Re: [asa] Natural Agents - Cause and Effect, Non-Natural Agents

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Apr 16 2009 - 12:47:27 EDT

Dear Prof. Miller (or Keith, if you prefer):

I would like to raise some questions concerning one of your statements about intelligent design. On April 14, you wrote:

"ID advocates consistently appeal to the ability of science to study human action as a validation of their argument that science can investigate divine action."

It seems to me that the words "investigate divine action" require clarification. These words might mean:

1. Attempt to catch God in the act of altering the normal course of nature.

2. Study and theoretically expound the metaphysical and/or physical ways and means of God's interaction with the world of nature.

3. Draw an inference, based on the results seen in nature, that God has acted.

In the works of intelligent design theory that I have read, I have never seen examples of 1 or 2. Nor have I ever seen any indication that design theorists even wish to engage in 1 or 2, as scientists at any rate. My impression is that most design theorists would regard 1 as absurd, and that all design theorists would regard 2 as an activity belonging to theology, not science. Further, even regarding 3, design theorists (a) regard the identification of the intelligent designer with God as an extra-scientific supplement to the design inference proper, and (b) even after such an identification is made, do not claim to detect the actual divine action, but only its effects. In light of point (b), the phrase "investigate divine action" is a bit of a stretch as a characterization of ID theorizing.

So if "investigate divine action" means something like 1 or 2 above, it is simply a false description of the activity of design theorists, and the phrase should be withdrawn. On the other hand, if "investigate divine action" means something like 3 above, then it would be formally correct to say that intelligent design theorists believe that one can "investigate divine action", but, since it would be materially misleading, the phrase should be avoided.

Further, the phrase "investigate divine action", out of context, sounds horribly presumptuous, or even blasphemous, as if ID theorists are determined to pry into the hidden affairs of God, or lay bare the secrets of His divine nature, and, like Dr. Frankenstein, inquire into matters "that man was not meant to know". I therefore think that such expressions are demagogic in effect, even if not in intention, and whip up religious sentiment against ID, which then cuts off rational discussion.

The very modest sort of design inference that I see in ID is nothing more than "This bloody well didn't happen by accident." I fail to see how such a minimal form of natural theology, which no Christian but the most hardened ultra-Barthian would object to, constitutes an impertinent trespass upon the Divine Majesty. Thomas Aquinas would certainly not have thought so; nor would Augustine, nor would most of Church Fathers. I am told that even the metaphysics-wary Calvin accepted a minimal natural theology.

So I ask for clarification: What is the precise basis of the charge that ID theorists want to "investigate divine action"? And what exactly is the theological offense in concluding that the cell and the eye, like the heavens, declare the glory of God?


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Received on Thu Apr 16 12:49:08 2009

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