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

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Tue May 05 2009 - 12:28:24 EDT

Hi Ted,
A very brief response.
From my research of DI Fellow's academic training (marked in degrees) as of July 2008:
Total Degrees of ID Fellows (by discipline):
Biology – 7, Chemistry – 2, Physics – 5 (2 Biophysics, Nuclear Physics, 1 Chemical Physics), Geology – 1, Mathematics/Statistics – 1, Philosophy – 10, Theology – 7, Government – 3, Communication - 2, English Literature – 2, History – 2, Engineering Science – 1, Law – 1, Astronomy – 1, Educational Psychology – 1, Medicine – 1, Science and Religion – 1, Modern European History – 1
To respond to your questions, I've read Ted Peters' article and also parts of Polkinghorne's "Belief in God in an Age of Science." Also, have read all of Barbour's "Religion in an Age of Science" and several works of Peacocke, whom I also met and spoke with about 'evolution's limits'. He failed when it came to psychology, in my opinion.
Let me add that I chose (carefully) the term 'mystical process-oriented liberalism' partly to avoid the very term that you used and re-used: 'process theology.' I've read enough to know the basic differences between process theology and TE. If you would wish to contend that TEists are not predominantly 'process-oriented' I think you would have a seriously difficult challenge on your hands.
You speak about TE as if "it does not limit its discussion to questions related to origins." Yet it would be helpful again, to balance the conversation, to admit how capable some IDists are on topics of 'processes' and how poorly TEists fare in this arena. I have seen TEists on ASA regularly botch the topic of 'origins,' instead to revert to a 'safe-haven' that blurs rather than clarifies (Phil's recent anti-Aristotlian view - 'there must have been a first' - he didn't see why) the conversation (thankfully Bill Powers hasn't let him off the hook).
Let me be clear Ted, that I am more opposed to 'process philosophy' than I am to 'process theology.' But I get the impression that most TEists haven't done much to distinguish these two things (perhaps due to a serious negligence of philosophy in North America?).

The point you make to Cameron is both a strong and a weak one imo. You mention scientists who have also studied theology. Sure, they should be held in high regard in any discussion about 'natural science and theology' (e.g. Russell, whose organisation actually specifies that it is specifically about *natural* science, unlike ASA). But when the conversation involves such things as 'meaning, purpose, value and teleology' then their 'natural science' training is almost worthless. That is, the four mentioned terms are part of human-social scientific understanding, but *not* part of natural scineces.
Here, Cameron's and also Dick's history is a suitable trump card for naturalistic thought.
Natural theology, bad and good indeed.

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

From: Ted Davis <>
Subject: Re: [asa] Re: natural theology, bad and good
To: "asa" <>, "George Murphy" <>, "Cameron Wybrow" <>,
Received: Tuesday, May 5, 2009, 1:46 AM


Neither Frederick Copleston nor Etienne Gilson was a theologian, whether
Protestant or otherwise. Both were historians of philosophy. They
certainly count as major modern thinkers, but not as theologians. For my
part, Greg, I have read some modern theologians who are not Protestants,
including John Haught, Hans Kung, Michael Heller, Alexei Nesteruk (Alexei is
not actually a theologian, but his work is pretty sophisticated
theologically), and Father Kallistos (Ware). I've also published an essay
about the science-religion writings of Michael Idvorsky Pupin, a Serbian
Orthodox physicist who wrote extensively about science & religion, from a
perspective that was both orthodox and subtly Orthodox, 80 years ago. He
wasn't a theologian, either, but a rare instance of a modern Orthodox
scientist who thought a lot about science & religion. I am not ignoring
those traditions.

I wasn't trying in this instance to "balance the field"
concerning theology
and ID/TE, Greg. My blanket generalization about "the shallowness of many
popular TE writers" was not supported by specific examples here, but that
doesn't alter the weight I would place on it: it's meant as a serious
criticism of popular TE, not as a throwaway line. It simply wasn't the
topic I wanted to address in this post so it was not supported. Yes, some
positions on the ASA list, and some books by ASA members, would certainly
fit my description. I didn't give specific titles, but nor did I name
in my comments about ID proponents and modern theology, either.

On some other points, Greg, when I said,
"The serious stuff about TE is done mostly by people with serious
theological educations", I am not referring to the popular versions of TE
that I have described as shallow. That should be obvious. You ask, are
there "some serious IDists with adequate knowledge of modern theology to
critique TEist's mystical process-oriented liberalism successfully?"

My answer: Some ID proponents (Dembski and Richards come to mind) have
seminary degrees, but I can't think of any who work in the specific field
theology. Can you? (Not a hostile challenge, simply an honest question
seeking information. I might be forgetting someone obvious. It's possible
that John Jefferson Davis counts, but I'm not actually sure about his views
on ID.) Nor do they write much about theology, as far as I can see.

In general, Greg, the serious TE literature (as vs popular literature) is
found in academic books and journals, not on web sites or in popular
magazines (though sometimes trade books and popular magazines will be used);
it's written by theologians or scientists with some theological training;
and, it does not limit its discussion to questions related to origins. For
all of these reasons, it tends not to be read by most people with a primary
interest in origins issues--including by many people with a casual interest
in TE.

Responding finally to your reference to those who can "critique
TEist's mystical process-oriented liberalism successfully," I would point out
first, that quite a bit of TE is not "process-oriented liberalism," but many
ID proponents would not realize that b/c they don't read enough serious TE to
see that; and, they don't really know what process theism is, to recognize
it when it's really present. Second, I would say that the best criticisms
of "mystical process-oriented liberalism" that I can think of are
written by
other TE adherents, who are not themselves process-oriented. For example,
Ted Peters' wonderful essay, "On Creating the Cosmos," in R.J.
Russell et
al., ed., "Physics, Philosophy, and Theology." Or,
Polkinghorne's comments
on process theism in "Belief in God in an Age of Science," or
"The Faith of
a Physicist" (on p. 68 of the latter, he says, "To put it bluntly,
the God
of process theology does not seem to be the God who raised Jesus from the
dead.") Or, Bob Russell's critique in "Cosmology from Alpha to
where he explicitly contrasts his position with those of Barbour and

Have you read any of these works I just named, Greg?

And, can you name a genuine theologian who is identified with the ID



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Received on Tue, 5 May 2009 09:28:24 -0700 (PDT)

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