Re: [asa] BioLogos - Bad Theology?

From: Terry M. Gray <>
Date: Thu May 28 2009 - 12:11:50 EDT


A simple statistics question for you...

In a coin flipping experiment, if you flip a coin four times and it
turns up heads each time, what is the chance of getting heads on the
next flip?

Much more to respond to in your post--but I'd like to start to address
points 4-6 with this question. I'm quite intrigued by your Calvin
questions--I'll see what I can come up with.


On May 27, 2009, at 11:44 PM, Cameron Wybrow wrote:

> Terry:
> 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.
> Cameron.
> ----- 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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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

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
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Received on Thu May 28 12:12:37 2009

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