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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Thu Aug 20 2009 - 02:57:42 EDT

Heya George,

First, a reply about your comments on ID/TE/etc. First, you say 'if
evolution is a serious hindrance...' The problem here is, the people for
whom science, evolution, and general apathetic/skeptical attitude about even
the possibility of God... there are not 'people who I think we may or may
not encounter, and should have something ready to say in response to'.
Instead, I am saying these are precisely the people we should be seeking out
expressly. I think there is great reason to believe there are a lot of
people like this in America, possibly in the west in general, and I think
these misconceptions and misunderstandings are precisely what they need help
getting past. So I think even if your route is taken, what I'm talking about
here (Cameron as well) is going to come up. It can't be skipped.

Second, I'm not talking about an exclusive approach. I think we need more
than one - people are diverse, after all. That's why I'm actively
encouraging TEs to stop thinking only within the church (namely, YECs, etc)
and start thinking about the people outside of the church with their
arguments. They need to hear about this compatibility (and sometimes,
greater than compatibility) between science, evolution, etc as well. They
also need to hear about Christ, about approaches to theodicy - but frankly,
the people I'm talking about need to get into the position to even talk
about theodicy to begin with. "Why would God allow bad things to happen?" is
a non-issue to a person who thinks "Evolution and the discoveries of science
are logically or similarly incompatible with the existence of any God,
regardless of His goodness". I'd agree that ID is useless in terms of
theodicy - and to the credit of even the more well-known ID proponents, they
seem to realize this too. To paraphrase Behe, he can tell you when something
looks designed, but if that something happens to be malaria, that's a
different problem.

Now, finally, about your own writeup. First, I'm more than happy for people
to think innovatively and freshly about these (and other) topics. I think
your article is interesting, without a doubt. But I'm going to emphasize
something I said above: For some people, and I'd say a good number, theodicy
is not and will not be a question until they get past the fundamental
misunderstandings of 'God and science' and 'God and evolution'. Theodicy
-will- become a question with these people, most likely, and that's when
issues like that will become tremendously important. But they have to first
accept that God is even a possibility to begin with. I want to stress here:
I think theodicy, and the general question of God's compatibility with evil
in the world, is something that must be addressed. I'd go so far as to say
that the problem of evil in general is another major issue in the west, and
is typically a (though honestly, many times flippant and poorly considered)
source of skepticism. I am not saying "My way is best, your way should not
be used" or "My way should go first, then you're next in line". Different
approaches for different people, as they need it. For the people whose
problem is primarily theodicy, talk theodicy. For the people whose problem
is primarily science/misconceptions, talk science/understanding. But
recognize that the latter are out there, and aren't being approached
properly and in proper volume.

Finally, I'm not going to deny that ID is associated with being
anti-evolution. I said that in my last response to Cameron, I believe, and I
think it's something that needs to be worked on - and something TEs can and
should assist with. Don't like the way the DI approaches things? Fantastic -
you don't have to take their approach. Take your own. Write books, write
articles - "Fitness of the Cosmos for Life" was a bit too academic and
unknown for the people I'm thinking about, but a great starting example of
what I think TEs are capable of, and what is needed from them. TEs don't
need the DI's approval to write on such topics. I hope they don't think they
need the NCSE's approval either.

On Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 10:22 PM, George Murphy <>wrote:

> Cameron et al -
> You're right that I don't "say that *all* language in the Bible and
> tradition which speaks of God and creation in terms of power, wisdom, etc.,
> is false and inappropriate." The question, however, is where we should
> start. & as I said here recently - & for that matter have said often - I do
> not claim that the what I've called the "classic" view of natural theology
> (i.e., essentially what you espouse) is absolutely wrong. It is, however,
> dangerous. Thinking that we first find God in the beautiful, orderly,
> powerful things of the world is a very natural temptation because it means
> that we're picturing God to be the kind of deity we would be if we could be
> God. & even if one moves on from there to understand the necessity of the
> cross, the fundamental picture of God is still likely (not necessary but
> likely) to be the immutable, impassible God of philosophical theism.
> The theology of the cross insists that we start with the cross and
> recognize it as the cross of God. It doesn't end there & indeed talks about
> the resurrection of the crucified One, but it is meaningless to talk about
> that - unless we really have come to see that he *was* crucified & in fact
> as the risen one is still the crucified. ("Then he showed them his hands
> and his side.) & this is true of other indications of God's power.
> I also want to repeat - & no one in this thread had commented on this -
> that I have proposed an alternate apologetic in
><> .
> I am not suggesting that we just leave atheists & other non-Christians alone
> but that we present them with the real thing rather than a cheap substitute
> which eventually has to be corrected anyway. The question I pose to the
> approach you & Schwarzwald suggest is, in the words of that old 50s
> commercial for (I think) Vitalis, "Are you still using that greasy kid
> stuff." Or a bit more formally, I think of the way quantum mechanics is
> taught. One approach is a more or less historical one via classical
> mechanics & its difficulties, Bohr's old quantum theory & finally the real
> thing with Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Dirac & Feynman. It works but most
> students are still thinking of quantum mechanics in terms of classical
> physics, whereas really classical physics is a limiting case of QM.
> Instead, start with the real thing. (& don't worry if Bohr rolls over in
> his grave.)
> On your comments about the merits of ID vs TE as an apologetic. I don't
> see TE as an eseentially apologetic tool. Of course if evolution is a
> serious hindrance to belief for the person you're talking to then you need
> to discuss how it can be coherent with the faith. But ID isn't particularly
> helpful there. (Whether you like it or not, it's strongly associated with
> opposition to evolution.) & if the problem the person has is theodicy - how
> can a supposedly loving God create via this process? - ID is as good as
> useless, whereas the approach I suggest, in terms of the theology of the
> cross, has, I think, a very strong way of dealing with that concern.
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Cameron Wybrow <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Wednesday, August 19, 2009 2:01 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments
> George, Schwarzwald, et al.:
> I tend to agree with Schwarzwald. There is no "risk-free" approach. There
> is no evangelical "technique" which can guarantee that anyone will believe
> in the "right" kind of Christian God (whether that God be the kenotic,
> suffering Christ of George Murphy, or the
> sovereign, irresistible, inscrutable, predestining Will believed in by many
> Calvinists).
> Yes, it's possible that certain ideas of God that a person might adopt
> (perhaps, say, a God who is identified exclusively with will, power and
> victory) may make it difficult later on for that person to accept many forms
> of Christianity (in which God is thought of in terms of submission,
> weakness, and humiliation). On the other hand, unless the Christian God of
> kenosis and humility is *entirely* different from the Creator-God of power,
> will, intelligence, etc., there will be *some* overlap between the God
> inferred from nature and the suffering God. I don't think that even George
> Murphy, with his emphasis on the self-emptying aspect of God, would say that
> *all* language in the Bible and tradition which speaks of God and creation
> in terms of power, wisdom, etc., is false and inappropriate. I do not think
> he could say this, and remain, as I believe he intends to remain, within the
> tradition of historic Christianity, with its emphasis on the Bible, the
> Fathers, the Creeds, the Trinity, etc. Thus, I think there exists a "bridge
> theology" between those who are Deists, Jews, and Christians, a sort of
> minimalist theology acknowledging the existence of an intelligent power
> which has given rational form to the world. I cannot see what harm such a
> minimalist theology can do, as long as no one supposes that it is a full or
> adequate theology.
> It is true that not "just any kind of theist" can easily move
> to Christianity. But the theists who cannot easily move to Christianity --
> George gives Muslims as an example -- are theists who are "dedicated", so to
> speak, to *a particular form* of theism. Schwarzwald is talking about
> "non-dedicated" theism. An example that springs to mind: if you have a
> motor which is connected with the blade of an electric lawn-mower, you
> cannot easily use the whole assembly as a living-room fan. Nor, if you have
> a motor which is connected with the blade of a living-room fan, can you
> easily turn the whole assembly into an electric lawn-mower. But if you have
> a motor powerful enough for either job, which has not yet been integrated
> into the structure of either a lawn-mower or a living room fan, you can put
> it to either use, by building it into the appropriate mechanical setting.
> Schwarzwald's theists-in-general are like such a "non-dedicated" motor.
> George's Muslims, on the other hand, are like the motor which is already
> encased in the electric lawn-mower and therefore badly suited to use as a
> living-room fan. However, Schwarzwald is not recommending dragging an
> electric lawn-mower into the house, setting it up on its side, and using it
> as a clumsy fan. He is recommending that atheists consider the possibility
> that there might be such a thing as a motor. Once they are convinced that
> motors exist, they may also come to believe that living-room fans exist.
> Further, even if, once believing in motors, a person should fall in love
> with electric lawn-mowers rather than living-room fans, what is the loss?
> Prior to that, the person did not believe in living-room fans, anyway.
> Similarly, if a person should move from atheism to generic theism and
> finally to Islam, well, that person was not a Christian before anyway, so
> there is no net loss to Christendom. And since at least a *some* people who
> move from atheism to generic theism will later become Christian, then on the
> whole, the move from atheism to generic theism cannot be anything but a gain
> for Christendom.
> The social relevance of Schwarzwald's suggestion is this: as of right
> now, there is a whole sector of the population -- bright, well-educated,
> upper-middle-class, with above average wealth and confidence and social
> position -- which is effectively atheist or agnostic, whether it still
> retains a nominal church connection or not. This sector of the population
> believes that "science" has disproved the existence of a creator God, or
> that "science" has made such a God a redundant and/or dubious hypothesis.
> If this sector of the population could be shown that "science" has shown no
> such thing, and even further, that "science", to the extent that it shows
> anything about God, makes the existence of a creator God at least as likely
> as not, and possibly even more likely than not, then one of the huge
> intellectual and cultural barriers to even considering the possibility of
> Christianity will have been removed. Design arguments, to the extent that
> they seriously weaken the "science has shown that there is no God" position,
> are constructive in this regard. (This is not to say that design arguments
> can "prove" the existence of God; but even rendering dubious the alleged
> scientific disproofs of God's existence is a very useful service to
> religious belief.)
> I've probably said this before, and I hope I won't bore people if I say it
> again: on this front, ID is more useful than TE. The TE message is for
> those who are *already Christian*, but who do not accept certain results of
> modern science. The TE message, at least as it usually appears on this
> list, and even in many of the essays in the *PEC* book, is: "Conservative,
> Bible-believing Protestants, don't be afraid of science, and in particular,
> don't be afraid of evolution. You can still keep your Christianity if you
> subscribe to evolution, an ancient earth, etc." But such a message has no
> relevance for those who aren't Christian, and aren't particularly interested
> in becoming Christian. They already accept evolution and an ancient earth
> and the Big Bang anyway. The ID message, on the other hand, is: "Atheists
> and agnostics and former believers (who, being Harvard and Cornell grads, or
> readers of books and blogs written by those grads, have lost your faith),
> don't believe Sagan and Dawkins and Gould and Coyne when they say that
> undirected natural processes have already accounted for the rationality of
> the cosmos and of the integrated complexity of living things. There is a
> strong inferential case, based entirely on empirical data and
> reason, that an intelligent design of some sort pervades the non-living and
> living worlds." The ID message resonates better with the sort of people I
> am talking about, because (a) it is based on the empirical and mathematical
> study of nature, which is appealing to such middle-class, science-respecting
> people; and (b) it is religiously non-threatening, because it does not push
> the Bible in such people's faces. TE literature, on the other hand,
> is pious-sounding, with many references to Christ, the Bible, faith, the
> theistic world-view, God's sovereignty, theodicy, etc., and this scares many
> middle-class agnostics away. Thus, I think the ID approach, which leads
> only indirectly to revealed religion, via a generic "natural theology"
> accessible even to a thoughtful and open-minded agnostic, is much more
> likely (albeit only in a roundabout manner, and in the long run) to win
> converts to Christianity than TE is, from that part of the public which I
> have specified. I don't see why TE proponents should begrudge this "mission
> field" to ID, since it is not a field in which TE is doing much cultivating,
> anyway.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Tuesday, August 18, 2009 10:28 PM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments
> Heya George,
> I've already said that, certainly, bringing someone to theism does not
> guarantee that they're going to become Christian. But I don't think there's
> a "risk-free" approach to this - absolutely any move you make (including
> making no move at all) has a risk attached. One has to keep in mind their
> message and their approach, but at the end of the day do what seems to make
> the most sense. And I maintain that the approach I'm talking about makes
> quite a lot of sense, specifically in the west. I wouldn't say it's the only
> approach available, or that it doesn't have risks, of course. But I'd need
> to hear more than "They may end up believing differently than we/you do" to
> reject it, because that's the status quo for this group as is.
> On Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 9:38 PM, George Murphy <>wrote:
>> It's not at all clear to me that a person becoming just any kind of
>> theist is better - i.e., closer to Christian faith - than atheism. From a
>> theoretical standpoint, Christianity is very different from many varieties
>> of theism. It's not without significance that the early Christians were
>> accused of being atheists by the pagans. If you ask many of the people who
>> "believe in God" what God they believe in, you may have to say "I don't
>> believe in that God either." & practically, being a member of many theistic
>> communities (e.g., Islam) introduces constraints against acceptance of
>> Christianity that are not felt by atheists. & even the "mere theist" may
>> have settled upon notions about God that that make it difficult to take
>> seriously the belief that the real God is revealed in a man dying on cross.
>> Shalom
>> George
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
>> *To:*
>> *Sent:* Monday, August 17, 2009 9:18 PM
>> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments
>> ...........................................
>> 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.
>> ...........................................

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Received on Thu Aug 20 02:58:53 2009

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