Re: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Fri Jan 23 2009 - 01:44:56 EST

This won't be nearly a full response to all the challenges you raise
below --but I'll tackle a few for now. And thanks for keeping some of
Timaeus' challenges alive. I couldn't nearly do justice to his many
posts and didn't have time to read them all, let alone digest all the
resulting exchange.

One of the main drifts I think I get from you after a quick read of your
whole post, is that you think TE has just a bit too much self-removal or
detachment from science to the point where it makes no difference at all
(in providing or affecting any natural explanations) and so is immune
from attack for the undesirable reason of being totally scientifically
irrelevant. And this is a good question which I agree probably has not
been fully addressed (or certainly not satisfactorily as you see it.) I
will think on this some more, as I think I only have a partial answer
(probably repeating what I've already said and you've already heard but
don't find compelling). So give me some time, and also I will see how
others may respond as well. I will interject a couple of responses
below as I take time tonight, and then save the rest for tomorrow (or
later on today, I guess.)

Jon Tandy wrote:
> Merv,
> A few comments on your thoughts:
> 1. Circular motion is not a miraculous explanation, but a perfectly natural
> explanation based on (I think) the Platonic principle of perfect forms. It
> was adopted by Christians as part of their philosophical viewpoint in the
> Middle Ages. I'm not sure whether the Greek understanding was that the
> "gods" were constantly moving about entities in the heavens (or perhaps
> *were* the entities in the heavens). In particular, I was looking for areas
> where Christian theories placed the designator "miracle" in the midst of an
> otherwise natural "scientific" explanation, and what came of scientific
> investigation under that sort of system.
> 2. I didn't mean to imply by the word "rely" that TE would fall apart if
> some natural explanation were found for life or quantum events. Rather, I
> have a different critique as described below.
> 3. (also in response to Dick's reply): I realize what you say, that "most
> TEs are [not] claiming that divine providence is any scientific or natural
> explanation at all. They may claim it as a theological explanation with
> theological support." However, what precisely is a scientific explanation
> for TE, and how does it differ from a special creationist definition of
> scientific? (I of course realize there IS a significant difference in
> detail, but not necessarily in principle.)
That would be an interesting question to direct to a YEC. I suspect
they would give an answer like: All truth is God's truth, and
therefore good science properly understood will not conflict with
Scripture. And after that they would go on to describe scientific
methodologies that might sound like anybody else's with the notable
exception that they would insist on viewing it through a Scriptural lens
to filter out what *must* be a deceptive or false scientific conclusion
because it can't overturn God's Word.

And other creationists (including TEs) would also agree that all truth
is God's truth, but would also say that our understandings of Scripture
are as much prone to error as our understandings of science. And
therefore BOTH books ought to be read with humility. They would insist
that both Scripture and Science are in their own complimentary ways
authoritative to help us understand the world, and would have no problem
with the notion that science may help tweak or outright correct some
erroneous understanding of Scripture that we have, and that Scripture
gives us a much larger and more encompassing truth, within which,
nature/(now science) can take its proper and limited place --religion
giving its own correctives to a science that tries to mutate into
Scientism. But then when narrowing down the discussion to just science
alone, the TE will exactly echo any other scientist in their shop-talk.
Their definition of science could exactly match anyone else's, and I
think you are correct that their Christianity makes no difference to the
content of their professional conjectures/practices/procedures at all.
They would just refuse to try and drag all the metaphysical
"anti-religious" baggage into it that their militantly atheist
colleagues occasionally engage in. But when everyone is behaving,
everyone's science methods & procedures look the same. Perhaps I'm just
repeating a standard line here that may not yet be getting at the heart
of your objection. But this is what I would give as an answer to your
"what precisely is a scientific ... to each camp... Let me
attempt one summary answer before I sign off to go to bed:

What precisely is a scientific explanation for a TE? One that has
supporting evidence of observable causal connections between two phenomena.

What precisely is a ..... for any scientist, religious or not? One
that has supporting evidence of observable causal connections between
two phenomena.

What precisely is a ..... for YECs or other strong concordists? One
that has supporting evidence of observable causal connections between two
phenomena, *as long as it doesn't lead to conflict with a simple, or
straight-forward, or literalist understanding of Scripture.*

*note --the above was not at all a rigorous attempt at a complete or
formal definition of 'scientific explanation', but was more to drill
home a point of comparison.

I'll try to look this over more carefully after a night's sleep. Thanks
for your patience if I'm still parroting party lines that don't address
your main points.
(still my favorite by-line seen on the net: "I can't come to bed
yet, honey! Somebody on the internet is wrong.")

> I'm thinking here in terms of cause and effect. The special creationist
> claims that "without God, life would not have developed on earth." The end
> result is life -- either it happened really, physically, somewhere and some
> time, or it didn't. What caused it? Not natural things alone -- no
> combination of chemicals, forces, and chance quantum events could have ever
> produced even a single strand of RNA with all of its integrated complexity.
> Or, even if one example could have come together against the odds of
> staggering probabilities (in the absence of God), it couldn't have
> replicated to the next generation with increasing complexity in an
> environment unfavorable to life, so the first instance would likely have
> died out quickly.
> The TE, on the other hand, would claim (I presume), "The development of life
> can be fully explained as a result of natural cause and effect processes."
> Ah, but not really. They might leave off the "fully" adjective. What would
> have happened if there were no God? Would chemicals, forces, and chance
> quantum events have even existed without God? Would they be sufficient to
> self-organize, develop a replication mechanism, and develop ever-increasing
> complexity without God? No. It is (theologically speaking) God's
> providence that is the "primary cause" behind those physical events and
> organization of things, even though hidden behind observable natural
> secondary causes. Or, (per Ken Miller) God is acting to bring about certain
> quantum events, but His acts are hidden behind the genuine randomness of
> those events. Or, God front-loaded the universe with the built-in "design"
> (i.e. potential) to ensure that it would eventually develop something like
> it actually did.
> I'm sorry if I seem to be echoing Timaeus here, but in *each* of these cases
> there is a natural effect (life), which requires a non-natural cause. If
> natural forces are not alone sufficient as an explanatory cause, then the TE
> is making a similar claim to the creationist. Natural things (life,
> complexity, etc.) are real, and they really came into existence by some
> means; and we don't believe that nature is alone sufficient to explain them,
> so God must be posited as a necessary explanation. Whether you call this a
> "theological" or a "scientific" explanation is really hiding the fundamental
> characteristic of the argument.
> To illustrate, what happens to special creationism if it could be proved
> that life can self-organize in a test tube under the right conditions? They
> will still fall back on probabilities, on the actual possibility that those
> conditions existed on earth, and more fundamentally to why there is matter
> in existence at all. God is still necessary to explain it.
> What happens to TE if life can be shown to self-generate? They will head a
> different direction, saying, "we knew all along that 'natural causes' would
> be found to be sufficient, but we still believe that God's providence is a
> necessary 'first cause' explanation. God is still necessary to explain it."
> Or, turn it around: what if the TE says the opposite: God is providentially
> in control of the universe, but He is NOT a necessary "first cause" of
> physical things coming into existence, and He does not do anything to effect
> its existence. The logical question is, if God is not necessary, and he is
> not doing anything in the physical world, what is the use of the "God
> hypothesis" at all, aside from spiritual/social phenomena that we can
> explain with evolutionary psychology?
> Either God is necessary, and therefore he does real work in bringing things
> about; or he is not necessary, and nature is fully sufficient without Him.
> If God is claimed to be necessary, why? Is it not because we are ignorant
> of any other natural means that *ARE* fully sufficient? This is the essence
> of the "God of the gaps" argument -- it's an argument from our ignorance of
> any fully sufficient explanation apart from Him.
> I'm sorry if I seem to be echoing Timaeus' comments from a few months ago,
> but this is his core point that I think he was right about. I don't think
> TE is as vulnerable to a "gaps" accusation as special creationism. But I
> think there is more than a little "dodge" inherent in claiming this to be a
> "purely theological" explanation, when in reality it is an alternate and
> necessary explanation to science's purely naturalistic explanation. Any
> natural cause and effect can be held by a TE to be "fully natural", yet the
> trump card of divine providence is still taken as a "cause". That is,
> unless science must necessarily include operations but not origins. But if
> origins are off-limits to science, then why? Is it simply a theological
> presupposition that origins are divine and therefore off-limits to natural
> investigation, and is this not a "science killer"?
> Jon Tandy
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of
> Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 10:09 AM
> To: Jon Tandy
> Cc: asa
> Subject: Re: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps
> Quoting Jon Tandy <>:
>> I have also read about some
>> medieval scientists believing (based on Biblical scripture) that God
>> "literally" upheld the earth with his hand to keep it in orbit, prior
>> to the discovery of the action of gravity, and that the theory of
>> gravity somehow was believed to displace God from part of his role. I
>> don't know how accurate this characterization is. What are some other
>> cases in the modern history of science that specific "scientific"
>> explanations have relied on a miracle hypothesis, as part of an otherwise
> natural scientific paradigm?
>> The second part of the question is, what would (or did) science look
>> like with miraculous explanations included? In particular, most
>> scientists and in particular many TEs characterize "miraculous
>> intervention" as a "science killer" and "God of the gaps". If the
>> sole cause is supernatural, then science has to stop its investigation
>> because it has no domain there. Is this really the case? I don't believe
> that it is.
> One example, related to the gravity one you mention, might be the assumed
> perfectly circular motion of the heavens. Prior to Galileo, inertia wasn't
> part of any large explanation yet, so perhaps Greeks assumed that this is
> just the way the world (& "the gods") work. Aristotle might have phrased it
> as "the natural position or state" of such things --such as heavier things
> seeking the lowest position as their most natural state. They also commonly
> assumed for all objects that "at rest" was the most natural state. So
> perhaps the constant motion of the heavens counted for them as something
> "miraculous", though I doubt they would have used such a description,
> because for them the activity of the gods & world were all part & parcel the
> same thing. (esp. since their gods were merely part of the world.) So,
> ironically, perhaps the TEs of today actually hearken back to a
> re-integration of thought that the ancients had largely presumed. Francis
> Bacon then makes the distinction between appealing to natural cause and
> appealing to the divine hand. Perhaps that was the birth of that dualistic
> approach? But it isn't that TEs are trying to scientifically discern where
> the hand of God might be. They already assume it is everywhere
> --undetectable by tools of science. This is a theological assumption which
> is quite happy to leave the scientific arena undisturbed in its pursuits
> (until science is abused to begin making theological claims & assertions of
> ethics.)
> More thoughts below.
> Jon Tandy continues:
>> Now for the third part. Most scientists, including TEs, decry the
>> reliance on "miracle" because it undermines the process of scientific
>> investigation, and creates "God of the gaps" scenarios of using God to
>> fill in the gaps in our knowledge of the natural order. Yet the same
>> TEs will rely on the doctrine of providence or quantum interaction as
>> theological explanations that are just as "miraculous", although
>> hidden behind our present inability to investigate. It seems to me
>> that the doctrine of providence is just as much a "God of the gaps"
>> explanation as other more explicit claims of miracle, as the recent
> conversation with Timaeus brought out.
> ..except I don't think most TEs are claiming that divine providence is any
> scientific or natural explanation at all. They may claim it as a
> theological explanation with theological support. So this makes it immune
> from the "gaps"
> accusation since gaps refer to scientific gaps, not theological ones
> --right?
> --Merv
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Received on Fri Jan 23 01:40:48 2009

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