RE: [asa] Miracles and God of the Gaps

From: Jon Tandy <>
Date: Tue Jan 27 2009 - 11:43:27 EST

Several of you have answered my musings on Theistic Evolution, miracles,
etc. with predictable responses defending the traditional explanation of
Theistic Evolution. Let me make clear that I'm not necessarily trying to
pin TE into a corner of explaining specific physical mechanisms of
interaction between God and nature. TEs are much too cautious to be caught
out in that way. My point is not so ambitious as this, but I think the
point is still being missed. Let me try again, a little more


It is generally held that God's "providence" is a real effect, actually
sustaining and in some ways possibly directing the actions in the natural
world. It is also held that science is limited to the study of material
causes, effects, forces, structures, and I would add origins, without ruling
out origins a priori from scientific investigation.


A. It must be the case that either:

  1) There is a necessary causal relationship between God's providence and
the existence and actions of at least some things in the natural world, or

  2) There exists *no* causal relationship of any sort between God's
providence and the natural world; in this case, the natural world would
exist and function in the absence of God.


The above propositions are not meant to be limited strictly to material
causes and effects. I would say that in the case of A.2., providence is
either an unnecessary explanation or essentially non-existent, because it
has no effect whatsoever on the natural world, and is essentially an
assertion of philosophical naturalism, so I reject it from further
consideration for now.


B. Taking A.1. to be true, and that God's providence does exerts some real
influence over the natural world, then either:

  1) God's influence on the natural world is strictly "supernatural"
(outside of nature), in which case science will have no power to investigate
or explain God's action in terms of natural causes and effects; or,

  2) God's influence on the natural world is through natural cause and
effect, but his action is to be forever hidden beyond the reach of our
ability to investigate or detect God's influence with natural scientific
methods (an example would be the direct manipulation of quantum
probabilities); or,

  3) God's influence on the natural world is through natural cause and
effect, which are (at least partially or theoretically) open to
investigation and explanation through natural scientific methods; or,

  4) Some combination of the above.


None of the assertions in B. exclude natural (secondary) causes as being
real, effectual influences over natural events. The propositions are only
focused on identifying the character of God's influence, His providence, on
the natural world.


 Most of you, from a Theistic Evolutionary standpoint, seem to reject B.3.,
at least in principle when it comes to questions such as the direction of
evolution, the formation of "first life" and other things. The dangers in
B.3. are, if we say that God's action are through natural mechanisms subject
to human investigation, we make God the subject of laboratory experiment, we
reduce God to a mechanic tinkering directly with physical mechanisms, and we
potentially make "God of the gaps" predictions about physical causes under
divine control which may turn out to be false.


Problems with B.2. are less severe from a scientific perspective, but I
assert that they fall into the category of "God of the gaps". For instance,
if God is held to be the direct manipulator of apparently random quantum
events, what happens if decades from now we discover that there is actually
a fundamental set of "natural" laws that govern what now appears to be
simply random probabilistic events? Similar speculations could be made for
the front-loading theory (we might eventually prove that nature doesn't
require divine front-loading to proceed according to observed natural
mechanisms). May never happen, but it's still an argument from ignorance.


Most of the TEs on this list seem to hold a doctrine of providence that
aligns more with B.1. God's action of providence is supernatural, meaning
that we shouldn't expect to ever discover or observe it through scientific
methods. We can observe the secondary, natural causes and effects, but it
is suggested that God's providence is "continuous" (as in "continuous
creation"), in parallel with and supportive of natural mechanisms in some
unspecified way.


I don't disagree with this necessarily. My point in leading into all this
in the first place was that Theistic Evolution seems to hold that A.1. is
true (providence does indeed have some real influence over natural events),
along with generally B.1. and/or B.2. If B.1. is true, then God's action to
influence the natural world is strictly supernatural, not natural, and thus
should be recognized as "miraculous"; thus, the TE criticism of other forms
of creationism relying on "miracles" is a just little disingenuous. TEs are
using unobservable, providential miracles, rather than observable miracles,
but real and necessary miracles nonetheless. Or else if B.2. is true, that
God's action directly influences natural causes but is hidden behind our
ability to investigate, this is essentially a "God of the gaps" argument --
it relies on our ignorance of real but presently unknown natural
interactions that are necessary explanations, instead of "purely natural"
(in the ultimate sense) causes.


I'm not saying that providence is incorrect in reality or as a theological
doctrine, nor am I saying that Theistic Evolution is as vulnerable to
criticism as some other forms of creationism. It may be the best
explanation that we can come up with. I am simply trying to point out that
you can't assert a "strictly theological" influence over natural events
without running afoul of some of the same criticisms to some extent. In the
end, it is material things that are being influenced in some way.


Jon Tandy


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Received on Tue Jan 27 11:44:23 2009

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