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

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Fri Oct 23 2009 - 13:29:25 EDT

> 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?

To me, it is very NOMA-like. A give and take with theology suggests
that there are areas not under theology.

> 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.

In theory, ID would be compatible with 100% of the changes in
evolution occurring by natural means; this seems to be Denton's
position, but in practice the DI and the public face of ID are
absolutely committed to significant gaps in evolution, with Wells even
attacking intraspecies change.

> 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.<

I think that is the theoretical position, but what is in fact argued
is that some things are designed and some aren't. Why oppose
evolution if you recognize it as a means of design?

> 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."

Which is buying into their NOMA stance (they differ from Gould in
claiming that the science magisterium is all-encompassing but agree
that science and religion are exclusive). In reality, since God is
perfectly capable of working through evolution, Dawkins, Coyne, Myers,
Johnson, Wells, etc. are wrong. Both Dawkins and ID are looking to
science as the source of evidence about God, rather than recognizing
that information about how the heavens go isn't very useful in telling
us what we need to believe concerning God and what duties he requires
of us.

> 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.

While you couldn't say that the history of life is in one magisterium
or another, each individual event is being divided up between two
isolated compartments. That's NOMA-type thinking to me.

> 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.

No. If God is generally running the physical world by the pattern of
natural laws, then the physical results of science will not
significantly differ from what Gould says. But the philosophy of
science, the ethics behind it, etc. directly contradict the NOMA view.
 The stop and start view that is a commonplace of popular thought
(neither uniformly present in nor confined to ID) calls for different
results of science but the same philosophy, that God is in one box and
"natural" events in another. Gould, Dawkins, etc. often have decent
science backgrounds but usually poor theology backgrounds. I wonder
why their science and not their theology is targeted.

> As for me, I think that ID people should concentrate on attacking Dawkins,
> Coyne, Myers, Eugenie Scott, etc., not attacking TEs.

There is a significant difference between Scott's type, who seem
well-meaning but often clueless with regard to getting along with
religion, and Dawkins' anti-religious rant. Both need to be
addressed, and the way to do so is through the gospel, not through bad
science which will turn them off promptly.

> 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.

The fundamental problem is that the ID movement has picked the wrong
battle. ID is not essential to religion, contra Dembski. ID has long
spent much time attacking TE and attacking evolution, not attacking
atheism. The TEs are trying to tell ID that they're shooting the
wrong way, and do not appreciate getting an ID bayonet in response.
Not to imply that any side has been particularly tactful, gentle,
etc., but TEs are going to contradict arguments that they perceive to
be no good. YEC, ID, and "new" atheism often look more at "does this
argument support my view" than "is this argument sound," whereas I am
towards the extreme on "is the argument sound?" end. I would also
note that the anti-ID YEC don't seem to get ID complaints the way TE

> 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.

Yes; recognition of sacred versus secular has its place, but every
aspect of life falls under the domain of the sacred in another sense.
Science cannot show the existence of God because He's not something
you can run experiments on and come up with a model of what patterns
one should expect with or without God. Rather, if we start out
knowing God, we can see His hand in everything, including science.

>>  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.

Rather, there is nothing uniquely Christian about those things. But
that is because they all agree about what constitutes good work in the
particular field, and those who commit to quality and high ethical
standards also agree that those are important. This basic idea is
commonplace in the practical exhortations found in most of the New
Testament epistles. Good work will generally be recognizable as such
to unbelievers. Christianity ought to be an indicator of quality;
secular humanism gives no guarentee.

>> 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.

But they do when they claim that metaphysical naturalism entails
philosophical naturalism. If that were true, we ought to do nothing,
assuming that the Spirit will make it happen if it should happen.

> 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.

That is not the message I hear. What I hear is that evolution must
not have been wholly natural or else God didn't do it. I fimly agree
that God need not have used natural means throughout the evolutionary
process, but I think there are good reasons to think that He probably
did use natural means as far as the physical process of creating
different types of organisms is concerned, both from science and from
theology. For that matter, I would agree with ID that much of the
opposition to ID, or at least the most vocal component, is an
unjustified attempt to exclude religion-a NOMA-type approach.

> 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.

There are some important caveats and differences. First, the
interventions are rather rare, much rarer than in apocryphal
literature, legends of saints, pagan myths, etc., and serve a distinct
function of pointing to God versus alternatives. Second, the
intervention seems to be minimized-the axe floats, but must be
repaired in the ordinary manner; Lazarus is raised but needs to get
help unwrapping and has to beware of further hazards to his health;
the gospel works by the Spirit, but comes almost always through the
preaching or reading of the Word; etc. As ID often admits, their
approach can't identify the designer. Neither supporters nor
opponents believe it, but it is true. Miracles aren't just to help
get through a difficulty. If there is a way to achieve things by
natural law in the course of evolution, it seems as though God
probably would do them that way.

> 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).

Not necessarily-it may also be empirical, that it looks like God used
natural means, or precautionary-claiming that God worked miraculously
and being proven wrong is judged to be a bigger problem than asserting
that He didn't and being proved wrong.

> 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.

TE people see ID as given to a priori commitments and not open to
alternate explanations. Probably in both cases there is an element of
the assumption that unbiased judgement will agree with me. ID seems
to frequently assume that anyone who doesn't think that the DI does
great science automatically is saying that everything takes place by
natural law without exception.

> 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.

Archaeology provides a good deal of evidence that the Bible does in
fact match up with an ancient Near East and Mediterranean background.
The historical data from several lines of evidence make it completely
unreasonable to doubt that Jesus was a real person whose teaching
diverged somewhat from contemporary Judaism, whose teaching and life
made a big impression on his followers, and who was crucified.
Obviously, one's presuppositions affect whether one views resurrection
or a mass delusion as more likely. In contrast, the Book of Mormon is
blatantly completely fictional, with no match whatsoever with
archaeological evidence, quite apart from being a not entirely
competent plagarism of the KJV and novels.

> But that fits in perfectly with NOMA.<

Only in that NOMA and the fact that there is relatively little outside
of archaeology that scientifically touches on Christianity both point
to similar physical results. Again, philosophically they are very

> 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.

I don't see how ID is any more different from NOMA on the question of
Christianity, except when it makes the serious theological error of
claiming that ID is an essential of Christianity.

> 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 agree, apart from the caveat above that trying to explain things in
natural terms can have empirical support as well.

> 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.

Although Jesus presumably could have miraculously surfed into the wind
on a small bit of ice in His capacity as God, it seems quite out of
keeping with His call to humble obedience. Trudging across the water,
while still miraculous, is more consistent. I was not describing the
walking on the sea as kenotic, though the walking rather than
miraculous creation of some sort of easy ride could be; rather,
choosing not to be the big luna kahuna (if you get that allusion, I
can guess how old your kids are) is what I was describing as kenotic.
Also, I am using the term "kenotic" very loosely as referring to
voluntarily taking on standard human limitations, not to a formal
theological system that can tend to lose sight of the divine nature.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Fri Oct 23 13:29:58 2009

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