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

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Sun Apr 26 2009 - 13:47:01 EDT

Gregory -

Some of your comments illustrate why I'm hesitant to reply to you even when you're being fairly courteous. You just don't listen. I've said that I'm not committed to the language of "methodological naturaliam" or "theistic evolution," not that I don't endorse the principle usually known as MN as a rule for doing science or that I don't think life has developed through an evolutionary process in which God is creatively active. I have said that in practice MN amounts to the statement that God is not to be made an element of scientific explanation and that "evolutionary creationism" is in some ways a better term than TE. I have never said that I was abandoning either term, much less that I have abandoned them & then tried to sneak them in again by the back door. This is not the 1st time you have suggested something of that sort & not the first time I've corrected you. Please stop.

& yes, "Don't invoke God as a scientific explanation" is a negative statement. So what? The basic principle of relativity, "Don't express the laws of physics in a way that picks out any special reference frame" is also negative. (I did not, however, say "Don't invoke the supernatural." You go on & on about my use of words involving "nature," "natural," etc. & then when I say "OK, I'll express myself in other language" you try to drag the "nature" complex back into the conversation. Do you just not remember what you've said? Or do you not understand that the same concept can sometimes be expressed with alternate wording?)

As to other points:

In your 1st paragraph you're trying to do the same thing for which I criticized Cameron, treating theological criticisms of ID in broad generalities rather than specifics.
Deal with the criticisms themselves or drop the subject.

You're right that in neither of the articles I referenced did I deal with the work of the Spirit in the world. Perhaps you'll recall that I've noted previously here that that is a common failing of western theology - though I am hardly the only western theologian to recognize it. One can't talk about everything in a short article and I'm not sure in what regard either of those articles is seriously defective because of this lack. In any case I have talked about the work of the Spirit in other places - pp.111-112 & 119-120 in The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross, the paper "The Third Article in the Science-Theology Dialogue" at , and the short piece on the inspiration of scripture, , to which I've referred before.

Of course "naturalism" can have anti-theistic effects - metaphysical or ontological naturalism. Everybody knows that. It's Johnson & his followers who try to ignore the distinction between that & what's usually called methodological naturalism.

The phrase Bonhoeffer borrowed from Grotius is Etsi deus non daretur, not etsi spiritus santctus non daretur, but it does of course refer to the work of the Spirit as well as of the Father & Son. You might look at Ernie Simmons' article on kenotic pneumatology to which I referred (n.31 of Ch.8 in The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross.)

The notion that Lutheran theology is "highly rationalist" has some truth if you're thinking of the period of the "Lutheran Orthodoxy" of the 17th & early 18th century & some later repristinations of it but is not true of most Lutheran theology today and is certainly not true of Luther.

The fact that I quote a statement by someone like Bonhoeffer with general approval doesn't mean that I adopt it as a first order principle for all theology. Nevertheless I will say that until someone has really tried to absorb what he said about the weakness of God (the one who told Paul that "strength is made perfect in weakness"), I don't want to hear what that person has to say about strength or courage. It's like the all-to-common attempt to make an end run around Good Friday to get to Easter.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gregory Arago
  To: Cameron Wybrow ; ; George Murphy
  Sent: Sunday, April 26, 2009 7:24 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List Relations

        Hi George,

        Indeed, you have to decline Cameron's offer as a result of your profession; you are a theologian and it is your job to question peoples' theologies. It seems to me that the point Cameron is making is that a balance needs to be found. It is quite obvious in many cases that TE-theology is messy, and for TEists to charge IDists of this same thing (when they do) is hypocritical.

        You are not 'stuck on TE,' as you said on this list, but still you likely recognize this given your training and experiences. Thus, you have the luxury of speaking to the 'science' - particulary the physics, but not to the biology, ecology, ethnology or psychology, for example - and also to the theological dimensions involved. This should indeed be helpful for both TEists and IDists, between whom you could strike a kind of balance.

        Just re-reading the shorter article of yours that you published here (, I find a few things to comment on.

        First, there is no mention of the Holy Spirit or even the word 'spirit' anywhere in your article. Some might view this as not very inspiring.

        Second, you say "methodological naturalism is appropriate for natural science." But just a few days ago on this list you wrote that you were 'not stuck on MN.' Have your views changed since writing that article or are they just nuanced in a way that needs further elaboration and uncovering. Do you speak in exactly the same way as how you charge IDists; differing how you speak in different settings?

        Let's be honest George, when one reads your definition of MN, they are really reading 'anti-methodological supernaturalism' (AMS) and not 'methodological naturalism' (MN), since your definition is *entirely* a negative one.

        Nevertheless, let me add that I have no problem with 'scientific methods that deal only with nature' being "appropriate for natural science" - let's bound that meaning of 'natural science' and de-universalize it for the benefit of our humanity. But the main term at issue here is 'naturalism.' Nowhere in your article do you speak about how 'naturalism' could legitimately be interpreted as Johnson does, as being anti-theistic or as being supportive of atheistic ideas, as being damaging to a 'Christian culture'. Why not - do you deny this interpretation exists and has merits? So you leave your understanding of 'naturalism' concealed or fuzzy, since all IDists who are natural scientists could easily be called 'naturalists' too.

        Third, I find your focus on concealment and hiddeness quite mysterious. Indeed, that is perhaps exactly what it means in the Lutheran tradition - mysterious - in order to compensate for its highly rationalist approach to theology. In Vladimir Solovyev's 'A Short Story of the Anti-Christ' (or "Tale of the Anti-Christ") (1900) the three main heroes of the Christian Church are the RC Pope (Simone Barionini, who took the name Peter II), a Russian Orthodox Elder (starets, Elder John) and a German theologian (Ernst Pauli), the latter was "heading the evangelical members of the congress." Still I wonder why your tradition seems to conceal the Holy Spirit - etsi deus non daretur - when the Holy Spirit is supposedly given to us as our Counselor, thus an indivisible part of human existence.

        The second, longer article you cite doesn't contain the Holy Spirit or the word 'spirit' either.

        "He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us." - Bonhoeffer

        Surely it is not the *only* way he helps us, is it George? "Be strong and of good courage..."


        --- On Sun, 4/26/09, George Murphy <> wrote:

          From: George Murphy <>
          Subject: Re: [asa] Dowd, Miracles, and ID-TE/ASA-List Relations
          To: "Cameron Wybrow" <>,
          Received: Sunday, April 26, 2009, 3:12 AM

          Cameron -

          I respectfully decline the offer made in your closing paragraph.

          I am not going to offer any lengthy defense of my own theological position here except to say that I don't cross my fingers when I say the Nicene Creed in church.
          As far as adhering to "traditional" Christianity is concerned, one would of course have to ask what tradition you mean. I have no trouble with the heart of the catholic tradition, and with that of the Lutheran movement in particular. (& if there's any suspicion that I'm waffling by speaking of the heart of the Lutheran movement, I mean what Lutherans have always meant, the doctrine of justification as articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesie.) But the traditions you mention - "Thomism, Augustinianism, Lutheranism, Calvinism" - all took their final form well before anything like the modern scientific understanding of the world had developed. To adhere to any of those traditions stricto sensu requires that one's understanding of the world be frozen at the level it attained circa 1600 if not earlier. If I am to escape the wrath of the historical Luther, as you seem to think I need to do in order to be a real Lutheran, I have to believe in a young earth and 6 day creation just for a start. I refuse to blow my brains out in order to do that.

          It is not just a matter of the influence of science. Theology as fides quaerens intellectum is necessarily a dynamic affair. That does not mean that everything is up for grabs. But that the traditions to which you refer themselves are results of historical development is pretty clear.

          To return to science, however, I am not suggesting that science can dictate to theology. Science has theological significance only when placed within the context of God's historical revelation. (Again I refer to The Cosm,os in the Light of the Cross as my fullest treatment of this theme.) But in that context science can properly influence theology. The earth isn't 6000 years old, & while there is evidence within scripture itself that it doesn't demand a young earth chronology, it's disingenuous to pretend that we would have to the conclusion that the earth & universe are old without scientific investigation. As Pascal, that strict Augustinian, put it (in Pensées, the Provincial Letters [Random House, 1941], Eighteenth Letter) if the literal meaning of a biblical text disagrees with the certain evidence of our senses or reason, “we must interpret the Scripture, and seek out therein another sense agreeable to that sensible truth ... And as Scripture may be interpreted in different ways, whereas the testimony of the senses is uniform, we must in these matters adopt as the true interpretation of Scripture that view which corresponds with the faithful report of the senses."

          Now what about criticizing ID? The first thing to say about that is that when I criticize the theology of IDers, I do it with respect to issues related to ID. I do not question whether or not they believe in the sacramental real presence or their view of invocation of the saints (both of which are dealt with by the confessional statements of my tradition). It seems to me that that's the kind of thing you're suggest that IDers could legitimately do by questioning TEs about their views on miracles.

          Second, you seem to want a blanket moratorium on theological criticism of ID by TEs. Would it not be more appropriate to deal with the specific theological criticisms? One discussion of mine is . A briefer one is . The basis of my critique is Luther's theology of the cross.


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Received on Sun Apr 26 13:47:34 2009

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