Re: [asa] on science and meta-science

From: Jim Armstrong <>
Date: Fri Nov 06 2009 - 10:06:04 EST
Thanks for the response. Even though we apparently agree on this particular little subset of discourse, we are most evidently on different pages in another regard. Not right or wrong, just differernt.

I have an interest in the big picture, and its structure, which your are interested in fleshing out. But at this point, what seems to get more of my attention is how all this translates into the appropriate investment of one's time and resources, which seems to be in tension with the more intellectual dissipation of energy and other resources devoted to hashing out the philosophical details.


David Clounch wrote:

I know you are talking to the other Dave here. (dfsiemensjr)  I just wanted to say I agree with you almost 100% on  almost everything you wrote. OK, you can pick your jaw up off the floor and put it back on the hinges now - I bet you never thought you'd hear that I agreed with you on anything!  :)

You said it: the universe chugs along on its built-in designed-in rules, and is no longer of primary interest to the designer.  It was a tool. A tool to create what He is interested in - minds and spirits.
And humans.  [footnote 1]

BUT - it doesn't matter very much to me what the answers to these questions of  dfsiemensjr are. I am mostly interested in identifying the various systems of metaphysics employed by the church in the creation of science.  It doesn't matter if one system was correct over and above another.   It matters to find out what people (I mean Christianity)   thought, even if they were wrong.  The reason is that in America we tolerate and accommodate people's beliefs even if they are wrong.  

I want to someday get to Schwarzwalds naturalism/physicalism/materialism/atheism  thoughtstream. But first one must know what naturalism is and what it isn't.  And getting off onto which  metaphysics is the "right"    Christian metaphysics out of all the various choices is simply irrelevant to finding a definition of the set of the existing systems of metaphysics.   Americans need to know what changed to make their world post-Christian.   I think it was a change  in   the meaning of naturalism that is at the very root of the change. 

Let me put the interesting question this way: "How many types of Christian metaphysics were there vs how many types of non-Christian metaphysics?"

What are the tenets of each and the implications of each?

This is the landscape that must be understood.  Until then  none of the other pieces, such as materialism, are going to make much sense.

Of course, out of all the possibilities,  what is most interesting are the "naturalism"  versions of metaphysics.  Why? Because of the claim that science owns some of them but not others. 

OK, I need to go back and dig out Barr's material again.  Barr and Hunter both have a lot to say about this subject. 

Dave C

1. I cannot fathom why that means God is prohibited from intervening in world history - and if he does intervene why science is prohibited from examination of the resulting footprints. And why there is even a debate over this - unless a particular metaphysics is at stake.




On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 4:50 PM, Jim Armstrong <> wrote:
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.



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