Miracles and Science: A Third Way (Part 2)

I invited him to, but CTNS is involved in a major legal migration right now to become part of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. He is deeply involved in that, and probably won’t be able to keep up with the comments here.

I suspect it is because it confuses the categories and starts on the wrong side of the equation. We see design in nature because we believe God is the Creator; we don’t see God as the Creator because we see design in nature. Who said that? I think McGrath (though maybe he was quoting someone). And of course it’s not quite so linear as that, but that seems to me to be the basic impulse that keeps him from endorsing the ID approach.

I’m (this is me, not me attempting to speak for Russell) persuaded more than ever that even our most basic experiences are shaped by the concepts we bring to those experiences (I recommend John McDowell on this). We don’t sense patches of light and then perform some deductive operation to conclude that we are looking at a tree; we see it as a tree from the get go (or at least from as soon as we’ve been inducted into the language community of which we’re a part). So too, I see nature as God’s creation, not because I’ve deduced it from lots of little examples of design, but because those are the categories I bring to my observation of nature. Design is the “overlay” on my interpretation of nature. It is one of the categories that belongs to the personal discourse that I believe is an indispensable and accurate way of talking about reality. But it is not one of the categories that belongs to the scientific discourse (that I also believe to be an accurate way of talking about reality). Mixing the discourses does not bring greater clarity.


Nor is mine … in fact quite the opposite. My objection is in fact to the ivory tower academics who in fact think that they should be able to account for God’s activities (if in fact they haven’t already fancied that they can). In some ways I think those who you may refer to as the ‘simple folk’ may, with respect to theology, actually be intellectually ahead of the high-minded analytical types, paradoxical as that may seem.

You go on to say you also object to the same, but for different reasons. You object on the grounds that they claim to know God is involved, but then can’t or don’t back it up with satisfactory detail. I object at least partially on the ground to their having made the claim (even if just in the form of a promissory note) to be able to analyze such things in the first place.

It isn’t that I’m above making such attempts (or trying to understand the attempts of others, rather). But my (only half-flippant) repetition of Argon’s observation above that so many have been trying to do this for millennia – and here we are … still trying to complete the task; that should all be a signal to us that there should be no surprise if we never resolve this. In fact, our surprise (and skepticism) should be reserved for anybody who claims that they have.



Jim, that does not seem to be exactly true. For instance it seems to be the Greeks who came up with the concept that Nature has a rational design. They invented the concept of Logos, which is not based on God as we know God, bet as nature as they observed nature. John 1:1 “borrowed” Logos from the Greeks and transformed it from a rational concept into the Living Second Person of the Trinity.

Now it is true that when we live we do not go around reinventing physics, we walk around applying physics. If gravity would disappear, we would know it. If the sun would stop shining we would know it. The fact that these things do not change tell us that God’s universe is still working as God intended it and we know it. It does not say that we know the world is designed because the Bible tells us so. We know that the world is designed because that is what our experiences reinforced by science and faith all tell us is true.

Hi Jim. I agree with that assessment. My point is that it really doesn’t matter whether the interaction is mediated via quantum-scale interactions. You either reach in and redirect the flow of events in this universe or not.

Here’s a classic parable:
A man is stranded on the roof of his house which is surrounded by rising flood waters. He has faith that God will save him. At one point people in a rescue boat pull up to retrieve the man but he waves them off saying “God will save me.” Later, as the water rise a Coast Guard helicopter drops a ladder to the man. He waves it off with the same explanation. Eventually the waters overtake the man and he dies. In heaven, the man goes to God and asks 'Why didn’t you save me?" God replies, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter, why didn’t you use them?”

So the questions: 1) Does God reveal his hand and if so, in what ways? 2) Why does He act that way?

I wrote:

I’d suggest figuring that out first and then worry about any possible mechanisms.

Indeed! :wink:

That would include a sizable chunk of the apologetics field…

My father once took a mandatory religion course in college taught by a Jesuit philosopher. The Jesuit asked the class, “Can you prove God exists?”. My father answered “No.” Most of the other students thought "Yes’. The professor told the ‘yes’ students to provide their proofs and then he proceeded to demonstrate the flaws in each one of them. I think most of the ‘ivory tower academics’ have a pretty well balanced view of their fields and the status of various proposals. There are always outliers but the fact that these and other questions persist suggests that good solutions have not yet been found. And most philosophers know that.


Yes, but my point is that we do not appreciate how much our “experiences” are already shaped for us by prior commitments. We are not blank slates.


Hi Roger,

Hope this day finds you doing well and doing good. I disagree a bit with your view of the Greek philosophical enterprise. Heracleitus, and later the Stoics, did not observe nature with a tabula rasa worldview. They brought their religious views with them, and applied them to the observations of nature.

In fact, the Church identified the Greek perspective on the Logos as a form of revelation from God, not something that emerged from a careful scientific scrutiny of nature. “The Creator of the universe who revealed to you the Logos has now made Him fully manifest in the Christ,” the early bishops might have said, if they had spoken modern English and used my clumsy rhetoric.

Indeed. I should probably try to distinguish where God has revealed through Scriptural prophecy and such what the nature of Divine action looks like … (I.e. --what are we meant to know, and therefore told); and what we think we have revealed about God ‘under our own steam’ as it were --if there even is such a thing in any pure sense). The former is a top-down revelatory approach – infallible by definition though certainly not infallible in our reception and translation of it. The latter is fallible at every level, and possibly just a misguided program even in principle.

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Jim and Chris,

First of all I want to make clear that I do not make a sharp division between science and Christianity, and it is because of the Logos that this is true.

The Greek Indo-European religion were based on myths which explained the seasons, etc. Thar is nothing like that in Christianity, The Greek word for knowledge based on tradition is Mythos. The Greek word for knowledge based on rational exploration like philosophy and science is Logos. Christianity is based on Logos, while other faiths are based on Mythos.

Mario Livio points the impact of Pythagoras on math and philosophy. Geometry developed under the Greeks and demonstrated the enormous ability for humans to understand our world through math and logic. It also led to the emphasis of Logos over Mythos, which is why much of the ancient world became Christian.

Plate of course sits near the center of this convergence of math/science, philosophy, and theology Livio even makes a connection between Plato’s World of math, the physical world, and the world of rational concepts to Augustine’s Trinity. No we are not blank slates, but our philosophy, faith, and science must be in sync or we are in deep trouble. That is my point.

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Yes, I’m speaking for myself. It is my viewpoint. Now of course I happen to think it is the correct viewpoint on such things (otherwise I wouldn’t hold it!), but I recognize there are other defensible viewpoints, and I think we’re all better for respecting these (as you have done) instead of making heresy charges and lighting the torches (as has too often been the response in the history of Christianity).


I take it that within “Calvinism” you include Catholicism (cf the late Hugh McCann’s recent 2012 book on divine sovereignty and creation, drawing on Aquinas) and Orthodoxy (following the tradition of St Augustine). And Arminius, whose teaching on the matter I cited and linked above. That’s a broader definition than mosts Calvinists I know would admit.

All these hold that God is the ultimate author of every event, avoiding deism directly by that claim, and determism by their quite similar understandings of the relationship between God as Creator and secondary causes.

As far as Russell’s hypothesis goes, it would fit comfortably into any of these (which doesn’t necessarily make it a runner scientifically), but it would also fit even a “mere” conservationist scheme, for surely God’s sustaining of creation necessarily includes its most basic quantum events. If your theological tastes preferred, God’s quantum choices could factor in his cooperation with autonomous human will.

What makes little sense is a natural creation in which parts go their own demiurgic erring way and parts show forth the wisdom of God’s design. Not only is that a semi-deistic patchwork, but it would cry out for a scientific method of distinguishing what is “God’s” style from what is “nature’s” style. That would be a help to confused believers like me who are unable to divvy up nature into “good” and “evil” chunks as easily as some seem able to.

Neither does it seem anything but incoherent to accommodate a nature regarded as autonomous (and perhaps variously deficient or even evil) with a God regarded as intimately involved by invoking “paradox”. There’s paradox - and there’s logical contradiction.

It is just not remotely true that all Catholics, Orthodox, and Arminians believe this. Of course you can find individuals within those camps who do, just as I can point to individual Calvinists who don’t (like Plantinga, who affirms libertarian free will).

The difficulty for your position is that we just can’t live as though it were true. If your position is correct (unless I’m misunderstanding what you’ve claimed), then God has determined that I cannot accept your position as true. This argument that we’re having is really just God arguing with himself through us as tools (I know that’s Aquinas’s metaphor in SCG). When we arrive at such a position, I can’t help believing that something has gone off track.

If you were to persuade me that the only two options are your version of sovereignty (God as author of every event) or an autonomous nature, I’d pick the latter every time. And again, if you’re correct, then it seems very strange that God is causing me to believe something incorrect. But I’m not persuaded those are the only two options.

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You’re indeed misunderstanding what I’ve claimed, Jim - or else Augustine, Aquinas and a majority of the mediaeval Church, not to mention the Reformation divines, would have been shot down on Day One in a puff of logic.

That it’s not as marginal a view as you suggest is indicated by a couple of paragraphs from the Catholic Catechism - which I take not to be tainted too much by Calvin.

303 The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the course of events: “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.” And so it is with Christ, “who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens”. As the book of Proverbs states: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.”

304 And so we see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes. This is not a “primitive mode of speech”, but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him. The prayer of the Psalms is the great school of this trust.

The fact that the catechism then goes on to the matter of human freedom shows that the stark dichotomy between autonomy and rigid determinism you posit would have had the old philosophers shouting “Nuance, per-lease!”

In any case, my original point was not to wave a flag for Calvin, but only to reply to your intimation that the two “pitfalls” of Russell’s position were deism and Calvinism. If even Calvinism (let alone “traditional providence” (McCann’s characterisation in his Stamford Encyclopaedia entry) is regarded as an error by which to judge a hypothesis, it suggests that the feeling that BioLogos is not quite as inclusive an Evangelical platform as it ought to be is not entirely groundless.

I believe a good number of Southern Baptists are Calvinists, and by no means all are Young Earthers or deniers of evolution.

OK, you’re going to have to help me out here. How do you get from 303’s “God’s absolute sovereignty over the course of events” to your claim that “God is the author of every event”? I wholly affirm the former too. I’ve said before in conversation with Eddie that I believe sovereignty means God guarantees the end. The good guys win in the end, evil will be defeated. And 304 restates that with “primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world.” To interpret such claims as “God is the author of every single event” takes some additional metaphysics.

Laying all humility aside, I think Augustine worked himself into a position that he couldn’t get out of. In the retractions he wrote at the end of his life, he never went back on what he said about human free will. But he doesn’t know how to reconcile that with his very strong statements (made in the context of combatting Pelagius). Aquinas echoes this to a degree, but it is Zwingli who jumps all over it, and Calvin who works out the implications of it (double predestination, which he came to call the “damnable doctrine” he couldn’t get away from). Again, something has gone off the tracks in my view when that’s where an idea leads.

Please, please don’t equate me with BioLogos. Here is what BioLogos believes (as I keep pointing out). What I’ve said on this topic is consistent with the organization, but is certainly not the only view around here. I argue as vigorously with other BioLogos people about this as I do with you.

Well, I’d get to God’s authorship of events, at it’s most convenient, by citing #304, that “sovereignty over the course of events” can be appropriately expressed in Scripture by bypassing the mention of secondary causes (as if they were mere agents). That is the very antithesis of nature’s autonomy (whatever that means - I’ve never been able to work out how being bound by natural law and contingency becomes “creaturely liberty” when considering the irrational creation theologically).

Such authorship could be expressed in words such as:

“The sun goes down (natural event) and God brings night (divine action). The lion hunts for prey (natural event), and they seek their food from God (divine providence). The Bible clearly proclaims that God is fully in charge of natural events.”

That writer (Haarsma) goes on to quote from the Belgic Confession: “… nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.”

Now I think any metaphysical conundrum which that poses (and it’s a genuine case of paradox, and one that is unresolved throughout Scripture, presumably deliberately) is no greater than explaining how God can be sovereign over ends without also “arranging” the means. But as far as this post is an “orderly arrangement”, it’s because I’m its author - what else could it mean?

To deduce double predestination from Russell’s possibility that “nothing happens in this [quantum] world without his orderly arrangement” (he is in fact deliberately equivocal about that in his writing) seems to me extrapolating too much. Far too much.

Let’s follow it through, lapsing into the worst-case scenario, a free, and evil, mental choice of mine to believe the wrong thing (though Russell’s interest is actually in natural evolution). According to traditional doctrine God sustains me and my brain and my will in existence, including its operations moment by moment - this is divine sustenance, or creatio continua, if you’re Orthodox. We needn’t venture on to his “governance” of those operations in order to address Russell’s hypothesis.

On a “soft” (sub-Thomistic) Catholic understanding, “The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator.” (RC cat #308), and this mercy extends even to my evil deeds. The idea is that I could not will or act anything apart from God’s active providence enabling me.

On that basis, supposing (for the argument) that my mental activity involves specific quantum events, then I have no “autonomous” way of producing those events, unless they have their final causation in God, making him at least in order of events their author:

God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (RC. cat. #308, continued).

So in that Catholic understanding (not far from Augustine and most Reformed thought) the initiation of quantum events by God would be part of the way that God allows the very possibility of my free action, by being the First cause (in terms of the physical event) “co-operating with” a secondary cause (my evil will).

Augustine, of course, would have gone further by insisting that the evil I freely willed also served a pre-existing good purpose of God, by which means his co-operation in my action does not have the character of sin, but of divine wisdom and righteousness tending towards his final good. And Calvin followed him in that, but went further back to the eternal purposes of God for individuals - perhaps a step too far for secure conclusions, but then (as Merv has pointed out here) we none of us like to step back from telling God how to do his work.

None of those further arguments, though, affect the idea of God as the First Cause of all events, as well as all objects, in their physical aspect - which is all Russell has in view. The alternative is to make God only the Creator of “things”, their mere existence being the whole matter of God’s sustaining, and their actions and functions being carried on apart from God’s governance - yet in some mysterious (incoherent?) manner still moving towards his ends.

Apart from anything else, John Walton’s insights into the functional nature of the biblical creation is against that - God does not merely create and govern what the world is made of, but how it will go… that is, what the created things will do. In traditional Christianity, that is the glory of his creativeness. In terms of Russell’s immediate subject, the evolution of life, the fact of Jesus being “the author of life” would resonate well with him being, necessarily, the author of the mutations that lead to it.

Jon, I haven’t objected at all to God “being in charge” or to God’s “orderly arrangement” or “governance” or “being at work” or being the “first cause” (in the Thomistic sense of the ground of being). I objected to your claim that God is the author of every event. If you don’t intend that phrase to mean that God determines every event, then we have no squabble. Feel free to say so, and I’ll cease and desist! But that does sound like what it could mean on Russell’s view if one is to assume that God determines the outcome of every quantum event. That’s why I’ve claimed that interpretation to be problematic. I’ve not been persuaded otherwise yet. (Though it feels like we’re approaching the point at which we should agree to disagree.)


This is a difficult problem, but I believe the best solution to is to remember that God is Three as well as One. If God were only One and God Creation were monistic then there would have to be a direct connection between God and Creation, but because God is Three there i8d no direct connection, but God is still in charge. The complex/one character of the universe supports this understanding.

“Tomorrow I will seven eagles see, a great comet will appear, and voices will speak from whirlwinds foretelling monstrous and fearful things – This Universe never did make sense; I suspect that it was built on government contract.” – Robert A. Heinlein, from his 1980 book The Number of the Beast.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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