[asa] natural theology, bad and good

From: David Campbell <pleuronaia@gmail.com>
Date: Wed May 06 2009 - 16:05:54 EDT

I see standard popular YEC and ID as not giving natural theology
enough of a place in two ways and giving it too much in another. YEC,
ID, and TE all are broad and not always exclusive categories, so not
all advocates of a particular view fall into the particular problems.
For that matter, popular advocates often speak more carefully or more
carelessly at different points and so can have statements going both

First, YEC and ID tend to fall for the claim, also promoted by
"scientific" atheism, that scientific evidence is the only good
evidence. This unduly excludes awe, beauty, amazement, conscience,
etc. as a basis for theological insights, things more in line with the
arguments that the Bible makes from the physical world than the claim
that there are scientifically inexplicable features. This also leads
to claims that something is scientific when it isn't. ID science
arguments, in particular, tend to be along the lines of "here's
something absolutely amazing so it can't be accounted for by natural
laws so we detect 'design'." The "so it can't be accounted for by
natural laws" part generally ranges from unprovable to wrong, but it
also introduces unnecessary problems. Biblical examples tend instead
towards "here's something amazing. Praise God!" Science provides us
with plenty of additional examples of amazing things, but doesn't tell
us if they are amazing.

Secondly, YEC and gap-type ID, while claiming to discover things in
nature, actually tend to be rather uncritical attempts to find
anything that can possibly be represented as supporting an
already-held theological view of how nature ought to appear. These do
not allow the physical evidence to speak for itself; in fact, the
actual physical evidence tends to be suppressed as much as possible
because it doesn't conform to what they want to find.

On the other hand, too much weight is given to natural theology in
that the claimed scientific evidence is marketed as entailing
Christianity or whatever religion is being promoted. The
"Christianity" that one can get from the physical world is, as George
has been emphasizing, not Christian, for it does not have Christ.
Part of this problem reflects the DI strategy of claiming to be
disinterested scientists who just happened to find "design" in the
course of research. Thus, those opposing ID in the schools generally
wrongly assert that it specifically promotes Christianity, while those
who want it in the schools generally wrongly think that it
specifically promotes Christianity. (This is also entangled in the
regrettable legal situation in the U.S. with regard to suppression of
religion in public schools). At worst, ID or YEC degenerate into
legalistic false gospels in which one is saved from evolutionism to
creationism by holding the party line on the time and means of
creation. Of course, Christless "Christianity" is also popular among
heterodox advocates of evolution (Dowd, strict process views, etc.)

A question particularly for George but possibly someone else knows as
well-I just encountered an out of context quote from Barth within a
quote from some later writer where Barth was saying that God may speak
to us through all sorts of things (examples including a concerto and
the death of a dog). From George's citations of Barth on natural
theology, I would expect that Barth would go on to say that these
putative insights have to be assessed against more fixed theological
standards, but Barth was not quoted on that, somewhat leaving the
impression that Barth was endorsing a relatively indiscriminate
natural theology. Any insights on the context? My guess is that Barth
simply didn't make the point succinctly in the immediate passage.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Wed May 6 16:08:38 2009

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