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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Aug 21 2009 - 03:07:32 EDT


Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Certainly I agree with you that even if ID could offer a proof of the
existence of some sort of Designer, that alone would not generate cultural
renewal. Cultural renewal is never based on mere intellectual propositions.
It proceeds from a spiritual impulse which animates many facets of a
civilization at once. And of course, as you say, a complete rogue or
libertine could believe that the existence of a designer had been logically
proved. Thus, ID can at best enable cultural renewal, by removing some of
the stumbling-blocks that allegedly "scientific" statements have put in the
way of belief in God, in the soul, in natural law, and so on. (Yet this is
not an unimportant contribution. Isaiah did not have Harvard and Chicago
professors to contend with, and could speak directly to kings and farmers
who had not been "educated" by such people; but in our era, the hardened
conceptual wax which stops the ears of the educated must be removed before
next prophet can be heard.)

A minor qualification to one of your statements: one thing that interested
me about Behe when I read *Darwin's Black Box* was that, while his argument
was in the Paleyan tradition, he did not hesitate to criticize several of
Paley's arguments. He indicated that much "natural theology" was based on
the human projection of highly subjective notions of fitness onto nature,
and that the more disciplined Paleyan arguments (like the one based on the
watch analogy) needed to be sorted out from the chaff. I remember years
ago, as a teenager (and hard-core Darwinian), reading with disgust an
anti-evolutionary tract out of Grand Rapids (weren't they all?), in which
the author offered a whole set of very bad "natural theology" arguments, of
the sort that Behe rejects in *Darwin's Black Box*. I think Behe tries to
restrain the natural theology tradition from its excesses. Stephen Meyer's
new book on DNA does much the same thing, eschewing slap-dash subjective
impressions of design from all over nature and focusing entirely on the
describable and measurable integrated complexity of the DNA-protein system
which lies at the heart of living nature.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>; "Schwarzwald" <>; "George Murphy"
Sent: Monday, August 17, 2009 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Deism, Apologetics, and Neglected Arguments

> This conversation is a very important one, and touches on many aspects of
> ID, theology, and the history of science. I need to get a lot of writing
> done this week or I would do a lot of writing, right here, on this topic.
> I will still say more than many may want to read.
> First, I should say that my own view of natural theology is intermediate
> between George Murphy's view and the view that I think is generally held
> by many in the ID movement -- that is, the view that it's essential to
> both Christian faith and the culture wars (sorry, Cameron, I can't
> separate the latter from this conversation, given what a lot of ID leaders
> have written) to have something very close to the old style natural
> theology, a "knockdown" proof of God's existence to use vs "Ditchkins" and
> on which to ground assaults on moral relativism in legal and educational
> contexts.
> I have learned a great deal from George, and for the most part I resonate
> with what he calls (citing Luther) the "theology of the cross," rather
> than the "theology of glory." This is very similar to what Polkinghorne
> calls (citing Moltmann) "the crucified God." With Polkinghorne, I would
> say that the very possibility of my Christian faith depends on seeing
> Christ as "the crucified God," holding out to us an answer (more
> existential than philosophical) for what Lewis called "the problem of
> pain." Indeed, the epigram that book by Lewis, borrowed from George
> MacDonald, eloquently summarizes just such a theology of the crucified
> God: "The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer,
> but that their sufferings might be like His." In my view, the objections
> often raised against a TE position, in terms of why a good God would use a
> process like evolution to create us and all other living things, are best
> met by a christological doctrine of creation (as vs one l!
> ooking only to God the Father as Maker of Heaven and Earth), in which the
> Creator is understood to be the twisted figure on the cross, the suffering
> servant who brings new things out of old. And, like Polkinghorne, such a
> view has real value only if involves an ontological view of the
> Incarnation: that God really did take on human form, that Jesus really was
> and is the second person of the Trinity and not merely a human being who
> trusted God more fully and deeply that most of us can. This view, with
> its emphasis on divine "kenosis" (self-emptying, or "pouring out"), is IMO
> theologically superior to the older theologies of creation, emphasizing
> only God the Father, or at least not seeing the LOGOS of John's gospel as
> the suffering servant. IMO, most ID advocates either do not understand
> this view (most ID advocates do not read any modern theology), or think it
> heretical for some reason (perhaps b/c it suggests like the book of Job
> that suffering and evil are ultimately pa!
> rt of God's choice not to create heaven now and cannot simply !
> be blame
> d on the "fall"), or b/c they believe that it results from an erroneous
> acceptance of evolution. But, as I say, on theological grounds alone,
> entirely apart from whether evolution is true or not, I think this is the
> best route to take relative to theodicy.
> I do not extend this view as far as George does, however, when it comes to
> natural theology. I agree with George that God is very often "hidden" in
> the world, and I also agree with George that the truest and best
> revelation of the divine is in the events of the passion week, not in the
> creation. However, I give more value to natural theology than George
> does. I do think that God has displayed wisdom and power in aspects of
> the creation. (I leave aside here the question of why some do not see it,
> except to note that the dark side of creation, if I may call it that, does
> raise questions about divine goodness, completely independently of human
> wickedness, questions that were largely or entirely ignored by the
> classical natural theologians. For Darwin this aspect of creation was
> clearest in parasitism.) I don't think that God is completely hidden, in
> other words, but at that same time I don't think that God wears his heart
> upon his sleeve, to borrow Einstein's words. I do!
> sometimes think that ID aims at writing God's name on the sleeve of
> creation, and certainly the classic natural theologians believed that God
> had done precisely that, from Boyle right down to Paley.
> George quotes the following passage from Richard S. Westfall's Science and
> Religion in Seventeenth-Century England (Yale, 1958), pp.106-107:
> "While the virtuosi [scientists in today's parlance] concentrated
> vigorously on the demonstrations of natural religion and proved to their
> own satisfaction that the cosmos reveals its Creator, they came to neglect
> their own contention that natural religion is only the foundation. The
> supernatural teachings of Christianity received little more than a
> perfunctory nod, expressing approval but indicating disinterest. Although
> the absorption in natural religion and the external manifestations of
> divine power did not dispute or deny any specific Christian doctrine, it
> did more to undermine Christianity than any conclusion of natural
> science."
> As I've said sometimes, the late "Sam" Westfall was my mentor in graduate
> school. This passage very fairly summarizes his position, which has been
> reinvigorated by the contemporary Catholic scholar Michael Buckley, in his
> book, At the Origins of Modern Atheism. I think this view is at least
> partly correct. Among other things, it very accurately cautions against
> the dangers of an independent natural theology -- here I would agree with
> George. On the other hand, Westfall's view is fairly heavily based on
> serious misunderstandings of the views of both Robert Boyle (to whom I
> devoted many years of study, starting when I was Sam's student) and Isaac
> Newton (to whom Sam devoted much of his life, yet Sam's view of Newton on
> theology and science is not shared by me or by most modern Newton
> scholars). To see what I mean, relative to Newton, read one of the Newton
> pieces listed on my web site ( On
> Boyle, it would be instructive to compare what S!
> am said about him on pp. 124-27 of the book cited above to what I wrote
> about Boyle's religious life and attitudes in Science & Christian Belief
> (Oct 2007). Suffice it to say that I do not at all accept Sam's statement
> (126), "Apparently Boyle did not keenly feel the need for divine
> redemption in his own heart. The even tenor of his life was seemingly
> unbroken by violent temptation, and he pursued a steady course of virtue
> unmarred by even the faintest breath of scandal. The problems of morality
> were not pressing concerns in personal life. He talked about sin like an
> American discussing cricket; he had heard about it but had never seen it
> close at hand. The Christian doctrine of redemption rang no response in
> his soul."
> To the contrary. As I argue in my essay, it was the depths of depravity
> that Boyle saw all around him, esp in the lives of his family members and
> their spouses, that drove Boyle to reject courtly mores and to remain
> chaste his whole life. It was deep struggles with his own religious
> doubts that led him to write so much about the positive functions that
> natural philosophy and the experimental life had for the Christian. And,
> it was Boyle's own religious experience of redemption -- through the
> sacrament of the Eucharist -- that provided the antidote for the despair
> that had driven him to contemplate suicide as a young Christian. Sam was
> put off by Boyle's deep piety -- he saw Boyle as "priggish," I recall --
> and unable to see the positive role that doubt played in Boyle's spiritual
> and intellectual life.
> Nevertheless, I agree with Sam's observation, that "Boyle never considered
> natural religion a substitute for Christianity." (124) Some others
> probably did, and I very much agree with Sam's point that "In the hands of
> men who were less devout [than Boyle] his religious expressions could
> readily have been turned into deism." (127) It is to Boyle more than
> anyone else that we owe the clockwork metaphor (which Newton rejected); it
> is to Boyle more than anyone else that we look for inspiring the
> Anglo-American tradition of natural theology, culminating in Paley and
> leading directly to Dembski and Behe. I do not intend to imply anything
> here about any lack of piety or genuine Christian faith on the part of
> Paley, Dembski, or Behe; but there can be no doubt that lots of others who
> followed after Boyle accepted the full force of the design argument while
> rejecting the redemptive power of God in Christ. I don't blame Boyle for
> this, any more than I blame Darwin for Hitler. But i!
> n his public and private writings Boyle certainly put more emphasis on
> creation than redemption.
> I can't blame him for that, either. I hope George will correct me if I am
> mistaken, but as far as I can tell it has only been in relatively recent
> times that anyone has developed the kind of christocentric theology of
> creation that I outlined above. Boyle and pretty much anyone else --
> Calvin, Thomas, Augustine, Wesley, and probably even Luther most of the
> time (is this correct, George?) -- did not join creation and redemption to
> the degree that has been done by George, Polkinghorne, and some other
> recent authors. True, some 17th century Lutheran theologians took a
> kenotic view of redemption; but no one took a kenotic view of creation
> until quite recently. No one, that is to say, tried fully to integrate
> the passion week into the creation week, such that conversations about God
> the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth, were not simultaneously
> conversations about God the Son, whose suffering has redeemed us and whose
> resurrection is the first fruits of the new creation.
> That is where I would try to get people to go: to the cross, where the
> Creator died before being raised again. When dealing with Ditchkins,
> however, all of that is (as Paul said) just so much foolishness to the
> Greeks. For conversations in the public square, sometimes it can be
> helpful at least to blunt the point of the Ditchkins spear, aimed not at
> the side of the suffering servant (whom Ditchkins cannot even see) but at
> the head of the believer, in order to show the foolishness of a reason
> that ultimately denies the basis of its own rationality. To that extent,
> and only to that extent, I think natural theology has some value,
> independently of revelation.
> On the other hand, I do have the impression, a very strong impression,
> that many ID thinkers believe that getting Ditchkins to admit the
> possibility of genuine design will thereby result somehow in cultural
> renewal. IMO this is to miss the "lesson" of people like Robert Hooke, a
> close friend of Boyle who absolutely believed in the reality of divine
> design in the world, but who went on his merry way of living a rather
> licentious nocturnal life (Hooke's diary provides abundant evidence for
> the curious). I sometimes wonder whether Hooke was in the front of
> Boyle's mind, when he thought of "practical atheists" as he did on at
> least one occasion, or when he spoke of baptized infidels of various types
> as he did quite often. In any case, Boyle really believed that natural
> theology could move hearts as well as teach minds; I can't agree with him
> on that, in most cases. To that extent, I think ID is barking up the
> wrong tree.
> Ted
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Received on Fri Aug 21 03:09:59 2009

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