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

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Mon Apr 27 2009 - 14:35:40 EDT

I very much appreciate Cameron's understanding of my point (below), and I
understand now more fully why he wanted some regulars on this list to answer
his questions about biblical miracles.

Now that I understand the reasons behind his request, I'm willing to engage
more fully some of the issues he has raised about miracles and
"intervention." First, however, let me state yet again my belief that quite
a few ID proponents would probably take a similar "naturalistic" approach to
certain biblical stories that were traditionally seen as genuine miracles.
I suspect this for several reasons, including my personal knowledge of the
beliefs of some ID proponents whom I will not identify here. Another reason
is the fact (IMO) that many ID proponents take a classical "concordist"
approach to science and the Bible, the type of approach often called
"progressive creation," the term that Bernard Ramm used for his own type of
concordism in his influential 1954 book, "The Christian View of Science and
Scripture." (The term has actually been in use since at least 1839, but I
won't take this digression further here.) Some ID proponents would probably
reject "concordism" in favor of a YEC view (and YECs do typically reject
concordism), and others probably prefer something closer to a
complementarity or two-realms view, despite the heat that those views have
received from some ID proponents. The majority, however, probably like
"concordism." I've mentioned this as a strong suspicion in print, and I'm
99.9% convinced that it is true. It's hard to be 100% sure when most ID
proponents want to keep the Bible to one side, but when you've read as many
concordists as I have read, from the mid-19th century right down to 2009,
you can develop instincts about tone and turn of phrase that can be pretty
reliable in judging such matters. Cameron, you probably won't like my
making this a hard and fast assumption, but unless/until I see a lot of ID
proponents stating explicitly that they are or are not concordists of the
OEC variety, I will assume they are.

Bill Dembski certainly is, no doubt about that. His forthcoming book, "The
End of Christianity," is all the evidence anyone will need. In that book,
he goes back to the concordists of the mid-19th century, esp to Edward
Hitchcock (who discusses the relevant issue in a passage that's been on my
web site for years), to draw on their insights concerning death before the
fall and to argue for an OEC understanding of that. I'm no less sure that
Steve Meyer holds such a view, and almost certain that Phil Johnson does.
I'll stop indicating individual proponents here and get back to my main

As I say, ID proponents tend to favor "concordist" readings of the Bible,
and it's routine in the history of concordism to find people looking for
naturalistic interpretations of some biblical miracles. Perhaps the most
frequently cited instance is Joshua's long day: did the earth cease rotating
on its axis for a short while, with God providing virtual seat belts for
everyone? or, was it somehow something involving unusual effects of
atmospheric refraction? or, was it even just a poetical passage about
Joshua's need for relief from the noonday heat? or, something else?

Let me quote Ramm -- who was unquestionably an OEC, not a TE, and who
probably would have liked ID if he'd lived to see it -- on this issue.
Concerning the view that what took place involved celestial motions, he
wrote, "Serious objections have been brought against this theory since we
have greatly increased our knowledge of physics and astronomy. The
disturbances on the earth and the solar system would have been enormous.
That God could do it and keep the solar system and universe together will
not be debated by those who admit the omnipotence of God. But that God
would do it, and that the text demands it, are yet further problems that a
reference to the sheer omnipotence of God does not settle. Most students of
this problem feel that the record does not call for a miracle of such
gigantic proportions."

As will shortly be evident when his book comes out, Dembski takes virtually
the same approach to the traditional miracle of the creation of the world in
six literal days a few thousand years ago--a far more important story,
theologically and biblically, than the long day of Joshua. He doesn't
accept that God actually did perform a miracle of such gigantic proportions,
considering what we now know about geology and astronomy. Those are my
words -- it would be wrong for me to quote a book that isn't yet published
-- but that's the approach he takes in that part of the book.

This should be enough (in the absence of first hand testimony from various
ID proponents) to show that TEs are not the only people who look for
naturalistic explanations of certain biblical stories that were
traditionally taken literally as genuine miracles. If Cameron can refute
this claim with hard evidence, I would be highly interested to see it! But,
as I say, his original request sounded to me like he was about to have the
pot call the kettle black...

Moving on now, I agree with Cameron that TEs often imply 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

I would include some of the theological comments that Francisco Ayala (a
former Roman Catholic priest, though frankly it's pretty hard to tell that
he knows much theology) makes in his essay in the Dembski/Ruse collection,
"Debating Design."

I dissent in general, Cameron, from most theological criticisms of ID that
I do not make myself. I am not impressed by most of what passes for
theological erudition among adherents of TE at the popular level, nor am I
impressed even by some of what is said by more theologically sophisticated
people who offer opinions on this. Some theological criticisms I do agree
with, but I won't get into that here; some of my opinions can be dredged up
in the list archives, others are made in publications. Generally, I would
say, most of what is said against ID theologically is either inaccurate,
unfair, or just silly -- the same thing I would say about what I often hear
concerning Polkinghorne's views by many who haven't really read very
carefully most of his writings (in plenty of cases, they haven't even read
one single book by him -- just enough to have an opinion, and one that is
entirely off base).

There is for example the popular myth -- popular among theologians as well
as among others -- that ID just another example of a "god of the gaps"
theology. It is not any such thing. ID adherents typically believe, as
strongly as TEs or any other traditional Christians, that God acts always in
all parts of the universe -- the theology that Newton or Boyle or Calvin
held. Theologically, there are no "gaps" that God fills with divine action,
for God is acting all of the time. It lacks discernment to say otherwise.
However -- and this is a big however -- I think one can claim that many ID
proponents employ a GG strategy (not the same thing as a GG theology),
according to which (they would say) if we can't find *scientific* evidence
that God has acted sometimes in ways that we cannot explain adequately with
naturalistic science, then our picture of the world collapses into atheism.
Whether or not this is directly stated by a given person, it does seem to be
the underlying tone of so many things that are said by individuals such as
Johnson, Dembski, and Moreland. If we could (in other words) provide an
exhaustive, convincing explanation of the history of nature, without
reference to "design," that is (according to Dembski's own definition of
"specific complexity" and his explanatory filter) without locating some
specific explanatory "gaps" in that explanation, then we might as well say
that Dawkins is right and God is a delusion. (Such a god, in Phil Johnson's
view, is equivalent to Santa Claus -- and we all know there is no Santa
Claus.) Please forgive me, Cameron, if I see a real *theological* problem
with such a strategy, which Newton seems to have taken on one or two
occasions also.

At the same time, it is entirely appropriate for ID proponents to criticize
those TEs who hold (or seem to hold) an a priori position that God does not
work miracles for the sake of nature -- I leave aside those who hold a
priori that God doesn't work miracles at all, esp those who hold (as process
theists hold) that God simply *cannot* act to coerce nature, that God just
does not have the power. While on route to becoming a process theist, my
good friend (as he still is) Howard Van Till held a view like this, a view
that I never found particularly attractive and that I sometimes directly
opposed. See the lengthy exchange that Howard and I had about divine
omnipotence and the contingency of nature a few years ago, in the archives
of this list.

My own view on this is halfway in between those of Newton and Leibniz,
Cameron. You must know their views very well, better probably than almost
anyone in the ASA or among the ID movement. Newton argued that divine
governance of the world *had* to be evident from natural history, whereas
Leibniz argued that God *must not* do miracles in natural history, but only
in salvation history. (Leibniz of course also held that God was obliged to
make the best of all possible worlds, a view that Boyle and Newton both
rejected out of hand and quite properly so.) I take an intermediate course:
God acts always in any way God wishes, whether or not we can comprehend it;
on the other hand, I also think that scientific evidence related to the
history of nature is sufficient to show that "miracles" need not be invoked
to account very adequately for huge amounts of the evidence that we have
available now, and that it's usually very bad idea to go looking for places
where the science isn't as strong, in order to proclaim that we have found
some phenomena of "irreducible complexity" that we can only "explain" fully
by invoking "design" *instead of, not alongside of, naturalistic causes*.
In other words, Cameron, I think for myself -- not to imply that you or
anyone else here doesn't do likewise.

There is one important area, however, in which I do think that TE could
prove to be theologically superior to ID, but I would never elevate this
into unwarranted claims that ID (on this point) is "unorthodox" or
"heretical." In return, I would expect ID proponents to treat the position
I am about to endorse in the same manner, as neither unorthodox (though it's
not traditional) or heretical (indeed it's highly biblical). I mean that
TEs, far more than IDs, seem to like a theology of creation that emphasis
divine kenosis, or self-emptying. This is something George Murphy has
pushed, more strongly than I would to be sure though I have learned about
this from George and some others and I owe him a significant debt for some
of his insights. My understanding (this information comes from a biblical
scholar I met in Auckland earlier this year) is that the idea of kenosis in
christology first arose among some Lutherans of the early 17th century, but
it did not influence theology of creation until quite recently--hence an
early modern idea with clear biblical roots has been seen (by some) as a
highly questionable theology of nature, once the transfer of theological
topic has been made. I do find it enormously helpful, myself, in dealing
with theodicy both in terms of human suffering (i.e., post-fall) but also in
terms of the "groaning of creation" prior to our appearance on the scene.
When one takes a christological, indeed incarnational, view of creation,
then suddenly things do like quite different: it's not quite such a surprise
that a god who submitted to crucifixion and refused to do miracles for Roman
officials would also act with some subtlety in creation. It's a short space
from "the crucified God" to Polkinghorne's statement that "the world is not
full of items stamped 'made by God' -- the Creator is more subtle than
that." Or, as Owen Gingerich put it once, "If God indeed speaks with a
still, small voice, we must be prepared for some subtlety of [divine]

Please note the tone of this confession, Cameron: I find such a theology
more persuasive, more consistent with my own theological reflection on our
experience of the Incarnate God than an alternative theology that puts more
emphasis on the limits of human knowledge (IMO) than on God's own
self-limitations relative to the creation. I make no ridiculous,
over-the-top claims about orthodoxy or unorthodoxy in any of this. The view
I hold was flatly called "unorthodox" or "heretical" right out of the gate,
by someone who has published three pro-ID books, in a private conversation
some years ago (you might be able to guess who, Cameron, but I won't say
here), but I do not think that the individual in question speaks for the
mainstream of the ID movement. However, quite a few IDs probably do believe
that some TEs hold heretical, or at least indefensible, interpretations of
Romans 1 and some other texts on natural theology. But I'll leave that for
another time and place. I've said enough now to move this along. I will
try not to say more for at least several days.


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Received on Mon Apr 27 14:37:04 2009

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