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

From: Dave Wallace <>
Date: Thu Aug 20 2009 - 09:28:53 EDT
Cameron Wybrow wrote:
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).
It seems to me that many of the reformed persuasion accept both the suffering Christ and the sovereign God.  In fact right now I am reading a book by a minister in our denomination called "The Weakness of God".
 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.
I tend to summarize this as a phrase from one of Chaim Potek's  books: "Master of the Universe".  Every few years I read his wonderful books yet again!

 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. 
It would make a very powerful fan assuming that the motor size is adequate for a useful lawn mower.  Sorry I'm an electrical engineer by training. 
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.
I would add that leading someone to Mere Christianity is more important than making them a member of whatever denomination we belong to.  Not that denominational differences are not important but I have trouble with people who are say reformed or baptist ...before they are Christian.

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." 
Only partially.  EC/TE also seems useful to those who have left the church or who are considering leaving the church because they can no longer swallow the YEC/OEC positions! 

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.    

Maybe so but I doubt it.  What would ID do if 5 to 10 of the 500 page books that you ask for were published?  Sure we likely will never be able to exhaustively document all the cases for development of complex biological features but in time enough may be documented to make such converts doubt the basis of their change in thinking.  Even if we could produce all the 500 page books that does not mean, by any means that God is not involved.   You probably find Dembski more convincing that I do.  
I'm not sure that it ever would be appropriate that EC/TE would be  a good  basis for apologetics.    In terms of becoming less sure of the findings of science I find philosophy of science writers such as Michael Polanyi and others much more helpful. 

Dave W

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