Re: [asa] Re: design and the nature of science

From: Merv Bitikofer <>
Date: Tue Jun 16 2009 - 20:13:29 EDT

Cameron Wybrow wrote:
> 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.
Perhaps we are not disagreeing, then. But in light of your last
sentence above, I will put the question to you: what is so important
about a requirement for God's "special action"? Additionally, we have
no way to meaningfully define such a thing except to label it
supernatural. Some or many things may be in that out-of-our-reach
category, of course, but we have no way of getting a scientific handle
on them or discussing them scientifically other than to say: "science
has no explanation to offer for that! ...yet"...which is the perpetual
option to add to the end of that thought. I'll attempt to give answer
to your last paragraph below as well.

> 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 may.
> 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?
> Cameron.
People should be indirect or vague when there is no definite answer to
be had (and may never be) . We can be *theologically certain* as
Christians that God has a role in creation, but there is no such
certainty on the scientific side of the same question ---let alone a
scientific answer for *how* God would do such things. If you want
certainty here, you are bound for further disappointment. In fact, if
some TEs would change anything about your contrast of responses above
regarding the planetary orbits and hydrogen atom verses the more
complicated origin of life; they would probably tweak your proposed
answers on their behalf to make the first *more* vague rather than the
second one less. I'm not sure all would give the resounding NO even on
the planetary orbits question. They would just say there appears to be
much more simplicity in the motions of planets; allowing us to imagine
we have a better handle on the involved processes. God's actions (even
though we wouldn't call these *special*) are still a fair question even
here. Why are you surprised at the paucity of explanation on the more
complicated origins question? If anything, I am suspicious of those who
try to present scenarios as if they have it *all wrapped up*. (Some
natural history museums present life history in these confident tones
---probably because they are afraid to sound like evolution doubters and
certainly will go to any length to avoid being suspected of "backward
thinking" creationism! But their over-confident posture backfires
adding fuel to the suspicions of evolution critics that serious
unanswered questions are being glossed over.

One other item: I think your phrase "optional gloss" as regards
theology overlayed onto a scientific outlook carries some truth as a
description of a largely secular public mindset. But the serious
Christian (TE) would not treat it so lightly. "Optional", yes, in the
sense that it isn't scientifically required. But neither "optional" nor
"gloss" would be appropriate to the Christian TE who has their theology
anchored in sources other than science and would not consider it
optional anymore than a Christian considers Jesus "optional". To the
extent that "gloss" trivializes their conviction, I don't think it would
apply. But they would see it as optional from a purely scientific
point of view.


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Received on Tue Jun 16 20:14:02 2009

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