Re: [asa] How is Front-Loading Different from Deism?

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Jun 02 2009 - 22:24:20 EDT


This is a good reply that attempts to answer the substance of my questions,
and clarifies your own position. As usual, however, I still have more
questions, which I will come to in the course of my response.

1. I meant the parallel between Calvinism and front-loading to extend only
this far: a Calvinist would not object to front-loading out of any dislike
of the idea that the future is laid out in advance. The latter idea is not
repugnant to Calvinists. A Calvinist might of course object to
front-loading on other grounds. So I do accept your remarks below, where
you state the "other grounds".

2. Using your definitions, I think that most Christian ID supporters would
be more theistic than deistic in their understanding of the relationship
between nature and God. I think that many of them would see God as active
during the period of creation, not just in the sense of setting off the Big
Bang, but in the generation of life and (for those IDers who accept
macroevolution) to some extent in the evolutionary process, though they
would differ amongst themselves regarding exactly how they understood God's
interaction (just as TEs do) -- whether it was only at certain points or
constantly; whether it was in huge visible violations of natural order
(e.g., a crocodile giving birth to a bird), or in more subtle, invisible
shifts of direction of an evolutionary process; etc. Also, after the
creation of man, Christian ID supporters would definitely see God as
interacting with creation, because such interaction is required by the
history narrated in the Bible. They might not see God involved in pushing
every planet in its orbit (neither, I suspect, do TEs), but they would see
God as involved at key points in historical events.

Now regarding the front-loaders. I suspect that front-loading is less
popular among traditional Christian ID supporters and more popular among the
young, technically-oriented people who are attracted to ID -- who are
sometimes agnostic or Deist in orientation rather than Christian. God is
then a brilliant programmer who writes the cosmic program which outputs
stars, planets, life, all species, and man. After that, there are no
miracles of any kind. So I suspect there is a common connection between
front-loading and a thoroughgoing Deism.

But there would be combinations of Deistic front-loading with Biblical
religion. There would be ID Christians who could easily imagine that God
runs the computer program to get man, and keeps his hands off while it is
running, and then starts intervening in human history, as recorded in the
Bible. Such ID people would be at one with TE people in arguing for
"naturalism" regarding origins, while agreeing with TE people that
"naturalism" is inappropriate for understanding the Biblical narratives.
However, they'd interpret evolution differently, i.e., in Dentonian rather
than Darwinian terms, with a minimum of chance and a maximum of necessity.

It's hard for me to name names among ID people to fit into each of the above
categories, because the Christian ID people aren't often very explicit about
the way they see God interacting with nature, so I can't give you many
examples. My impression was that Dave Scot was an agnostic front-loader,
with perhaps some tendency toward becoming a Deistic front-loader.

3. The important thing to see is that front-loading is opposed to Darwinian
explanation. The front-loader tends to believe, as I do, that Darwinian
explanations, even augmented by later concepts like drift and so on, just
can't explain the incredible fitness of the universe for human life, and the
remarkable upward thrust of evolution. But the front-loader, like the
Darwinian, wants a naturalistic explanation of origins, where there is no
special intervention, where God creates nature "fully gifted" as some TEs
like to say, and therefore capable of creating life and man out of its own

4. Here is how I see the large situation regarding the three positions of
front-loading, Darwinism, and interventionism:

(*always by "Darwinism" I mean Darwinism as it understands itself, in the
writings of Darwin, Huxley, Mayr, Gaylord Simpson, Dawkins, Coyne, etc. --
not as it has been re-interpreted for religious or philosophical reasons by

(i) both front-loading and Darwinism are wholly naturalistic;
(ii) both front-loading and interventionism imply design (detectable
scientifically or not);
(iii) Darwinism is incompatible with interventionism, because it was
designed in order to exclude the need for interventionism (see Darwin's own
(iv) Darwinism might be compatible with front-loading, in the sense that
evolutionary events that appear contingent to us might be predetermined by
natural causes; but that would mean that the Darwinists have mistaken the
way that nature *seems* for the way that it actually *is*. It makes more
sense to preserve the distinctiveness of terminology by regarding Darwinism
as asserting a combination of necessity and chance, and front-loading as a
combination of design and necessity, and that's how I understand the terms.

In light of the above, if one is determined to find a wholly naturalistic
explanation for origins (and by that I mean an explanation in which
everything is brought about without any special intervention of God, through
the agency of secondary causes which are entirely competent to produce life,
species, and man), then one either has to go with atheist Darwinism, or with
a Deist Darwinism, or with a front-loaded universe in which God has set up
the basic rules so that human life will be produced without any special
intervention. That's just a logical point based on the definition of the
terms I'm using.

The theological points that would follow from these options are: (i) that
atheist Darwinism obviously is not compatible with Christian theology; (iii)
that a Deist Darwinism seems self-contradictory: how can a hands-off God
guarantee that chance plus necessity will produce man?; (iii) that a
front-loader has to show that such front-loading is compatible with
Christian theology; I regard this as an open question.

On the other hand, if one is not wedded to naturalism, if one is willing to
see God as being involved (albeit invisibly and indetectibly) in nature, and
I don't just mean in the sense that he sustains or concurs in natural laws,
but is involved in a more specific way, then one doesn't need front-loading,
because God can make adjustments to the evolutionary process all the time.
A neo-Darwinian view could be made partly compatible with a constant,
intervening God, simply by saying that neo-Darwinian processes can do a lot,
but not everything, and that every so often, where they would hit a dead
end, or would produce a result God doesn't want, God can adjust things. So
God could make use of natural selection, random mutation, etc., but always
he reserves the right to overrule them. However, this is not what Darwin
intended by his theory, and it's not what Gaylord Simpson, Mayr, Sagan,
Coyne, etc. understood by neo-Darwinism, so my view is that if God acts in
this way, Darwinism is a false description of nature, and people who think
God acts in this way should say so plainly, and without fudging.

Now I *think* (and I'm not sure, because your language is to me ambiguous)
that you believe that God does in fact intervene, making all kinds of
adjustments, and therefore that you believe that Darwin was wrong and that
the neo-Darwinians were wrong. And if this is what you believe, then, while
you may characterize your difference with Dawkins etc. as over the
metaphysics rather than the science, I think you would be misconceiving the
situation to do so. Your difference with them would be actually over the
science, because you would be affirming that, without God's action, nature
would take a different course than it did. If you on the other hand
actually agreed entirely with the Darwinists over the science, you would say
that God no more needed to intervene or tinker or adjust in the process of
evolution than he needs to tinker or adjust to make the planets stay in
their orbits or to make an egg grow into a chicken. You would say that only
God's *general* activity in nature, not any *special* activity, is required
to make evolution work exactly as the Darwinians say it does. But as I say,
I find your language -- like that of most TEs -- somewhat ambiguous. You
seem to be saying sometimes that God does nothing *special* in
macroevolution, and other times that he does.

I think what is perhaps the difference is that you are coming at things from
a traditional Calvinist theology, whereas, from what I understand, neither
Ted nor George is doing so (I'm not sure about Russell). Thus, whereas Ted
and George seem to be willing to allow that God intervenes to make a
difference (though George and Russell would prefer other language than
"intervening", due to the non-necessities of the quantum world), you seem to
use different language. You seem to be saying that it all happens by chance
and natural laws, without any special intervention -- yet *nonetheless* God
is the author of it all. I understand why as a Calvinist you would insist
that God is the author of all action, even voluntary action. Nonetheless,
it makes your position unclear. (As indeed, I've always found Calvin's
position to be unclear.) To me, either evolution would have happened
exactly the same it way that it did if God performed no *special* action (by
special I mean beyond the typical course of nature, e.g., parting the Red
Sea or raising Jesus from the dead), or it wouldn't have. If the former,
then you can believe that Darwinism is true as science; if the latter, you
must believe that Darwinism is false or incomplete as science.

I know that Mike Gene has another take on this, and I do find his position
interesting, but for the moment I don't accept his "grocery store shelf"
alternative, which is, I think, the only alternative that could rescue your
position from the charge of internal contradiction.

So what do you think? Is it my inability to comprehend Calvin's language of
divine causality that is giving me the problem with your position? So that
if I could make sense of Calvin, I would see no contradiction in your
position? Or have you perhaps not clearly enough worked out in your own
mind whether you believe in a *special* activity of God in macroevolution,
beyond his *normal* activity in sustaining the laws of chemical bonding,

If it's the latter, I would say that you are not alone among TEs, and it is
this lack of clarity regarding whether macroevolution involves any *special*
action of God that ID people find very difficult to interpret in TE writing.
They would find TE much easier to either accept or reject if TEs would say
decisively: "Yes, God intervenes in evolutionary processes", or "No, God
never intervenes in evolutionary processes". So far, as far as I can tell,
exactly three TEs -- Ted Davis, Russell, and George Murphy -- have said more
or less decisively that God intervenes (and even then with some
qualification regarding "intervenes"). In every other TE I have read, the
position on this question is entirely nebulous -- it's Yes on Mondays,
Wednesdays, and Fridays, No on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and Maybe
on Sundays. Do you understand why ID people feel frustrated on this point?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Terry M.Gray" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Monday, June 01, 2009 10:57 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] How is Front-Loading Different from Deism?

> Cameron,
> I take deism to be more like your 1a, the winding up the clock image;
> I've always taken on-going sustenance, and continually invovlement, and
> concurrence to be theistic rather than deistic. The inadmissability of
> miracles, answering prayer, governance in a moment by moment and Fatherly
> sense, I take to be missing from deism and present in a Biblical theism.
> I think that your characterization of extreme Calvinists as "front-
> loaders" is a bit off. Calvinists talk about God's decree and then God's
> execution of that decree in Creation and Providence. Indeed, all things,
> cosmic history, human history, and Heilsgeschicte are all decreed. But
> never is there "decree" or "laying out of a plan" and then a letting the
> plan carry itself out. God is involved in necessity, chance, and
> free-agency and accomplishes his decree through these means.
> I think that answers your first two questions.
> I have not normally associated ID with deism, but as we have carried out
> our discussion, it seemed to me that front-loading was a form of deism.
> God put the information there and let it go, more or less by itself. ID
> says that the complexity that we see in the universe wouldn't occur
> without God supplying the information from the beginning, but once it's
> been planted in the system, it could occur with just the subsequent
> actions of chance and necessity.
> Yes, some TE's are deists.
> I am willing to call "front-loaders" who accept the central claims of
> Christianity and have personal faith in Christ brothers and sisters in
> Christ. If you mean more than that by your last question, we'll have to
> talk some more.
> I find front-loading to be defective because it seems to allow for an
> autonomous "nature" once properly configured to run by itself without
> further intervention and involvement from the Creator, Sustainer,
> Provider, and Governor of the universe. Front-loading that still requires
> God's moment by moment involvement and supervision is probably not all
> that different from my own view. I guess the main difference would be
> that "front-loaders" "need" front-loading because they can't see how
> evolution could have occurred without it. I don't have that "problem". I
> don't see any need from that from a scientific perspective, and hence the
> Darwinian mechanisms, random mutation and natural selection, and whatever
> else evolutionary biologists come up with are fine with me.
> I'll say it again because it doesn't seem to be getting through to many
> on the list: something can be purposeless and mindless from the
> scientific perspective and still be purposeful and mindful from God's
> perspective. Dawkins and Darwin are just mistaken to think that Darwinism
> says anything about God's involvement. "Naturalistic" explanations
> shouldn't presume to say anything about what God's doing. But that
> doesn't mean that God's not doing anything. Asa Gray noted this about
> Darwinism from almost the beginning. Hodge cites Gray's point here, but
> falls into the trap when he refuses to admit that Gray is a Darwinian as
> Gray himself would admit.
> TG

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Received on Tue Jun 2 22:25:46 2009

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