Re: [asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Mon Aug 17 2009 - 21:18:39 EDT

Heya all. Glad to see so much discussion on this topic - some replies below
to commenters.

Bill Powers: Believe it or not, I'd be very tempted to agree with you that
everyone has at least one G/god, when you get right down to it. I won't get
into that in too much detail here (I'm certain I'd derail the thread!), but
I did want to mention that I have sympathy with that view.

When it comes to the question of God and science, I agree that cosmological
arguments alone only get a person as far as a very basic God. The same goes
for Aquinas' five ways, Aristotle's musings, and so on. I'd further agree
that the general approach of science (to seek explanations of the world that
make zero reference to a God, or even "secondary qualities") serves to muddy
the waters. One philosopher I've read has mentioned that, historically,
modern science started out not by denying God, secondary qualities, formal
and final causes, etc - but by simply placing them off to the side as
intractable for their methods, and seeing how far they could get with
investigations and explanations merely in terms of efficient causality. The
problem then becoming that what started off as an explicit limiting of the
sphere of science became a conviction that nothing outside of that sphere
really exists anyway, or if it does exist it isn't knowable.

That's one of the reasons I like to use programs and simulations as examples
when discussing these kinds of things. Not just because they're readily
accessible/comprehensible thought experiments nowadays, but because I think
it perfectly illustrates how one can explain so much of a given artifact or
system (the hardware, the software, etc) and yet leave tremendously
important aspects out (programmers, users, purpose, proper function, etc.)

George Murphy: I really do believe that you are correct when you talk about
there being a danger in making use of mere theistic arguments. However, I'd
simply point out that there's danger in just about every apologetic approach
- get an atheist to accept the existence of a grand designer or creator and
for all you know you've just turned him into a hindu (I'd point out that
with CS Lewis, this was apparently a very live possibility early on) or
something else. At the same time, I'd consider an atheist becoming a hindu,
a panentheist, an idealist, a pagan, or a "mere theist" to be progress. In
other words, if we're thinking purely pragmatically here, I'm tempted to
take a Pascal-like view - whatever danger there may be in using arguments
for mere theism in discussion with agnostics or practical atheists, it's
outweighed by the danger/detriment of the status quo being maintained with
them. I'll put this again bluntly: I'd much rather deal with a mere theist
of just about any stripe rather than the alternative, because at least the
mere theist can be expected to take the question of God seriously.

Ted Davis: I want to be careful here. On the one hand, I think that
arguments in natural theology (And I'm not just talking about ID here -
again, Edward Feser and other thomists object strongly to the 'starting
points' of ID, but the arguments they offer would still be in the class of
arguments I mean) give powerful reasons to deny materialism, to accept a
belief in that God of 'mere theism', and to move on to additional
exploration of religious claims. On the other hand, I don't think 'proof' is
needed here for this approach to be successful - and by 'proof' I mean
undeniable demonstration of the certain existence of God. And I'm not sure
even ID advocates believe that they have knock-down proof of God (certainly
not the Christian God) on hand, even if Behe, Denton, Dembski, and Meyer are
all collectively right. Indeed, I have to admit that I strongly doubt that
this is what they're consciously pursuing. It just goes against my
impressions. In fact, I tend to see ID (which I have a number of criticisms
with) as correctly detecting the way science was being used/abused by
atheists as "proof" against God, etc - and responded by moving in to
use/abuse science the same way. I think the NABT statement of the past was
just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that kind of thing.

That said, I'd agree that ID alone - and "basic theism" alone - will not
lead to some kind of cultural renewal. It's very possible to have both
cultural decay and widespread belief in some kind of deity, particularly if
that deity is featureless. But, I do think that the move from atheist to
theist alone is progress for those seeking cultural renewal, and certainly
progress for those seeking to convert agnostics and practical atheists to
Christianity (I wonder, by the way, just how many people even consider that
a goal? I get the impression at times that agnostics/atheists are simply
considered lost or "the enemy", and a waste of time to approach. If so, I'd
disagree.) What's more, I think the arguments for this kind of basic theism
are powerful and valid, over and above atheism.

As an aside, I want to mention something about the "New Atheists". I've
already pointed out how many modern agnostics (Krauss) and even atheists
(Coyne) are entirely willing to grant the compatibility of deism with
science. In addition to this, I would also point out the seeming allergic
reaction New Atheists have to being put into a position of making positive
claims. Almost to a man, they avoid - frantically avoid - being put in the
position of arguing positively for atheism. I would further suspect,
relevant to ID, that they would shy away from having to argue positively for
evolution being unguided, or the universe existing/coming into being without
guidance or purpose, etc. Instead, they try to occupy a role that is almost
exclusively critical and on the offensive, with the stipulation (spoken and
unspoken) that atheism / non-guidance is the null hypothesis. I think it's
worth considering that method, that stipulation, and whether there's
anything wrong with it. (For my part, I think the stipulation is dead wrong,
and the method is dishonest.)

David Campbell: As I've said with others, what I'm talking about here
encompasses more than just ID, or just specifically scientific questions. As
for your example of the wasp, this is where I'll make what's probably a
controversial statement: The wasp example may or may not pose a problem for
the existence of an omnibenevolent God (for my money, I'd say it does not),
but it poses zero problem for the existence of a God, full stop, or even a
lowercase-g god/designer. I've seen Behe and others point out something
similair to this, which I have to give them credit for doing.

So if I were in a conversation with an atheist (not a New Atheist, but more
a practical and generally apathetic atheist/agnostic) and explaining that
the existence of God is entirely compatible with science, and the reply was
"Well, what about all the pain and suffering?", my tact would not be to
immediately move into theodicy. In fact I'd point out that while that was a
good question in considering a God who was claimed to be omnibenevolent,
that had nothing to do with the claim I was talking about onhand. In other
words, I'd be defending the existence of a very thin conception of God - one
who created/creates and sustains this world. Once that was accepted (meaning
it was accepted that science is compatible with the existence of such a
deity), we could move on to discuss what traits of such a deity are
compatible with what we can discern about the world, with science, etc. And
I think even getting that far, bare as it is in terms of theism, and as
distant as it is from orthodox Christianity, is of tremendous import in the

To go back to my original post, I liken this to the missionary habit of
learning about the culture and beliefs of people who are rather disconnected
from most of the fundamentals of the Christian faith, in order to use ideas
that are already in common to illustrate what is meant by God, Logos,
Christ, etc. In China this may be the tao, etc. In India, this would
probably involve talking about brahman. In the west, at least with a certain
class of people, I think it means talking in terms of science and
fundamental philosophy.

On Mon, Aug 17, 2009 at 2:16 PM, David Campbell <>wrote:

> This issue gets us back to the question of just what ID (or YEC or any
> specific manifestation of TE, etc.) is trying to do.
> A Christian apologetic must be Christ-centered; the life, death, and
> resurrection of Jesus and their implications being the essential
> points. Of course, it is not essential that everything be covered all
> at once. E.g., promotion of mere theism may be a useful step in the
> process, but from a Christian viewpoint it is merely one step in the
> right direction, and not the essential step.
> Scientific study of the physical world can, at most, provide some
> support for a mere theism. It does not tell us who is responsible for
> what we see. In practice, it's not even very good at supporting mere
> theism, both because of human inclination to idolatry (cf. Rom. 1),
> the most popular form of which is self-worship rather than a genuine
> heathen theism, and because there's no obvious way to decide whether
> to emphasize a positive or negative spin. Darwin thought an ichneumon
> wasp parasitizing a caterpillar was rather awful, but a farmer might
> be quite pleased with the pest control, an ecologist might note the
> role of the parasitism in the overall balance of the ecosystem, and an
> ethicist might raise the question of whether caterpillars really
> suffer. After all, Darwin himself doesn't seem to have particular
> remorse about collecting lots of animal specimens.
> Creation science and ID often market themselves as Christian
> apologetics, yet they are creationism- or "design"- centered rather
> than Christ-centered and not infrequently promote other religions
> instead. I don't offhand know of an equivalent TE example, but
> there's nothing inherent in TE to prevent a similar problem, except
> possibly the perspective that comes from opposition form two sides.
> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Mon Aug 17 21:19:31 2009

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