"Does Evolutionary Creation allow for detectable divine intervention?"


(James Stump) #1

Awhile ago I mentioned I was writing a piece on divine action for the TEDS online magazine, Sapientia. It has now posted. At the bottom of the page you can see a list of all the contributors. Next up is Michael Behe!

The original assignment was to respond (in 1700 words) to the question, “Does Evolutionary Creation allow for detectable divine intervention?” This article is me doing the analytic philosopher thing, trying to figure out what might be meant by the relevant terms and sketching a response.

I’ve now been given a follow-up question to respond to (in 1250 words) on how my “different discourses” view differs from NOMA (which I think is pretty easy to answer) and whether my view of EC is different from Behe’s (it definitely is). His piece posts tomorrow, but the relevant bits of his definitions and conclusion are these:

Evolutionary Creationism (I capitalize the phrase because its meaning is different than the sum of the individual words.): the idea that God created all the matter, energy, and laws of the universe ex nihilo in a single event, in the beginning, in the knowledge that they would develop over time into the world He intended by the outplaying of natural laws

divine intervention : the occurrence due to ex nihilo creation by God of some physical event in the world that would not otherwise have resulted from the outplaying of natural laws following their ex nihilo creation after the beginning of the bulk of nature

Working from those definitions, then, my answer to the symposium question has to be a clear no, because the very definition of the term “Evolutionary Creationism” (EC) precludes divine intervention. I hasten to add that’s not a criticism, because it seems to me that the phrase was intentionally coined to describe a situation in which divine intervention not only can’t be detected, but indeed has not occurred; rather, the outplaying of natural laws is thought to be a sufficient explanation.

Maybe we could crowdsource my response?


(Jay Johnson) #2

Be glad to give my two cents. Before I do, here is the main page introducing the series and the contributors:

Both Behe and Hans Madueme, in his introduction to the series, don’t seem to understand the difference between the Big Bang and evolution. Notice that your definition, Jim, focuses rightly on common ancestry. Madueme, on the other hand, has this to say:

“On the traditional reading of the Genesis account up until Darwin, God miraculously brought the universe into being through immediate divine action. In all its astonishing diversity, the universe emerged by divine fiat. Charles Darwin would end up toppling that old picture in one fell swoop…”

Darwin said exactly nothing about God’s creation of the universe. This is just a profound misunderstanding of what evolution is, let alone evolutionary creation. Behe and Madueme are defining “Cosmological Creation” rather than Evolutionary Creation.

Behe follows in the erroneous footsteps of Wayne Grudem, who in the book Theistic Evolution likewise tried to define the term as deistic, not allowing for God’s intervention: God created matter and after that did not guide or intervene or act directly to cause any empirically detectable change in the natural behavior of matter until all living things had evolved by purely natural processes (Grudem, 67).

Behe’s definition is a classic strawman. I have yet to meet a single living, breathing EC who actually believes what Behe says that we believe.

I leave the rest in your capable hands. Good luck!


(Christy Hemphill) #3

I think it is fair to say that most ECs say that God’s intervention/guidance/intelligence is not detectable in nature with the tools of science. Somehow the fact that science precludes describing supernatural involvement always seems to get conflated with “ECs think only natural explanations are needed/allowed to describe all of reality.”

You can see in the discussion with Daniel here that somehow the fact that ECs are not “open to pursuing non-natural explanations through science” is this big deal, and it doesn’t seem to make sense to them when you say, science can’t pursue non-natural explanations. That’s a premise not a conclusion. It’s not that we have concluded that “divine intervention not only can’t be detected, but indeed has not occurred,” it’s just a premise going into any scientific investigation that you will be seeking natural explanations.

I think people assume that EC is a scientific model. So they have a hard time grasping the fact that the evolutionary part of the perspective only deals with “natural explanations” and the creationism part of perspective is arrived at by other ways of knowing.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

I’m sure you’ve already been given plenty of good stuff to fit into a 1250 word response just from material above.

But just for the sake of discussion, it also occurs to me that the seemingly unflappable assumption found in EC criticism [that the denial of scientific methodology capable of dealing with theological questions must = denial of theological realities] may spring from a tacit and probably unintended form of Scientism. I.e. …so enamored of science are these critics (despite themselves) that to acknowledge something as ‘beyond science’ is (to their way of thinking) to insist that it must not then be real. Perhaps I’m committing the same sin of imputing something to the critics here that they will not own. If they want to deny Scientism - great; far be it from me to insist that they be saddled with the label. But it would seem to me that there is at least a subconscious or softer scientism at work in their unwavering motivation to find detectable teleology and to defend with the tenacity they do the possibility of such a finding.


(Jay Johnson) #5

Yes, I was trying to leave the “detectable” part out, because I would’ve preferred a discussion of “guidance” rather than “intervention.” I don’t disagree with @jstump’s position in the article, but I think the unspoken context of “intervention” was confined to something that science can detect, while I think it should be applied to everything. In other words, the way that God’s “intervention” is being handled, particularly by Behe, is indistinguishable from “miracle.”

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology provides a fairly typical modern definition of “miracles,” picturing them as events “not explainable solely by natural processes, but which require the direct causal agency of a supernatural being, usually God.” How is this different from “intervention,” as they are using the term?

Now, to my mind, a miracle must be detectable. Otherwise, if there is nothing to observe, there is nothing to explain, whether by natural processes or by God. The real question, then, is not whether a miracle/intervention is detectable, but whether the observed events are “not explainable solely by natural processes, but require the direct causal agency of God.”

I’ll even take it a step farther: If a miracle occurred in the forest and no one was there to observe it, was it a sign?

The Bible doesn’t speak in terms of miracles; its primary vocabulary, in both Hebrew and Greek, consists of “signs” (oth/semeion) and “wonders” (mopheth/teras). Usage determines meaning, and in the language-game of the Bible, “wonders” inspired awe and captivated people’s attention, while “signs” identified the Lord’s messenger and granted authority to the message. Thus, in biblical terms, signs and wonders function as non-verbal modes of communication similar to a gesture, which requires an observer to receive the message.

Unlike a sign, then, a miracle/intervention is not a communication from God to human beings; it is an event in the physical universe directly caused by God. Here, we see the crucial difference between the biblical usage of “sign” and the theological meaning of “miracle.” The former requires an observer, while the latter doesn’t.

By the same token, we might ask if the Big Bang was a miracle, or the creation of the first living cell? Possibly, according to our modern definition of the word. But, in biblical language, those events don’t qualify as signs or wonders. Who was there to observe?

As well, God does not ordinarily use miracles to conduct the normal course of his business. His only need for signs and wonders – and the only recorded biblical uses of them – is to grab the attention of people and deliver a message. Absent those requirements, why would God miraculously intervene at any point in the creation of the universe, of life, or of the first human beings? Because we think it’s somehow necessary to preserve his dignity?

In short, God may or may not have chosen to intervene in history prior to his creation of humanity. But, if we take Scripture as our guide, the Lord intervenes in order to send a message, not just because he can. Prior to the creation of humanity, of what need was a miracle to the Lord?


(Christy Hemphill) #6

Good distinction. The question is more about God’s agency in nature, not God’s thwarting of natural law. Science can’t detect God’s agency.

Humans can cause changes in the natural world and bring about creative results that reflect their will and intentions. No miracles required, and we can recognize them based on our experience with them.

Can we hypothetically talk about God as an agent in the natural world without presuming miraculous suspension/violation of natural law? Does that fact that God is outside creation (supernatural) mean he cannot interact with and influence creation as an agent according to the same natural laws that humans interact with and influence creation in non-supernatural and creative ways? Can he express his agency in ways we may not be able to recognize because they are not at all parallel or analogous to the ways humans express their agency and creativity?


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Or while we’re further parsing and refining terms, I’d also suggest it is more accurate to use the word ‘distinguish’ in place of detect here. Since obviously we do detect lots of stuff going on, and as ECs we would say that all of it is God’s agency.


(Christy Hemphill) #8

Maybe this is a total tangent…

We have instances in special revelation of the presence of God being physically manifest in our material creation in multiple places in the Bible. Somehow, God “embodies” himself in matter/energy; in the burning bush, in the pillar of cloud and fire that led the Israelites, in the fire that burns up the sacrifices on Mt. Carmel, in whatever descended from heaven like a dove at Jesus’ baptism, and of course in the Incarnation. So if we take that at face value, God can enter creation and influence/manipulate matter and energy as a physical thing. Is that by definition an “intervention” in creation? Is it a miracle? Does it violate natural laws?


(Jay Johnson) #9

Exactly. @jstump, just edit my above responses to include Christy’s and post it as your own. I know you’re a busy guy. You’re welcome. haha

Yes to all the above, but the biblical categories remain “signs” and “wonders,” and the philosophical category for the eternal entering the temporal is what Kierkegaard called “the paradox.”


(James Stump) #10

Thanks all. This is very helpful. Do you think there is value in the “seeing as” move I made at the end of the article? It seems to me that it fits with the signs/wonders issues @Jay313 brings up, as well as some of @Christy’s concerns.


(Jay Johnson) #11

Dang! I hate it when you’re right… Yes, you anticipated a lot of this in your point 3, which I forgot (or conveniently overlooked):

(3) We might understand divine intervention simply as the claim that God does things in the world. God is constantly involved with his creation, sometimes wondrously (like the resurrection), sometimes more ordinarily (like providing food for the birds). I think these could count as “interventions” because if God does not act in these ways, Jesus wouldn’t have resurrected and the birds would starve. But the actions attributed to God in these examples (and many others) are not what you would typically find in scientific discourse…


(Christy Hemphill) #12

Yes, and I like the comparison between interpreting nature and interpreting the Bible, and the parallel with allowing historical Adam and Eve and allowing DDI (yay, more acronyms). That two books metaphor gets a lot of mileage. I think that is good language: detectable divine action is an interpretation of nature, not a scientific conclusion. It is an interpretation of nature that can be harmonized with the scientific conclusions of ancient earth and common descent.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #13

Metaphors have been brought up for these kinds of things before that I think still have good mileage even if the waters stay a bit muddied. One of them: Is the musician “interfering/intervening” with the design of an instrument when she plays it?

Another one: is a gardener interfering/intervening with his garden when he plants, waters, and tends it?

So I do like the question posed: if we can be agents in our own small way for how things happen, why would we think God excluded from the same, the resulting roar of objections about theodicy notwithstanding?


#14

I think the distinction between “sign” and “miracle” in this sense is helpful. “Sign” seems to be very much in the way of the New Testament, particularly in John.

I do wonder about the more modern concept of a miracle being an intervention, however. While that makes sense to our modern mind influenced by rationalism - I believe it is John Walton who makes the point that to the ANE mind no such concept would have existed. To the ANE mind God was involved and engaged in everything in life, all the time. Nothing happened without God’s involvement. The idea of God not being engaged and involved and then intervening in some way would not have been a way that they would have thought - and therefore is not likely to be a helpful concept to impose upon the Scriptures.


(Jay Johnson) #15

John gives one of my favorite examples, the “voice from heaven” in 12:28-30. Jesus says:

"Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.

Even among those who heard the voice, it was ambiguous enough for many in the crowd to misinterpret it as due to a “natural” cause.


(Christy Hemphill) #16

Ironically, this was the lunch conversation between my husband and I because our translation team is struggling with finding three words for the three Greek words translated sign, wonder, and miracle in English, which are used some 200 times in the NT, often as a doublet or triplets. We were looking at whether or not this was some kind of Greek doublet/triplet (where a series of words with essentially the same meaning are used in sequence for emphasis or as a convention as often happens in English legal language, ‘crimes and misdemeanors,’ ‘ways and means’, ‘alter or change’) and a single term could do, or if there really is some semantic distinction between the three.


(Albert Leo) #17

This thread should spark a great deal of interest from both the experts and lay Christians who value an informed Faith even if they lack the education to contribute directly to a clarification of the problem. As one of the latter, I venture to add my two cents worth.

I agree with @Christy that ‘guidance’ is a more likely occurrence than ‘intervention’ but both should be considered under 'teleology’, which is important for faith in a non-Deist God, i.e., one who matters. Previously I had not given much thought to distinguishing between the Biblical terms: signs & wonders.

The event I have described in a previous post as “The Miracle of the Panel Truck” is admittedly not a ‘miracle’ as most people consider the term. Rather it describes a series of about five events, each necessary but against odds of from 50:1 to 1,000:1 but the end result being an unmistakable Sign with a purpose.

The event I described was NOT one involving an authoritative messenger, but it did captivate the attention of four scientists, myself included. And it did convince at least two of them that we have a caring God who remains at our side ready to help at all times. IMHO that is what most of the Biblical signs and wonders were meant to accomplish.
Al Leo


(Phil) #18

I find some irony in that holding to EC is in some ways more mystical or metaphysical than either ID or YEC. ID holds that material change is a tangible and measurable characteristic of God’s involvement, whereas EC as I know it holds to an underlying less tangible and more mystical involvement of God in sustaining creation. In much the same way, YEC holds to a rigid literal material interpretation on scripture and thus a rigid interpretation of creation, whereas most EC adherents are comfortable with metaphor and symbolism as part of ultimate reality.

In looking at your question, it seems Behe is projecting deism onto EC, and ignoring that God may act in ways we do not measure scientifically, as others have written. His definition while not entirely wrong, is designed to force EC into a box of his construction.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #19

@jstump
I think that we need to make clear that there is a profound difference between natural history and human history. God does not intervene in natural history as far as can be determined, but it is clear that God does influence the course of human history, in that “all things work for good for those who love God.”

“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Believers fear that non- intervention means that God does not have an impact in their lives and our world, which is not true. Non-believers fear that intervention means that God directly controls nature, which also is not true.


(Daniel Fisher) #20

Christy, not to hijack the thread on my pet topic, but to be specific: But my core question is “Can biological complexity be explained by unguided naturalistic phenomena, or is it the result of intelligent agency?”

And thus, when I know that someone’s starting premise will only allow them to arrive at one of those two conclusions, then I find the result uninteresting. I can tell you in advance what conclusion a scientist committed to MN will arrive at if given the question, “is this biological phenomena intelligently designed, or a result of unguided natural forces?”

Back to your main topic on this page, as a friendly but contrary mind, let me clarify what my objection would be to your presentation, to clarify the issues involved:

I already agree with you that we can’t detect “divine intervention.” In theory, no one in your audience who is thinking would disagree with you. Ken Ham, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, they would not disagree with you. You and I could have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection of Jarius daughter, and we wouldn’t have “seen” the supernatural, we couldn’t have witnessed or detected “divine intervention.” We could have seen the transfiguration for that matter, and we wouldn’t have “seen” the supernatural. Our eyes might have seen an amazing display of photons, our ears would have heard a loud vibration of the air, but we could not have “detected” the supernatural, or the divine, in any way. If God intervenes, we will still only experience, sense, and detect the “natural”. Ultimately our trust that it is indeed miraculous and from God is of faith, but we don’t scientifically study the divine or the miraculous. I think on that point, you’d be arguing something self-evident, that no one in their right mind would dispute.

However, I don’t this isn’t where the dispute is. On the other hand, I think it should be self-evident that we most indisputably can detect the results of divine intervention. When God carved the commandments (from our previous conversation), when a person was resurrected, when the earth stopped in the sky, or take any other miracle. The person was dead, they are now alive. The fig tree is actually withered, when it wasn’t yesterday. There is now far more bread and fish than there previously was. The stone was blank 2 minutes ago, now it has all 10 commandments written on it.

I think it should be self-evident and beyond dispute that we most certainly can detect, experience, witness, and yes, even scientifically examine the results of divine intervention, as in these cases. If God has intervened and effected and left a clear imprint on nature, and we can examine the natural phenomenon that has been so influenced and effected.

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, we could not scientifically conclude it was from God or of divine origin. But I think it self-evident, beyond dispute, and inescapable that we are most able to detect the results of divine intervention, no?

(Sorry, I misread the discussion, I thought this was about Christy’s writing assignment… apologies I misdirected the response, but I hope my thoughts are still relevant…!)