Thanks to Hans for this important and stimulating conversation, and for the follow-up questions. I’ll attempt to get to each of them, albeit with a kind of exceeding terseness that will probably only raise more questions!
Definitions and Deism
It should be obvious that Behe and I are using different definitions of evolutionary creation. As I said in my piece, there is no official governing body that sanctions such things, so Behe is free to define his terms the way he wants. And defining the terms is a helpful start to conversation! I’ll just say that I’m happy to join forces with him in opposing views that make God a spectator to the created order.
There is considerable metaphysical complexity to the topic of divine action, and we do our best to come up with language and models that help to explain our experience, intuitions, and convictions. In such a situation it should not be surprising that different people find different models and metaphors more helpful in getting their minds around the Christian convictions that God created, that God is not an absentee landlord to his creation, and that science has a legitimate explanatory role. I personally don’t find the primary/secondary causation model helpful in sorting out these convictions, but not because I think it entails deism—quite the opposite in the way it is often portrayed. If we say the chisel is the secondary cause of the statue and the sculptor the primary cause, it’s hard to escape the implication that the sculptor is really responsible for the statue.Aquinas is much more subtle in his description of primary and secondary causes than this bald illustration. Even though he still seems to suggest at times that secondary causes in the created order are merely the executors of God’s primary causality, there is a reading of Aquinas that is closer to what I’m suggesting in different levels of causation. So if the objects and events science studies are deemed to be the secondary causes to God’s primary cause, it sounds to my theological ears (tuned as they were by Wesley more than Calvin) like a kind of theological determinism. Providence and sovereignty need not be understood as determining every event. I think that position ought to be resisted just as strongly (though for different reasons) as we resist deism. But of course different legitimate and orthodox strands of the Christian tradition will read this differently.I recommend Ian McFarland, From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014) for thoughtful discussion about the Creator giving power and agency to the created order, without thereby abandoning it.
What Is a Miracle?
I do need an account, though, of “qualitatively special divine action.” My concern with that language is that it seems loaded with Hume’s understanding of miracles as violations of natural law. There may be some overlap between that and what I understand to be the biblical view of miracles, but there are important differences. The biblical view of God doing something “qualitatively special” is in using extraordinary events as “signs and wonders” to point to the kingdom of God. Some of those signs and wonders are physically impossible according to our understanding of how things work—e.g., an axe head floating (2 Kings 6), water turned to wine (John 2), and the resurrection. Others of those signs and wonders were not physically impossible, even if extraordinary—e.g., the “miraculous” catch of fish (John 21), the fish with a coin in its mouth (Matthew 17), and Isaiah going naked for three years (Isaiah 20). So being physically impossible is not a necessary condition for something being a miracle in the biblical sense.
Nor is our perception of something as physically impossible a sufficient condition for it to be recognized as a miracle in the biblical sense. What we take to be physically impossible is a function of our current state of knowledge. If we observe something that is unexplainable on our current understanding and if there is no obvious connection to a sign and wonder pointing to the kingdom of God, it seems like the default reaction should be to look harder for scientific explanations. Sometimes observations that sit uncomfortably or anomalously with current theory make us search for solutions from within the currently accepted theories. I’d suggest the apparent irreducible complexity of bacterial flagella and the remarkable radiation of species during the Cambrian Explosion fit that category. Other times the observation of such “impossibilities” has contributed to overthrowing accepted theories and coming to new realizations of what is physically possible—e.g., observing moons around Jupiter helped move us from geocentrism to heliocentrism, and observing the progression of the perihelion of Mercury helped move us to general relativity.
So if “violations of natural law” are neither necessary nor sufficient for recognizing something as a miracle, then detecting divine intervention is less about science than about theology.
So if “violations of natural law” are neither necessary nor sufficient for recognizing something as a miracle, then detecting divine intervention is less about science than about theology. Do we have the theological eyes to see extraordinary events as God’s signs? Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus who both die. The rich man begs for Lazarus to be sent back from the dead to warn his family so they won’t join him in the place of torment, saying, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” But he is told, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31). Even impossible events are not detected as divine interventions if you don’t have the eyes to seem them.
And on the other hand, if you have those eyes, you can see the signs and wonders even in events that do have “natural explanations.” I’m reminded of Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum in The Silver Chair, looking for a sign that tells them where to go and seeing “UNDER ME” written in the ruins of the giant city. There is a natural explanation for this phenomenon, but one that only tells part of the story when we understand how that natural event is being used by Aslan. Science only tells part of the story about reality. That means there will be gaps.
There Are Gaps, and Then There Are Gaps
I, along with most who call themselves evolutionary creationists, think scientific explanations have a kind of integrity that should keep us from inserting non-scientific elements into those explanations. We’ve all seen the cartoon where a student writes a bunch of equations on a chalkboard interrupted by “and then a miracle happens;” his professor says, “I think you should be more explicit in this step.” That shouldn’t at all be counted as a claim that miracles don’t happen, but just that “then a miracle happens” doesn’t qualify as a legitimate step in a scientific explanation. Of course this opens the can of worms known as methodological naturalism. I only have space here to point to some other things I’ve written on the topicSee my chapter on methodological naturalism in Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation: Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (Downers Grove: IVP, 2017), and more briefly and topically in the blogpost Reviewing #Creatorgate: How Science is Like Soccer (BioLogos.org March 10, 2016). and say I don’t take a hard line on MN as though it somehow gets to the essence of science (that just doesn’t hold up to historical scrutiny). But I will say it is a helpful heuristic for recognizing the proper limitations of scientific explanations. MN becomes problematic if you restrict science to natural explanations and then also think that science tells the whole story.
But we don’t think science tells the whole story. It gives one perspective on reality. So there are going to be things that science can’t explain, and you might call those gaps. But they are not gaps within scientific explanations (like the cartoon points to), they are gaps at the edge or boundary of science. So, with the resurrection we have an obvious sign and wonder pointing to the kingdom of God, and we ought to ask, “is that the kind of reality that science is equipped to explain?” And my answer is No, there is no scientific I’m willing to hear dialogue about this among theologians, and I’m content to let the scientists keep looking for natural explanations for them.explanation for the resurrection. Call that a gap if you want, but it seems fundamentally different than the gaps in explaining the Cambrian Explosion or evolution of the eye, which are connected to the reality of the kingdom of God only in a much more indirect way. But what about the origin of the universe? Or the origin of life? Or the origin of consciousness? I don’t know. They seem to me to be in between the resurrection and the Cambrian Explosion with respect to whether they should be seen as signs and wonders pointing us to the kingdom. I’m willing to hear dialogue about this among theologians, and I’m content to let the scientists keep looking for natural explanations for them.
Uh oh . . . does that sound like NOMA?
No NOMA for Me
I admit there may be a superficial resemblance between Gould’s NOMA approach and my approach that claims scientific and theological explanations do different work. But a deeper acquaintance with each approach shows a crucial difference. Gould attempted to find peace between science and religion by assigning them distinct domains: science gets the facts, religion should stick to values.Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999), 4-6. I’m saying that both science and theology are attempts to explain facts (and both have value commitments), but they are different, limited, and perspectival explanations of the facts. Of course some facts are of little interest to one of the disciplines: theologians aren’t too concerned to work the Periodic Table of Elements into their theories, and I don’t see how the Filioque Clause is going to affect many scientific claims. But if we want to know about the origin and nature of human beings, we’ll benefit from both scientists’ and theologians’ explanations. We ought to engage them both.
Much more to say, but I’ve hit the word limit.