Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 01:44:51 EDT


Thank your for your thoughtful reply. I cannot do justice to all the ideas
expressed in it, and so will pick out a few.

1. It's my understanding that at least a couple of people here, namely Ted
Davis and George Murphy, would agree with you
"that an event can be seemingly by chance, yet still be under God's control
and determination". I think they would explain this in terms of quantum
indeterminacy, i.e., that since there is indeterminacy within the laws of
nature, there would be no apparent violation of those laws in the minute
changes by which God might guide evolution. God's interventions would be
indistinguishable from chance events.

2. This might well be the way things work; I have no objection to the
notion that God guides evolution, and if he has to be "snuck in" somewhere
so as to guide evolution without flagrantly upsetting the normal paths of
nature, I suppose "quantum indeterminacy" is as good a way as any.

3. However, I think that in practice, we never are in the position of
witnessing evolutionary "events" as single items. Rather, we look at a
string of fossil finds from which we infer a string of evolutionary events
stretching over thousands or millions or tens of millions of years. In this
situation, the question whether a given mutation was caused by God or chance
is not really a useful question. It is the overall direction of a series of
mutations that is important.

4. So for example, let's say science could determine what it is currently
nowhere near able to determine, e.g., that it would take 1,000 mutations to
turn a lizard into a bird, with those mutations having to occur in a certain
sequence in order for each of the intermediate forms to be viable in terms
of natural selection. And let's say that George and Ted are right in their
claim that, even if we had a time machine and could bring the live specimens
to our era, so that we had them in front of us at exactly the point at which
the mutations occurred, science could say nothing about the ultimate cause
of any of those 1,000 individual mutations. We could not therefore tell
whether God or chance was responsible for any of them. Yet the question
still arises: can the *sequence* tell us something that any individual
mutation cannot?

5. Here is where intelligent design comes in. From an ID point of view,
while any single mutation has a relatively large probability, the sequence
as a whole has an extremely small probability. So, while the probability of
a mutation affecting the iris or the lung etc. cannot help us to decide
between God and chance, the probability that a certain mutation affecting
the iris would be followed by a certain mutation affecting the lung, and
that these two mutations would be followed by a certain mutation affecting
the brain centres that control the iris and the lung, and that all of these
would be followed by a certain mutation affecting the development of
feathers and then followed by another mutation which enabled the brain to
co-ordinate the proto-feathers with other parts of the organism, etc. --
that combined probability might help us to decide between God or chance.
(If you substitute alien biologists for God, the reasoning is the same, so
one could generalize that to "intelligence or chance". But since we are
usually discussing Christian theology here, I'll use "God".)

6. If you treat each of the mutations as independent events, as
neo-Darwinism generally does, then a thousand-step string of mutations would
of course have a very low probability. Let's say you come up with a figure
of 1 in 10^200 for the probability of the string. Then let's say that there
might be 100 possible alternate sequences, of roughly equal probability with
the first, that could have turned a lizard into a bird in a way compatible
with natural selection requirements. The 100 possible sequences, 10^2, are
a drop in the bucket, reducing the colossal number by only a tiny amount.
So you still have an incredibly improbable event. And from this the design
inference proceeds.

7. The main point I am trying to make here is not about how ID
argumentation works, which I'm sure you know already. Nor is my point to
prove that design inferences are "scientific", or that design inferences are
sound. The point I am making is a theological one, i.e., that the validity
or invalidity of design inferences is a separate question from the question
of how God acts to guide evolution. One could believe that God guides
evolution exactly as Ted Davis and George Murphy have postulated, i.e., one
could be a theistic evolutionist; yet one could still argue for the validity
of the design inference. That is, one could be a TE and an ID proponent at
the same time. TE and ID are not mutually exclusive positions.

8. Of course, individual versions of TE and individual versions of ID might
clash; that we all know from experience. But there is nothing inherent in
the definitions of TE (as defined the other day by Ted Davis) and ID
(understood as a theory of design detection) that prevents them from being
combined. Indeed, I am not sure how to describe Michael Behe's position
other than as a combination of ID and TE.

Terry, would you agree with my line of thought thus far?

As for your historical point about American thinkers, I am hesitant to talk
about authors I haven't read, such as Asa Gray, Hodge, etc. Ted would be
the better person to comment on your remarks there.

I agree with you that Calvinist theology in some respects does better
justice to parts of the Bible than do some other theologies, but I want to
reserve a lengthy discussion of Calvinism for later. For now, I have some
questions for you about Calvin's theology. Do you know where the passage is
in which Calvin called Lucretius a "dog" or "filthy dog"? I would be
interested in reading the context, if there is any, for Calvin's remark.
Darwinism is in many ways a modern form of Lucretian thinking, translated
into the biological idiom, and Calvin's comments on Lucretius (or other
Epicureans) might give us an idea how he would have reacted to Darwin. Also
I would be interested in references to other passages where Calvin speaks
directly about nature, natural laws, etc. Also if he makes any references
to Islamic occasionalist doctrines, and distinguishes his account of God's
action and of nature from that of those Islamic theologians.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Terry M. Gray" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:49 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

> Cameron,
> I'm delighted to see the conversation take this direction. I was mentally
> composing a message to address several of these points.
> As you note, the Calvinist perspective on how God is involved with the
> created order allows for some considerations that have seemed off the
> table here; namely, that an event can be seemingly by chance, yet still
> be under God's control and determination. I discuss some of this in my
> on-line paper at GrayASA2003OnHodge.html You
> also see the idea in the Westminster Confession of Faith III, 1
> 1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his
> own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet
> so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered
> to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second
> causes taken away, but rather established.
> and V, 2
> 2. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the
> first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by
> the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the
> nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
> Proverbs 16:33 captures the idea "The lot is cast into the lap, but its
> every decision is from the LORD."
> The point is that from a creaturely perspective there can be random
> events. A scientific analysis would result the conclusion that such
> events were undirected and unplanned, i.e. consistent with the Darwinian
> claim. However, from God's perspective they are planned, directed,
> purposed, etc. It's only when you push the notion of random and
> undirected and unplanned into God's perspective do we run into trouble.
> Of course, this is Darwin's original error and the error (from a
> Calvinist's perspective) committed by atheist and theist critic of
> Darwinism.
> Another way of saying this is that God is the designer of things that are
> the consequence of what to us are random processes.
> So, how does this work? What does this mean for God's involvement in
> creation? I personally hold to a radical interventionist model. I think
> this is what scripture and the Reformed confessions teach. God is
> involved via sustenance and concursus with every creaturely act. I don't
> know the details. I'm not sure we can know, it may well be part of what
> it means to be God (which we're not). I don't think scripture tells us.
> As Hodge says (cited in my on-line paper), that's all we need to know.
> Notice from the WCF citations above that holding this radical
> interventionist model does not deny the authenticity of creaturely
> actions or the reality of other causes than God. How can this be you may
> ask? I don't know. We affirm all the scripture affirms, which is all
> these things even if we can reason how they all fit together. We can
> confidently say that God knows how they all fit together.
> This, I think, is the fundamental theological problem in Darwin. He
> rejected a God who was in all the details, largely, I think, for reasons
> relating to theodicy. He, like many theologians in his day (and many in
> our day) rejected the Calvinist perspective because he couldn't reconcile
> his notion of the goodness of God with "nature red in tooth and claw".
> Interestingly, this seems to be the main point of Ayala's "Darwin's
> Gift". Since God is not directly involved any more he his relieved of any
> responsibility for the perceived gruesomeness of the biological world.
> So, Darwin rejects the Calvinist vision of the world that God directs
> everything that happens, even in random events, i.e. he pushes his
> scientific/creaturely notions of randomness into God's perspective. This
> is where I think that Hodge's critique of Darwin is misunderstood. Hodge
> cannot conceive of a world where there are random events outside of God's
> determination in both His will and His governance. If such events exist
> then God doesn't--if this is Darwin's view then it's atheism. Notice that
> even Hodge is willing to go to the "Darwinism" of Asa Gray (although he
> is clear about not wanting to call Gray a Darwinian) and Hodge's
> successor at Princeton, B.B. Warfield, once called himself a "Darwinian
> of the purest water".
> Gray and Warfield understood that Darwin had committed the error of
> confusing categories when comparing the divine purpose with what's
> observed from the creaturely realm. So, for them, they could affirm
> Darwinism the way Darwin understood it in the creaturely realm as long as
> you understood that you were making no claims for God's involvement (or
> not). I think that this is why the 19th and early 20th century Calvinists
> had less problem with science in general and evolution in particular than
> with many of the other fundamentalists. A full blown scientific
> description in terms of natural causes is not the least bit incompatible
> with a divine causation, even at the detail of quarks, protons, and
> molecules.
> Frankly, I think this same error is committed by Falk, Collins, and
> Lamoureux. So it's somewhat providential that my response to Cameron
> comes under this subject line. Of course, I commend all three for
> tackling this difficult subject and being bold enough to affirm the
> compatibility of their Christian faith and their understanding of the
> science. But they do not follow my Calvinist line here. In fact, at least
> Collins and Falk make much of how God's working through the evolutionary
> process helps solve theodicy to some degree. (A commitment to libertarian
> free will also is part of the picture, which explains, in part, a certain
> friendliness toward open theism.) But, in my opinion, they give away the
> store. If the outcome of a series of events is dependent of the prior
> events then the prior events must be as much under God's control as the
> end event. As you noted, Cameron, scripture seems to go this direction
> much more than many contemporary folk want to go.
> This leads to another thread of Cameron's on the definition of theist
> evolution. I consider the view described above to be a version of
> theistic evolution. On my view, chemistry is theistic chemistry, physics
> is theistic physics, etc. This does not necessarily mean that there are
> no miraculous interventions. As I've said many times, I believe that
> scripture teaches a special creation of human beings, particularly of the
> human soul. So while I affirm the possibility of evolutionary processes
> that lead to the biological form of human beings, human beings, body AND
> soul, do not derive from an evolutionary process. While this aspect of
> human creation is not evolutionistic, it does not, in my opinion,
> disqualify me from being a theistic evolutionist.
> In this view, then, everything is intelligently designed if we regard God
> as an intelligent agent. Whether something has design that is detected
> using the various tools that detect design (SETI, forensics, archaeology,
> etc.) is another question. I remain open to the possibility but have yet
> to be convinced that any of the examples pointed to are real (and this
> from the perspective of a professional biologist/biochemist for whatever
> that's worth). See my discussion of the general matter written now over
> 15 years ago at While I
> can't give the details that Cameron (following Behe) demands, the broad
> outlines of the evolution many irreducibly complex systems are present to
> the point that I find them highly credible.
> I wanted to refer to one other Cameron's posts in appreciate. While I
> have always appreciated George Murphy's approach in general and firmly
> advocate a Christ and cross-centered approach to theology myself, I have
> always felt that his perspective was used to undermine other
> perspectives. The thread on "Archimedes point" produced an "aha" moment
> for me. Without denying the importance of George's approach, I would
> probably advocate a more multi-perspective approach. I find this in some
> of John Frame's writings and in traditional Reformed theology.
> Finally, I think that it's worth saying, especially in light of a recent
> post where seem to be getting our theology from Bruce Almighty, that much
> of the resistance to the Calvinistic perspective comes from a commitment
> to libertarian rather than compatibilist free will. While Calvinist
> acknowledge creaturely free will (see the citations above from the
> Westminster Confession), they deny that it is inconsistent with God's
> decree and sovereignty over all things. The Confession says that "nor is
> violence offered to the will of the creatures" while affirming God's
> foreordination (not just foreknowledge) of whatever comes to pass.
> Non-Calvinists deny that such a thing is possible and that compatibilist
> free will is not free will at all (despite a long intellectual history
> that includes Calvinists and various deterministic philosophies).
> As an interesting aside, the Calvinistic perspective also lets us have a
> fully human and a fully divine Scripture. Warfield and A. A. Hodge
> advocate this in their view of inspiration. Their's is no dictation
> theory, but their view has God providentially forming the writer's of
> scripture, their backgrounds, context, circumstances, thoughts, etc. so
> that what they write is exactly what He want written and declared to be
> His Word. This rejection of the Calvinistic perspective is part of what
> leads Clark Pinnock in "The Scripture Principle" to abandon inerrancy.
> His more recent moves toward open theism is just part of a consistent
> rejection of Calvinism.
> TG
> ________________
> Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
> Computer Support Scientist
> Chemistry Department
> Colorado State University
> Fort Collins, CO 80523
> (o) 970-491-7003 (f) 970-491-1801
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Received on Thu May 28 01:45:53 2009

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