Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's books....)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Oct 22 2009 - 21:57:45 EDT


Thanks for your reply.

I'll insert remarks where appropriate.

----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: "asa" <>
Sent: Thursday, October 22, 2009 3:39 PM
Subject: Re: Schools and NOMA (was Re: [asa] Atheist finds God thru Behe's

>> David, is your remark about NOMA and anti-evolution aimed at YEC people,
>> ID
>> people, or both? Here is what you wrote:
>>> But much opposition to evolution consists of buying into NOMA and trying
>>> to take origins away from science's magesteria [magisterium].
> It is aimed at anyone who thinks that an evolutionary explanation
> removes God from the picture, primarily at those who attack evolution
> in order to keep God in but secondarily at those who endorse evolution
> in hopes of excluding God. The claim of evolution or God is
> commonplace in both YEC and ID material, though not infrequently
> corrections can be found in the works of the same authors.

YECs tend to say "evolution or God", and I agree with you that it doesn't
have to be a stark choice. But I'm not sure how that fits into NOMA, unless
you mean "origins" fall under theology and "today's operations of nature"
fall under "science". I suppose that in that sense one could see YECs as
accepting NOMA but redefining the boundaries. But even if that is the case,
I am not sure that all YECs would fit under NOMA in other ways. For
example, some YECs are cessationists regarding miracles, and others aren't.
The ones who still accept miracles -- healings and so on -- would not be
strict NOMA supporters, would they? If you accept miraculous healings, then
it means that every time a patient recovers who was expected to die, there
would be two hypotheses on the table -- natural causes or divine
intervention. Not all events would have natural causes. So not just
"origins science" but even "operational science" would have to engage in
give-and-take with theology to explain particular events. That wouldn't be
very NOMA-like, would it?

>> I can't speak for the anti-ID wing of YEC with any confidence, but I am
>> in
>> regular contact with a large number of ID supporters, of all types,
>> including YECs, OECs, religious syncretists, and even hard-boiled
>> agnostics.
>> Some of them are on-side with macroevolution; others reject it. But one
>> thing that all of them, or almost all of them, have in common, is a
>> hatred
>> of NOMA.
> To me, ID often buys into NOMA; they merely want to change the names
> and boundaries of the magesteria [yes, I deal enough with Latin
> agreement with genera and species that I ought to have gotten the
> singular right]. NOMA says that some things fall under religion and
> some under science. ID generally asserts that some things fall under
> design and some under non-design. However, I think of ID primarily as
> it is popularly marketed, which has much more of Johnson and Wells
> than Behe, Denton, etc..

It wasn't just the *ending* of "mag*i*sterium" that was the problem. :-)

Well, it may be that popular ID thinks of some things as designed and some
things as non-designed. And it's theoretically possible with ID that
evolution could take care of, say, 80% of the changes, via Darwinian and
other natural means, with special interventions to design new body plans
happening periodically. However, I think that those ID people who accept
both God and evolution generally don't have such a stop-and-start
conception, with God designing some things and not others. I think they see
design as permeating the whole march of life, from top to bottom. What you
may be doing here is what others often do, which is to conclude that since
ID theorists point to certain structures, e.g., flagellum, as designed, they
must believe that only certain very complex things were designed, whereas
all other things arose entirely naturally. That doesn't follow. The point
of making the design argument for a few special cases is to show that *there
are at least a few things that could not have arisen without design*. And
if there are even a few things like that, then Dawkins, Coyne, etc. are
wrong. In other words, you should read ID as saying, not "X is designed but
all the rest is undesigned", but rather as saying: "Since AT LEAST X is
designed, Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, etc. are wrong." Then, with Dawkins etc.
taken out, the question can be raised whether design is not actually present
all through the living kingdoms (albeit not unmixed with contingent
elements, as Behe grants).

But note that even if what you call the popular conception of ID were
authentic ID, ID would be freed from the charge of NOMA. If God pops in and
out of the natural process, sometimes letting it run by mutation and natural
selection alone, other times doing a miracle to speed things along, then the
magisteria of theology and natural science would be hopelessly mixed
together. That's not NOMA. It might be objectionable for many reasons, but
not for being NOMA.

>> Further, many of these people would see NOMA as closely allied with TE.
>> From
>> the ID point of view, many if not most TEs believe that all events happen
>> due to natural causes (however much God may be mysteriously
>> "co-operating"
>> with those causes), and their acceptance of Darwinian evolution (which is
>> 100% naturalistic), is directly connected with that.
> Thus, the ID advocates are buying into NOMA, accepting the claim that
> natural causes=absence of God.

From Gould's point of view, if natural causes are sufficient to explain a
phenomenon without reference to God, if phenomena can be adequately treated
"as if God did not exist" (to use George's phrase from the Latin), then
saying that God is somehow present in natural causes, or concurs with or
co-operates with natural causes, is not explanatory in the scientific sense.
It is a theological gloss, entirely optional for the scientist qua
scientist, as George admits. So, while you may see the dual-track
explanation (natural causes and God, without either contradicting the other)
as differing from NOMA, Gould would see it as perfectly accommodatable
within NOMA. If believing that God co-operates with or concurs with or lies
behind or mysteriously sustains natural causes does not interfere with the
methods, data or theorizing of science, then it respects science's
magisterium. Your view of divine action is thus entirely compatible with
NOMA, whereas the stop-and-start view of divine action which you impute to
ID people isn't.

I am not saying that you support NOMA; I am saying that your view of divine
action regarding nature, as far as I have understood it from many of your
posts, is compatible with NOMA. It does not encroach upon the magisterium
of science as Gould understands it.

>> And again from the ID point of view, while the religious sincerity of
>> most TEs is not denied,
> Claiming that TEs endorse evolution out of craven accommodation to the
> vast left-wing conspiracy that rules acedemia does not seem to be
> endorsement of sincerity. Of course, again there are a number of
> people in the big tent who don't say that, but the message to the
> average person in the pew is exactly that TEs lack religious
> sincerity.

I would doubt that there are very many TEs who say "I really don't believe
in evolution, but I will pretend I do to advance my academic career." I'm
not sure how many ID people would actually say that. I'll let you take that
charge up with the ID people who are guilty of what you are talking about.
As for me, I think that ID people should concentrate on attacking Dawkins,
Coyne, Myers, Eugenie Scott, etc., not attacking TEs.

But to be fair to ID people, many ID people, having at first attacked only
the atheists, have then found themselves blind-sided by TEs. It's like
trying to fight the enemy on the battlefield, and feeling a bayonet fixed in
your leg from behind, and turning around and finding out it's someone from
your own army that's stabbed you. So if TEs don't want ID people to go
after them, maybe they should stop publically contradicting every single
argument that ID people employ against Dawkins, etc. If they keep on doing
that, obviously they are going to make ID people irate, and there is going
to be retaliation, and shouts of "Whose side are you on?" That's just basic
human nature.

>> it looks as if religion for TEs belongs in the private world of faith.
>> For
>> example, in the insistence of many TEs that not even God's bare existence
>> can be established through the observation of nature, ID people see a
>> cleavage, a sort of schizophrenia between the "science" half of the soul
>> and
>> the "religion" half of the soul, where "science" knows the external
>> world,
>> and "faith" knows God, and never the twain shall meet. Science can't talk
>> about God, and faith can't talk about nature. And from the ID point of
>> view, that sounds an awful lot like NOMA.
> I see this attitude as buying into the schizophrenia between "secular"
> and "sacred".

I don't know what you mean by the "schizophrenia" between secular and
sacred. I would guess that you are invoking something like Luther's
criticism of monastic life as specially "spiritual", and his endorsement of
secular life as a "calling" from God. But pressing that too far is hardly
Christian. Every time a minister or priest consecrates a new church, he is
affirming a distinction between "secular" and "sacred". And of course the
notion of the sacred pervades the Hebrew Bible, especially the Pentateuch
and the early Prophets. I certainly agree with you that "secular" callings
are just as valid spiritually as holy orders or monastic life, but from my
point of view, the problem with modern religion, especially modern
Protestantism, is that it has progressively stripped away any sense of the
sacred at all.

> As a rule, the distinguishing mark of the Christian
> approach to "secular" occupations should be the commitment to quality
> and high ethical standards.

There is nothing particularly Christian about those things. Jews, secular
humanists, Muslims, etc. can all exhibit such commitments.

> Take literature as an example. While
> particular topics are likely to interest a Christian, Christian
> characters are likely to be portrayed sympathetically, and the moral
> tone likely to be high, a novel is not legitimately a Christian novel
> if it is lousy literature. In fact, by invoking God's name for bad
> work, in a way it is worse than a sleazy, pagan novel. Regrettably,
> that principle would save a lot of shelf space at many Christian
> bookstores.

I agree with you entirely that cloying, saccharine Christian literature is
not desirable. If people want great Christian literature, they should read
Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, not the sort of stuff that is cranked out for "the
Christian market".

> The point is particularly forcefully made by Dorothy L.
> Sayers, though her time in advertising probably made her especially
> cynical about anything suggestive of propaganda. Some time ago,
> someone on this list noted spotting a sign advertising "Christian
> Dentistry". If they understand that as a commitment to good quality
> work, treating people well, honest billing, etc., then it would be a
> good place to go. If they think it means that prayer is a complete
> substitute for anesthetics [more likely with Buddhist
> dentistry-attempting to transcend dental medication], or if their goal
> no matter what the condition of your teeth is to crown you with many
> crowns, or they try to only use dental technology from Biblical times,
> stay away.

I don't know anyone who would disagree with you here. I think anyone who
puts up a sign saying "Christian Dentistry" is being rather silly. And I
doubt any *real* Buddhist would ever put up such a sign, though of course a
charlatan employing Eastern religion as a gimmick might. For that matter, I
doubt you would see signs saying Hindu dentistry, Jewish dentistry, etc. It
is only evangelical Christians who are constantly talking about Christian
this and Christian that all the time, "Christian talk shows", "Christian
rock music" and so on.

> Similarly, in doing science a Christian should be characterized by
> high quality and strong ethics.

Again, such things are not particularly Christian. 40% of the science
professors in the USA, I am told, are Jews. I believe that a number of them
do rather good science and exhibit strong professional ethics in doing it.

> God does make extensive use of the
> ordinary laws of nature in the running of the universe. You pray for
> safe travel on a trip. Very good, but do not do so by closing your
> eyes and folding your hands while you are behind the wheel of a moving
> vehicle. Rather, you make sure the car is in good working order and
> drive carefully. If you are sick, pray and find a good doctor. Was
> God less involved in fulfilling the prophecy about where Jesus would
> be born because it happened via Augustus' tax and a weary hike instead
> of miraculous teleportation?

I don't know anyone, IDer or YEC or other, who would deny any of this.

> Consider how God works in history and
> how a similar approach is likely to look with regard to the history of
> life.

I think the point of critics of Darwinian evolution, and of all purely
naturalistic accounts of evolution, is not that God *could not* have used
natural causes to propel evolution; it is that God *need not* have done so.
God could have used any combination of natural and non-natural activity to
bring about the process. The criticism that ID people make of TE is not
that TE allows that evolution *could have been* wholly natural, but that it
*must have been* wholly natural. How can we know that it was wholly
natural? Since the Bible does not say *how* God created all the living
creatures, but only that he did so, things are left open. And since
throughout the rest of the Bible, God clearly employs a mixture of natural
events and obvious interventions to get done what he wanted done, it is
consistent with the Biblical presentation of God's activity that the
creation of life involved a similar mixture. But many TEs seem to recoil
from the latter possibility. They want a purely naturalistic account (even
if they supplement it with theological statements that God is behind all
natural activity, that God co-operates with natural causes, that God is
behind both chance and necessity, and so on). And the question arises:
Why? While there are obvious practical advantages to assuming only natural
causes in operational science, since we need regularity in nature in order
to predict and control things, there is no practical disadvantage to us
today if God poofed new species into existence during the Cambrian
explosion. I am not saying that he did, but what if he did? It would not
prevent modern medical research, for example, from working on a totally
naturalistic basis. There is no practical reason for *caring* about whether
or not miracles were used. But TEs very much care about this. It follows
that the preference for pure naturalism in origins is either aesthetic
(scientists like the tidiness and smoothness of natural-only explanations,
rather than the disorderliness and bumpiness of unpredictable miracles) or
theological (certain Christians don't like a God who does miracles). But
God is not bound by our aesthetic or theological preferences. So ID people
see TE people as given to *a priori* commitments of various kinds, and
therefore not very open to alternate explanations.

And of course, we must always remember that some ID people support complete
naturalism even in origins, but they understand the whole process as set up
in advance, i.e., designed, in its general direction if not in all its

> Science does, indeed, only know the external world, because it is
> generally incompetent to address serious theological issues. It is
> capable of dealing with superstition/magic-type claims about the
> supernatural (e.g., is the horoscope correct? does bending spoons
> require psychic power?), but that is not the way that God operates.
> Note that I would not say that ID is inherently non-science. ID
> includes a mix of non-science, science, and false science. Could one
> scientifically look for gaps in evolution, for example? Yes, but the
> putative formulas for detecting specified or irreducible complexity
> fail to exclude things that can occur by natural laws.

>> This why I asked, in another conversation, what it would take, for a TE,
>> to
>> put Christianity at risk. If NOMA applies, then Christianity is
>> bulletproof, at least on the side of science. No conceivable fact
>> uncovered
>> by science, no conceivable law or theory or scheme of the world uncovered
>> by
>> science, could ever put Christian teaching in doubt. And TEs appear to
>> believe that Christianity is scientifically bulletproof. So if NOMA is
>> not
>> the basis of this invulnerability of Christianity to any possible
>> discovery
>> of science, what is?
> If NOMA then bulletproof does not prove if bullteproof then NOMA.

Agreed. I was only pointing out the common interest in bulletproofing in
both cases, and asking about the possible connection between TE and NOMA.
If you can show that there is no connection, that is fine with me.

> The scientific information that would be contrary to Christianity
> would be evidence that Jesus was not crucified and raised from the
> dead.

All right; you are saying that Christianity makes an empirical claim which
is either true or false. Now, how do we verify or falsify an empirical
claim about an event which happened 2,000 years ago and which, in the very
nature of the case (unless you accept the Shroud of Turin) will have left no
empirical traces? So we are left with testimony. Doesn't this put the
investigation out of the hands of "science", and into the hands of
"history"? But even if we count history as a science, we have no primary
sources, other than the Gospels (which are partisan), for the event, so
isn't the event still entirely unverifiable and unfalsifiable? So that it
can't even be determined by history? So your concession, while reasonable
in principle, is in practice ineffectual: there is no way of seriously
testing the claim. It has to be believed on the strength of faith. But
that fits in perfectly with NOMA. Science cannot discuss the Resurrection
because it has no data. Faith tells us to accept it though we are lacking
objective data. And just as a scientist can conduct his evolutionary
research as if there is no design in nature, and not suffer from that
assumption, so a scientist can conduct his research as if the Resurrection
never happened without suffering from the assumption. So can a historian.
No historian of the ancient Greek or Roman worlds needs to assume the truth
of the Resurrection in order to make sense of the political structure of the
Principate of Augustus or the effect of the barbarian invasions. Acceptance
or rejection of the Resurrection by any given classical historian is thus a
matter of private faith, outside of the sphere of systematic knowledge.
NOMA again.

> Also, if science didn't work well, that could be a problem for
> Christian ideas about God's sovereignty (akin to the fact that modern
> science arose in a Christian context). Other than that, what
> Christianity has to say about science is that it should be pursued in
> a manner glorifying to God; that we can study science because of God's
> creation (it behaves in orderly ways, we are enabled to understand it,
> etc.); and that what we learn from it should be used well. There is a
> lot of overlap between Christianity and science, but Christianity does
> not tell us much about what results to expect from any given
> experiment or study.

Agreed; it does not. But one would expect that at a minimum Christianity
would predict that nothing would be discovered in biology that would be
incompatible with the idea that God designed living nature (which is the
clear teaching of both the Bible and the Christian tradition), even if the
means by which the design is executed (wholly naturalistic, wholly
miraculous, or some combination) is open for debate. And it is at least
plausible that evidence of God's existence might be available from nature,
given not only general considerations but Psalm 19, Romans 1, etc. (Peace
to George, who seems to depart from many in his interpretation of those
passages.) Thus, Christianity might not demand design detectability, but
does not rule it out. ID may or may not be a successful venture, but it is
a legitimate one from a Christian starting-point.

>> On the other hand, if we say that Christian theology describes the world,
>> and modern science describes the world, and it's the same world they are
>> both trying to describe, then at least potentially there could be a
>> conflict. But both NOMA and TE appear to deny any such possibility,
>> whereas
>> both Dawkins-atheism and ID believe that the possibility is real. So I'm
>> having trouble locating TE -- or at least your version of TE -- in
>> relation
>> to ID and to NOMA.
> TE says that theology (technically TE could include non-Christian
> views) and modern science both describe the world. However, Christian
> theology and science largely describe different levels and different
> aspects and are unlikely to actually come into conflict. Percevied
> conflict is more likely to be like that of the blind men and the
> elephant, mistaking a part for the whole. Theology does have a lot to
> say about how science is conducted, however-biological, environmental,
> and medical ethics, etc. For example, the arguments given in favor of
> expanding embryonic stem cell research tend to be "it has potential
> medical benefit" or "don't stand in the way of studying science".
> Both of those are also true of Nazi and other use of prisoners for
> medical experimentation, or of the Monty Python organ donation skit.
> This is not to claim that one couldn't make a better argument for
> stem-cell research, much less that it is necessarily the moral
> equivalent of Nazis, but simply to claim that the typical arguments
> display a poor grasp of ethics.

I agree.

>> I agree with you about the inadequacy of "scientific" explanations of
>> miracle tales, but your sentence, "I'd take a highly kenotic view of
>> Jesus'
>> surfing skills", is utterly incomprehensible to me. I know what "kenosis"
>> means, but have no clue how it would apply to the episode you are
>> discussing. Perhaps you could use this Gospel story to illustrate the
>> difference between TE and NOMA. How would Stephen Jay Gould explain
>> Jesus's
>> walk on the sea, and how would a TE? Or better still, how would you?
> As God, Jesus, being omnipotent, would be in principle capable of
> being the ultimate surfer dude, able to ride a small piece of ice into
> the wind across the Sea of Galilee. However, it seems quite out of
> character, not to mention outside His calling.
> Gould presumably would have held that it didn't happen and that
> science shows it to be impossible. There are people who like NOMA who
> are evolutionists and who are active in mainline denominations. They
> would presumably qualify as TE and NOMA. My guess is that either they
> would assert that the account is spiritually meaningful but not actual
> history or else that it is an event that happened miraculously and
> therefore is in the religious magesterium, not the science one. I
> would assert that science tells us about the ordinary way in which God
> runs the universe, but that He is free to do things differently as the
> occasion arises.

Agreed, but note that if you accept this, then you cannot in principle
object to the idea that God might have done things differently in the
creation of life, of species, and of man. If it is possible that Jesus
broke the normal laws of nature (or as you put it, departed from "the
ordinary way in which God runs the universe"), it is possible that God did
the same in the unrecorded past; therefore, we cannot be sure that natural
causes can entirely explain evolution. We can use natural causes as our
working theory; but we cannot say: "Science has proved that only natural
causes were operative in evolution", any more than we can say "Science has
proved that there are no miracles." Our determination to explain
evolutionary events in wholly natural terms is an aesthetic or intellectual
preference, maybe a laudable one, but still a preference.

> I would see science in this case as telling us "this
> is not scientifically explicable", and thereby supporting the idea
> that this is significant theologically. However, suppose a decent
> scientific model for how it could happen was discovered. This would
> not interfere with the theological import; it would merely be a
> plausible explanation of how God did it. Suppose you had a time
> machine with a roomy cargo hold. You could run all sorts of tests on
> the water, analyze the details of the mechanics of Jesus' motions,
> etc., but all you would get is, instead of the disciples' observation
> that walking on water isn't natural, the observation that walking on
> water at x degrees with particular concentrations of various dissolved
> or suspended substances under particular weather conditions isn't
> natural.

I don't object to these speculative remarks, but you still haven't explained
why you used the word "kenotic" to describe Jesus's action of walking on the
sea. Nothing you have said in this post or the last shows me that there was
anything "kenotic" about it.

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Received on Thu, 22 Oct 2009 21:57:45 -0400

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