Did God pick up a screwdriver?

From this excellent discussion between Paul Davies, John Lennox and Justin Brierley:

Discussing the origin of life (37:47),

D: unfortunately those laws [of nature] can’t do the job, so, have to go down there with a screwdriver and tweak things here, and tweak things there?

L: But the same is true of computers. It’s human genius that’s done it. I pick up this book, and I read on it, ‘Paul Davies: The Eerie Silence.’ Immediately I infer, not to chance and necessity, but to a mind.

I share Lennox’s conviction that the mind of God creates and upholds everything. But my question is, with the way that went down (and the surrounding conversation) is he asserting that God did deviate from his own laws to create life?

If so, doesn’t his own analogy defeat that claim? Computers and Davies’ book - the information content, the meaning content and the physical artefact - were indeed the deliberate products of minds, but they were produced without any discernible violation of the laws of nature.

Can’t we conceive of God working in the same way? Is it not strange to assert that we humans can exercise agency without violating the laws of nature, but the Creator of those laws and everything to which they apply, cannot?

I am totally comfortable that God can deviate from his usual patterns of order at will, and has: signs and wonders. But can’t we also acknowledge his agency behind everything that takes place apparently in accordance with those patterns?


The direct link to the podcast failed… found the link to a 2010 podcast on the unbelievable site though…

I am an opponent of the dreamer God idea because it is panentheistic and makes God no better than any dreamer who is omnipotent in his own dreams. I am only interested in a God who is a real creator and not just a dreamer like any kid down the block. That the ends are not independent of the means is the difference between dream and reality. The lame idea that the world is as it is because of the arbitrary whim of a creator is the annihilation of science and reason – an excuse for people who want you to believe whatever nonsensical thing they declare. To be sure science and reason have limits but the compete dismissal of these inherent in the dreamer god is far more bankrupt than the naturalism which makes science and reason the be all and end all of existence.

Thus I do not think Biblical passage about God upholding the world means any such thing. Instead they are about God maintaining His purpose and providence in the universe. This is the middle ground between Deism and pan(en)theism: true theism, where God created for an authentic relationship with others having an existence and lives of their own, and is thus intimately involved in the events of our lives as a participant rather than merely a watcher or an author.

No. The laws of nature are not causally closed. The laws of nature are created with a window or back door (narrow one) through which God can interact with the universe without violating the laws of nature. But it does mean that God’s involvement can be dismissed by the skeptic as chance and coincidence.

God is not just painting a picture or writing a novel. God created life – a self-organizing process that makes its own choices and participates in its own creation. So the information content of the universe is NOT just a product of external minds. With the process of life the universe also has creators within it which add to the information of the universe by making their own choices.

Correct. The involvement of God does not violate His own created laws.

Yes. Exactly. The universe was created for a relationship and thus with natural law which supports and allows for the participation of both the creator and the created.

Riiiight. Three guys walk into a bar and order fallacies.

In the podcast Lenox contrasts the effort to recognize a signal as coming from intelligent beings with looking at DNA and claiming this only comes from chance. This is a false dichotomy. They do both have the same explanation because both are coming from living organisms. Or is SETI looking for signals from God? Lenox’s argument is coming from the old school which sees intelligence not only as the exclusive property of human beings on the earth but likely as even supernatural. But AI punches a hole in such nonsense. Intelligence is neither supernatural nor so remarkable and we have demonstrations that evolutionary and learning algorithms from mere machines can outperform our own proud intelligence.

Got a YooToob on that? Let alone a TED Talk?

I don’t do podcasts. I take it that Davies is being ironic - and hypocritical. Ironic because that voice he’s using is a full on ID one - hypocritical because he is an IDist, he believes in fine tuning as I doubtless falsely recall. Unless he actually isn’t being ironic, which fits with his spectacular biological fails, rewarded by Templeton.

Lennox the savant then makes a very simple minded, fallacious, failed analogy with computing, rather than a watch or Boeing 737.

Your good self are a thinker of higher calibre than both of them together. I want to share the same conviction you do with Lennox, but I cannot. However it is a valid, though infinitely imparsimonious, proposition.

And, but, I suspect that you are looking for divine agency in more ways than reason will allow:

God cannot direct nature. Eternal, infinite nature. The first corollary of existence. He has no choice beyond instantiating it; the, my, if null then !null principle. Nature harmonically self tunes the keys of c, e, G and h, God has no say in the matter. No choice. A meaningless concept at the best of times. Not even to create or not. He always has created, from eternity. It is intrinsic to, of Him. Perichoretic. An aspect of His nature, His being. He’s not proud.

I suspect that you may, still, somehow, believe that despite not breaking the rules, prevenient of Him, He does? That you have your cake and eat it? I hope I’m wrong and will have to grovellingly apologize. But I fear not.

The only way God can deviate from THE - they’re not His - usual patterns of order are in and around, one, two laying on of hand shakes, degrees of separation, at most, the sign and wonder of Jesus. He otherwise ‘acts’ by the Spirit, with no signs whatsoever. And then of course there’s the transcendent.

The universe God created was incapable of producing life so he had to fix it? What a weak and incompetent “that which none greater can be thought.”

I’m not buying “weak.” God only needed a physical screw-driver to fix our sin. If we have immaterial souls, which I think we do, that is the only thing God needs a spiritual screw-driver for.

False dichotomy.

Just because tossing up a tray of colored sand can produce the Mona Lisa doesn’t mean that it will.

A lot of things can happen especially with living things. So you have farmers, shepherd, teachers and parents to guide the process for a more desirable outcome.

Don’t get me wrong… I am a strong advocate of abiogenesis. I certainly think the laws of nature are designed for it. On the other hand, life does require the right conditions. It doesn’t just start up everywhere in the universe. Why not? Why wouldn’t God have made the universe that way? Because God created the universe for an interactive relationship. God is neither the Deist watchmaker winding it up and watching it go, nor the pantheist dreamer god where everything happens according to His own whim. The interactive relationship has both creator and the created making their contributions – writing the story together.

How can a law of nature be designed? By what process of jurisprudence?

So how does a physical screwdriver fix our immaterial soul sin again? And what is it?

Guess you haven’t done much software design. In sims and games you are often creating an environment where things interact according to the rules you program. jurisprudence? LOL really? Is that the limit of your experience? Designing laws of nature is often done in writing books and making movies also.

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What has software design, and you should have seen my pride and joy screen for Surrey Fire and Rescue, the information density approached this, got to do with nature? Apart from emerging in it. And that map. I know. Where’s the elevation?!

I said spiritual on purpose. I can’t tell you what a soul is, it’s immaterial. And do you believe in heaven of any sort? What gets resurrected/what are we like? God takes all the atoms that make up our brain at one stage of life and puts them back together again? We live in an identical cosmos with the same laws of physics governing them atoms?


I don’t doubt it. So is a spiritual screwdriver a sonic screwdriver upgrade? What does it fix? And you can’t say what a soul is. So why mention it? I believe in the apprehendable. I’d love that to include the transcendent. Why would God need our atoms to reconstitute us from stored data?

“Don’t doubt it” doesn’t mean you believe it. So God will resurrect our brains in heaven? So you believe in a non-physical realm or not?

A soul is difficult to define because I can’t point to anything. It is the immortal and eternal essence of a person. That which will still be present in the next life. I can point to a teapot for you but I can’t give you an ostensive definition of a soul. I can’t say what God is either. Or what it means to be God and man. Or define faith perfectly. Only offer incomplete snippets. I believe in things that transcend the fabric of reality (space and time) as we know it. Souls are one of them. Why? Because things like heaven make more sense with them. Does a dead child get a two year old brain in heaven? Does it grow? Do we grow old in heaven. None of these are questions anyone can actually answer. You are so opposed to the soul. Let go of that bleak materialism. Paul got one thing right at least, we see in part.

I only believe in what is apprehensible. I don’t know what it means to be reconstituted from stored data in heaven.

The vast majority of human history has professed belief in a soul of some sort. Clearly the idea is apprehensible.


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I don’t doubt your deliberate use of spiritual. But like soul, we have no idea what it means do we? I already answered the question on atoms, brains. I can’t imagine a non-physical realm in any way. So if there is transcendence, glory, supernature, and it’s not a holodeck, it incorporates physics. Just as Jesus did. In His resurrection. And I’m not persuaded by mass folk belief as a basis of what is apprehendable.

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