Disco. does theology

For a long time, the Disco. ‘tute insisted that “intelligent design” is science, and that questions about who did the designing are theological and beyond ID’s scope. IDolators insist that ID can be evaluated without knowing anything about the nature of the designer.

This never made sense.

So in defending ID against a negative book review, Disco. Fellow Jay Richards distracts himself from denying global warming to launch a defense of ID as good theology:

Let’s imagine someone who does explicitly invoke God in explaining some feature of nature, someone like Thomas Aquinas. Does “inserting God into the [natural] causal chain” commit “a category mistake” and make one guilty of “blasphemy”? Would it imply that “God is one more thing along with all the other things in the universe”? Specifically, would such a claim contradict a fundamental principle of Christian theology? No, of course it wouldn’t.

Christianity has traditionally taught that God is omnipotent, free and sovereign over his creation. God is qualitatively more powerful than mere human beings. He can do far more than human beings, not less. …

Vernon is trying to use the doctrine of creation ex nihilo as a catch-all, to suggest that the doctrine somehow bars God from acting in other ways within the universe. There’s no basis whatsoever for this move in Christian theology. It’s invented from whole cloth. The fact that God created the universe ex nihilo doesn’t mean that that’s his only way of acting. The only justification I can think of for limiting God’s freedom to act within the created order would be to square Christian theology with naturalism. But then it would cease to be Christian theology.

In reality, Christianity is firmly committed to God doing all sorts of things within the created order. According to Christian theology (which is relevant since Vernon appeals to Thomas Aquinas), God creates the world from nothing, he raises people from the dead, he became incarnate as a human being, he caused Mary to become pregnant without the benefit of a human male, and so forth. If the latter claim is true, then the proper explanation for Mary becoming pregnant is the direct causality of God within the natural order.

Every educated Westerner, whether believer or unbeliever, knows perfectly well that Christians believe that God is both the creator of everything that is, and that he acts within nature. In fact, it’s hard to think of a less controversial claim. Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury both know this. So it’s just silly for Vernon to assert that invoking God as a cause within nature is “blasphemous.”

What about his assertion that invoking divine causality within nature somehow makes God “one more thing along with other things in the universe”?

Unfortunately, this is just an assertion. Vernon doesn’t provide even a pretense of an argument. And it’s hard to think of any argument in its favor. If God is free and sovereign over his creation, then he can do what he wants to do. He’s under no obligation to conform to Mark Vernon’s rules of tidiness and propriety. If he wants to act directly within the created order for his own purposes, he can certainly do that. And in so doing, God doesn’t become “one more thing along with all the other things in the universe.” He continues to be God. Vernon is confusing cause with effect. God may act directly in the created order, and the effect of his action would become part of that order. But that doesn’t mean that God therefore becomes merely one more member of the universe.

Of course, the claim that God acts directly in the created order might seem blasphemous to a theology that has fully capitulated to naturalism, such as the deism that Vernon falsely attributes to Newton.

Yay! We’ve got Jay Richards, on behalf of the DI, asserting the “fact that God created the universe ex nihilo.” And insisting that if one attempts to incorporate naturalism into one’s theology, “it would cease to be Christian theology.”

That’s a bold claim, especially in a context where he’s specifically citing particular characters of his own God, to whit God’s omnipotence. An omnipotent God could be a deistic God. The power to do anything does not create an obligation to do anything. Heck, there could be an omnipotent God who has never acted at all, not to create the universe, not to set the laws of the universe, not to do anything that changes anything about our empirical reality. Or such a God could have intervened a few times here and there to make sure that a few religious traditions attributed all of creation to a being much like itself.

Whether any of those Gods are consistent with Christian theology is an interesting question, but irrelevant to the scientific merits of ID. For ID to be a science, it must make testable predictions, predictions which could be wrong. But with such a range of potential omnipotent deities, how can any prediction be falsified?

Richards writes: “The only justification I can think of for limiting God’s freedom to act within the created order would be to square Christian theology with naturalism.” But no. The only reason to impose those limits is if one is trying to construct a scientifically testable hypothesis about God. A limitless explanation is useless scientifically, and is fundamentally outside the scope of science. This needn’t mean they’re wrong, just that they aren’t science.

There are two solutions one can propose for such theologies. One can either accept that the omnipotent deity one believes in is outside of science, or can decide to bring that deity inside of science by placing firm limits on its actions. As ID has made the firm decision to keep its deity (excuse me “designer”) inside of science, there have to be limits on its actions, and Vernon rightly observes that these limits are blasphemous in the context of Christian theology.

Because theistic evolution takes a different path, I think it escapes that theological trap. They place God outside of scientific testing, protecting the integrity of science and of theology (a matter for another day: “New Atheists” counter that this separation itself is artificial and not viable, perhaps undermining the integrity of anyone who holds this view). That’s how Steve Matheson could reject ID while still holding that “Design will always be an excellent and irrefutable explanation.” It’s irrefutability places it outside of science. Disco. has made something of a fuss over that comment, while de-emphasizing Matheson’s earlier point that: “it’s fruitless, it’s pointless to say, Steve, don’t be stupid, design doesn’t explain what you want it to. Well, of course it does—how could it not?” Until Meyer can explain what evidence would convince him that there was no designer, his claims about design are not science. And until he can show that there was an extant designer back when he claims the design was going on, he can’t claim design as “currently the best” explanation.

A final matter for today: Richards’ insistence that “Meyer’s argument is based squarely on what we do know about life and its informational properties, not on what we don’t know.”

This is hogwash. Meyer’s argument is that our current knowledge of the cell and of life’s origin is beyond our current explanatory power. Therefore he insists that we need to abandon naturalistic explanations and invoke a deity designer. This is a classic argument from ignorance: we’re ignorant of any explanation for life’s complexity, therefore God Designer. The only sense in which the argument is “based squarely on what we do know” is that we do know what we’re ignorant about.


  1. #1 bob johnson
    May 20, 2010

    I feel sorry for Casey Luskin. He works so hard trying to convince everyone that ID has nothing to do with religion then one of his buddies from Disco writes an article connecting the two. This week it is Jay Richards three weeks ago it was David Klinghoffer.

  2. #2 RBH
    May 20, 2010

    Josh, I have to ask this: How is Richards posting about the theological implications of ID on the DI site different from Peter Hess posting about the theological implications of evolution on (or directly linked from) NCSE’s site? How does the Faith Project of NCSE differ in kind from Richards’ apologetics on Evo News and Views?

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    May 20, 2010

    RBH: FWIW, Peter Hess’s title has been changed to clarify matters (Faith Project was distracting). He’s now “Director, Religious Community Outreach.”

    More generally, Richards’ posting at an official Disco. blog is intriguing because Disco. and other IDolators claim that their interest is purely scientific. Richards reveals his underlying theological mission in his essay, and Disco. reveals that the issue is not just science, but theology by hosting that post.

    NCSE would never dispute that theology is a major factor in the conflict over evolution in science classes. As such, it is appropriate and necessary to explore those theological issues and to make clear that evolution’s merits as a science ought to be the relevant question in science classes. To the degree that theological concerns can act as obstacles in that discussion, it’s useful to have faith leaders engaged in breaking down such barriers, and its useful to provide resources to those leaders who want to do helpful things.

  4. #4 DuckPhup
    May 21, 2010

    A critical and intellectually-honest look backwards at humanity, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, should reveal to anybody who is moderately smarter than a cauliflower that ‘god’ is an abstract concept, of human invention, which functions as a placeholder for future ‘knowledge’. Said another way, ‘god’ can be regarded as a symbol for ‘ignorance’.

    I got a special kick out of where Richards wrote…

    “Vernon is trying to use the doctrine of creation ex nihilo as a catch-all, to suggest that the doctrine somehow bars God from acting in other ways within the universe. There’s no basis whatsoever for this move in Christian theology. It’s invented from whole cloth.”

    That last bit can be interpreted in two different ways… but it makes a whole lot more sense (and it’s far-and-away more accurate) if one takes ‘It to be ‘Christian theology’, rather than taking ‘It to be a reference to Vernon’s line of reasoning, as Richards surely intended. Sloppy writing, or Freudian slip?

    Christian theology is an ‘invention’, alright… in the sense that…

    “Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.” ~ Dr. James Corbett

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