ID and the Science of God: Part V

In this instalment, I begin to address both Andrew Sibley’s and Timaeus’ (see post 33) questions concerning my interest in reviving a full-blooded (i.e. early modern) sense of theodicy, especially as part of the ID agenda. I will need another post to complete this task because more assumptions about theodicy in its original robust form need to be put on the table. My apologies if this does not seem blog-friendly but hopefully we’ll able to continue discussing in this medium issues that show the essential unity of concern among theologians, philosophers and scientists.


With Sibley and Timaeus, I agree that to defend ID without recourse to philosophy and theology is to fight with one arm tied behind your back. Darwinism presupposes its own philosophy (aka the pseudo-doctrine of methodological naturalism) and an ‘atheology’, but it need not be explicit about them because of its paradigmatic status in science. ID is clearly disadvantaged in the current intellectual climate, which is not helped by the peculiarly restrictive interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. Had Steven Jay Gould never introduced NOMA, he could have rest assured that it was already inscribed in the American legal system.


To begin: Why is it easier to accept ID in physics than in biology? Whereas ID supporters – not to mention many non-ID physicists – are happy to adopt the ‘anthropic’ assumption in matters of cosmology, they seem reluctant to extend this assumption to biology. But why?  After all, the point of the anthropic assumption is that were the physical universe not as it is, we would not be here to witness it. In other words, the focus of the anthropic principle is on the specifically intellectual aspect of our being. Put bluntly, the principle is indifferent to the existence of creatures incapable of doing physics. To think otherwise is to court a kind of naturalism that most Christian theologies have associated with paganism.


This comment is not meant to endorse the mass extermination of species, though one might say that the deity has already engaged in quite a lot of this activity. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of theodicy, there is an open question of what to make of the proliferation of such apparently bad things as death and destruction, if these are seen as – in some sense – part of the intelligently designed character of nature.


(Here’s where I’m coming from, when I stress ‘intelligence’ so much: Even if we are divinely created with the bodies we have, it does not follow that everything about those bodies reflect the full realization of our divine nature. Isn’t this why the monotheistic religions place such great emphasis on self-discipline, i.e. resist the passions associated with our ‘merely’ animal natures?  In that case, one could argue that the divinely privileged creativity of humans enables us to carry forward the project of self-discipline to such an extent that our successor species is not defined in mainly animal terms. We need not go so far as Ray Kurzweil’s consciousness-to-computer scenarios (though I note the Discovery Institute’s interest in this matter), but even a partial move toward ‘cyborganisation’ – ranging from silicon prostheses to horizontal gene transfers — would completely sideline the core Darwinist assumption that species-identity is established through sexual reproduction. (Here I think ID people could learn from the delegitimation of Freud, whose sex-fixation was partly inspired by The Descent of Man.) I realize that this is to open a very large can of worms, but it is one that should be on the menu of at least 21st century theologians, if not philosophers more generally, who take ID seriously.)


Back to the main point: Theodicy offers two basic options for explaining/justifiying death and destruction, from which the two main modern theories of (secular) philosophical ethics have descended. I associate them with, respectively, Leibniz (the source of utilitarianism) and Malebranche (the source of Kantianism). These are the two late 17th century protagonists I identified when I first mentioned Steven Nadler’s new book.


Without further adieu: What should we make of all the very bad things that nature displays?


(1)   Leibniz: God has embedded those bad things to enable us to come to a greater understanding of the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, etc. Such a deity expresses his concern for us in utilitarian terms: Sacrifice some in the short term to benefit the rest in the long term. Death is never merely death: It is always significant. The vision is ambiguous in terms of whether we are meant simply to accept this rationalization or to do something to minimize the appearance of God’s negative signs in the future. Voltaire’s satirical portrayal of Dr Pangloss in Candide suggests the former reading of Leibniz.

(2)   Malebranche: God always acts ‘in principle’, so that he remains unaffected by the consequences of his actions. That divine intentions might not be fully realized in nature reflects the resistance of matter, rather than any malice on the deity’s part, since God intends his will to be universal (hence Kant’s categorical imperative). This explains why the laws of nature, though laid down by God, are indifferent to the fates of particular creatures. However, humanity’s divine privilege implies that we can (must?) bring the God’s plan to fruition, the capacity for which is signalled by our God-given intellects that enable us to imagine things being much better than they are.


You won’t find here an understanding of God that ‘feels’ our pain in any obvious sense. If anything, God appears to deal in ‘tough love’: No pain, no gain. It’s easy to see why this sort of theodicy fell out of fashion. It did little for Christianity’s pastoral mission, much of which involves dealing with the immediacy of people’s suffering. As heirs of Descartes, Leibniz and Malebranche associated God with that aspect of our being – our intellects – that is most remote from our physical being. Unfortunately, talk of ‘the bigger picture’ provides small consolation to those grieving for loved ones in the village church.


Nevertheless, such an intellectualised view of God did inspire enormous confidence that humanity could come to a detailed rational understanding of the reality; hence, the Scientific Revolution. In a previous post, I mentioned Descartes’ analytic geometry, which suggested that we can know at least the formal character of times and places far removed from our personal experience. Thus, our knowledge is not simply a greater version of the kind possessed by animals – a point that has yet to sink into the minds of today’s Darwinists, at least based on how evolutionary psychology conceptualises its putative subject matter.


But this proposal also hit a barrier. Leibniz, the most ambitious of the theodicists, postulated an understanding of space, time and cause that Newtonian mechanics refuted. While Leibniz and Newton were largely engaged in the same enterprise, Newton backpedalled the theology and took greater care with his calculations. Kant, who also lived in a time fraught with religious tension, famously denounced theodicy in Critique of Pure Reason as displaying an arrogant faith in the human intellect that leads to error in both science and theology. This view has continued to prevail – even though Leibniz was at least partly vindicated with Einstein’s theory of relativity. But by then theology had lost any strong claim to the cognitive unification of human knowledge (i.e. COMA).


My point is that Kant may have been premature in his condemnation of Leibniz but unfortunately theologians – not to mention an increasingly anti-theological academy — were all too willing to believe in a de-privileged humanity, and so were happy to accept Kant’s verdict on theodicy as final.


But more anon…



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21 Responses to ID and the Science of God: Part V

  1. Dear Dr. Fuller:

    Thank you for your further comments on theodicy. I will withhold detailed comments until your next column comes out, but I want to make one brief comment, and I want to restate my position, which I feel you have seriously misunderstood.

    1. I am always glad when someone suggests that Kant may be wrong about anything, and while I certainly don’t worship at the altar of Leibniz, I think he is getting some bad press lately among some Christian ID people, so your comments may open up some interesting new discussions. Whatever the faults of Leibniz’s metaphysics may have been from the point of view of Christian orthodoxy (especially of some Protestant orthodoxies), at least Leibniz was willing to continue giving metaphysics a try, whereas the temperament of much of modern philosophy (like the temperament of much of Protestantism) has been anti-metaphysical. And once one has decided that metaphysics is impossible, why bother with philosophy anyway? And if one is not going to bother with philosophy, then there is no point in bothering with theology, or at least with any theology that isn’t purely fideistic. And I certainly have no interest in purely fideistic theologies.

    2. While I find your excursion into the history of ideas interesting in its own right (I am a historian of ideas myself with some academic publications in the area of religion and science), I think you have still missed the point of my line of questioning. For one thing, it is not the same as Andrew Sibley’s. For another thing, I did NOT say or imply that to defend ID without theodicy (or any other part of theology) is to fight with one hand tied behind one’s back. That is, as far as I can see, your thesis, not mine. In fact, I didn’t posit any thesis at all about the relationship between ID and theodicy. I was merely asking for clarification about your own understanding of that relationship.

    What I was driving at, in my earlier comments and in my (hopefully) carefully constructed example of the ID research team that falls apart over theodicy, was: (a) why any theological conceptions AT ALL are necessary to establish the FACT of design (as opposed to the identity of the designer or a list of his characteristics); (b) supposing, for the sake of argument, that we can establish the fact of design in some case (the flagellum or the brain or the bombardier beetle or Darwin’s horrible parasites or whatever you like), how you suggest we should move from the FACT of design to the THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION (including theodicy) of that fact of design; and (c) supposing that we can move from the fact of design to a theodicy, once we make that move, do we IDers not shed all the political protection we have been fighting to gain, and fall into exactly the same untenable legal and constitutional position as Creation Science?

    So what I am asking is:

    (1) Is it your thesis that design cannot be established in any particular case, or overall, without FIRST assuming a theodicy, i.e., are you contending that ID cannot successfully function as a secular, religiously neutral program of design detection? And if it cannot, why not?

    (2) Alternately, if you accept that design can be established without theological assumptions, what do you do with the multi-religious research team in my hypothetical example, who cannot hope to arrive at a common theodicy even if they accept all the same facts and the same design inference? How do you avoid the twin possibilities of (a) crude religious majority control of the interpretation of the science; (b) a hung theological jury regarding the interpretation of the science?

    (3) Are you bluntly suggesting that ID should change direction and frankly and apologetically call itself a creationist movement, i.e., abandon the claim of religious neutrality it has used for the last several years? And if so, what do you say to those ID-agnostics and ID-Deists and others who resolutely refuse to link ID with revealed religion? Are you asking Antony Flew and Michael Denton to cease claiming that they have found science-based arguments for design? And what do you say to the fact that in the USA, this move would doom ID to remain forever outside of the American public definition of science, and hence to forever be banned from the schools, even as a briefly discussed alternative to Darwinism? First Amendment jurisprudence is not going to change, not with a new President who is in favour of appointing more left-leaning judges (who will continue the drive to oust religion entirely from the public square) and who has already indicated (with little knowledge of the matter) that he thinks ID is not science. If I understand your position correctly (and I may not), you are advising ID people (or at least all those ID people who are Christian) to go as sheep to the slaughter.

    I hope I have made my position more clear, and I hope that you will address these questions in your next segment. In your answer, I urge you to avoid further excursions into the history of ideas, and to concentrate on the concrete questions raised both above and in my previous hypothetical example. It really does not matter to me what Leibniz or Kant or Bacon say; I am only interested here in understanding what you say. In other words, I want to proceed Socratically, not academically.


  2. Timaeus,

    Please be a little patient. I got the drift of your example and I plan to address it. And maybe you’re a historian of ideas, but I’m not. So I don’t need to be patronised. The fact that I set things in an ongoing conversation with the past is not meant to be a trip down memory lane, or a diversion, any more than a judge who cites legal precedent for justifying a decision. It is meant to set the context for making sense of my response to your example.

    But you’re certainly right that if I had such a black and white view as you do about the future of theologically inspired ID in the US, then I wouldn’t be saying what I’m saying. However, I am one of those people who thinks that Judge Jones’ decision was great step backward for science education, mainly because he failed to separate adequately the problems with the Dover school board’s specific activities and the status of ID as a scientific theory more generally.

    And by the way, I might in fact be what you call an ID-Deist but for me that’s not an anti-theistic position, though I can see it as anti-clerical. You seem to operate with a rather restricted notion of theology, even within broadly Christian confines. But I realize as a self-made Socrates, you are not one who easily gives up his secrets!

  3. Dr. Fuller,

    That’s three strikes and I wasn’t even counting.

    Every time you are faced with the fundamental question of applying Theodicy to ID, you turn to the messenger and not the message.

    There is a singular reason for this; you have stepped off into an area that is untenable (both logically and strategically). Theodicy among religious persons and the recognition of design among scientists are not one in the same, and without the latter the former is not any more necessary than it was when it went out of fashion (and even that is being generous).

    This conversation should be moved to appropriate place – not as a (illogical yet somehow) necessary feature on UD.

  4. I was actually interested in the problem of theodicy before I was interested in the problem of evolution. And I never thought they were related till reading some of the discussions here in the last few years. There is no obvious blog where an amateur in the discussion of theodicy could go and get a reasoned feedback so it is not one I pursued very often. But after reading several books on evolution, it is obvious that Darwin and many others consider the two topics intertwined. There is also the occasional comment here that I could never accept God because of the horrors that are present in this world.

    One of the problems I have with any discussion of theodicy is the lack of any clear discussion of just what evil is. Anytime the discussion comes up I always ask the same question which so far has received no answers. What is evil? And are our personal understandings of evil subjective? It seems to be the thing behind the curtain that does not get discussed.

    I realize there are some really unpleasant things that happen to people and some others would say to animals. But why are these evil?

    I am about 60% through with the Nadler book and am struck with the proposition “the best of all possible worlds.” Most seem to want to discuss it from their own view point as opposed to from God’s view.

    I will also second Timaeus and others who want to keep the theodicy discussion as far as possible from the discussion of ID as a science. There are some aspects of ID that may wander in to intentions such as the need to build an ecology, a need to provide as much as possible within the design that does not require a frequent hands on intervention etc. that could be part of ID and not get into any idea of God.

  5. Dr. Fuller:

    I will gladly wait patiently for the rest of your exposition.

    I am sorry if I sounded patronizing. I certainly didn’t mean to. I have the greatest respect for your contributions to the Dover trial. I read your entire testimony very carefully. I thought it was highly intelligent and that you were a scholar who commanded a wide range of learning (including history of ideas), well beyond mine on many topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of science. And it was my impression that your contributions went over the judge’s head, because he did not seem to respond to them in any significant way in his final judgement against ID. I also agree with you that the judge did not distinguish properly between the actions of a particular school board and ID as a scientific notion.

    That said, I did feel I had the right to bore you with a partial repetition of what I said before, because you had mischaracterized my position, and I did not see any sign that you were going to recover from that mischaracterization, and I wanted to set the record straight.

    Whether Deism should count as a species of theism is an academic debate, and if you use the term “Deism” within that understanding I will adjust without giving you a hassle. However, you should be prepared for a wave of assaults from people who insist that the God of Deism is quite different from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In any case, all that I meant was that someone like Flew, who has recently “converted” to Deism or something like Deism, doesn’t base any of his arguments for accepting the existence of God on any prior theodicy. Nor does he use the existence of God (once established) as a springboard to talk about theodicy. You, on the other hand, seem to see the two (arguments to God involving design, and theodicy) as inseparable. I am trying to get you to be more explicit about the relationship. And I find the mass of historical references more confusing than helpful. I’m trying to get at the “form”, the “what is” of theodicy and the “form”, the “what is” of design theorizing, and I’m trying to see why the two essences are in your mind necessarily connected. Most of the ID community does not agree with you that they are necessarily connected.

    Of course, most of us may be wrong; the majority is not always right. This is why I’m listening to you eagerly, and asking for clarification. I know I probably sound impatient, but that is my way. Please don’t take it as rudeness or condescension or anything else. I am aware that you are a widely read and thoughtful scholar, and I’m pushing you to share your thoughts more clearly with us.

    I don’t think the notion of Christian theology I am operating within is narrow at all. It’s the mainstream Christian tradition which says that natural theology — some knowledge of God arrived at through reason, without the need of revelation — is possible. Aquinas and many others took this position. I see ID as very much within this tradition, and that’s why I don’t see that ID needs to enter into theodicy, because the understanding of theodicy in Christianity (as opposed to mere arguments for God’s existence or wisdom) takes one out of natural theology and into revealed theology.

    As for my “secret identity”, for reasons analogous to those which cost Guillermo Gonzalez his job (though in a field other than his), I need to maintain it. The academic world has already done irreparable personal and professional damage to me, and it would do more if it could.


  6. Hi Jerry

    “One of the problems I have with any discussion of theodicy is the lack of any clear discussion of just what evil is. Anytime the discussion comes up I always ask the same question which so far has received no answers. What is evil?”

    I remember you asking this question on another thread. I did give you an answer, at least my answer. Perhaps it was an answer you did not like or perhaps it wasnt helpful since the definition gets shifted to “what is good”

    However I will give it again.Negatively evil is not a thing. It is like a shadow that is caused by light shining on a thing. Positively evil is the absence of good.

    Now dont ask me to define what is “good” :)


  7. Vivid,

    I am sorry that I did not mention your answer. It was on my mind when I wrote my comment. I know that your answer is a traditional theological answer but it begs the question of what is good which you admit may be a problem. I am sure that some here may have ideas based on traditional theology but no one volunteers them.

    One of the points made in Nadler’s book is that some people have described this world as the best of all possible worlds. The initial reaction when one hears this, is that is nonsense because any dolt could think of a thousand ways to improve the world. However, if God created this universe and our world, why would He create a world that is not best. Now we do not know God’s criteria but the reasoning is that if God created it, then it it the best world.

    Thus, we are left with debating just what about our universe/world makes it best when we all could nominate so many improvements. I have my own ideas but the likelihood of these reflecting the mind of God is about nil. The theodicy discussion is interesting and to read what 17th century thinkers thought about it is doubly interesting. They did not have the advantage that modern thinkers have on the this topic because they were unaware of enormous amount of knowledge about the actual workings of the universe. Galileo and Newton’s laws were just beginning to make the rounds and as we know they are only the tip of the iceberg.

    I think the answer to what makes our world best is not looking at it from our perspective but from God’s perspective.

  8. Timaeus #5 says:

    And I find the mass of historical references more confusing than helpful.

    How ’bout a bulleted Executive Summary of say 500 words on why you, Professor Fuller, think ID must address theodicy? If theodicy has a direct application on how to discern the intelligence in ID then your articles have not made that clear.

    Like others here I do not see any need for ID as a movement to attempt to sort out the motives of intelligent designers (or of an intelligent Designer), but rather to engage the stifling idea that inert elements and involuntary forces produce all that is.

    Like others, I believe the foremost objective in this clash of ideas is the fortified high ground of the Establishment Clause. Wide-ranging, hazy debate on theodicy, while possible in a Deistic-Theistic culture that already accepts ID, provides no aid or comfort in the battle of the Establishment Clause.

    As long as ID can demonstrate by rigorous mathematical method that design resulting solely from sentient inventiveness is positively evident in nature, then there is hope for change.

    Theodicy debate has been around since chapters 3 to 31 of the book of Job. Ultimately nothing there was solved by the kind of rational argument that you apparently propose, but rather by divine revelation, and that requires acceptance of the Theistic idea that God might actually intervene in one’s life.

  9. Timaeus,

    You’re right, I don’t quite see the theological landscape as you do.

    First of all, Aquinas-style arguments that infer a designer from nature’s design tend to make only that general point (i.e. a designer exists) and then the theologian hands the inquiry over to the natural scientist to fill in the details with empirical knowledge of the natural world. This is quite compatible, say, with theistic evolution, which not surprisingly plays well with the Catholic Church. You really never say anything substantive about the nature of God that reflects the specific design of the natural world. Frankly, one might as well be a Pastafarian at this point.

    However, theodicy is not happy simply inferring the existence of a designer. It wants to infer specific features of the designer. Theodicists think this is possible because we are part of what is designed in nature – and I don’t just mean our eyes. The human intellect is itself designed ‘in the image and likeness of God’. So the very conduct of science becomes the means by which we mediate our understanding of God and nature, so that we learn about both together. Now this means confronting very directly the prima facie imperfections in nature and how they could have been products of intelligent design. Many possible answers then follow. ID descends from this.

    It seems to me that theodicy is problematic not just because it’s hard resolve (as you seem to suggest) but because of its presumption that, at least in principle, we could see things from God’s point of view, second-guessing God’s thoughts, as it were. The more people took this idea seriously in the 18th century, the more they were actually inclined to theological stances like Deism and Unitarianism, both of which were very empowering at the secular political level but tended to withdraw from religious ritual and even religious feeling, often involving outright hostility to clericalism. The radical chemist Joseph Priestley is very interesting in this story because he tried to hold the science and religion together – and succeeded in receiving considerable notoriety as well as having had his house burned down.

    While I realize that today’s ID people usually promote a conservative political agenda, it is telling that mainstream religious people keep their distance from them. And I don’t think that’s simply because ID is such a political ‘hot button’ topic. Rather, I think a lot of devoutly religious people find ID an intellectual monstrosity that violates ideas of natural piety, etc. That’s certainly what a lot of religious people thought about theodicy in the 17th and the 18th century. By the time Paley was writing, at the end of the 18th century, he was having a harder time selling his ‘natural theology’ as theology than as science – as was his contemporary Thomas Malthus. These guys may have been the last proper theodicists but by then they were already being called ‘political economists’.

    I’m sorry if this too much history but these matters don’t exist in an intellectual vacuum, and it’s too easy to fall victim to stereotyped understandings of what’s at stake in a dispute like this.

  10. “I think a lot of devoutly religious people find ID an intellectual monstrosity that violates ideas of natural piety, etc.”

    One has to be indoctrinated to think like that. The average cowboy out where I live knows that every flower and every rattlesnake speaks design. Period.

    Questions of the goodness of the Designer are completely independent of the fact that there was a Designer. Let us not muddy this truth! Rather mull it over, meditate on it, let it sink in. Before we get too far afield judging and excusing the Designer, let us face the shocking reality that we were designed.

    Admit that—way down deep—and everything changes.

  11. Benkeshet,

    I despair!

    The US Establishment Clause was due to those Deist/Unitarian folk at the tail-end of the history of theodicy. They didn’t want an established church not because they wanted to ban religion but because they didn’t want a state-backed authority preventing the free expression of faith and reason. If Jefferson et al. were alive today, they would be just as appalled by monolithic science as they originally were by monolithic religion. The sort of empowerment that would have led people to think they could entertain God’s thoughts was also behind the idea that they should be allowed to think for themselves more generally.

    Now if one could simply get that point into the minds of today’s legal simians who invoke the Clause to prevent ID from entering the classroom!

    As for theodicy and ID: I have not only provided historical references. I have also provided a dialogue (see part II) and I have now even answered Timaeus’ thought experiment (See my part VI). To be honest, I’m not sure what’s the source of your (and others’) incomprehension. In all this, I’m simply taking the ‘I’ in ID seriously. I don’t think most of you do. As a result, your conception of ID, while perhaps very uncontroversial, is also very light on content – certainly not enough to inspire a scientific research programme.

    Here’s one more shot: How do you explain our own increasing ability to create life artificially? The most obvious answer is that we have mastered how it’s done naturally. And how come we are the beings who have attained this mastery? Well, having been created in the image and likeness of God is certainly one answer that makes the connection obvious. What are the alternatives? I don’t think Darwinists have any answer at all – other than to say that it’s a cosmic accident that we happen to be creatures who have come to be in the business of manufacturing nature to our own designs. Even our closest ape relatives don’t come close to our capacity make and remake life processes on such a comprehensive scale. This may not be the most morally comforting argument for ID but it makes the connection quite explicit between God, design, our nature and nature more generally. The cost is that we are left with enormous moral responsibility and a great capacity for both good and harm. Enter theodicy.

  12. In the over all things look pretty good—winter and summer, the sunshine and the rain, the blue of the sky and the green of the fields dotted with the color of flower and fruit, the bees gathering nectar and the farmer cultivating his crops—how good can it get? But then dangers lurk for the unwary, a moment of carelessness, the serpent in the way.

    Why is the world so wonderful, so beautiful—why this priviledged planet? And then why the spice of evil sprinkled in? We see design, we exult in its beauty, and we also see that the designer is, as they say, dead serious.

    Imagine, if you will, a world of ease, food stamps for all, no chance of failure, no death, no consequences, and no need of rescue. Who knows—perhaps the designer crafted the serpent to show us just how serious he is.

    Theodicy is the province of philosophers who begin with a Deity of their own devising and who then try to reconcile him with reality. Maybe, Steve Fuller, you are advocating a more bottom up approach? What does the world tell us about God?

  13. Dr. Fuller (#9):

    Thanks very much for your latest reply. Let me clarify regarding some small things first, then address your larger point.

    I agree with you that classical natural theology doesn’t provide many details about either the nature of God or the nature of nature. But that wasn’t natural theology’s purpose. The purpose was to show that we could know of God’s existence, and of a few of his broad characteristics, by means of unaided reason. The two concerns you have here – improving the details of science, and theodicy – were outside of its scope. It shouldn’t be asked to do more than it ever promised.

    Thus, I was not offering natural theology as a substitute for the detailed scientific study of design in nature. Nor was I offering natural theology as the whole of theology, including theodicy. For the detailed study of design in nature, I recommend not Thomas Aquinas but Behe, Denton, and many other contemporary scientists who are uncovering the hidden architecture of the cosmos, of life, and of man. For theodicy, I recommend the writings not of ID theorists but of the great theologians and religious thinkers of the various religious traditions of the world.

    I agree with you that discussions of evolution don’t occur in an intellectual vacuum and that history can shed light on how the current debates arose. In fact, I agree with much of your account of the historical origins of the present situation. I suspect that Cornelius Hunter would agree with even more of it. He has drawn connections between theodicy and Deism and Darwinism which are very reminiscent of your own account here.

    Nonetheless, somehow we are not fully communicating. I am not sure why. The point I have been trying to make, unsuccessfully, is an a-historical one, a philosophical/theological one, which does not depend on the outcome of any historical investigation into the roots of Darwinism and so on. That point is this: for an orthodox Christian of any kind known to me (and Deists and Unitarians don’t count as orthodox Christians), we can have NO knowledge of theodicy outside of special revelation. None! Natural theology cannot give us even a rudimentary theodicy. Natural theology could at most (if even that) inform us that God is either not all-powerful, or not all-good, or has aims other than comfort for his creatures in mind. That’s as far as natural theology, i.e., human reason and science, unaided by revelation, can take us. When a Christian asks the question, “Why is there suffering in the world?”, the Christian is asking that question as one who believes in the Biblical God and the teachings of the Christian Church, not as a revelationless philosophical inquirer, who has to rely on reason and empirical data alone for information about God’s character and actions. Christian theodicy is soaked in the assumption that a decisive revelation has occurred and that this revelation contains vital information about God and nature which was inaccessible to the Greeks and is inaccessible to philosophy and science as such.

    Do you disagree with me about this? Are you saying that natural science, perhaps augmented by philosophy, can tell us not only that there is a designer, but also something about why he allowed evil and imperfection? Are you saying that research into design, based on neutral empirical evidence (evidence equally accessible to a Hindu, a Taoist, a Muslim, a Catholic, and a Mormon), can yield a theodicy, without having to go through any of those traditions’ teachings about God? If you are saying this, then this is where we disagree, and we need to explore that with reference to the teaching of the various religions. But if you are not saying this, then I do not know what you are saying, and I am not even sure that we are disagreeing.

    Another way of putting it would be this. Suppose that you and I suddenly knew every fact that there is to know about nature. Suppose that you and I knew every detail of the genetic code, every detail of the laws of biological development, and every detail of the history of the universe up to the present. I assert that, from a Christian vantage point, I would have no more knowledge of theodicy than I do right now. All I would have is a greater detailed knowledge of the trade-offs God made between pleasure and pain, freedom and order. I would not have a clue why he made THOSE tradeoffs rather than others. Further, I would not be able to answer the question why he didn’t simply use his omnipotence to ride roughshod over all necessity, and create a world of perfect happiness where no tradeoffs were necessary. What I am hearing you saying – maybe, though I’m not sure I understand you – is that if you did have a perfect knowledge (from a scientific point of view) of the design of the universe, you would have answers to some (if not all) questions of theodicy. And that’s what I’m denying, at least, speaking as if I were the representative of orthodox Christians. I do not think that, for a Christian, such knowledge will ever be available to man via natural means, without the added input of revelation. And mutatis mutandis, that would apply to Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc.

    But again, I may be misunderstanding you. You may not be arguing that we can get from design to theodicy, without the help of revelation. If I have misread you, please clarify.

    (Are you possibly arguing the inverse, i.e., not that theodicy depends on the results of science, but that science depends on the assumptions we make about theodicy? And therefore that we must necessarily assume the truth of some theodicy or other as a precondition to any scientific investigation of design? If so, by all means say so, and develop that idea. What theodicy should we assume? And why that particular theodicy rather than another?)


  14. Prof. Fuller:

    On some smaller, less important points:

    1. You wrote:

    “First of all, Aquinas-style arguments that infer a designer from nature’s design tend to make only that general point (i.e. a designer exists) and then the theologian hands the inquiry over to the natural scientist to fill in the details with empirical knowledge of the natural world. This is quite compatible, say, with theistic evolution, which not surprisingly plays well with the Catholic Church.”

    It depends on what you mean by “theistic evolution”. What you say is true of the form of theistic evolution held by many Catholics. It is not true of the form of theistic evolution which is held by many of those who write regularly on the ASA list and by many of those who contributed to the volume entitled Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. The latter type of theistic evolutionist denies that design proves ANYTHING about God. They are against even the most minimal claims of ID, in part because they are against natural theology as such. Their revered theologians are Barth, Pascal, etc., not Aquinas and Augustine.

    There are ID people who could be called “theistic evolutionists” in a sense which is compatible with both the design inference and natural theology. Behe, for example, and Denton (though Denton is not clear exactly what God he believes in).

    2. It is true that Christianity teaches that we are in the image and likeness of God. But it also teaches (in Job, among other places) that we cannot possibly fathom the divine purpose by reason and observation alone. There is no warrant in the Bible or in traditional theology for assuming that we can read God’s mind or think from the divine viewpoint. It may be true that people drew this conclusion — as you point out in your historical remarks — but that belongs to the history of heresy, not the exposition of orthodox doctrine. As you have said, it was people with Unitarian or Deistic leanings who pronounced so confidently on theodicy. That pretty well tells you how reliable their theodicy is, from an orthodox point of view. (Of course, I believe in freedom of speech and thought, and defend the right of anyone to utter heretical theodicies. I object only when they call their heresies Christian.)

    3. You wrote:

    ” … mainstream religious people keep their distance from them. And I don’t think that’s simply because ID is such a political ‘hot button’ topic. Rather, I think a lot of devoutly religious people find ID an intellectual monstrosity that violates ideas of natural piety, etc.”

    It’s unclear what you mean by “mainstream religious people”. A lot of “mainstream Christians” these days are indistinguishable from Deists or secular humanists. And on the other hand, many mainstream but devout Anglicans, Catholics, and even Lutherans and Calvinists grant the propriety of design arguments in the context of a limited natural theology. Your statement is simply not qualified enough to be reliable.

    Also, I suspect that by ID here you really mean YEC. Many YEC people support ID, and often ID’s enemies equate it with YEC. But ID does not entail YEC, and many ID proponents are highly critical of YEC.

    There is certainly no violation of “natural piety” in saying that “the heavens declare the glory of God” — unless you think that the Psalmist violated natural piety. ID says very firmly that the heavens — and the cells, and the cardiovascular system and so on — declare the glory of God. It is the TEs who are iffy and uncertain about that. Or rather, they think that the heavens declare the glory of God only to the eye of faith, and that science as such gives no indication whatsoever of God’s existence. I will not argue the case here, but will indicate only that I think that it is the ID people, not the TEs, who have a better understanding of the natural piety of the Psalmist and of the Christian tradition. I think it is the likes of Barth, not the design theorists, who horribly disfigure “natural piety” (and Biblical piety) in the name of a repulsive, introverted, anti-cosmic, purely fideistic religion.


  15. Timaeus,

    I will deal with the issues raised in these last two posts later. But suffice it to say for now that ID will not flourish as a pro-science view unless it remains open to science shaping and refining one’s religious sensibilities. This is why I find it amazing that ID people sometimes treat Deists and Unitarians with the contempt they normally reserve for Darwinists. Deists and Unitarians are about refining not rejecting Christianity — typically with the aid of science. You may personally have a problem with such ‘refinement’ but that’s also part of the ID mix. Otherwise, ID really does look like a science-stopper that simply wants to make room for conventional religious beliefs.

  16. I have not seen contempt shown towards Deists and Unitarians here. Of course I have not seen all that has been said. There has been a contempt here for some TE’s because many of them have an unwavering acceptance of Darwinian ideas for all of evolution. Such inflexibility that has been shown by thsee TE’s is viewed as supporting the atheism expressed by the more vocal of the Darwinist such as Richard Dawkins and his fellow travelers.

    These TEs seem to condemn the ID people more than the Darwinists. The only thing about a Deist that seems to be at odds with ID is OOL. Did the Deist god hang around long enough to create life or did he set it in motion from the Big Bang. ID doubt this happened so would reject the Deist scenario. But Unitarians who I know nothing about should not have that problem. Or maybe I just know enough about Unitarians.

  17. “Or maybe I just don’t know enough about Unitarians.”

  18. jerry,

    Basically the Deists and Unitarians thought of God as a superior version of ourselves, at least in the respects that are needed to understand and control the universe: i.e. the difference between God and us is a matter of degree not kind. They focussed more on the empowering consequences for humans of this belief (remember these are the people who founded the US) than on what might be seen as the diminished consequences for God — at least insofar as belief in God had previously rested on some mysterious and unfathomable sense of difference from us. (This explains their hostility to priests.)

    Not surprisingly, given the closeness they saw between us and God, the Deists and Unitarians tended to be very mechanistic in their understanding of nature, and so would be very swayed by Behe-style arguments that compared cells to mousetraps, which in the end make God look like a really good engineer. I might point out that Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection, thought of it very much in such mechanistic terms — i.e. nature’s thermostat — and this is why, I suspect, he never accepted Darwin’s atheism.

    Think of it this way: When you say that a creature — in this case us — is created in the image and likeness of God, does it not follow that we can learn, albeit imperfectly, about God’s creative power from our own creative powers? The Deists and Unitarians said the answer is obviosuly yes, and acted accordingly. And why not? To be sure, some said God lost interest in creation once he put us in place to manage — if not finish — the job. But not all held that view. This is why in my work I always go back to Joseph Priestley, about whom more later.

  19. Prof. Fuller (#15,18):

    I’m in favour of the big-tent approach for ID, which means that Deists and Unitarians and all others who are open in principle to the notion of design detection are welcome. Therefore, insofar as I am a supporter of ID, I don’t really care whether anyone in the ID movement is orthodox or unorthodox, Christian or non-Christian, religious or agnostic.

    However, when I’m wearing a different hat, i.e., my academic hat, I do think that views should be categorized correctly. So, for example, Deism is not Christian. It’s historically descended from Christianity, and shares some things in common with Christianity (belief in a Creator God and pretty much in Christian ethics, with the possibility of some sort of afterlife), but it repudiates the idea of revelation entirely. It’s thus more than merely anti-clerical; it’s incompatible with orthodox Catholic or Protestant Christianity.

    So if you are recommending Deism as a kind of theological peg on which ID people might hang their hats, well, that’s fine for ID supporters who happen to be Deists. But no Christian is going to hang a hat on that peg.

    About the Unitarians I know less. The Unitarians I know today don’t even call themselves Christian. I gather that in the 19th century the Unitarians thought of themselves as in some sense Christian. But from the little I know of them, they weren’t considered orthodox by other Christians even then. So a Unitarian notion of creation or theodicy is not going to be of any use to Christian ID people.

    I am not sure, but I get the sense that you are recommending that those ID supporters who are Christian should adopt a creation doctrine and theodicy of the general type displayed by Deists, Unitarians, and other heretical or very liberal Protestants. The problem with this is that it will be a non-starter among the ID supporters who are agnostic and don’t want any truck or trade with religion, that it leaves out ID supporters who are Muslim and Jewish, and that it will be offensive to the majority of ID supporters who are Christian. On the last point, the ID supporters who are Christian tend to be either (1) conservative fundamentalist or evangelical Protestants for whom the liberal theologies of the 19th century are anti-Biblical and the work of Satan; or (2) conservative (in a different sense) Christians of the older, mainline type – Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, etc. who accept the historical Creeds of the church, and the historical tradition of Christian metaphysics which was developed around the Creeds and the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers. This latter group consists largely of people who are reactionary minorities within their own mainline traditions (e.g., the sort of person who would leave the Anglican or Episcopal Church over the question of liberal changes such as same-sex blessings, and join the Anglicans of the Southern Cone, or the sort of Catholic who would hunt around for the rare celebrations of the old Tridentine Mass, or who revels in the sarcastic demolition of liberal Catholic clergy which regularly occurs in First Things), and such people are more likely to see real Christian truth in Dante or Aquinas or Richard Hooker or C. S. Lewis than in Kant or Lessing or Thomas Jefferson or John Robinson or Harvey Cox or John Shelby Spong or John Haught.

    In fact, I would guess that it is TEs, not ID people, who are going to be attracted to a creation doctrine and theodicy of the liberal type you seem to be advocating. Not all TEs are wild liberals (George Murphy, for example, accepts the traditional Creeds, and I believe that Polkinghorne and Ted Davis do as well). Nonetheless, TE interpretation of Scripture is notoriously loose, TE interest in Christian theology prior to about 1700 tends to be spotty, and TEs tend to flirt with the latest dubiously orthodox or extra-theological ideas (higher criticism of the Bible, a God who may not be omniscient regarding future events, quantum theory, chaos theory, etc.), much more than ID people do. In a sense, here at UD you are trying to sell bacon in the lobby of the synagogue, when a Church full of ravenous pork-eaters is just down the street. But again, I may have misunderstood your recommendations.


  20. Timaeus

    You may be confusing Unitarian Universalism with traditional Unitarianism.

    Unitarians (American Unitarian Conference) reject the trinity. So don’t Christadelphians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other denominations.

    Not to mention Jews, Moslems, Druze and others who are Unitarian Monotheists.

  21. Platonist (#20):

    From what you have said, and from what I have read, I am guessing that the only Unitarians I have met are Unitarian Universalists. Based on what they’ve told me, I gather that the UUs believe that the core of all world religions is essentially the same, and that Christianity is only one of many paths to God, and that all the religions of the world should forget their differences, stop arguing, and get together in a sort of theological love-in. The UUs I met were friendly to Christianity, but did not call themselves Christian.

    The traditional Unitarians to whom you refer might still be Christian (albeit unorthodox) if the only doctrine they reject is the Trinity. But is that the only doctrine that they reject? Do they accept the Bible as revelation, for example? Do they believe in the Fall? The Atonement? Do they pray? Sing hymns? Take communion? Undergo baptism? My reading gave me the impression that by the end of the 19th century, Unitarians had more or less jettisoned scripture, and accepted only reason and conscience as legitimate grounds of religion. If that’s not true, please inform me.


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