RE: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Fri Jan 23 2009 - 13:37:35 EST


You wrote "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"."

This is part of what was running through my thoughts as well. While strong
concordists are making strong statements that become falsifiable in
scientific investigations, it doesn't seem there is much that would make a
Theistic Evolutionist squirm, as you say, because it can always be claimed
that such things are under the control of "God's providence". Herein I
grant the claim that TE is a "theological" proposition is valid in many
respects, this in particular.

To take your example, I seem to recall discussions on this list that lead me
to believe that many TEs would be able to accommodate a many-worlds
interpretation, wherein our universe's "beginning" is just one instance of
multiple universes over vast "time" (realizing of course that time has
little meaning for us in this sense, if time in our universe began at the
Big Bang). God is still sovereign, in this case over many universes in
sequence and in parallel, not just over ours. (Of course this is begging
the question of what is "Theistic Evolution" -- in this case, as is often
done, we are taking the term way out of its limited biological context, and
thus making it more of a worldview statement than a view on evolution per

I think the struggle to find some way that TE could be falsified is elusive,
because TEs themselves (I expect) would claim that it wasn't meant to be
falsified. I grant that this is reasonable, if it's just a theological
belief. In fact it seems to me that the TE position is trying to take the
non-overlapping magisterial (NOMA) approach. It is said that the TE
position is strictly theological and thus doesn't make any claims on
scientific concerns, while their science is strictly limited to natural
cause and effect. But this is the very claim that I am challenging. If
God's providence is a necessary component to explain the origin of natural
things, then it's not strictly a theological pursuit. It's not
non-overlapping with scientific (i.e. natural) concerns, unless origins are
excluded ad hoc from scientific investigation.

Let me propose another way of looking at potential falsification of a TE
position (more of a thought experiment). God's is held to be the "prime
mover" and His providence is the "primary cause" for why things are the way
they are. If it weren't for God's providence, things would exist at all or
they wouldn't have come about in the way they did. This means that
biological species developed as they have according to God's will, through
secondary causes of mutation, replication, natural selection, etc. This
could take the strong form of: "God providentially directed the evolution of
species through time in order to produce biological diversity and
specifically, rational beings like ourselves"; or a more indirect form of:
"God front-loaded the capability within matter at the Big Bang, to ensure
that it would eventually develop life and some sort of rational creature
like us, although it could have happened in vastly different ways, times,
and forms from what we now see." Either way, God willed into existence
various forms of biological entities, in particular us, who could possess
the image of God.

Now, let's look at Lenski's research on E. coli. He took bacteria, grew
them on purpose in the lab to observe mutations and adaptations, and
eventually verified that new function spontaneously arose through
(presumably) natural mutation and selection. Score one for those who say
that increased complexity or improved function can come about on its own.
Theoretically this research could be continued indefinitely, until they grow
enough variants of E. coli to prove that there are different species,
biological structures, etc. Question: if God's providence is actively
upholding and guiding all of creation, did God *will* for those particular
biological adaptations to come about? It seems that the strong form of TE
is very existentialist -- whatever happened must be what was *supposed to*
happen, and thus "providence" is infinitely flexible to explain anything.
On the other hand, the weaker form would say, yes this was God's will,
because he created life to be flexible and adaptable to various
environments, so though this strain of E. coli wasn't explicitly God's will,
the capabilities of life were within His will. In that case, how do you
prove that rational humankind (another specific branch of the biological
tree) was any more the specific intent of God's purposes than was the E.
coli that humans created in the lab? It seems that as TE tries to explain
everything in general, it risks explaining nothing in particular.

Another potential challenge: some TEs (I believe) balk at the idea that
human consciousness, morals, etc. are purely "natural" phenomena. Others,
though, are suggesting that even these things may have arisen through
"purely natural" means, as emergent properties, etc. What if our technology
gets to the point that we can build robots that not only think and reason,
but feel emotion, and can spontaneously develop consciousness? In other
words, what if technology can one day prove that even robots can be built
which demonstrate that conscience, morals, even religion, can spontaneously
erupt in man-made things? Would that be a challenge to the Theistic aspect
of TE, by challenging our assertion that there must exist a divine aspect
somewhere that caused these things to emerge in humankind? (Or, why would
God will for human-built robots to develop human-like consciousness and
capability of religious worship -- again, the danger of existentialism.)

The areas where TE could potentially be challenged, I believe, are so far
beyond our current technological ability that they are essentially
unfalsifiable, and the theory could potentially be stretched further once we
were to reach that point. Or so it seems to me. I would welcome any
thoughts on this.

Jon Tandy

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Received on Fri Jan 23 13:37:52 2009

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