Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Fri Nov 06 2009 - 01:25:00 EST
You got me! I didn't really do right by using "priority" as a measure. I was actually think in terms of perhaps "doneness" or "completedness". It was not my intent to diminish either the creative act or the importance of the what I described as "context". Perhaps a more apt metaphor would be that of a culture medium, without which the end of growing a culture would not happen.

As you undoubtedly surmise, I view orthodoxy as consensus, and not necessarily a reliable guide, and not even all that stable over time. However, orthodoxy in one form was for me much like the culture medium, the host for what I knew in earlier days, and for what have grown into, and I do not discount or disparage it in any way. But a loosening of my firm grip on that certain orthodoxy was one of the first things that happened along the way as I began to seek more intentionally what I think of as a more essential Christianity, one that had the kind of integrity that I could personally live with long term. As you indicate, there are interpretations (and differences of perspective) involved in such an intrinsically idiosyncratic quest..

As you say, "matter matters", and that is one of the considerations that registers for me in this context. I have written earlier and more than once why I think there is so much matter in Creation, with so unfathomably much resultant secondary "creativity", or potentiality. It's really quite a phenomenal concept, to create a "system" with such immensity in order to bring about an even greater fecundity; moreover a fecundity that compounds like interest over time! And that immensity of matter seems quite superfluous if God had known and directly created what he wanted as an end product we characterize as "man". So this is one piece of the puzzle that suggest to me that Creation does - as designed - what it was designed to do, and quite well thank you.

I, of course, might be wrong, but that's the way it seemeth to me with the severely limited data sample of reality that we have accessible.  Thanks for your thoughtful response!

JimA  [Friend of ASA]

dfsiemensjr wrote:
Hi, Jim,
I was going by the original meaning of deism and David's statement that nature ran itself. The old deists had God creating a self-sustaining world that would run without his attention until the day of judgment, when God would take charge again. The Christian theist, in contrast, believes in Providence, also described as /creatio continua/. To suggest that God no longer needs to pay attention to rocks when he has living things, and especially intelligent living creatures to attend to seems to me to have a God analogous to us with our limited capacity. I get the car serviced when the miles are right and take the car in as soon as I can if the "check engine" light comes on. I would respond in a hurry if the oil light came on. But, for the rest, my attention is on traffic and signals while I'm driving. I have a vague sense of the way the engine works and why the car stops when I step on the brakes, but I don't have the capacity to keep track of the injectors, valve timing, and all the other matters that I thankfully can leave up to the computer. Is God similarly limited? A god made in man's image obviously is, but the God of orthodox theology is not.
It 's obvious that we can construct a hierarchy of things created by their importance as we see it. But this may neglect some vital matters. Human thought certainly ranks above mere matter, even the matter on which the thoughts are recorded. But I think of the fire that some time back tore through the Westmont campus and several of the faculty homes. The faculty still have their wits, but some of the documents and drives contained irreplaceable material. What was not backed up elsewhere is gone. Matter matters.
You may be correct about "the strong inclination to think of the Creator's continuing sustaining of the physical is not on some level fueled by our desire that heaven and earth be literally moved in response to prayer." There is a naive answer to the question of when God hears prayer. I t\hink of a story that has some popularity among evangelicals. According to the tale, an atheist had a Christian wife and a son who went to church with his mother. To try to reclaim the lad for his view, the father secretly put plants into a pattern in the garden. It read, "God is nowhere." When the plants came up, he took the boy to the plot. "What do the plants say?" "God is now here,' read the boy. And all the dear saints think it wonderful. However, what the boy read is wrong. He put in two terms indicating location, which would place the deity in space-time, which is definitely not orthodox. God is nowhere, for his immanence properly holds that all space and time are perfectly open to him from without. I know that the notion of a deity limited in time has more recently been advanced, but it is not the orthodox view. If God, in his perfect foreknowledge, had to build something into the original creation in order to answer a believer's prayer, this is no problem for the orthodox, no matter how confused his thought about when God hears may be.
On all these matters, there is only one ultimate test, consistency, to which is added scripture as a source for the orthodox. Unfortunately, there is interpretation, and the brethren have not been able to agree on one interpretation over millennia.
Dave (ASA)
On Thu, 05 Nov 2009 15:50:55 -0700 Jim Armstrong <> writes:
Hi, Dave -
Now I'm not a logician, and I'm not particularly well schooled in the histories or philosophies that so many on this list have on their pallet. But at my own acknowledged peril, let me push back gently at this a bit, nonetheless.

Perhaps it does fit part of the definition of deistic if God no longer (or little) interacts with the physical world. But I'm not sure that such a position thereby precludes God's interest in and interaction with living beings on another level. It just seems like the universe chugs along so well according to its built-in (designed-in?) rules that it strongly suggests that it is no longer of primary interest to the Creator. I know that some folks feel that that this very situation exists only because God sustains (or even "dreams" it), but that is pretty clearly a supposition, and no more than we choose to make of that supposition. So, it could clearly be supposed otherwise as well, with the physical universe running just fine as designed.

The question that keeps coming up for me is why the Creator would be care to sustain rocks and stars and atoms, and the complexities that accompany their interactions. They have been imbued with "properties" that make most/all of what we observe happen in due course with the passage of (also created) time. It seems presumptuous and even limiting (though not impossible) to posit that the only way Creation could proceed in this lawful way is for God to actively guide and sustain it.

From our position as sentient beings, we have fairly naturally (albeit self-centeredly) presumed that this was all created as a physical context for the evolution (or installation) of life, and ultimately man. So isn't that which is unique in life, including the interactions and evolution in living, likely to be of more interest, both in terms of the complexity and one might think, in terms of the ultimate (or penultimate, or...?) design objective(s)? So why the preoccupation with requiring that the physical be contingent upon God's sustaining support. While the functioning of Creation is absolutely wondrous from our perspective, it seems pretty secondary to that which is manifest in living and sentient things, which have the greater ability to bend and even creatively exploit the physical creation in ways that no precursor was capable of. Living things can (in part) store energy, recover and use stored energy, interact socially, and imagine and create that which has never been before, in nature or otherwise. More to the point, we have the capacity to conceptualize the existence of and something of the possible nature of the Creator. We have the capacity to ponder and seek the creative purpose in our existence, both in community and individually. We can even redeem (or in the Jewish sense, repair) in a trajectory toward a better future and perfecting relationship with the Creator.

We think of our bettering of the way we approach life as having spiritual roots. We also speculate about a level, or levels, of existence that are wholly beyond ours. So why would we think that it would be so distasteful, or even an indicator of God's lack of interest and involvement [deistic, in the more common sense] if the physical world were to function - now that it is created - on its own, without some cosmic plate-juggling involvement of the creator. Even in human terms, the clockmaker [to draw on a familiar parallel] does not stay with the clock to make sure it continues to run as designed. Instead, that running without involvement is incorporated by design. That unaccompanied functioning - with nothing other than certain episodic involvements - is indeed necessary for the instrument to accomplish of its higher purpose. Why not consider physical creation as more like a very intentional and benevolent stage setting drop for the production which is the true end of the creative effort?

All of this is really to ask why an actively unattended running of the universe should necessarily imply a deistic understanding of God's activity. Don't we think the most important things of human life are connected with the spiritual? Why is there not room to think of that "other" venue of being as being the focus of the Creator's interest and intent, "relieving" God of the rather humdrum (one would think) task of tending to the matters of rocks, stars, and atoms.

I can't help but wonder if the strong inclination to think of the Creator's continuing sustaining of the physical is not on some level fueled by our desire that heaven and earth be literally moved in response to prayer. We want, or even need in some sense, God to be willing to do that in response to our most compelling prayer. One problem is the chaos that can only be imagined that would result if even a significant numbers of our (often contradictory) prayers were answered in physical terms. It seems that such a situation would significantly degrade our ability to trust in a "lawful" order and operation of the physical world.  Perhaps this last is a bit off track, but this question favors that simplifying concept of a lesser (perhaps null) continuing divine involvement in the ways of the physical world.


JimA (Friend of ASA)

dfsiemensjr wrote:
Your definition of 'CHRISTIAN NATURALISM' is faulty. The first part is essentially deistic, nature on its own. The Christian position is, to use one version, God cooperating in all natural activities of man. Luther spoke of natural laws as the masks of God. Secondly, how does one ascribe a whim to the eternal, omniscient and omnipotent Creator? Only if one is so knowledgeable that anything unexpected can be ascribed to the irrational can such a view be held. And that's self idolatry.
Methodological naturalism is not a metaphysical dogma, but holds that scientific investigations can only be checked by observations of nature, whether direct or indirect. There is a metaphysical/epistemological basis to this: Nature is orderly. Human beings can understand the pattern of nature. Human senses are essentially veridical (or can be checked). These patterns hold true within a materialistic, deistic, theistic, pantheistic or panentheistic metaphysics as an overarching theory. If I adopt Plantinga's philosophical views, I can disprove the alternative outlooks. But this does not take into account a fundamental principle, that primitive assumptions of any philosophical view cannot be proved within that view, and can only be challenged from within on the basis of contradiction. Much as I hate to admit it, theism is not the only potentially consistent view. And, unfortunately, not all theists are consistent.
Dave (ASA)
On Fri, 6 Nov 2009 11:00:00 +1800 David Clounch <> writes:

None of that on epistemology has to do with whether naturalism is metaphysics.  Schwarzwald  raised the point of  lack of clarity on naturalism.  I was trying to address it, but at the same time be complete. 

I just think we need clarity that naturalism is metaphysics and is an  a priori assumption.  If people cannot agree on clear definitions  then there is no basis for dialog. 

So, is anybody denying that naturalism is metaphysics?

Well, Bill, it seems to me you might be  arguing that naturalism is ALL  in the realm of metaphysics.  I was willing to allow  an epistemological type of naturalism to put its toe in the door.  But if you want to slam the door I have no objections. Maybe thats not what you are doing, but none of that addresses the main issue of  how Christianity is in any way compatible with any form of naturalism.  Barr's  claim that the church invented naturalism  implies  two  different types of naturalism. What the church originally invented, and what is believed in today  by deists, secular humanists, and perhaps even by materialists and atheists.  Again, is anybody denying that both types are anything but metaphysics?



On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 8:39 AM, Bill Powers <> wrote:

Two short comments.

1) Plantinga claims that naturalistic evolution is at odds with epistemology, i.e., a science of truth.  He argues that there is no reason to believe that our minds could have evolved to know the truth.

2) (I know you didn't say this) Why can't we observe miracles?  He seems to me that is easy.  I could observe the risen Jesus.  I don't think that's what Moorad said (or intended to say).  What we can't do is to make a science of miracles.  But it isn't merely miracles of which we cannot make a science.  It is unique events.  Science or any knowledge relies upon the creation of classes and universals.  Of particulars, no science can be constructed.  This is why history is problematic (time for Gregory to comment).  History, it seems, can only become a "science," that is, comprehensive knowledge, because we presume to understand the people and events of the time.  We presume we are able to do this because they are human, as we are human.  We apply our "knowledge" (categories, ideas, universals) of ourselves and our times as a net to catch the history of times and places different from our own.  In some sense, we do the same with "miracles."  No one could tell whether people rising from the dead is a "miracle" without applying our "knowledge" (i.e., ideas, understandings, categories, and universals) to the particular event observed and at hand.  We call something a "miracle" when the event (all events are unique and particular) does not fit into our pre-established template of the possible (a pseudo metaphysical construct intended only to convey the structure of our ideas and categories of the world).

So to say that we cannot "study" or make a science of "miracles" is to say that we are unable to "elevate" the particular to the "class" or "universal."  It remains unique and therefore, to our way of thinking, irrational and incomprehensible.  Nonetheless, we are able to class it as a "miracle."  This entails that the event is partially comprehensible.  We can place parts of it in our pre-established classes (e.g., person, body, dead, alive).  Why is this any different from someone returning from a coma, or even being healed of a cold?  Perhaps today we think we can speak of underlying processes.  How is it we can supposedly make sense of these and not a resurrection?  They are (at least for most of us) equally mysterious and invisible.  The only feature appears to be the degree of rarity.  Resurrection "never" happens.  People do come out of long comas.  For a very long time there was, and perhaps still is, no science of comas.  They do or they don't come out, when and whenever they do.  But we think we can make a science of it because we have an extended opportunity to study the class of events called comas.  The same cannot be said of resurrections.  It is unique in number, a class with one (maybe a few more) members.

So it isn't that it cannot be observed.  It is that we have so few members of the class that they remain unique and isolated from the reach of our study.


On Thu, 5 Nov 2009, David Clounch wrote:


1)I was confusing metaphysical context and metaphysical interpretation as
meaning the same thing. Now I have to go back and read through all the posts
and think about this.

2) Meanwhile, Schwarzwald has me thinking about naturalism:

"Naturalism", in *The Encyclopedia of Philosophy*, Macmillan, 1996
Supplement, 372-373.

*Metaphysical naturalism<>
*, (or *ontological <> naturalism*or

*philosophical naturalism*) which focuses on

This stance is concerned with existence: what does exist and what does not
exist? Naturalism is the
metaphysical<>position that "
nature <> is all there is, and all basic
truths are truths of

Well, thats only part of the story.   Let me offer my own suggestions as to
what naturalism means.

CHRISTIAN NATURALISM  is  a metaphysical framework, ie, the belief the
universe obeys   regular  laws all on its own, the laws having been set in
place by the creator. These laws operate until they are modified at the whim
of the lawgiver.  because we dont know all the laws it is possible many
actions of the lawgiver are via laws we dont know about and thus what may
look like a set-aside of a law is just some other law purposely in use for a
limited time by the lawgiver. CHRISTIAN NATURALISM thus handles the
situation mentioned by ???  (I believe it was Dave Wallace) with respect to
superstitious and pagan cultures.  This is why naturalism was invented -  to
refute the beliefs of pagan cultures and to re-inforce belief in the
lawgiver.  This type of naturalism has never been incompatible with

HUMANIST NATURALISM is a metaphysical framework beleived in by secular
humanists and others of like presuasions, such as materialists and
atheists.  As a metaphysical framework it's main tenet is  the belief that
the universe operates according to laws, and does so all on its own, but
does so without purpose.  There is no lawgiver. There is no modification of
law possible.  This also handles the aforfementioned situation of pagan
cultures. But it is not compatible with the historical CHRISTIAN
NATURALISM.  It is a modern version  of naturalism.  [An aside -  was there
an ancient version of this that has been brought back? I'd argue no. Why?
because it took Christianity and Christian Naturalism to produce science,
and this modern naturalism emerged post-science, in modern times,  starting
in the enlightenment.  I'd argue it is post-Christian]

I don't mean for these definitions of naturalism to be comprehensive.   They
are starting points.  I mentioned these  because various reference materials
out there tend to ignore Christian Naturalism and its having been morphed
into a modern (post-Christian) version.

There are, in addition, at least these, having to do with epistemology
rather than metaphysics.

Replacement Naturalism
Cooperative Naturalism
Substantive Nauturalism

Most writers one can find tend to be quite modern. For example, Plantinga:

© 1994 Alvin Plantinga
Reproduction on other websites is expressly prohibited.
Links to this site are permitted.
                               Naturalism Defeated
     In the last chapter of Warrant and Proper Function1 I proposed an
argument against naturalism". Take philosophical naturalism to be the belief
that there aren't any
supernatural beings--no such person as God, for example, but also no other
supernatural entities.2
My claim was that naturalism and contemporary evolutionary theory are at
serious odds with one
another--and this despite the fact that the latter is ordinarily thought to
be one of the main
supporting beams in the edifice of the former.3

Naturalism and evolution as opponents?  Wow, thats different!!!!!

For sake clarity:  When we are talking about questions of ultimate and final
causes we are talking about metaphysical type of naturalism, not the
epistemological types of naturalism.

Consequently, let me propose the following. Moorad pointed out something
important:  phenomena are statistical. We cannot observe miracles.  He is
making an epistemological argument here. What's important is the statement's
implication(s) for the metaphysical frameworks.   One can (perhaps) rule out
what he says via epistemological forms of naturalism. But what one cannot
legitimately do is start with a metaphysical form of naturalism and use that
to rule out Moorad's statement.

Enough for now.
Dave C

On Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 12:52 PM, Douglas Hayworth <> wrote:

On Wed, Nov 4, 2009 at 8:29 AM, Ted Davis <> wrote:

The fact that I said this 22 years ago, combined with the fact that
nothing along these lines has transpired subsequently in public education,
is not exactly encouraging.  Suffice it to say that I certainly agree with
Cameron and Keith, whose ideas are much more practical than mine while not
inconsistent with mine.  Still, I doubt that most colleges and universities
will start mandating that science majors, even future teachers of science,
take a full course in HPS.

Well, here's one area where we have the opportunity to do better. The
Christian school curriculum initiatives by the BioLogos Foundation and our
own ASA homeschool resources project have the potential to do what public
schools are not likely to be able to do: create materials that teach science
in light of general and biblical history.



Motor Home
You can take it with you! Click here for a luxurious new motor home and travel in style!

To unsubscribe, send a message to with "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message. Received on Thu, 05 Nov 2009 23:25:00 -0700

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Nov 06 2009 - 01:25:40 EST