>>
>
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Received on Fri Jan 2 19:13:53 2009

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