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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Aug 21 2009 - 00:00:25 EDT


I disagree. A lot more happened during the enlightenment than the growth and
development of science - and not every question or argument that could call
upon a scientific perspective to emphasize its point would therefore be due
to science itself. In the east, buddhists were using the plain appearance of
evil in the world as a reason to doubt the existence of a good omnipotent
God long before science became an issue. In the west, the idea of the fall
may have been an explanation for the evil seen - but there continued to be
debate about the nature of that explanation (Loosely, how the event could be
wholly Adam's responsibility and not even partially God's, etc). Long before
Christianity was on the scene, Epicurus gave his famous quote about the
incompatibility of God with the existence of evil. Science certainly played
a role (particularly when it came to strict literal interpretations about
Genesis), but the problem of God's responsibility in a world where evil
exists was longstanding. If anything the enlightenment simply offered a new
cultural and intellectual emphasis on it.

As for the other scientific issues, Laplace's quote actually serves my
argument. There is a vast world of difference between "science can explain
quite a lot without needing explicit reference to God" and "science's
discoveries contradict the existence of God, or provide reason not to
believe in God". But the problem is that these two claims, with the people
I'm talking about, tend to be mixed together and confused. Once it's
straightened out just what science does and does not accomplish - indeed,
what it can and cannot accomplish - then theism becomes a lot more
plausible, a "live option" to speak of, for people who were previously held
back by that confusion. I want to note here that I'm not talking about
committed, aggressive, nigh-evangelical atheists. They're God's children as
much as anyone else, but they'd require a completely distinct approach from
what I'm saying here. I'm talking about fairly relaxed, disenchanted people
who, when the topic of God is brought up, are more likely to shrug their
shoulders or not take the question all that seriously to begin with because
of the general cultural and intellectual attitude they're mired in. Here, I
have almost zero concern about being able to leave speechless a determined
atheist gunning for a prolonged debate. As I've said before in this thread,
I'm more and more beginning to think that the New Atheists are a red

As for ID, I should qualify what I mean here. I think ID goes (or should go)
vastly beyond narrow talk of specified information and irreducible
complexity. Which is why I've argued that TEs in particular should really be
turning towards making more positive arguments aimed outside of
Christianity, even if those arguments are explicitly extra-scientific
(meaning that they are giving arguments or conceptualizations of design in
nature and evolution, while at the same time realizing these are
philosophical and intellectual arguments, not scientific statements.) At a
glance, I do think Behe raises some good points, as well as Dembski. But I
also think Simon Conway Morris raises some great points. And Michael Denton.
And Mike Gene. And Edward Feser. And John Haught. And more, Christian and
not (Paul Davies comes to mind here.) I think the crux of the ID approach
can and should go beyond what Dembski and Behe happen to think of things,
whatever value their views may have. As I wrote previously, the DI is not
needed to make these arguments in in books or articles (whether the
particular argument is philosophical, scientific, rhetorical, etc.)

I have to ask, George - what happens if someone disagrees with your view? I
certainly could make criticisms, and I have what probably amounts to a
dramatically different view of theodicy than you do, while remaining a
Christian believer (Catholic, in fact.) In fact I'd have to also ask you..
how would you even approach the group I, and I think Cameron and possibly
even Ted Davis, are talking about with your view? Someone doesn't believe in
God, thinks that the mere existence of science makes God somehow logically
invalid or even impossible.. are you honestly going to open up with talk
about divine immutability and impassibility? I don't ask this to deride your
view at all.

On Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 9:57 PM, George Murphy <> wrote:

> Black Forest et al -
> 1st, I don't think the issue of theodicy is easily disentangled from
> questions about science & religion. It is largely the progress of science
> that is responsible for making theodicy a major concern in the west. (If
> you doubt that, consider the fact that prior to the 17th century the whole
> idea that God could be called to account for the suffering in the world
> wasn't taken seriously.) Especially scientific discoveries about the age of
> the earth & the origins of humanity have made the idea that all natural evil
> stemmed from the fiurst human sin quite implausible.
> But granted, there are other scientific issues. & one of the fundamental
> ones is that science can account quite well for what goes on in the world
> with no reference to God - "Sire, I do not need that hypothesis." Atheists
> reject the idea that God could be at work in the world in hidden ways -
> reject it quite appropriately if that defense is trotted out only to blunt
> the change that science has shown the idea of God to be unnecessary. But
> one of the strong points of the approach I suggest is that the idea of
> divine kenosis & the hiddenness of God is a natural consequence of the
> fundamental understanding of God being proposed. Of course that doesn't
> mean that atheists will accept the idea but that can't fairly accuse it of
> just being a tactic to cover a theological retreat.
> As far as ID is concerned, how effective it can be as an apologetic
> approach for scientifically informed people depends, of course, on how
> strong its arguments are. & many will consider them - & I think rightly -
> not very strong. In particular, I think Behe's whole idea of "irreducible
> complexity" has pretty well been disposed of. Whether or not one
> agrees that some interemediate steps toward the bacterial flagellum could
> be useful for purposes other than propulsion, simply the idea that
> intermediate steps toward a mechanism for function A could still
> provide some selective advantage with regard to that function or perhaps to
> some other function B raises serious doubts about how fundamental the
> "irreducibility" of any complexity could be. Ken Miller's examples of the
> possible usefulness of intermediate steps toward a full-fledged mousetrap
> illustrates that.
> I am not, however, opposed to all use of design ideas - but they should be
> seen within the context of a Christian belief in creation. I.e., to the
> extent that they are valid, they can be assimilated to the apologetic
> approach I've proposed.
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Thursday, August 20, 2009 2:57 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments
> 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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