Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Sat May 16 2009 - 23:22:59 EDT


You've given a good, strong, reasonable statement which I agree with at many points. I think this statement gives us some common ground. In particular, I agree with you that there is a distinction between heretical theology and poor theology, and I agree that much of what you say follows logically from that.

1. Your quotation from Vatican I is interesting. I didn't know that Rome had ever gone quite so far in that direction. And while I happen to agree with the statement, I don't see why Rome had to make it de fide. Was there perhaps some prevalent doctrine at the time of Vatican I, which the Church was combatting, so that it felt that a positive rather than a permissive statement was necessary? In any case, I thank you for pointing it out to me. Still, two points: (1) It doesn't say that the knowledge of God which is necessary for salvation can be known from the light of nature, which means that it doesn't gut the heart and soul of either Catholic or Protestant doctrine; (2) Assuming that one of the means for knowing of God's existence that it has in mind is the teleological argument, it's an example of a formal statement in favour of design detectability, but what I really had in mind was a formal statement demanding design *indetectability*, and I'm still unaware of any Creed, Confession, or denominational doctrine that *requires* the indetectability of design. So, while I have no objection to TEs who are not attracted theologically to the idea of design detection, I see no traditional basis for asserting that the notion is forbidden, heretical, false, perverse, etc. Rather, it seems to be a prevalent current taste among a certain group of theologians. And I grant to theologians their tastes, as long as they make no pretense that their tastes are required doctrines or that the opposite tastes are forbidden ones.

2. An open-ended question: Which error did Arius fall into, in your opinion, modalism or tritheism? I expect that he would deny that he fell into either. And if he did deny it, and cited Biblical verses and logical arguments to justify his position, who got to decide that his interpretation of those verses and his arguments were inadequate? Did every bishop get an equal vote, no matter how lousy a Biblical scholar he was, and no matter how lousy he was at metaphysical reasoning? Is that a way to decide Christian doctrine? What if Arius was the smartest guy in the room? Would you want the fate of Luther's theological position decided by a council consisting of Coxes and Chardins and Haughts? How can we be sure the Council made the right decision? By faith? Faith in what? In the decision of ecumenical councils? But all the Protestant confessions explicitly declare that ecumenical councils have no authority over against Scripture, so if Arius thinks he's got the Bible right, and the Council says differently, why should he submit? From a Protestant point of view, isn't he doing the right thing by saying: here I stand; I can do no other? Why is he less heroic, less noble than Luther for dissenting from the majority? Or, conversely, why is Rome wrong for condemning Luther as a heretic? Again, the question of the Archimedean point comes up. I don't have an answer to this question. But it seems to me that it's a more pressing question for Protestants than for Catholics, since they claim to have a single Archimedean point -- sola scriptura -- yet this Archimedean point has been unable to prevent them from splintering into 2,000 sects and denominations; whereas the Catholics, who have dual Archimedean points -- scripture plus tradition (which you might think, on first blush, would lead to more fragmentation, with the two authorities being pitted against one another) -- have done a much better job at keeping things together. Can we draw any inferences from this? Is "sola scriptura" essentially an unmaintainable doctrine? Is it time for Protestants to take it out and give it a decent burial?

3. On your last paragraph, the *essential* dispute between ID and TE is about the mechanism of evolution rather than the fact of evolution. (Though there are some ID proponents who have doubts about the fact as well.) And ID proponents often get a strong sense from TEs that TEs insist not only upon the fact of macroevolution but even upon the entire assembly of neo-Darwinian (and other) mechanisms proposed by evolutionary biologists -- all of which amount to chance, or a combination of chance and necessity, and all of which exclude intelligence -- not just miracles, but intelligence of any kind, immanent, front-loaded, etc. -- on principle. It is true that in some cases TEs (such as Russell, and Ted Davis) have actually allowed for the input of intelligence into the realm of chance and necessity, by speaking about the possibility of God acting indetectably under the cover of quantum indeterminacy (a possibility granted by Behe and Dembski). [I would include you in this group, because you have sometimes said similar things, though I am unsure, because you keep talking about God acting wholly "within the capacities of creatures" in a way that suggests to me that quantum intervention of that sort shouldn't be necessary for evolution to take place.] Nonetheless, I am not sure that the position of Ted and Russell is the position of all TEs. For example, I read the other day a note by Denis Lamoureux to a web site (I think Coyne's) absolutely denying that he ever appealed to any notion of "guidance" in the evolutionary process. That rules out Ted's and Russell's notion, which is a notion of extremely subtle, indetectable guidance. But in any case, even if *all* TEs adopted the "God acts secretly under the cover of quantum indeterminacy" route, what then? Either they believe that nature could have done the same thing by pure chance (popping up just the right mutations in the right sequence, by dumb luck) that God did by subtle intervention -- in which case God is redundant from an explanatory point of view, and can be scrapped, by Ockham's Razor; or they believe that it is very unlikely that nature could have done the same thing by pure chance, in which case they essentially agree with ID people. And if it's the latter, what is all the fighting about?


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: George Murphy
  To: Cameron Wybrow ; asa
  Sent: Saturday, May 16, 2009 5:45 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] an Archimedean point in theology? (was: natural theology, bad and good)

  Cameron -

  Several times you have said that I need to back off from the claim that mine is "the" only Christian theology of creation. I don't think I've ever said that. I would not even say that it is the only legitimate Christian theology of creation. & I won't even say that I've provided a full-fledged theology of creation worthy to be the appropriate locus in a systematic theology. What I will argue is that the general approach I suggest is better than a lot of theologies & in fact the best I know of. & it isn't just "mine." I would agree in particular with Jüngel's statement in God as the Mystery of the World:

  "Based on the word of the cross, which emphatically proclaims that the one who was raised from the dead is the Crucified One, we answer that the being of God is first revealed as creative being in the struggle with the annihilating nothingness of nothing. This means hermeneutically that we are not to expound the word of the cross on the basis of the biblical statements about the imperishability of God, which are directed toward God the Creator. Rather, conversely, we learn how to understand who God the Creator is on the basis of the biblical statements directed toward the Crucified One, which statements force us to think God in unity with perishability. A theology of the Crucified One does not abstract itself from creation - precisely the opposite, it establishes proper theological talk about God the Creator. But such a theology is not to be designed on the basis of a theology of creation."

  Theology fides quaerens intellectum, an attempt to understand in a coherent way what is believed. Different people do this in different ways so that there is not just one true theology. (Eph.4 speaks of "one faith" but not "one theology.") That variety of theologies can be seen even in the NT - the theology of James is not that of Paul in Romans. The church's dogmatic statements on matters like Trinity and Incarnation have generally not said "You have to understand things in exactly this way" but "Here are the boundaries you have to stay inside. With the Trinity the boundaries are, roughly speaking, that you have to avoid both modalism and tritheism. But within those boundaries there's room for different kinds of theologizing - so we speak of "Augustine's - or the Cappadocians' - or Barth's &c - doctrine of the Trinity." They're all within the boundaries but that doesn't mean that they're all equally good.

  With creation, two of the boundaries are that the universe is the good creation of God (hence avoid Manicheaniam, Gnosticism) but it isn't God (hence avoid emanationism & pantheism). YEC, OEC & ID, at least in their normal forms, stay within those boundaries so cannot be said to be heretical. But theologies expressing those views have deficiencies of varying degrees of seriousness. (& of course there would be more than one YEC or ID theology.) In particular -

  1) Conflict with the way the world really is would be one that is especially glaring for YEC.

  2) The fact that those views have no intrinsic connection with Christ is another problem even if one doesn't take the fully christological & cruciform approach for which I argue. (Of course a YEC can say that Christ is the agent of creation but does that really make any difference for the way the theology is worked out. Dembski has tried to connect ID with the Johannine prologue but I've already pointed out why I think that's done in a defective way.)

  3) Theologies that require God to "intervene" in miraculous ways - i.e., beyond the capacities of creatures - in order to keep creation going don't allow creation to be good enough. It doesn't have - in van Till's language - "functional integrity."

  4) Versions of these theologies which support an independent natural theology have the danger - only a danger but a real one - of leading to a "natural religion" of an Enlightenment type.

  Now none of those criticisms apply to all versions of YEC, OEC & ID. Some may escape them entirely, though I don't know of any that do. But to the extent that these strictures do apply to a theology then it's a poor one even though it isn't formal heresy" or, as my tradition has tended to say it, "false doctrine which is not to be tolerated in the church of God."

  On natural theology generally: It's not quite true that "The indetectability of God's intelligence in the world is simply not a doctrine upon which the Bible or the Church (at least, any Church known to me) has ever clearly pronounced." A decree of Vatican I said, inter alia, "The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason, by means of created things." So it's de fide for a RC theologian to accept some type of independent natural theology. Needless to say, I think that's problematic.

  Finally: When I referred to "evolution" I meant - as I generally do - simply the fact that biological evolution, "descent with modification," has taken place. All living things on earth have evolved from one or (as Darwin says at the end of the Origin) "a few forms." I said nothing about the mechanism or mechanisms of evolution. & if "evolution" means simply that then I think saying that "the scientific evidence is moderately strong" is a considerable understatement.


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Received on Sat May 16 23:23:50 2009

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