Evolutionary Creationists should distance themselves more clearly from deism


#1

I agree. Indeed, though many TE leaders have said repeatedly “We’re not Deists!”, the perception that TE/EC is very close to Deism persists. The TE leaders seem mystified by this. They don’t seem to perceive that mere denial that one holds to a position is never adequate. The average American Christian is never impressed by mere denials. He/she seeks evidence in the actions of the person. The average person thinks, “If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.” And if the perceived duck says, “But I’m not a duck!” the denial will have no effect. Only when TE argument sounds less like Deism will conservative evangelicals believe that it is not Deism.

To many Christians, TE/EC sounds like: “God created the laws of nature, and set them rolling, and the universe carried on stochastically from there.” So God’s role is limited to creating matter/energy/laws in the first place, and perhaps “sustaining” matter/energy/laws by his power. That’s what EC/TE often sounds like to many Christians, and that’s why many of them resist it.

I have many times (ad nauseam, some here would say) proposed a solution to this problem: EC/TE leaders could – as individuals (not speaking for BioLogos or for the ASA or for any particular public body) – explain how each of them personally conceives God’s role in the evolutionary process. That might go a long way to dispelling the suspicion of Deism. But I have found the vast majority of the leaders remarkably unwilling to elaborate their conceptions. And that reluctance to elaborate may well look to many conservative Christians as if EC/TE leaders have “something to hide” about their thoughts relating God to evolution. So the resistance of conservative evangelicals will continue. They won’t embrace a position they do not trust.

I see no end to this situation until individual EC/TE leaders are willing to be more explicit about how they see God as involved in evolution. And of course, by explicit I mean more than giving a purely biological explanation of origins and then throwing in terms like “providentially” at the end, for pious good measure. I mean a real discussion of the relationship between God and nature, God and the world, God and the process of evolution, etc. that has some meat on the bones. Obviously I cannot force or cajole TE/EC leaders to offer such discussions, and even gentle persuasion has failed, but I do confidently predict that for as long as they refuse to offer such discussions, the perception that TE/EC is perilously close to Deism will continue. The power to dispel the perception lies entirely in the hands of TE/EC leaders, but whether they will ever choose to exercise that power remains to be seen.

Perhaps you, Joshua, could offer, on your own website, your own personal conception of how God is involved in the evolutionary process in a way that goes beyond Deistic aloofness. Just a suggestion.


Joshua and Cornelius get to know each other
(George Brooks) #2

@Eddie

Perhaps some BioLogos supporters would find it easier to point out that we are not supporting Deism . . . as long as we insist that God interacts with humanity in Real Time through communion and prayer and providence … and not as some far off and impersonal “watch maker” God.

I think many in the BioLogos camp would be more comfortable specifying This viewpoint rather than speaking about specifics in God’s role in Evolution.


(GJDS) #3

The central theme in these debates appears to be the sustaining and providential interaction by God with His creation. I think a simple argument about theism and deism may miss the point. The theological point deals more with time and God’s eternity. There is a debate even to this day on this matter. Is God part of the time/space and thus “caught” in temporal moments within His creation, and thus somehow directs at moments that somehow bind Him to such? Or is He “out of time and space” and yet may interact with His creation in some way. Can we talk of His energies and essence and in this way keep the truth of the trinity and eternity, while providing a basis for primal cause? What of times when He spoke with Abraham and Moses, for example? Was He experiencing time dependent events and these are part of His memories and experiences? Just what do we understand when we say the Word created all, and there was nothing that was not created by the Word (or God said, let there be …)?

These are deep questions and errors can easily creep into theological speculations, such as: did God use random events? or did God “front load” it all? and such odd phrases.


#4

I wasn’t concerned about what would make people in the EC camp “comfortable.” I was stating what I took to be a sociological fact, i.e., that conservative evangelicals see EC as I have described it, i.e., as close to Deist, and that they are unlikely to change that view unless they hear substantive evidence to the contrary.

An example of the kind of thing an EC might say, which would make some conservative evangelicals feel more at ease with evolution (and it’s just an example, not something I’m pushing for): “I believe that evolution takes place by the filtering of mutations by natural selection, but I don’t believe that the mutations are random with respect to outcome. I believe that God subtly steers matter to generate mutations that lend themselves to his desired outcomes.” If conservative evangelical churchgoers thought that all ECs believed something like that, I predict that their opposition to evolution would diminish (not vanish, but diminish). But, as I’ve already indicated, conservative evangelical churchgoers don’t think that most EC leaders believe anything like that. They think that most EC leaders believe what I’ve already stated, and what you quoted above. And they express their dissatisfaction with that view by calling it “Deistic.”

That’s why – if I know my conservative evangelicals, and I think I do – there will be no mass movement to the EC position. Individual conversions, yes, but mass movement, no. Again, this point is one of sociological analysis. It has nothing to do with who is wrong or right. It is the sort of point a researcher or pollster might make to a politician: “If you want members of Group X to endorse you, you had better stop saying things like A and start saying things like B.” I’m acting here as such a pollster, saying to ECs, “If you want conservative evangelicals to accept evolution, you have to change your approach.” Clearly, the repeated cry of “We’re not Deists!” has had little to no effect in removing the fears of conservative evangelicals about EC. Therefore, another promotional tactic is called for. Instead of saying over and over again that they are not Deists, the EC leaders should show that they aren’t Deists, by describing God’s relationship to the evolutionary process in a way that can’t possibly be taken as Deistic. Is that not straight common sense?


(Jon Garvey) #5

This is a good point, George.

Deism is, in many ways, a mechanistic and time-bound philosophy: God started (past tense) the Creation and doesn’t interfere (present tense) with it (or in semi-deism, he doesn’t interfere with the natural realm, but does sometimes with the personal… except maybe when he interferes with nature in answer to prayer, but he probably doesn’t often because of natural laws… etc etc.)

Creationism tends to be tarred by the same brush, by limiting creation to the first seven days. But there’s generally a supernaturalism about it that is not embarrassed by God’s acting in the world now.

However, as you rightly point out, God’s whole activity has historically been regarded as taking place in eternity, and even to be one single act. Nevertheless, as far as time-bound experience goes, Scripture gives the warrant for “analogously” speaking of God acting in time, for example in raising Jesus in 30AD, in speaking a word of prophecy, in regenerating the sinful soul and so on.

The question then might be why any one time (such as the Big Bang) should be privileged as far as God’s creation goes: if it is actually eternal, it is the creation of every moment, and the events therein. I suggest, therefore, we look for God’s designing purpose within, but not through, secondary physical causes.

Just as generation may explain why a baby is born, but not, since it involves contingency (which on the parent thread I pointed out may be explained by Epicurean chance or divine providence, but not much else) why Mother Theresa is born, which is a matter of God’s determining will; so evolutionary mechanisms may be explanatory for why life changes, but not, because they involve contingency, why it becomes as it is.

For that we need to look to God as Creator of contingency (just as any explanatory power of evolution is due to God as Creator of order).

“Odd phrases” indeed! We remind ourselves that “randomness” means “ignorance of cause” - and then say “God uses randomness” as if it weren’t madness to say that God creates through ignorance of causes!

As for “front-loading”, it seems to depend entirely on that deist fascination, since Leibniz, with perpetual motion machines. Whereas, if we think of the Christian God, it’s hard to see him saying “I’ve left 4 billion years of ready meals for you in the freezer while I’m away.”


(Jon) #6

Evolutionary Creationist: We believe that God is directly involved in the lives of people today through acts of redemption, personal transformation, and answers to prayer. We believe that God typically sustains the world using faithful, consistent processes that humans describe as “natural laws.” Yet we also affirm that God works outside of natural law in supernatural events, including the miracles described in Scripture. In both natural and supernatural ways, God continues to be directly involved in creation and in human history. We believe that the methods of science are an important and reliable means to investigate and describe the world God has made. God continues to sustain the existence and functioning of the natural world, and the cosmos continues to declare the glory of God. Therefore, we reject ideologies such as Deism that claim the universe is self-sustaining, that God is no longer active in the natural world, or that God is not active in human history.

Intelligent Designist: Sounds like Deism to me.

Evolutionary Creationist: What? Did you read it?

Intelligent Designist: Yeah. That’s your basic Deism right there.

Evolutionary Creationist: It’s explicitly in contradiction to Deism.

Intelligent Designist: You’d say that though, wouldn’t you, if you were a Deist.

Evolutionary Creationist: No I wouldn’t, I’d say something which is actually Deism. None of that is Deism, and all of it is explicitly the opposite of Deism.

Intelligent Designist: Looks like Deism to me.

Evolutionary Creationist: How can you possibly interpret that as Deism?

Intelligent Designist: Big time Deism.

Evolutionary Creationist: Which part is the Deism?

Intelligent Designist. Also Epicureanism. It’s Epicurean Deism.

Evolutionary Creationist: You still haven’t explained which part is the Deism.

Intelligent Designist: Look, I know Deism when I see it.

Evolutionary Creationist: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Anyone who reads a statement like the Biologos statement and then makes complaints about allegedly Deism, is simply not being intellectually honest. The accusation of Deism is simply an attempt to avoid the theological heavy lifting and an uncomfortable confrontation with the scientific facts.


(Phil) #7

Any post that uses a Princess Bride quote gets a like.


(Jon) #8

I’m glad someone noticed.


(Brad Kramer) #9

This is my exact reply to @Eddie. Thanks Jon.

@Eddie, you’re basically asking BioLogos to affirm a bad theology in order to appease Evangelicals with the same bad theology. We’re not going to do that.

Why not say, “When God needs rain to fall in a specific place, he subtly ‘steers’ the raindrops individually to his desired targets.” Should BioLogos say that?

or, “When God wants a specific sperm to reach the egg, he subtly ‘steers’ that sperm to the target.” Should BioLogos say that?

The point is not that God is uninvolved with rain or reproduction. It’s just that the anxiety around seemingly “random” processes on behalf of Christians is the result of a bad theology that envisions nature as machine and puts the burden of proof on Christians to demonstrate God’s involvement in nature, as if he is otherwise aloof and uninvolved.

BioLogos is in the business of breaking down false dichotomies. We enjoy being in that business. We’re fully aware that this is a tough sell for conservative Christians. But we’re pretty confident that our work will have important long-term results, if we keep re-casting the conversation.


(George Brooks) #10

@Eddie

Just like the Puritans of old … always miserable as long as you know that someone, somewhere, is comfortable.

If you want something to happen, contributing to make it a comfortable experience is rather crucial - -
wouldn’t you agree, Eddie?

As for “mass” movement to the BioLogos camp, I think you are deluding yourself if you think that would
ever be possible under any circumstances.

The erosion of the Young Earth Creationist camp will be something that is experienced as attrition…
over many generations.


(Peaceful Science) #11

Yes that happens. But at the same time, some (not Biologos officially) go to great effort to deny any direction action by God, as if science or theology has proven this. This is a type of deism, or at least it sounds like it. And many are genuinely confused. They think that a commitment to deny God’s direct action is inherent to any theistic evolution position.

Before we jump on them, historically speaking they are correct. That is why theistic evolutionists at the time of the Scopes Trial denied the bodily Resurrection. They denied God’s direct action in this world, and this logically led them here.

Of course BioLogos itself does not take that position. But that is the history which shapes are moment.


(Jon) #12

When a clear statement is given about God’s very obvious and direct involvement in the world, in past, present, and future, including the gospel message, God’s historical work with His people, His ongoing interaction in the personal life of the believer, and His direct involvement in the universe through supernatural events, then people have no reason to be confused, no matter what is said about science. This is a position which is very obviously nothing like “theistic evolutionists at the time of the Scopes Trial”.

Imagine if we said that if people say they’re Calvinist then that sounds like they burn people at the stake, like the Calvinists at the time of Calvin, and complain that “it’s confusing” for people to say “I’m a Calvinist” while also saying “I don’t burn people at the stake”, because historical Calvinists burned people at the stake.


(Jon) #13

This is a very astute observation. The charge of Deism is simply a Trojan Horse, with the aim of encouraging a compromised theology. Given they complain bitterly about being confused with Creationists, the IDers’ claim that Evolutionary Creationism is indistinguishable from Deism, is more than a little ironic.


(Jon Garvey) #14

To be fair, it’s only bad theology as far as a total explanation goes. “Natural law” is nothing more than frontloading, and provides all the regularity actually seen in the world. The only question is how far it can affect the outcomes of evolution, and Eddie has always been entirely open to whatever the science shows. Emergent phenomena, chemical affinities, the extraordinary suitability of the world for life, cosmic and local fine tunimng - these are all true examples of frontloading. But to say that natural law is capable of determining all the outcomes of evolution precisely is scientifically dubious, as well as theologically poor for the reasons I stated.

In my view those things would be entirely suitable for BioLogos to say, though on the theological side of a discussion and not, obviously a scientific explanation. Though, in truth, James Clerk Maxwell was not ashamed to speak to fellow-scientists in that way in presenting his statistical mechanics - which, note, was intended to provide statistical models of patterns caused by individual molecules, let alone raindrops or sperm:

Would it not be more profound and feasible to determine the general constraints within which the deity must act than to track each event the divine will enacts?

Maxwell, in other words, saw the unknowable (aka “random”) contingent events making up statistical science as both determined, and enacted individually by God. On the former point, which speaks to “random mutations” and so on, a second quote is in order:

Thus molecular science teaches us that our experiments can never give us anything more than statistical information, and that no law derived from them can pretend to absolute precision. But when we pass from the contemplation of our experiments to that of the molecules themselves, we leave a world of chance and change, and enter a region where everything is certain and immutable.

Not only is it unproblematic for an omnisicent and omnipotent God to have causal regard to individual contingent events at every level, but it is problematic to find any other cause for those events, unless one wants to hold to molecular determinism* - which is to say universal frontloading - or (back to the previous conversation) to invoke Epicurean ontological randomness with the deists and materialists.

“Steering” is a colloquial term on Eddie’s part, suggesting a mechanical manipulation. But it’s no more so than “determining” or Maxwell’s “enacting”: all such words are analogies for creation or, at least, providence. As long as one admits the metaphorical expression, then if God intends to create Joe Bloggs (or King David or John the Baptist), then the divine will necessarily enact the fertilization by one particular sperm of one particular egg.

Even a raindrop in the eye of a sniper may providentially preserve a life for some act of service.

*FOOTNOTE: one can. of course, leave statistical mechanics to one side and study the patterns of individual molecular collisions, concluding the pattern is consistent with (say) the mechanics of billiard balls. But to study billiard balls under lab conditions is not to understand a billiard game: those collisions are goverened by many other factors, but still a single event can affect the whole game.


(Jon) #15

But what conceivable theological justification could there be for such absurd statements? Those statements aren’t good science, and they’re certainly not good theology.

Was Adelard’s position “problematic”? Is this Epicurean Deism?

‘NEPHEW: If you collect dry dust and put it finely sieved in an earthenware or bronze pot, after a while when you see plants springing up, to what else do you attribute this but to the marvelous effect of the wonderful divine will?

ADELARD: I do not detract from God. Everything that is, is from him and because of him. But [nature] is not confused and without system and so far as human knowledge has progressed it should be given a hearing. Only when it fails utterly should there be recourse to God…’, Adelard of Bath, ‘Natural Questions’, 1116

“Adelard’s emphasis on the use of reason is rather remarkable. His message is clear. He firmly believed that God was the creator of the world, and that God provided the world with a rational structure and a capacity to operate by its own laws. In this well-ordered world, natural philosophers must always seek a rational explanation for phenomena. They must search for a natural cause and not resort to God, the ultimate cause of all things, unless the secondary cause seems unattainable.”, Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 2001), 71.

What about William of Bath? More Deism and materialism here?

“William thought it improper to invoke God’s omnipotence as an explanation for natural phenomena. Like all natural philosophers in the Middle Ages, William of Conches believed that God was the ultimate cause of everything, but, like Adelard of Bath, he believed that God had empowered nature to produce effects and that one should therefore seek the cause of those effects in nature.”, Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 2001), 73.


(Jon Garvey) #16

I bow, of course, before your superior theological wisdom. I’ve only been at it fifty years.

But (1) that they are not good science is irrelevant, because they are not being stated as science.
And (2) In terms of colloquial analogies, pray tell me what is wrong with them? Or at least, how they are more incoherent than “God uses randomness”?


(Jon) #17

That they are not good science is relevant, because the statements are in direct contradiction with good science, making them in direct contradiction with reality. You don’t get to say “It’s ok to believe in this thing which is totally contradicted by reality, as long as I don’t call it science”.

I already explained this; what conceivable theological justification could there be for such absurd statements?

Because “God uses randomness” can at least muster some theological justification.


(Chris Falter) #18

Hi Joshua,

This seems like a vast overstatement to me. Ted Davis has written about the intersection of theology and evolution in the early 20th century here:

a few contributors [to The Fundamentals, published in 1915] actually favored theistic evolution—especially the Scottish theologian James Orr, who wrote that “‘Evolution,’ in short, is coming to be recognized as but a new name for ‘creation,’ only that the creative power now works from within, instead of, as in the old conception, in an external, plastic fashion” (Numbers 2006, 49). James Moore (1979) and David Livingstone (1984) have shown that some important evangelicals substantially accepted evolution among the lower animals (though always with an obvious element of divine design) for several decades prior to World War One: Harvard botanist Asa Gray (the first Darwinian in America), geologists George Frederick Wright (who later changed his mind and wrote against evolution in The Fundamentals) and James Dwight Dana, theologians James McCosh and Augustus Hopkins Strong, and even an author of the Princeton doctrine of inerrancy, theologian Benjamin B. Warfield.

Best Advent wishes,


(Brad Kramer) #19

This is exactly my point. Given the severe limits of human language to describe a transcendent God, there are certain propositions which must simultaneously be true without a total explanation of how they exactly they are true. If we attempt to mash them together into one discourse, much is lost in the process. To say something like “God directs individual raindrops to his purposes” is precisely this sort of “mash”, in my opinion. It takes God’s sovereignty and natural processes and squashes them together such that we presume far too much about what human language can and cannot describe.

In my experience, ordinary Evangelical churchgoers are quite comfortable with these sorts of mysteries, as it applies to most of life. Discussions about science have different rules because of the cultural conflicts of present day (and past two centuries). Here, all of the sudden, we seem to need a level of theological precision that, applied to any other issue, would be viewed as presumptuous.


(Jon Garvey) #20

Well, in the absence of your providing any actual arguments, I’ll just analyse your replies:

(1) If a thing is not demonstrated by science, it’s false. That is scientism. To expand, can you tell me what “good science” has to say about events that cannot be measure or predicted?
(2) “It’s absurd” is not an argument at all - and to ask for justification is not an answer to what is wrong with them.
(3) Asserting there is theological justification is not theological justification.

Bluster, my son, bluster.