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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sat Apr 25 2009 - 11:09:15 EDT

Ted says that it's unfair of me to ask people on the ASA list to talk more
openly about their views on miracles unless I haul up before court, as it
were, some famous ID people and interrogate them on the same questions,
right here on the ASA list, for all to see. Well, I don't have subpoena
powers over them, so I can't do that, as Ted knows. But I see his point,
and I'll try to address his concern.

Ted, my raising of the issue of disbelief in miracles on the part of certain
TEs and certain ASA list members wasn't an end in itself, but was done to
make a larger point. Let me explain the larger point.

I don't have a private checklist of Biblical miracles that I think is
required in order to be an orthodox Christian, still less a sincere or a
good Christian. Nor do I think that mere credulity about miracles indicates
any great spiritual progress of any kind. I have met people who have
trouble believing in any miracles at all, who appear to me to be more
Christlike in their thoughts, attitudes and behaviour, than many
ultra-fundamentalists who take every word of the Bible literally. And my
personal belief is that ultimately God is more interested in having us
become like Christ than he is in making sure that we believe certain
historical propositions. If that makes me a heretic or an infidel, well, I'll
have to live with the label.

I have raised the issue of miracles as a sort of balancing strategy, a
retort against TEs, to level the playing field somewhat. TEs, as far as I
can see, are constantly saying or implying that ID-Christians hold to a
theology that is unorthodox or heretical or bad or wrong. They charge
ID-Christians with improperly trying to investigate the hidden nature of
God, with having an inadequate or incorrect theodicy (account of evil and
suffering), with having a false account of divine action, with trying to
make faith unnecessary by trying to prove the existence of God through
reason, etc. Both Collins and Miller (Miller more savagely) have put down
ID not only as science but *as theology* in their writings. George Murphy
(whom I like and respect in many ways) has said some caustic things about ID
as theology. So have several other people here.

Now I have nothing against any Christian criticizing the theology of any
other Christian. That's fair game. But the assumption underlying all the
TE criticisms of ID is that there is a "correct" Christian theology, that
TEs possess it, and that ID people have strayed from it. A naturally
curious person such as myself is therefore led to inquire into the nature of
this "correct" theology which is apparently possessed by the TEs and the TEs
alone. And I naively assume that when this "correct" theology is examined,
it will look like the various traditional historical theologies of
Christendom: Thomism, Augustinianism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc. But
when I look at the statements made here and elsewhere by TEs, what do I
find? Doubts about large numbers of Biblical miracles, doubts about the
theological truth of certain very clear Biblical statements (for example,
the statement that God creates evil, and passages indicating that God
sometimes overrides human free will), vagueness about God's Providence,
speculations that God may not have foreknowledge, and many other departures
from the theology believed by Aquinas, Augustine, Luther and Calvin, and
found in the various Confessions of the major Churches. Also, I find an
apparently wholehearted acceptance of modern historical-critical approaches
to the Bible, which pre-modern Christian theologians would in many respects
have found damnable. Overall, I find a theology which seems to owe as much
to the Enlightenment as it does to the Bible and the classical Christian
tradition. In other words, I find many TE interpretations of Christianity
that would be called, in various quarters, "liberal", "unorthodox",
"non-traditional", "heretical", etc.

Now I want to be clear that I am not rendering judgement on TEs for being
liberal, heretical, etc. I think that people should be as heretical as, in
their judgement, truth itself requires them to be. I think that truth is
more important than orthodoxy. However, it is a bit cheeky, to say the
least, for those TEs who themselves hold heretical views - some of which
would have seen them burned in Geneva or stoned in ancient Israel - to
attack ID proponents for an inadequate Christian theology. The fact is, and
I think Ted has already agreed to this, or would agree to this, that if we
are looking for "orthodoxy" and "traditional belief", we will find that
ID-Christians frequently possess it to a greater extent than TE-Christians.
This is not to say that ID-Christians are all fully orthodox or fully
traditional, or accept all Biblical miracle stories literally, or anything
of the sort. But I would wager a small sum that there is less of a tendency
to doubt Biblical statements, and less of a tendency to judge Biblical
statements in terms of extra-Biblical criteria, and more of a tendency
toward strict adherence to the various Confessions, etc., among
ID-Christians than among TE-Christians. So the question arises whether
TE-Christians are in any position to lecture ID-Christians on the inadequacy
of their Christian theology.

Thus, my foray into this question of miracles has been to expose what seems
to be a certain hypocrisy coming from some (and notice I've said "some", not
"all") TE proponents, whether here on this list or elsewhere. It is
hypocrisy to pretend to be greatly concerned that ID people are veering away
from Christian orthodoxy (the horror!), when one lives a considerable
distance from historical Christian orthodoxy oneself. The Biblical saying
about the mote and the beam comes to mind.

For my part, I would be willing to drop the whole discussion of miracles and
TE proponents immediately if all TEs would make the following promise: "I
will never again criticize an ID-Christian for holding an inadequate
Christian theology." Or, at the very least: "I will never again criticize
an ID-Christian for holding an inadequate Christian theology, unless I am
willing to face a rebuttal of the charge, and in that rebuttal, submit my
own theology to the measuring-stick of traditional Christianity."


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>; "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 1:56 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List Relations

> Cameron,
> 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
> out:
> (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
> employer).
> 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.
> Ted
> 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 Sat Apr 25 11:10:30 2009

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