Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List Relations

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed Apr 22 2009 - 10:07:57 EDT

I thank Dr. Ted Davis for his reply. Since it seems that people here operate generally on a first-name basis, and he addresses me with mine, I'll reply in the same informal manner.

On your first point, Ted, I understand where you are coming from. I was trying to express where (as far as I can tell) many Christian ID advocates are coming from. And yes, it's doubtless an unfair generalization to say that all TEs or all ASA list members who have doubts about miracle stories are spineless cowards. But it should be possible for people posting here to see why someone who doesn't have such doubts might come to such a conclusion, even if it's a wrong one. And that should facilitate dialogue, along the lines of: "I perceive that you think I hold the views I do out of fear of disapproval, but that is not the case. My rejection of these miracle stories in fact is based on ..."

Also, we must bear in mind that from the perspective of many conservative Christians (not just ID people but YECs, etc.) the motivation is less important than the result. So, for example, Christian scientist A may suppress his belief in miracles to get along with his colleagues in a biology department, whereas Christian scientist B may genuinely not believe in them, because he shares the view of biological nature held by Dawkins. From a philosophical/theological point of view, it is questionable whether it matters. From the conservative Christian point of view, whether the person is too cowardly to express an anti-modern view, or has been seduced unconsciously into accepting a modern view, the error in the characterization of nature is the same. In reference to the direct activity of God, nature is either an "open" system, as conservative Christians believe, or it's a "closed" system, as modern science believes (and the belief is more than "methodological" in a good number of cases, and in much popular science literature). Conservative Christians believe that Dawkins, Coyne, etc., and also any Deists (if there are any still around), insist on a closed system, and they believe that this is wrong; and they believe that many TEs are fuzzy on the question whether nature is open or closed to direct divine intervention, both in general and regarding the Biblical stories. And to the extent that TEs appear to oppose direct divine intervention, conservative Christians will say that they are wrong, and whether this is due to cowardice or simply to a metaphysical error is irrelevant from a doctrinal point of view.

Conservative Christians of course accept that nature *generally* works by established laws -- the overwhelming majority of the time, in fact. In this they are not in the least different from an atheist like Dawkins or a TE like Collins. Many conservative Christians ("cessationists") also grant that miracles have ceased occurring since Apostolic times, and so they would even agree with Dawkins that in our day, nature *always* works by established laws. Such conservative Christians have no difference with atheists or TEs over "operational science". "Methodological naturalism" -- though it's a term they distrust, for good reason -- is fine with them; in operational science, they look for wholly natural causes. Where they differ is that they believe that nature in theory remains an open system (in the sense specified), and that in the past, God made use of this openness. Atheist Darwinists say this is hogwash. TEs say it is a theologically permissible view, but hedge about whether and how often God did ever make use of the openness, and seem to go out of their way to imagine explanations for wondrous events -- when they aren't casting doubt upon the occurrence of the wondrous events themselves -- which don't involve any disruption in the causal nexus.

It is that "going out of their way" that raises suspicions in the minds of ID-Christians and other critics. Granted that divine interventions are rare; yet even if every miracle in the Bible were accepted as a violent disruption of the causal nexus, that would still only amount to, what -- a few hundred interventions, at most, in the 4.5-billion-year history of the earth? That's a drop in the bucket. And barring genuine interventions that might have occurred in the creation process (which even some TEs grant, e.g., a special intervention for the origin of life, or a special intervention in the case of man), the vast majority of the interventions discussed in the Bible occurred within a couple of thousand years, in a very localized geographical region, leaving "naturalism" untouched in virtually all times and places. Further, most of the wondrous events are clearly marked in the Bible as one-time affairs, and therefore don't threaten the repeating character of nature in our era, or at most times in the past, in the slightest. So the motivation of TEs for wanting to get rid of the category of "intervention" is very unclear.

No TE can honestly think that if Americans believe that God intervened violently at the Red Sea, or in the raising of Lazarus, or in a few other ancient cases, that "methodological naturalism" in current science is under threat, and that America will fall behind Japan in science. That argument, implicitly pushed by Ken Miller and others, is political horse manure, and everyone here should have good enough olfactory organs to recognize it as such. So there must be a deeper reason for the distaste for interventionism. And given the elusiveness of many TEs and others on this point, conservative Christians cannot be entirely blamed for suspecting that in some cases, the deeper reason involves a lack of belief in the occurrence of wondrous events, or in the very possibility of direct divine intervention.

I suspect, Ted, that you would agree with me about the distaste for interventionism among TEs and here on this site, and I suspect that you would offer an explanation different from the one I am offering on behalf of conservative Christians. I suspect that you would suggest that the deeper reason is a fundamental difference over Christian theology. TEs, I think you would say, conceive of God and God's relation to the world differently from the way that many conservative Christians (including many ID people) conceive it. So there is neither cowardice nor metaphysical error involved, but an alternate view of Christianity itself. Is that approximately right?

If so, I leave you with a thought, and a question. We know, as a matter of historical fact, that widespread doubt about "interventionism" is a modern phenomenon. With a very few exceptions, doubt about either the historical facticity of, or the interventionist origin of, the Biblical "wondrous events" is not found in the Fathers, the Medievals, or the Reformers. We know that such doubts are strongly correlated with two modern studies known as "science" and "history". The question then arises: was disbelief in "interventionism" an independent theological development, which would have arisen within Christianity in any case, regardless of other intellectual or cultural developments, or was it inspired by the need to deal with the alleged new truths discovered by "science", and "history"?

I suspect that most conservative Christians, including most ID proponents, believe the latter. That is why they see skepticism about the reliability of the Biblical stories, and skepticism about the very notion of "interventionism", as indicative of a "caving in" to modern beliefs (not necessarily due to personal cowardice, but possibly (and perhaps more often) due to unwise and uncritical acceptance of modern beliefs). However, there is the case of George Hunter, who appears to believe that the theological change drove the other changes, rather than the other way around. I wonder if, in an odd way, though not for the same motives, you don't agree more with Hunter's analysis than with that of most other ID proponents. I wonder if you don't agree with Hunter that the theological motive, not the accommodationist motive, is the primary motivation behind modern naturalism and modern Biblical studies and modern evolutionary theory, and I wonder if the main difference between yourself and Hunter is that you approve of, while he disapproves of, that change in theology. I am just speculating, of course, but if I have hit on anything useful in saying this, I would be glad to hear your response.



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Received on Wed Apr 22 10:09:32 2009

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