"Does Evolutionary Creation allow for detectable divine intervention?"


I hope I’m not coming across as (too) pedantic, but your thoughts here raised more questions than answered my concerns. I’ll limit myself to three observations, for you (or anyone else) to weigh in on if/as desired:

I humbly object to your categorization that some miracles are not “physically impossible,” and your examples I fear miss the point:

No one would refer to catching a metric ton of fish in a net, or a fish having eaten a coin, as miraculous (without exaggeration of the term) . unlikely, perhaps striking, but not miraculous.

The miracle in these two events is involved in the fact Jesus predicted them. For me on shore to tell a fisherman in a boat he’ll immediately catch a metric ton of fish on the starboard side of his boat, or for me to tell you that the next fish you catch will have a coin in its mouth, is most certainly impossible according to our understanding of how things work.

As for Isaiah, who would ever have called that a miracle?

I think I understand the philosophical issue with a “mechanistic” universe. However, If the universe isn’t “mechanistic” to some degree, how could we do science? Or for that matter, how could we recognize a miracle? I prefer descriptors as “orderly” or “regularity” than “mechanistic,” because of the implications, but if there weren’t some kind of regular, constant, entirely predictable order we could neither do science nor recognize miracles. As C. S. Lewis observed,

”We have already seen that if you begin by ruling out the supernatural you will perceive no miracles. We must now add that you will equally perceive no miracles until you believe that nature works according to regular laws. If you have not yet noticed that the sun always rises in the East you will see nothing miraculous about his rising one morning in the West.”

So I’m just not sure I understand the practical distinction you are making? What, specifically, is the difference between a “mechanistic” universe with “natural laws” and, say, an “orderly” universe wherein we “describe” its “regularity”

But your perspective here I where I take greatest issue.

First of all, theologically… what theologian of any stripe would classify the creation itself, or the design of humans in particular, as having “no relevant connection to signs and wonders of the Kingdom of God?” Certainly not Moses (“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion…”); not David (“I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”); not Paul (“his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made…”); not Christ (“he who created them from the beginning made them male and female…”), etc.

Secondly, though, this seems to make recognition of God’s activity entirely dependent on the subjective beliefs of the observer. If someone recognizes “relevance” to the kingdom of God in nature, then it is appropriate to be satisfied with a miracle as the explanation? however, if some scoffer had witnessed Jesus feed the five thousand, but he did not see a relevant connection to the kingdom of god from Christ, that person would be justified in continuing to pursue naturalistic explanations rather than attribute it to a miracle?

Hence, my basic objection still stands… Even if God had intervened miraculously in creation and the design of creatures in a way that were objectively detectable… so long as someone believed that these events had no relevant connection to the kingdom of God, they would continue to pursue natural explanations as inifinitum and never recognize the miracle… not because the miracle was in fact undetectable, but because of that individual’s philosophical refusal to recognize it as such.

Sir, just read your follow-up article. Lest you think I am nothing but a critic, I thought I’d register my strongest agreement with the following…

That said…


I’m absolutely dumbfounded by you referring to the words “under me” in the classic story as a “natural event”…???

If they are “written” in the ruins, how in the world do you classify them as a natural phenomenon?

I’m afraid this illustrates my main point of contention (even if we’re discussing Narnian history). If someone is unwilling to recognize design, they will erroneously conclude that even the most obviously purposeful and intentional phenomena are “natural” events.

Well ought outness be the defining characteristic of prescriptive language? :grin: I think control is more accurate. The controlling nature of the natural laws is just as objective and useful as is the computer code that controls my antilock breaks and prescribes when the antilock systems do their thing. Avoiding this observation for fear of finding God could be just as unhelpful as trying to shoehorn our observations into a theistic worldview. But I would say that on this particular issue, identifying and minimizing our bias is not difficult, for the controlling nature of these laws is so overwhelming that if the word prescriptive doesn’t apply to them, then that word doesn’t apply anywhere and loses all meaning. It would become a purely subjective term, which of course would not be coherent.

That said, you’re right that it is hard to avoid seeing these laws as abundantly loud and clear Self-evident truths. Perhaps we think it ought not to be so easy, but it is still that easy. Well, of course, it is not easy to understand the laws of nature. Indeed, it takes rational, creative minds years of study before we can begin to comprehend them. But this is an easy and appropriate question to ask: do the laws have a rational, creative Author?

Why is that an appropriate question to ask? Because such laws (such words and sentences) are only coherent in the context of a dictionary of at least, say, 5000 words–a dictionary which includes words like randomness and chance. Dawkins et al want students to believe that the author of such a dictionary is a Watchmaker who is not only blind, but also deaf, mute, and as senseless as a block of wood–a Watchmaker that he and the other naturalists assume complete authority in discovering and revealing to the world. Is that not exactly like assuming the authority to carve such a block of wood into a mysterious image, and then to plate it with gold, embed it with jewels, set it on a pedestal and declare unto the world, “Behold your Creator!”

Okay, I might have gotten a little carried away there. But the point is that we shouldn’t let our fear of accusations of bias skew our scientific inquiry.

Hmmm. Seems to me that you’re confusing “design” with God here. People are unwilling to recognize God. Everyone would be perfectly willing to recognize design if it wasn’t attached to God like a parasite. As I said back in post #40:

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Do you know the story? It was originally a longer inscription, which through “natural processes” eroded to leave only “under me”.

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The Bible. The words in Hebrew and Greek we translate as miracle, are more literally signs and wonders. That’s what Isaiah was called for walking naked for three years. Your definition of miracle comes from Hume.


Right, it was originally a longer inscription. An inscription carved by intelligent agents, not by “natural forces.” Natural forces degraded an intelligent message so there was less of it, but I found it exceedingly odd to refer to a carved inscription of legible words as being the result of “natural forces.”

But I think I follow what you’re getting at… I believe you mean that Aslan used purely natural phenomena to get from “…Yet, while I lived, all Earth was under me” down to “under me,” the message Aslan intended to communicate to Jill and the rest.

If that alone is what you meant, happily granted; and I agree that God works in that very similar way. It was just odd to read the idea that a legible inscription was a natural phenomenon.

And speaking of Narnia…

No, my definition of “miracle” actually comes from the author of The Silver Chair, who (in his book Miracles) absolutely excoriated Hume’s position in the clearest of terms, while still embracing a clear philosophical distinction between natural events and supernaturally influenced phenomena, using the term “miracle” to describe the latter:

I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power . . . . This definition is not that which would be given by many theologians. I am adopting it not because I think it an improvement upon theirs but precisely because, being crude and ‘popular’, it enables me most easily to treat those questions which ‘the common reader’ probably has in mind when he takes up a book on Miracles.

(I’ll also add that as an aid to clear communication, I was using the primary dictionary definition of the word… “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.”
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/miracle )

If you prefer to use a much more broad definition of the word miracle, I will not object, though I didn’t realize previously you were so using. If you are using the term in that broad manner, then I grant we can refer to certain “miracles” which are not “supernatural.”

But this doesn’t help our core disagreement. Of course we can agree that miracles (as broadly defined) which are not supernatural are “detectable.” They are simply natural events and phenomena, used by God for His purpose. Non-supernatural miracles are as “detectable” as any other natural phenomenon - this is self evident and indisputable, and we have no disagreement there.

But I didn’t read you as saying that “natural miracles” are detectable while “supernatural miracles” are not. Rather, that all miracles, including those physically impossible and/or supernatural, such as resurrection, are certainly detectable. So my core difficulty remains. Thus to clarify / rephrase…

What, precisely, is the difference between “supernatural miracles”, which are detectable, and “violations of natural laws” which are not?

What could be an example of a bona fide “supernatural miracle” which could not be adequately described as something that violates the regular pattern or laws of nature…

Or what would be an example of something that genuinely violates the regular pattern or laws of nature, being physically “impossible,” which one could not accurately describe with the words “supernatural miracle”?

Love the example. Not exactly what philosophers or theologians would call a “miracle” in these discussions, yet that’s exactly the language of the Bible. Isaiah’s prophetically-named children also qualify as “miracles” in the biblical vernacular: “Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty …” (Is. 8.18). Not exactly a violation of natural law to give symbolic names to your children, is it?

Obviously, I cannot speak for @jstump, but I don’t think you are catching the distinction between biblical signs and wonders and philosophical “miracles” and “supernatural” events. The Bible doesn’t speak of anything as supernatural. In the Scripture, the division is not between natural/supernatural, but between seen/unseen. (Probably the closest parallel in our language is material/spiritual.) The very category of “supernatural” would have had no meaning prior to the Middle Ages. For the ancients, existence enveloped both the seen and the unseen – two sides of the same coin. Where moderns see an effect and attribute it solely to a physical cause, the ancients could see that same effect and attribute it to a physical and spiritual cause simultaneously. Jesus, for instance, could declare that God provides the ravens with food and sends his rain upon the evil and good alike, all the while knowing that plants produce the seeds eaten by birds and clouds produce the rain that falls upon the ground. For him, the fact that an observable physical cause provided a sufficient explanation did not exclude the active involvement of God in the process. The same could be said of evolution and of the continuing scientific quest for answers. Even when a “sufficient” physical cause is found, God is not excluded as “first cause.” Both are true in the Biblical worldview.

Returning to miracles, as I said way back in the beginning of the thread:

Again, not speaking for Jim Stump, but if you keep in mind that biblical “signs and wonders” always served a communicative purpose, as above, then the answer to your question becomes easier. You asked, “What, precisely, is the difference between “supernatural miracles”, which are detectable, and “violations of natural laws” which are not?”

Let’s suppose that God directly intervened to create the first living cell. This would be both a miracle and a violation of natural law, according to our definitions. Would it be a sign or wonder, in biblical language? Not necessarily. To fit the definition of a biblical sign, we would need clear evidence of God’s handiwork, which so far is lacking. How, then, is it a sign?

Claims of “miracles” – whether prehistoric, ancient, or modern – rarely, if ever, fit the pattern that we see in Biblical “signs and wonders.” Thus, the Christian response should be skeptical unless indisputable evidence, capable of convincing even staunch opponents, can be provided. That’s what we see in Acts 4:

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”


wow, this does lead me back to our definition of miracles being different. That stanza from Elizabeth Barrett Browning illustrates it to me:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God.

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around, and pluck blackberries.

The discussion is illuminating; it’s kind of a meditation on where I should be thankful. Thanks.


I like Jelaluddin Rumi on that score:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

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Now that sounds like a Sufi–I like it :slight_smile:

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I struggle understand to understand the distinctions being made here.

Not in those words, no, but it clearly recognizes the difference between something that happens according to regular, natural routine processes in nature, and those things that clearly require direct intervention from supernatural some entity with power that surpasses our imagination.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hezekiah distinguished between a shadow proceeding in its regular course and going backwards. He found the idea of the shadow progressing in its natural routine course unimpressive, but for the shadow to go backwards would have been a n unambiguous demonstration of God’s supernatural other-worldly intervention.

People knew that dead bodies starting to live again was not something attributable to the ordinary courses of nature the typical world, but it was something that required supernatural divine intervention.

I must demur.

  • They never could see the wind, and it clearly fell on the “natural” side of their understanding of the world.

  • There were plenty of times they saw the unseen, so not sure how helpful a distinction that can be. They saw angels, they saw God, Elisha saw a direct chariot take his master, the servant saw the angels surrounding their enemies. For something defined by being unseen, it didn’t seem to stay unseen all that well.

  • So it wasn’t defined by being unseen, it was defined more by being generally inaccessible to us in our reality, (hence generally or usually unseen), although they could choose to enter our reality, though not vice versa. They could reveal themselves to us, while we could not by our power perceive them. This is practically identical to my own understanding of natural/supernatural.

Rather, they certainly recognized that there were beings and a reality that were “beyond” or “above” (the Latin word for this, by the way, is “super”) their own experience.

This kind of involvement, attributable to God’s “behind the scenes” guidance, is all over Scripture. We call it providence in our language. And here I don’t think anyone has disagreement. When the quail were blown into Israel’s camp so everyone could feast on meat, God did this by strictly natural processes, as best I can see.

It may be helpful to take a specific example and analyze it. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and the pharisees saw in this no clear evidence of God’s handiwork. How, then, is it a sign? I don’t like relying on the subjective beliefs of the observer to determine if something is or isn’t empirically detectable. So, let’s take that one and analyze: by Dr. Stump’s standards

  • Everyone seems to agree Lazarus’ resurrection was a “miracle” by any definition (and John classifies it as one of Jesus’ “signs.”) As such, by Dr. Stump’s description, and by whatever definition of “miracle” we use, this is a miracle. Thus Lazarus’ resurrection it is detectable and able to be “witnessed.” Therefore Lazarus’ resurrection is a kind of detectable divine intervention which “is required by EC.”

  • But his resurrection was also clearly a case where supernatural power interfered with the natural order of nature. Using Dr. Stump’s words, it most certainly could be be described as “supernatural violations of laws resulting in features we can discover and determine to be otherwise impossible.” If not, why would this description not apply? And his other observation equally applies, that when considering this resurrection as a miracle or supernatural intervention… “we have to claim that we know the laws so comprehensively and in such detail that we can determine things couldn’t have gotten that way through ordinary means. So instead of admitting a gap in our knowledge about how things work, we confidently claim that the gap is due to an intervention.” If this does not apply to this resurrection, why not? Therefore, as such, regarding Lazarus’ resurrection, “this version of DDI should not be allowed by EC.

So I’m still coming back to the same result… that EC both requires and rejects the idea that supernatural miracles are detectable.

I think we’re demonstrating to each other that words are tricky. It’s hard for me to see how any miracle would not qualify as supernatural, since it implies God using the event for Kingdom purposes. But I think that “supernatural” has often been used since Hume to mean something like a violation of natural laws. Who gets to decide? I like what @Jay313 and @Randy wrote in response to this, and it means recapturing the biblical language.

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5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Now that we know where the wind comes from and where it is going, does that nullify the Lord’s metaphor?

Right. And we can agree that the ancients were not idiots. The point is simply that the words “miracle” and “supernatural” are convenient descriptors for us, but they don’t always fit the actual biblical data. Isaiah walking around naked was a “sign,” in biblical terms. Not a violation of natural law.

Ummmm … hello? It’s a sign no different than the voice from heaven in John 12 or the resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee in Matthew 28. Just for review:

Earlier, I compared signs and wonders to non-verbal communication, such as a gesture. And, just like any other form of communication, both a gesture and a sign are detectable by our ordinary senses and capable of being misunderstood. (Just as many strangers to town surely misunderstood the naked man walking around Jerusalem …)

You keep coming back to this result because you just want to debate. It’s been nice, but the horse is thoroughly dead now.

Fair enough, last thought. Do you think whatever words they used, that the ancients did not conceive of Isaiah walking around naked, and three men walking unscathed out of an overheated furnace, as two categorically different events?

Would they really not recognize one as (however odd or extraordinary) well within the confines of how the world normally functions, and the other as an event that simply could not have happened without God’s very direct intervention?

Of course. That’s what I said above. They were not idiots.

But many things that we throw under the general term “miracle” do not fit the particular incidents we find in the Bible. Signs and wonders always communicated a message from God to mankind. When we start talking about “miracles” that happened when no one yet existed to observe them (except the angels) and receive God’s message, we’ve wandered far away from the purpose of signs and wonders in the Bible. The only way for us to receive a 500-million-year-old message from God would be if he decided, completely of his own volition, to leave a clue for us to find.

In the case of the creation of the first cell, for example, God could have directly intervened and decided to disguise his involvement, strictly for his own reasons. It is sheer presumption for us to assume that if God intervened, he must have left his fingerprints and DNA all over the crime scene. And, for the third time, even if he did leave his fingerprints behind and we could scientifically prove that they were God’s fingerprints, the majority of people still would deny the evidence before them – just like the Sanhedrin tried to cover up the sign that Peter and John performed, and just like those who saw the resurrected Christ with their own eyes still doubted.

@jstump Hi Jim, I confess that I have not read all previous 83 comments. So what I have to say might be repetitive. Let’s say that Behe got the definition of EC wrong. Let’s say that a correct definition would have creation in an intimate causal connection with God, unlike Deism. It’s not clear that “divine intervention” would be an appropriate term to describe how God acts in his creation, since God continuously acts in his creation.

I like the metaphor of two people dancing together, sort of like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. When you watch their dances on youtube, most of the time Ginger has her feet on the ground, and is just following Fred’s lead. But every so often you’ll see a dance where Fred occasionally picks Ginger up and twirls her around.

I think we could frame Behe’s point this way: ID says that we can study the history of evolution and see times when God picked up Nature and twirled her around (what we used to call “divine intervention”). I think Behe would say that EC denies that we could ever identify such actions, even if they had happened.


You have one?!?!?


I’m always interested in using a more nuanced terminology.

If we set aside “miracles” to mean - Signs and Wonders…

what terminology might we use to refer to an event that can only be managed by Deity?

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