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

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Wed Apr 22 2009 - 13:56:57 EDT


I just want to assure you that I am being fully honest and (IMO) fair, with
my call for you to ask the same questions about biblical miracles to ID
advocates, before we get into the more theoretical issues related to this.
I think that many ID advocates would say that some biblical events,
traditionally called miracles, can actually be accounted for without
invoking divine "intervention." I hesitate to guess which ones, but I would
be awfully surprised if there aren't at least some in that category that
people will admit to questioning. I suspect that for ID proponents, no less
than for other Christians, the specific answers given will vary widely from
individual to individual.

My concern here is obvious, but I'll spell it out anyway: the pot might be
calling the kettle black. How many ID advocates believe that no "natural"
explanation can be offered for any biblical miracles? How many ID advocates
are not fully convinced that every single miracle story in the Bible refers
to something that actually happened, exactly as described in the Bible?
There are a lot of such stories, and some of them really do strike many
thoughtful conservative Christians as pretty fishy, esp Jonah (pun intended)
or Joshua's long day (if taken literally as involving the real motion of the
earth or the sun) or even the second story of Jesus feeding the multitude.
I emphasize here the language I chose: "not fully convinced." This language
is not intended to be a dodge (as in "spineless" Christian scientists who
really don't believe the Bible at all), but only to convey the actual
situation: an absence of certainty or great likelihood on the part of an
individual believer concerning the traditional interpretation of a given
Biblical story.

There is however a larger issue behind your questions (I believe), an issue
that you did not directly raise that I would like to address now, despite my
call for you to give some hard evidence on the "other side" (language I use
advisedly, since the dichotomy between ID and TE is not hard and fast and
b/c numerous ASA members lie on both sides of that blurry boundary). The
issue I have in mind is that of the proverbial slippery slope, as it relates
to evolution, miracles, God, and belief in the Bible. I believe that is the
elephant in this particular room, and I'll show it to everyone by using this
cartoon, which William Jennings Bryan (whose attitudes toward both
"Darwinism" and theistic evolution were virtually indistinguishable from
those of Phil Johnson today) conceived and cartoonist E.J. Pace carried

(Incidentally, the information about the date of this cartoon on the web
site is not accurate. It is not found in the collection, "Christian
Cartoons," and the letter in which Bryan first mentioned the idea of this
image was written in 1924, the same year in which the cartoon was first
published. Pace also drew another cartoon that fully embodies the
criticisms that ID advocates make about MN, but it's not available on the
web. I recently published an essay about Pace's cartoons that can be sent
to individual inquirers.)

My commentary, relative to this thread, is as follows, Cameron. Assuming
your description is accurate (and I think it may be), many ID proponents
share Bryan's fear that questioning the literalness of certain biblical
stories will lead inevitably to atheism, or at least to agnosticism or else
to a form of liberal Christianity (if one could even call it Christianity)
that does not uphold the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I also suspect that
those same folks share Bryan' view, mentioned by Bryan explicitly as the
thinking behind this cartoon, that "evolution" is "the cause of modernism
and the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the Bible," to quote
the letter he wrote to the editor of the Sunday School Times (Pace's

For me as an historian of religion and science, it's important to point out
that in Bryan's day there really did appear to be "no stopping place," as he
put it, from the top to the bottom, despite his own use of the word "step"
and Pace's use of steps in the visual image. There were in Bryan's day no
leading scientists I can think of, who stopped anywhere above the very
liberal type of religious belief I just mentioned; there was no one out
there on the landscape like John Polkinghorne, Owen Gingerich, Ian
Hutchinson, Francis Collins, Brian Heap, Bill Phillips, George Ellis, ...
I'm going to stop typing, but my brain keeps giving me names.

The landscape today is different, in other words, but the YECs and Mr
Dawkins don't want you to believe that it is. Some ID proponents have
acknowledged this point to me privately, but publicly there seems to be
considerable reluctance to admit its significance. I'll leave that to one
side for now. My main point remains: the conversations you've had with ID
proponents appear to have been influenced substantially by the concerns
raised here. To which I would say two things. First, there might well be
stopping places, and some of them might be occupied by pretty serious people
who are not the kinds of "modernists" that Bryan repudiated and that Johnson
and O'Leary seem to think all TEs really are, in their hearts of hearts.
Second, my suspicion is that there are more ID proponents standing on some
of those steps than you may presently realize, but we're likely to know that
reliably only if they speak up. Alas, as Johnson said early in the history
of ID, the first thing we have to do is to get the Bible out of the
conversation. You can do the math, Cameron.


ps. I'm serious about the "intervention" conversation. I am not at all
reluctant to talk about that term and why it's scrupulously avoided by some
TEs, but I won't talk about that until we have some first-person answers to
your questions about the Bible from some ID advocates.

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Received on Wed Apr 22 14:00:05 2009

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