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Posts Tagged ‘Theistic Materialism’

As used on this blog, I provide the following definition of “theistic materialism”:

The belief that God exists, but God did not intervene supernaturally in the history of biological life on earth until the miracles recorded in the Bible pertaining to salvation history.  God did not intervene supernaturally in the creation of Adam and Eve and did not intervene supernaturally in any significant way in the history of humanity from its origin until the Bible makes reference to miracles such as the virgin birth of Jesus.

Please see the category Theistic Materialism for more posts and examples of scientists articulating this position in their own words.

In a previous post I described it this way:

RJS is a theist and accepts God’s miraculous workings in some contexts. But she rules out the miraculous in biological history and biological origins. There are certain spheres where she is a materialist. I see no basis in Scripture or the scientific evidence for this a priori philosophical position.

RJS then put it in her own words:

I think that, until proven otherwise, there will be a “natural” explanation in general, because God created the world in a rational manner. If you want to call this theistic materialism – ok. . . .

I think that God is outside of the natural order and can certainly intervene. But the evidence suggests (including the evidence of scripture) that he only does so for a purpose and in relationship with his creation. Intervention is almost always, if not always, in relationship with humans created in his image.

 

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I and others had some dialogue with Dennis Venema on the Biologos blog about his presuppositions in approaching the question of whether there could ever have been a single human couple.  It seems clear from the comments that Venema has a strong presupposition that God did not intervene supernaturally in the creation of Adam and Eve and did not intervene supernaturally in any significant way in the history of humanity from its origin until the Bible makes reference to miracles such as the virgin birth of Jesus.  I know of no theological basis for such a presupposition.  I have called this kind of position “Theistic Materialism” and discuss in more detail here.

Notice the questions that Venema avoids, and how he avoids any discussion of historical contingency in his comments.  Stephen Jay Gould did not dismiss such considerations, and observed the importance of distinguishing the methodology of the historical sciences from the methodology of experimental sciences.  An extended quotation of Gould on this topic is here.

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pds – #8686

April 5th 2010

Darrel,

In another thread, I asked you:

Bruce Waltke has stated that God “by direct creation made ADAM a spiritual being, an image of divine beings, for fellowship with himself by faith.”  It also seems possible that God intervened in human history to specially create or affect other human beings.

If God did what Waltke and others believe he did, how would this have affected the genetic evidence?  How would this affect the certainty of the historical conclusions we could draw from the genetic evidence?

You suggested that this was just like the YEC position that God created things with an appearance of age (with the implication drawn out by others that that would suggest that God was deceiving us).  I disagree, and here is why:

Does God heal?  What if a man prays that God will heal his wife’s breast cancer, and God responds by tweaking her BRCA genes?  What if the first humans lived 200,000 years ago, and God tweaked human genes once every 200 years to heal in answer to prayer?  That would mean 1000 changes to the human genes.  How would that affect our current calculations?  What if God intervened 5 times each year?  Now we are at a million changes.

If God does things out of his love, and there are SIDE EFFECTS that affect the human gene pool, God is not deceiving us.  We are deceiving ourselves by having too small an understanding of God and his work in history.  Job 38 is instructive as to the epistemology we should adopt.

You said in that, “we do take a firm position on the scientific fact that two people could not have been the genetic progenitors of all humankind.”

Your claim that it is a “scientific fact” shows a clear error in your scientific methodology or your scientific reasoning or both.  It is quite simply bad science.  It also seems to involve bad history, bad theology or bad logic, or all of the above.  Your claim may be a perfectly reasonable inference to draw depending on the assumptions that are behind it, but it is not a “scientific fact.”  Christians would do well not to make such errors in evaluating the evidence and in evaluating the certainty that we can have based on the evidence.

The methodology for the historical sciences must be different than the methodology for the sciences that involve repeatable, observable data.  I have never seen anyone at Biologos articulate the proper methodology for the historical sciences as well as Stephen Meyer (or even Stephen Jay Gould) has.

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Dennis Venema – #8714

April 5th 2010

Hi pds,

Are you suggesting that God would heal the germline version of the genes in question, or merely the somatic ones? A tumor in the body would be somatic tissue. If divine genetic intervention is to be heritable it would need to be “healed” in the cells that make sperm or eggs (the germline). Often, the genetic state in the tumor is different from the germline (since it was mutations in non-germline cells that started the cancer). In that case, there would be nothing to heal in the germline – only in the soma (body). So, I don’t think your ideas really fit the biology of the situation.

Best,

Dennis

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pds – #8723

April 5th 2010

Dennis #8714,

Thanks for your reply.  You should not get too hung up on my specific example.  Based on your comment, a better example would be a prayer of a dying woman to protect her daughter and her children from the breast cancer that had killed her mother, her aunt, and now her.  I think my basic point is clear: God might intervene in history to do something that might have a side effect of affecting the gene pool.  There would be no intent to deceive us.

But let me ask you:  Are you absolutely convinced that God has never touched the human gene pool in all of human history?  If so, how?

I am not discounting your evidence.  I am only saying it leads to inferences that must be tentative.  Those inferences must then be weighed against other inferences from theology and philosophy.

Apart from theology, there are scientific reasons to be cautious of genetic evidence. Molecular phylogenies do not line up neatly with each other and do not line up neatly with morphological phylogenies.

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I had an on-line discussion with RJS at Jesus Creed (who is a professor of chemistry-related sciences at a major university) about how Christians should approach the historical sciences.  I may add further comments later, but I found the dialogue interesting and fruitful and I thought that I would re-post it.  My main take away:  when Christians are trying to decide which scientists and Christian scientists to trust, they need to understand how a particular scientist views the possibility of miracles and God intervening in history, including biological history.  Many Christian scientists do not share the same assumptions, presuppositions and expectations as many non-scientists.  Such presuppositions will affect how scientists evaluate the evidence.

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pds,

. . .

I think that God created in a manner that is intelligible and that we will be able to deduce much of the process of the formation of life. Thus, even if a new better theory emerges, even a theory sufficiently revolutionary to warrant a new name, it will be a “natural” theory.

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Dan #16,

Excellent comment. This morning I was pondering RJS’ comment #13 from the previous thread:

“2. I think that God created in a manner that is intelligible and that we will be able to deduce much of the process of the formation of life. Thus, even if a new better theory emerges, even a theory sufficiently revolutionary to warrant a new name, it will be a ‘natural’ theory.”

I came up with the phrase “Theistic Materialist.” RJS is a theist and accepts God’s miraculous workings in some contexts. But she rules out the miraculous in biological history and biological origins. There are certain spheres where she is a materialist. I see no basis in Scripture or the scientific evidence for this a priori philosophical position.

RJS, I am guessing you are not going to like the phrase “Theistic Materialist,” but don’t you think it fits? Don’t you think your position that I quoted above is likely to affect how you interpret the Cambrian fossils?

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RJS
September 11, 2009 1:09 PM

pds (#22)

I think that, until proven otherwise, there will be a “natural” explanation in general, because God created the world in a rational manner. If you want to call this theistic materialism – ok. When we talk about the evolution of life I prefer the term evolutionary creation to theistic evolution.

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