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

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Mon May 04 2009 - 16:49:46 EDT

Hi Ted,
Thanks for this post. Let me ask for a bit of even-handedness on your part, though, instead of the usual ID bashing. I am not an IDist, as you know, and certainly agree that Cameron gave away a LOT in his position by saying he was in effect 'stuck' in the 17th or 18th century in terms of his theology. Yet, his references to Gilson and Copleston went unremarked - it is as if there is some kind of bias that favours Protestant Christians as opposed to Orthodox or Catholic Christians in your response.
You wrote:
"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." (my bolding)
But then your points (1) to (5) were all about criticisms of ID lacking any contact with modern theology.
Would you likewise be willing to say something negative that results from or demonstrates "the shallowness of many popular TE writers" too? Or would this be too close to some positions held on the ASA list? Asking for (5) points related to TE's theological shallowness might be too much to ask, but a couple of points would help balance the playing field a bit.
For example, you write:
"The serious stuff about TE is done mostly by people with serious theological educations"
But how could this be true if you have charged them with 'shallowness'?
Or are you just distinguighing 'popular' from 'serious' here? If so, then perhaps the same could be true of your opponent's knowledge - there are some serious IDists with adequate knowledge of modern theology to critique TEist's mystical process-oriented liberalism successfully.

--- On Mon, 5/4/09, Ted Davis <> wrote:

From: Ted Davis <>
Subject: Re: [asa] Re: natural theology, bad and good
To: "asa" <>, "George Murphy" <>, "Cameron Wybrow" <>
Received: Monday, May 4, 2009, 9:43 PM

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

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 toward.

(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


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 16:51:26 2009

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