Does the Success of Science Leave God Unemployed? (Part 2)


(system) #1
Contemporary Christian scholars have proposed a number of ideas about how God acts in creation.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/does-the-success-of-science-leave-god-unemployed-part-2

(James Stump) #2

OK, especially for those of you who are new to the discussion of divine action, what are your intuitions so far? What’s the best way for us to think about how God interacts with the world? Going back to my two claims on Monday:

  1. Evolution is the best scientific description for how human beings developed.
  2. God intentionally created human beings.

What’s the best way to reconcile these?


#3

My intuitions so far as an earth science teacher…

I have seen evidence over and over again how improbable life on earth is. The fine tuning of the universe. The extraordinary fine tuning of earth. Its transformation from a world very hostile to life to one that supports it virtually everywhere. And, most remarkably, over a period of time too great for us to truly comprehend, earth has created, developed (via evolution) and protected that life despite so much that could go wrong.

Books have been written on this extraordinariness of earth by secular scientists (i.e. Rare Earth, Lucky Planet) but the knowledge seems to get pushed aside by those uncomfortable with it. For example, the headline in the news yesterday was that three ‘earth-like’ planets were just found… really? In fact, all we know about them is possible size and temperature – nothing else. Do they have magnetic fields as earth has to protect them from deadly solar radiation? Do they have atmospheres and have they removed CO2 from them as their star has heated up over time in order to maintain their temperatures as earth has? Do they have seas and continents and have plate tectonics to maintain a solid surface as earth has? And so much more. We don’t know of course. Earth is very special but this knowledge is often pushed aside.

My point is that there is plenty of scientific evidence that leads to one of two conclusions: either earth and its life are ‘incredibly lucky’ or there is some ‘deep magic’ going on as CS Lewis put it referring to an unseen intervention going on everywhere and throughout time. I find it easier to believe the latter.


(James Stump) #4

Thanks Tom. I think your intuitions are shared by many in the BioLogos camp. The crucial question in my mind, though, is when we come to understand scientifically some of the processes you mention (magnetic field, plate tectonics, etc.), how do we correlate these with God’s action? I’m going to resist the urge we (evangelicals) have to say that either God did it or there is a scientific explanation. And if we resist that urge, should we be looking for God’s action differently than in the workings of nature?


(Daniel Carroll) #5

In the essay, I think the “reconceiving metaphysical models” section is the most logical and intuitive approach. I’ve always found the insistence on the self-sustaining and independent nature of the physical world to be odd. Our definition of God is omnipotent and omnipresent, suggesting that all matter and all life are contingent upon His providence. That is, the act of creation is ongoing and deliberate. While “physical” and “spiritual” are convenient categories of thought, the distinction is arbitrary, as is the distinction between general and special actions. The predictable nature of the universe shows that God is rational and logical, as the earliest scientists assumed. However, just because we can predict general actions of God with math doesn’t mean that He’s not there. Indeed, if God spoke the universe into existence, then the natural laws and processes of the universe would be the “language of heaven” so to speak.

The charge that this makes the God theory unfalsifiable is a little hollow. This depends on an epistemology that is inconsistent with an empiricist epistemology, which is really what the critics are objecting to. As one who is predisposed to empiricism myself, I am also aware of its limitations in acquiring knowledge, recognizing that knowledge can sourced other than though the scientific method.


#6

I doubt that it will ever be possible to correlate specific scientific processes with God’s actions. There is either no connection or there is an intentional hiddenness. If it is the latter, then there must be a deep and fundamental reason for this hiddenness and any connection is unlikely to be uncovered and proven empirically.

So, perhaps we should be looking for evidence of God’s action in a different way as you suggest. An obvious way (that I promoted above) of uncovering evidence is via ‘outcome’. When the outcomes over time are extraordinarily different from what science would cause us to expect, then there should be openness to extraordinary alternate explanations.


(Larry Bunce) #7

I have personally experienced events that seemed miraculous to me. An atheist would say I was lucky, and perhaps I was, but in my mind I would credit Divine Providence. I have also known people with no belief in God, who under similar circumstances said, “thank God!” One miraculous event could easily be attributed to luck, but looking back over a lifetime of such events, I see the hand of God at work.

The chain of events that led to life on earth had many points where a slight difference one way or the other would have made like impossible. At a certain point when the earth cooled from its initial molten state, the average temperature turned out to be 39.2° F, the point where water is at its densest. Warmer than that, the oceans would have boiled away, and cooler than that, everything would have frozen. Had the Earth formed a little closer or farther from the sun, the earth would have turned out like Venus or Mars. Those of us who believe in God can easily see God’s action in events of this nature.


(George Brooks) #8

@jstump

I think the need for “reconciliation” is more a part of the perception of those who think the definition of Evolution includes “without direction”.

Naturally, this presumption strikes at the very heart of what BioLogos is trying to teach: that Evolution can look random to human eyes… but be perfectly and completely directed from God’s viewpoint.

Thoughts?


(Nathaniel Knox) #9

@gbrooks9,

But how is it directed? Does God supervene on or tweak a process that would otherwise run on its own? I think maybe that’s the crux of the issue - how do God’s intentional actions actually interface with a process that can be explained scientifically without any reference to God?


#10

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


(George Brooks) #11

@Nate_Knox,

The challenge implicit in your question is providing an answer that satisfies TWO different groups. As long as you don’t get dogmatic, we can discuss the TWO answers!

Answer One: this is the usual answer. God arranges lawful events… and God OVERRIDES lawful events with miracles. God might have arranged for a collision of 2 planets a billion years ago, that sends the Dinosaur-killer asteroid to earth 65 million years ago. This is a lawful shaping of evolutionary forces. Or, God might have just MATERIALIZED the asteroid and sent it rocketing towards the Earth. This would be the more MIRACULOUS scenario. People who prefer this kind of scenario simply have to decide which of God’s plans are effected purely through lawful events… or with a mix of lawful events and miraculous ones.

Answer Two: This second answer is usually the one that drives the supporters of Answer One NUTS! In hearing Answer Two, they think it impugns Answer One. And so they reject the entire proposition. But really, I don’t think anyone is in a position to know how much of what God does is miraculous and how much is lawful. Because the one thing both camps agree is that the creation of the Cosmos is PLENTY miraculous!

What is Answer Two? It is the idea that God performs MOST of his miracles at the moment of creation. He configures his creation perfectly and it unfolds in a lawful way…

So the Dinosaur-killing asteroid was planned FROM THE MOMENT OF CREATION. But isn’t this the Watchmarker scenario? What does God do with his time if he performed one massive miracle in the beginning, and now just watches it unfold? There is still the issue of God answering prayers and communicating with the conscious “wing” of his creation. Unless you want to hypothesize that even God speaking to living beings is done by LAWFUL events, most believers in God can also accept that God’s inner voice is a miraculous expression of God’s mind.

This is why I say “most” of his miracles. Because even the most die-hard reductionist (who believes in God) is willing to let God have a mind! And through his mind, the miracles of prayerful communication happen throughout the ages… And before there was the Earth, who can say what conscious creatures he was working on (and with) in some other part of the Universe?

Now, how about that question about how God’s intentional actions interface with evolution? Well, are you in the Answer One camp? Or the Answer Two camp?

One possible answer that would fit Answer One is that God, like Zeus, fires off bolts of energy… at precise junctures of chromosomal molecules. Cosmic rays (or whatever diverse spectrum of energy you prefer) literally materialize out of nowhere… deep in the cosmic fabric… and trigger the mutations that wouldn’t ordinarily occur at the right time and place on their own.

OR…

God’s perfectly configured Creation INCLUDES all the events necessary to trigger blasts of radiation needed to make the necessary mutations when and where they are required.

I just don’t believe anyone is in a position to say whether God NEVER uses “non-lawful miracles” … or that he SOMETIMES uses non-lawful miracles. BOTH Answers should be considered valid and reasonable for those who believe there was a MIND that created the entire universe!


(James Stump) #12

Yes, that is precisely the issue in my mind. And it is the “interfacing” that is the sticky part. God as just another efficient cause in the sequence of causes that science describes is very problematic to me (theologically, scientifically, and aesthetically–probably in that order). But then consigning science and God to different levels of description (sciences answers the how, God answers the why) is a bit too facile, though an improvement. I think there’s a deeper conceptual rift between the discourses of science and theology, and that this is a function of our symbolic systems. Perhaps I’ll try to unpack this further as the series goes along.


#13

Hi Eddie,

I’m wondering if you can clarify something that I’ve never really understood: in what way does ID avoid the difficulties inherent in “some formulations of divine action in EC”? Divine action strikes me as being a common philosophical problem that is shared across the board, not merely as some particular bugbear of the EC approach. Given a non-deist and non-pantheist position, most of the remaining perspectives seem to have the same problems but to (often marginally) different degrees, usually taking on more of the burden of one problem as it moves away from the issues found on the opposite end of the scale.

To increase the number of special divine actions in natural history does not dissipate the impression that God is “hands off” wherever and whenever deterministic general divine action is all that is in play; it merely adjusts the balance between intervention and front-loading. These interventions reduce the all but infinite number of situations where God is apparently content to work through natural regularities by a few instances, while leading to the aggravation of some of the other problems that have been discussed from the scientific/philosophical perspective. Whether or not we agree to these interventions, they hardly seem to bring the slightest bit of resolution to questions of divine action. While it is true that you have not made any claims that ID resolves the question of divine action, you are definitely making a special effort to point out that EC does not, and given the problems being discussed, this distinction between parties seems gratuitous and not entirely helpful to me.


#14

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


#15

Thanks Eddie,

I appreciate your clarifications and your willingness to walk me through your arguments. As you say, this is one of your refrains, so I am fairly familiar with your views on this. Although I would love to, I won’t go into the issues you have raised, partly since I have already touched on a few of these points with you in passing over the last few years and partly because we would accidentally end up coauthoring an online book;-).

More to the point, I think you made the critical distinction fairly early on in your reply; you are just not concerned with divine action itself. Your concern is with questions of divine intention and sovereignty and you continue to show an ongoing concern that TEs are being dishonest and evasive as some of them all but renounce God’s sovereignty in favor of something that is indistinguishable from open theism. Important issues to be sure and very clearly laid out as usual, but the problem is this: it is divine action that is being discussed here, not questions of divine intention or open theism, and it is my impression that to introduce these points of possible division is to derail the common and important project of looking into proposals for divine action

Since we do not disagree that God interacted with the universe in the past and continues to do so, that divine action is an important issue to address for both camps, and that the question of divine action has to be handled in much the same way for both camps, I think this is enough common ground from which to address a common issue. I doubt it will be resolved, but I think it almost certainly won’t progress unless we lay aside more controversial issues that don’t promise to advance the question (especially if it is as you say, and you haven’t seen the slightest move to address your concerns over the last decade).

I tend to think that portions of the ID and EC camps are closer than we think and have more in common than we usually recognize - including the problems that need to be addressed, but that it is misunderstandings, exaggerated statements of each other’s positions and questions about each other’s underlying motives that contributes far more to forming and maintaining any rift more than the actual dividing views that we openly hold (many of which are provisional and open to discussion for many of us anyway). These days I am more concerned with a better and more constructive dialogue between the different positions than with some of the points that are said to distribute Christians into opposing trenches, since I view the former as the key to resolving much of the later.

Thoughts?


#16

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


(Nuno) #17

Hi Jim,

This succinct exchange neatly summarizes the apparent desire in this series to somehow progress towards identifying the mechanisms through which God effects His will upon the natural world.

I am curious as to how, in your opinion, a quest for the identification of the Divine Interface (DI) is in any way different from the quest for Intelligent Design (ID). From a technical point of view, proving either DI or ID would require showing that an event (in DI) or an object (in ID) could not have occurred exclusively through natural processes. Would there be any core difference between DI and ID other than the relatively minor distinction of analyzing events instead of objects?

Of course, my question assumes that defining frameworks for how God might interface with the natural world serves only the purpose of seeking a proof to determine which model is correct; otherwise it would be unclear why one should try to pursue these questions in formal terms.


#18

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

Well, regarding God’s actions in the world, the whole puzzle has finally been put to rest. Turns out God is maybe something of a semi-deist —He was caught by surprise on the current state of U.S. presidential politics anyway. We finally heard it straight from Him as he was interviewed by Stephen Colbert (about 4 minutes in) on a late show episode a couple days ago.

[I’ll understand if this post has to be removed as it’s basically a rip on Trump … but so be it … political animals that we are!] In case the link doesn’t work all you have to google is youtube: “why would God let Trump happen”


(James Stump) #20

As long as you keep saying this:

and this:

(and you keep saying some variation of them with machine-like regularity), I see no point in trying to persuade you of anything. Evidently I am persona non grata to you.

For the benefit of anyone else who might be reading, every person I know who is directly involved with BioLogos (not just people who have written a blog for us or a fortiori who have commented on our blogs), and I think I know them all, would affirm the two claims I made in the first post in this series. And we all affirm that God can, has, and will perform special miraculous acts. The charge that none of us have explained how all this works to the satisfaction of a consensus of informed people throughout Christendom can only be met with the response: neither has anyone else. Divine action is a conceptual problem, and one that gets into very deep metaphysical waters very quickly. The fact that people with no advanced training in philosophy or theology get out of their depths in this discussion and decline to take a position is no more surprising than that people with no advanced training in genetics do the same with some of the finer points there.

Furthermore, Eddie requires that any satisfactory solution to the problem of divine action must be framed according to his understanding of divine sovereignty. That version has a long and venerable history, but it is not the only one, and it is certainly not read straight from Scripture. To claim Pharaoh’s hard heart as a proof text for God determining all things is exegetically equivalent to claiming that Genesis 6:6-7 and 1 Samuel 15:11 prove that God has sinned, because those verses say he repented. God’s sovereignty as determinism fits pretty well with an understanding of nature as a machine, and that is the view of nature that took hold in the wake of Calvin and continues to dominate ID thinking. But that is much more difficult (not impossible) to square with science since Darwin. My theological tradition affirms sovereignty, but accepts it as God guaranteeing the end, rather than determining every detail. God will have his way. I’ve read Zwingli’s 1530 sermon “On the Providence of God” and find it repulsive. (“One and the same deed, therefore, adultery, namely, or murder, as far as it concerns God as author, mover and instigator, is an act, not a crime, as far as it concerns man is a crime and wickedness”, e.g.). If we go that route, even this conversation we’re attempting to have is God determining every word. We can’t live that way, and I flatly reject the requirement to make our understanding of science conform to it.