Re: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: <>
Date: Fri Jan 23 2009 - 11:32:51 EST

..another small installment on this subject from here at work...

You (John Tandy) have asked, in essence, what difference does TE make? And after
some more thought and elaboration from me (on the differences it DOESN'T make) I
will speculate on how TE may make a difference, and see what responses this
might provoke.

So here is one proposed example, no so much regarding methods or procedures
(which I continue to maintain have no difference between TEs & others) but more
a difference of preferred outcomes --something that may border on falsifiable,
if you will. Is it true to say that the "big bang theory" with its evidence for
"a beginning" was a very TE friendly theory? Had Edwin Hubble's and subsequent
evidence not continued to narrow in on a definite age, but had somehow pointed
in an opposite direction towards our present cosmos being eternal --would this
have been a blow to TE? Efforts towards "big bounce" theories may still be
trying to promote some basic eternity idea (though how that plays out with
relativistic time/space considerations may still render that problematic). But
it is fair to say that our present cosmos had "a" beginning in this big bang
--regardless of the possible cyclical nature that may continue that. This may
not be a fair comparison since I'm picking something which we already consider
ruled on "in our favor". But the latter "in our favor" part may address (the
heart of?) your question: Is there ANYTHING which would make TEs unhappy. From
discussions here I gather an eternal universe would make most Theists squirm,
since we seem delighted in the images of the primordial "bang".

Other differences we could discuss would be that the TE is freed from forced
conjecture to try to support a scientifically dubious interpretation of
Scripture. But this differentiates the TE from strong concordists, and not at
all from his secular colleagues.

I did see your reply this morning. & I am also curious to read Keith's proposed
journal article. Hopefully this can be accessed on-line? I haven't looked yet.


Quoting Merv Bitikofer <>:

> 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.
> --Merv
> (still my favorite by-line seen on the net: "I can't come to bed
> yet, honey! Somebody on the internet is wrong.")
> Night-night.
> > 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 11:33:22 2009

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