[asa] Re: Gingerich on TE and ID

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Sun Jun 07 2009 - 16:12:52 EDT

Hi, Ted!

I don't doubt that Gingerich's intentions are faithful or that he's a very
fine person. And I grant that there's a legitimate difference of opinion
over whether or not design can be recognized scientifically. So let me make
it clear that I am not accusing Gingerich of being a bad Christian or a
non-Christian for concluding that design detection is not in the province of
science. Nor do I wish to dispute any of Gingerich's other explicit views
on evolution, science, theology, etc.

My comment was really aimed at a broader concern, one which I think that all
reconcilers of Christian theology and science -- and not just on the
question of evolution, but on other questions, such as free will -- need to
think about. I was concerned that the language Gingerich used -- quite
unconsciously, I suspect -- gives away too much to a radically subjectivist
approach to theology and to knowledge in general.

I doubt very much that Gingerich admires the philosophy of existentialism,
but his language has an existentialist ring to it -- "choosing to believe",
for example. It is not surprising Gingerich or any other non-existentialist
would pick up this language; it's all around us. And that's not the only
case where language which reflects a fundamentally subjectivist account of
the world is used by conservative people who would see themselves as
anti-subjectivist. For example, the word "values" is used by conservative
people all the time. But the language of "values" is not the language of
classical moral philosophy; it came to us from Nietzsche. It implies that
good, evil, just, unjust, proper, improper, etc. are not in the nature of
things, but come from human decision. It's one of the ironies of the modern
age that conservatives use the language of Nietzsche in order to argue for a
return to older moral standards.

This turn toward the subjective is connected with the modern tendency to
divide reality between "subjective" and "objective" realms. We tend to
regard "nature" as part of the "objective" realm, and have assigned the
understanding of this "objective" realm to a non-teleological science. As
that non-teleological science has grown in explanatory power by leaps and
bounds, to the point where it now purports to explain even how the passions
and the mind work, religion is crowded ever more and more into the
"subjective" realm, where, it is believed by many, religion will be
invulnerable to anything science can discover about nature or even human
nature. So we can choose our religion, and continue to believe in it out of
sheer will, or desire, or preference, and never be in contradiction with
what the world is really like. In this view, science purportedly describes
nature "objectively", and atheists and Christians are then free to apply
their "subjective" religious glosses to the objective reality disclosed by
science, and make statements which are utterly beyond public verification or

It sounds great, in principle, since it guarantees the protection of
Christian faith from any imaginable advance in natural science (including
natural scientific discoveries which might seem to many to destroy the
possibility of human free will). But this immunity of Christian faith from
the facts of nature comes at a high cost in terms of public prestige, since
many people in the modern world, including leading members of its
intelligentsia, take the "objective" realm to be "real" and the "subjective"
realm to be of dubious status; possibly the subjective realm, including the
realm of religious feeling and experience, is a mere epiphenomenon of the
movements of matter which has no real existence. Thus, from the point of
view of many, Christianity is no more than a particular illusion or neurosis
which helps Christians get through the day. And by adopting a subjectivist
account of faith, Christians in effect make this charge irrefutable. They
can personally believe that their free will and their faith and their
religious experiences and so on are not mere epiphenomena of neural activity
in the brain, but they cannot expect the world to believe the same, because
the very subjectivism which protects their faith from disproof also rules
out the possibility of proving that their beliefs have any grounding in

Pre-modern Christian metaphysics and ethics did not use the language of
"subjectivity" and "objectivity", and the word "real" did not have the sense
that has acquired in modern times. Nor, for that matter, did the word
"science". The categories that bedevil us are of modern provenance.
Pre-modern Christian metaphysics did not divide, but sought to harmonize,
the truth of the world that was known with the reliability of the human
apparatus that knew it. It therefore seems to me that at least part of the
blame for the sundering of our knowledge and our world was the break-up of
the pre-modern metaphysics. One of the main forces responsible for that
break-up was Protestantism itself. This, I think, is why many Protestants
have not resisted, and have even promoted, the subjective/objective
division. For certain Protestants -- those of a fideistic temperament --
nature, conscience, etc. have no reliable touchpoints with God or Christ,
and so the "choice" for God or Christ is not in any sense natural or
rational. The adoption of a religion is thus like a roll of the dice.

Once again I refer to the Pope's Regensburg speech. The question is whether
Christianity should be interpreted in an Islam-like way, i.e., as at bottom
radically fideistic, or in a Patristic-Medieval way, i.e., as a theology in
which elements of faith and reason are interwoven in an inseparable way.
Clearly I prefer the latter interpretation. The question is where
Protestantism sits between these two ways. Its language is inconsistent and
wavering, in part because Protestantism is not a tidy unity, but comprises a
broad range of Christian views, some closer to the classical-Christian
synthesis that I endorse, and others further away. In some Protestant
statements that are made here, I hear the clear accents of a fideism which
would make Christianity impervious to any possible result of science, but at
a cost I am unwilling to pay. I would rather have a Christianity that could
be put at risk by at least some imaginable discoveries about the way the
world is, and therefore boldly asserts something of an essentially public
nature, than a Christianity which is bullet-proof because it is a pure
fideism, but threatens no one and changes nothing because it asserts nothing
of public relevance.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <tdavis@messiah.edu>
To: <asa@calvin.edu>; <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Sent: Sunday, May 31, 2009 7:52 PM
Subject: Re: Gingerich on TE and ID

> Cameron,
> I have nothing more to add concerning the approach that Owen Gingerich
> takes
> in "God's Universe." I find it both eloquent and faithful, whereas you
> are
> not impressed and want to have a stronger role for natural theology here.
> (I think this is what you are saying and invite correction if not.)
> That's a basic disagreement, and IMO a fair one. Most TE advocates would
> say that, if there is a role for natural theology (and Owen thinks there
> is,
> devoting an earlier chapter to that topic), it's a modest one with limited
> scope, and primarily in the realm of metaphysics rather than science
> (though
> science of course can be used in the arguments). I realize that "Design"
> as
> used by ID advocates is not understood by those advocates to be a type of
> natural theology -- the natural theological step is separate from the
> design
> inference (which is scientific, in the opinion of ID advocates). Whereas,
> TEs typically think that "design" inevitably entails theological
> inferences
> and goes well beyond science.
> Have I put this fairly?
> Ted

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Received on Sun Jun 7 16:13:14 2009

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