[asa] Re: design and the nature of science

From: Cameron Wybrow <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>
Date: Tue Jun 16 2009 - 12:31:54 EDT


I am not sure that I see where you are disagreeing with me. I granted that
under a rigid notion of the "laws of nature" of a 19th-century sort, God
could still be seen as "responsible" for natural events in two broad senses,
and the Biblical passages you are talking about could be explained under one
or both of those senses. Neither the passage about the sparrow nor the one
about the rain requires God's performing any *special* action.

However, note that both of those senses amount to an optional theological
gloss upon natural facts that do not require God for an explanation. And I
don't think it's any accident that as the notion of "laws of nature" drew
its net ever tighter from 1600 to 1900 and beyond, the most educated people
(the ones most steeped in the notion of rigid laws of nature) became
steadily more uncertain about the efficacy of prayer and the possibility of
miraculous healings and so on, and that theological thought among the
educated classes tended to become more and more separated from the truths
taught to us by "science", and "history", and tended to be reduced to an
optional gloss of faith, laid atop wholly naturalistic explanations for
natural and social-political events. Most TEs seem to think that this marks
an advance in theological thinking. I am not so sure, but let that be as it

Regarding Darwin, the point is that he saw himself as extending the
regularities of physics into the living realm. He saw natural laws as
responsible not only for the behaviour of species but for the origin of
species. He saw no need for special actions of God in the latter regard.

What puzzles me about many on this list is their hesitation to follow
through with Darwin's attitude on this point. People here, for the most
part, are oddly indirect when asked about the possible role of special
actions of God in the evolutionary process. They are *not* similarly
indirect when asked about special actions of God in physics or chemistry.
Someone here gently ridiculed the notion of angels pushing planets around,
for example. I think if I asked everyone here, "Do you think that God
performs any *special* action, above and beyond his normal activity of
sustaining nature and its laws, in causing the planets to orbit the sun, or
in causing hydrogen to bond with oxygen?", I would get a 100% "NO" answer,
reverberating loudly upon the hillsides. But when I ask (as I did on June
11 in my reply to Schwarzwald) whether people here think that God needs to
perform any *special* action, above and beyond his normal activity of
sustaining nature and its laws, in causing the origin of life (or of the
Cambrian Explosion, or of the origin of man), I get, with very few
exceptions: (a) studied ambiguity; (b) silence. Why should this be, if
"origins science" is no different from "operations science"? Is there,
despite all the indignant protests here when Darwinism is questioned, some
doubt here about the efficacy of naturalistic mechanisms to generate life,
species and man, doubt that does not exist in the case of the mechanisms put
forward in chemistry and physics? If so, why are people so hesitant to
publically declare those doubts?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Merv Bitikofer" <mrb22667@kansas.net>
To: "Cameron Wybrow" <wybrowc@sympatico.ca>; "asa" <asa@calvin.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 7:39 AM
Subject: Re: design and the nature of science

> Responding just to your first objection shown below: What about Matthew
> 5:45 or 10:29? When God sends the rain on both the just and the unjust,
> does that mean that this rain cannot have been caused by normal means of
> adiabatic cooling, condensation, and gravity? You would probably agree
> that this is silly. So does that then mean that Jesus was wrong to say
> that God ever sends the rain since these laws are always in play? I
> think we also all should see Jesus' point here as well. God is involved
> even where we have observed what we think of as "rigid laws" (even if we
> can't specify exactly physically how). Our theological (not physical)
> observation is that God is not removed from the picture. Or in the second
> verse, we are told that not a sparrow alights on the ground apart from the
> Father's will. Such is the intimacy of His involvement that nothing is so
> insignificant that it is "beneath" His will. Incidentally, I was told
> by somebody that where our English translations say "fall to the ground"
> potentially giving an image of a sparrow dying, that the Hebrew phrase was
> more to the effect: Not a sparrow "lands" or "alights" ... which would
> render the passage even more meaningful or poignant. Are there Hebrew
> scholars here that can confirm this?
> --Merv
> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>> David:
>> First, a rigid Laplacian universe *does* remove God from the picture, in
>> a very important sense. If God chooses to work *only* through laws
>> (which I take it is what you mean by "rigid"), then God is *not* actively
>> involved in the day-to-day events of the universe. You can say he is
>> "involved" only in two senses:
>> 1. He is the originator of the laws, and therefore whatever they do is
>> ultimately caused by him.
>> 2. He "concurs" with the laws, i.e., sustains them, gives them his
>> blessing to continue.
>> Note that in neither of these meanings does God have a *special
>> involvement* in particular events. He does not appear "on site" to do
>> anything that the laws would not do of themselves. (Nothing you have
>> said about the Westminister Confession etc. alters this in the slightest.
>> We are speaking here about a rigid Laplacian universe, not about the
>> traditional Christian understanding of the universe, which in no way
>> requires or demands a rigid Laplacianism. And I hope it is clear that I
>> am not endorsing rigid Laplacianism, but merely indicating what role it
>> gives to God in natural events.)
>> In a "rigid Laplacean" view of the universe, you can of course have
>> special actions of God as exceptions to the normal rule of law. But then
>> you have to speak of God as "breaking" the laws of nature, or
>> "suspending" them, etc. In other words, you supplement the notion of
>> "law" with a notion of "miracle" in order to squeeze in certain events in
>> the history of Israel, and perhaps even for things like miraculous
>> healings now and then. Many traditional Christians for the last few
>> hundred years have been content with some such notion of "law plus
>> miracles".
>> In the 20th century, however, many Christian theologians have been
>> dissatisfied with this account of things. They have sought an account of
>> nature in which law can be combined with divine special involvement,
>> without the language of "breaking" natural laws. Indeed, that is why the
>> quantum indeterminacy argument is so important. It is precisely because
>> quantum indeterminacy seems to mean that nature is to some extent "open"
>> (I believe that is the word that George Murphy used), that one can
>> imagine not just God's *general* action (concurrence, blessing and
>> sustaining the laws), but also God's *special* action (his local
>> influence on particular events in human or cosmic history) as part of the
>> explanation for what happens in the world, without subtracting anything
>> from the law-bound character of nature.
>> In any case, Darwin knew nothing of quantum indeterminacy. His notion of
>> nature was a typical 19th-century one, influenced by Newton, Descartes,
>> Kant, Laplace, etc. He thought that laws more or less accurately
>> described how nature worked, and that science's job was to find such
>> laws, and that applied to biology as well.

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Received on Tue Jun 16 12:33:23 2009

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