Re: [asa] Re: natural theology, bad and good

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Mon May 04 2009 - 15:24:44 EDT


A very valuable post which I largely agree with.

We need both the old and the new theology and I am flipping between Calvin
Luther and the Fathers and more modern theologians and don't see why not.

Don't be too hard on Peacocke though - even though we never agreed . For a
smile this more I joined a country road and walking down the road were a
peacock and peahen. If I see the owner I will ask if it is called Arthur.
But don't peacocks make a racket when they squawk. (Those who don't know, I
liked Arthur Peacocke very much and my uncle assisted him in the 50s when he
began his science and religion.)

----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: "asa" <>; "George Murphy" <>; "Cameron
Wybrow" <>
Sent: Monday, May 04, 2009 6:43 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Re: natural theology, bad and good

I am finding this exchange between Cameron and George very interesting!

For my part, I want to comment on one of Cameron's statements, as follows:

“I am for the most part uninterested in any theology written after about
1600-1700 anyway, except to the extent that it helps to revive and explain
for modern audiences the pre-modern tradition of theological thought.”

Wow--this resonates very much with what I found, when I engaged a large
group of ID proponents concerning TE and ID a few years ago. Most of those
folks were from the sciences or engineering--or, were hangers on without
science backgrounds. Nearly all, at least nearly all of those who said
anything directly to the point, said that they did not really read any
modern theology; some of them added that modern theology was apostate,
others that it had nothing of interest for them.

Consequently, it was all but impossible for most of those folks to
understand what I was saying, relative to talking about someone like
Polkinghorne or Russell--the kind of serious TE thinker who *does*
understand the issues in a deep way, unlike most TE scientists who write
pretty casually and shallowly about their theological views (I won't fill in
any names here, but it would be very easy to do so using only well known
authors). The classical theology with which many IDs have some familiarity
is much deeper, frankly, than most of the theological thinking of most TE
authors: ID proponents seem to recognize this, and it doesn't earn those TE
thinkers any bonus points in their accounting.

There are several consequences of these two facts -- by which I mean the
shallowness of many popular TE writers and the ignorance of most ID
proponents when it comes to modern theology. Some are these.

(1) It's pretty easy for many ID adherents to dismiss TE as a serious option
for the serious Christian, far too easy than it should be. The issues
engaged by Polk, Russell, and other orthodox TEs (here I mean "orthodox" in
terms of their christology and in terms of their sincere affirmation of
traditional creeds such as the Nicene Creed, not necessarily their
understandings on other specific points of doctrine though in many cases
those would also be orthodox) are very serious, and much more wide ranging
than the rather narrow set of issues engaged by ID proponents. For example,
I don't see ID saying anything at all about christology, or even about
divine action in any explicit way (though I do think that ID proponents
probably have strong views about divine action that lay submerged under
their "big tent."); by contrast, a small group of important TE advocates --
scientists, theologians, and philosophers -- spent the better part of a
decade in deep thought about divine ac!

 tion, just when the ID movement was getting off the ground, and yet I don't
see where ID proponents have paid much attention to this even though divine
action is (as I said) just below the surface of their tent.

(2) The serious stuff about TE is done mostly by people with serious
theological educations; it is not done by those with educations only in
science. In rare cases it is done by folks without theological training,
but at least those folks have read some modern theology and understand the
larger picture into which TE fits. But those ID proponents who do not read
any modern theology for themselves (as vs getting opinions about it, second
hand, from authors who have or even from authors who haven't) are ill
equipped to form adequate judgements about what they hear about the serious
TE. It's easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. A pertinent example: one
of the questions I was asked by ID proponents, quite often, is whether
Polkinghorne is a process theologian. That's what the Brits like to call a
"howler," an error so basic that it's just funny, and yet it was asked
frequently and sincerely. Anyone with a decent working knowledge of Polk
and process theism would never ask!

  that question, and yet Polk's views and those of process theists are among
the most important ideas concerning science and theology that I could point

(3) The fact that serious TE views are often articulated within a larger
context -- a context that is not limited to conversations about design, or
even origins, but a context that includes theodicy, christology,
eschatology, divine action, and even world religions --means that those
folks who don't read any modern theology are going to be incapable of
evaluating fairly and accurately what is being said, in its context.
Consequently, the wrong conclusions will often be stated, and in such a way
to appear authoritative to others when in fact they are largely formed in
ignorance. Thus, for example it is easy to offer glib criticisms of a
kenotic view of the doctrine of creation, or of the quantum view of divine
action, when in fact both of those views are probably fully consistent with
orthodox theism (esp the former with its direct biblical base and its
emphasis on the Incarnation) and neither ought to be dismissed as being
motivated by a desire to fit in with secular reaso!


(4) It becomes difficult for many ID proponents to write discerningly about
fundamental differences that exist among various forms of TE--because those
forms usually involve differences related to the theology, not to the
science. It becomes easy to dismiss all forms of TE as unorthodox.

(5) ID doesn't suffer from this problem, obviously, since ID (as ID)
scrupulously avoids both the "G-word" and the "t-word." I don't mean that
ID is not also subject to being badly distorted and misunderstood--that
happens all the time, and sometimes probably with deliberate intent on the
part of a given author. Rather, I mean that serious ID as ID is not usually
being carried out by a group of scholars whose body of work is being
completely ignored by those who write about it. Many IDs are scientists,
and scientists read modern science all the time; whereas serious TE is
carried out mainly by theologians, and many critics of TE don't read modern
theology at all.


Now, to take this in another direction, I note an irony in Cameron's
statement, when compared with the attitudes toward modernity of both Peter
Atkins ( and the late Arthur
Peacocke. Though they obviously did not share the same view of religion,
Atkins and Peacocke did share a similar, very low view of theological
writing and other writing about science & religion prior to the 20th
century. For the most part, they held that modernity began around 1900 --
certainly not until after Darwin -- and that what had been done prior to
that point was just irrelevant to the modern conversation about science and
religion. They were both quite badly mistaken, obviously, but I want to
point out that their view is perhaps the polar opposite of Cameron's
situation. It's impossible IMO to understand someone like Polk or Russell
without looking both backwards and forwards from 1900, let alone 1600. P
considers himself to be a "consonantist," who,!

  "while wishing to ensure that theological understanding is consistent with
what science tells us about the structure and history of the physical world,
will insist that theology is as entitled as science to retain those
categories which its experience has demanded that it shall use, however
counterintuitive they may be. Jesus Christ will continue to be understood
in the incarnational terms discussed [in an earlier chapter of the book from
which I am quoting]..." As for the relevance of theological tradition,
Cameron, P implies that Peacocke and others have much to learn from
classical theologians, whereas scientists have quite little to learn from
Newton. "Religious understanding, however, does not increase with time in
that linear kind of way. The theologians of the past century still convey
to us insights that are uniquely their own. The conversation with the
Fathers, with Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, will never come to an end."

To the extent that this captures your own view, Cameron, as I think it
might, we share this with Polkinghorne. But, I do urge you to take a more
positive view of theology since 1600, let alone 1900. There's more there,
than you may realize.


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Received on Mon May 4 15:26:23 2009

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