Fundies and Limited Deities

So I hear, via the Panda’s Thumb, that Uncommon Descent has a new
poster. And he’s off to a rollicking good start, with a post
explaining why Christians who accept the fact of evolution are
incoherent and deluded. (As usual, I don’t link to UD, due to their rampant
dishonesty in silently altering or removing links.)

I am, perhaps, not the best person to respond to his claim, given
that I’m not a Christian. But his argument is so inconsistent, and so
typical of a type of argument that constantly occurs in fundamentalist
gibberings that it doesn’t take a Christian theistic evolutionist
to point out its glaring errors.

One of the things that has always struck me as very odd about many
fundamentalists is that they insist on an omniscient, omnipotent deity
– a deity without any limits of any sort; and yet simultaneously, all
of their discussions of this supposedly limitless being are based on
such a limited notion of what their deity can do.

Cudworth’s argument is based on the idea that religious
evolutionists view evolution as God’s tool for creating life – and
then requiring God’s use of “tools” to be incredibly limited:

I would not have a problem understanding evolution as God’s “creation
tool,” if TEs conceived of evolution as a “tool” in the strict sense.
A tool in the strict sense is fully in the control of the tool-user,
and the results it achieves (when properly used by a competent user)
are not due to chance but to intelligence and skill. But Darwin’s
mechanism leaves room for neither intelligence nor skill; it is the
unconscious operation of impersonal natural selection upon mutations
which are the products of chance. It follows that Darwinian evolution
is not a tool, but an autonomous process, and therefore out of God’s

This has a theological consequence. If evolution is out of God’s
control, it is incompatible with the notion of providence – the notion
that God provides for the future needs of the earth and its
inhabitants. God can hardly, for example, provide for the need of
Hagar in the desert, if he can’t even guarantee that the human race,
of which Hagar is a member, will ever emerge from the primordial seas.
(The radical contingency of the Darwinian mechanism is captured well
by Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould, when he wrote that if the tape of
evolution were rewound and played again, the results would be entirely
different. Once God sets a truly Darwinian process in motion, he has
no control over whether it will produce Adam and Eve, a race of
pointy-eared Vulcans, or just an ocean full of bacteria.)

A non-providential God is clearly not an orthodox Christian God, and
it therefore appears that theistic evolutionism generates heretical
Christianity. As I see it, the only way for theistic evolutionists to
escape this consequence is to argue that mutations seem like chance
events from the human perspective, but from God’s perspective are
foreordained. But in that case, “evolution” is really just the
actualization of a foreseen design over a very long time frame; the
“purely natural causes” spoken of by the TEs are really just the
unrecognized fingertips of the very long arm of God. This view, which
we might call “apparent Darwinism,” fails to get God out of the
process of natural causation, which was (as Cornelius Hunter has
argued) Darwinism’s historical raison d’etre.

So – Cudworth’s problem is that when a theistic evolutionist
refers to evolution as “God’s tool”, they’re being incoherent –
because an omnipotent deity’s use of tool is inherently constrained to
the simple human version of a tool, where a tool is something directly
manipulated by the human being, and produces a predictable
deterministic outcome, leaving clear markings indicating its use.

Suppose you’re an omniscient, omnipotent deity. And suppose that
you want to create a self-sufficient system of living beings. Why
would you be constrained to the same kinds of decisions, devices, and
processes as your limited creations?

I argue that Cudworth is the one who’s incoherent. Let me pick out
one line that I think does a particularly good job of describing not
just the problem with his argument, but of the problem with so many
fundamentalist arguments: “Once God sets a truly Darwinian process in
motion, he has no control over whether it will produce Adam and Eve, a
race of pointy-eared Vulcans, or just an ocean full of bacteria.”

Cudworth argues for an omnipotent deity – and in support
of his omnipotent deity, he argues that the omnipotent deity
cannot do something relatively simple!

To make matters worse, Cudworth’s definition of “tool” doesn’t
even work for human beings!

One thing I’ve been working on for fun, and which I’ll eventually
post to the blog, is an evolutionary programming system. It’s a simple
programming language, where each language construct can be mutated.
You provide an initial input (in the form of a simple program), and
an evaluation function (another simple program), and let it go.
Eventually, you’ll get a result that satisfies the evalution function
amazingly well. I’ve used my little toy to create things like a square
root function, using the following evaluation function: (The
system tries to minimize the result of the evaluation function.)

# A minimizing evaluation function which puts an "input" into
# register 0, and reads a result from register 1. It produces a 0
# result when the program generates the square root of register 0
# in register one for all values.
def Eval(prog):
# dev will be the sum of the deviation between the
# result squared and the target number for the first
# 20 primes.
dev = 0
for i in primes(20):
prog.setRegister(0, i)
result = prog.getRegister(1)
# Add the difference between squaring the "result"
dev += (result * result - i)
return dev

No two runs produce the same result. I’ve gotten a simple
binary search like square root; something close to newton’s method
(basically computing a slope, and using that to converge faster),
and some things that only work for limited ranges of values
(which was cool – it “found” the limits of the evaluation function
and produced something that worked specifically for the stuff that the
evaluator tested.)

I’d call my evolutionary programming system a tool, and I’d say
that I’ve used my tool to generate interesting programs. According to
Mr. Cudworth, my system isn’t a tool at all. How can Cudworth describe
what I built? It’s clearly not a tool, because like his
description of evolution, it doesn’t produce a specific result – in
fact, it produces a different result each time I run it on the same
input. And yet, it’s not truly random, either. If I give it the
evaluation function above, I can absolutely guarantee that it
will eventually produce something that computes square

Evolution is an amazing tool. Set up correctly, it can be used to
produce an adaptive, self-regulating system with pretty much any
desired set of properties. Why would an omnipotent deity not
make use of such a great tool? And if I am not constrained to
Mr. Cudworth’s definition of tool, then why would an omnipotent
deity have to work within those constraints?

If Cudworth (or any other fundamentalist) wants to make arguments
in favor of an unlimited deity, then he really needs to
stop basing his arguments on the inherent limits of what said
unlimited ominpotent deity can do.

0 thoughts on “Fundies and Limited Deities

  1. Deacon Duncan

    The line that caught my attention was this:

    It follows that Darwinian evolution is not a tool, but an autonomous process, and therefore out of God’s control.

    This would appear to leave Cudworth in something of a dilemma, for he must deny either that autonomous processes exist or that God is in control. Denying the former contradicts free will and denying the latter denies God’s omnipotence. In fact, if autonomous processes are outside of God’s control, the outcome of the whole plan of salvation is in doubt.

  2. Susan B.

    If I use the same hammer to hit a nail 20 times, it will hit in a slightly different place each time. Does this mean a hammer is not a tool?

  3. Jason Failes

    “This view, which we might call “apparent Darwinism,” fails to get God out of the process of natural causation, which was (as Cornelius Hunter has argued) Darwinism’s historical raison d’etre.”
    I think that overwhelming evidence gives Darwinian evolution enough “reason to be”, regardless of its theological ramifications.
    It has ceased to surprise me how easily and how often fundamentalists get things backwards, accusing scientists of working conspiratorily to produce findings to justify their “denial of God”, when in fact it’s the other way around: Once you’ve learned enough scientific principles, the specific stories of any specific religion just seem, well, silly.

  4. Luis

    Do these people ever consider what time could mean for an eternal being such as that God guy presumably is? If he (or she or it) is so super-super that is beyond our universe and reality, obviously time should mean nothing to him. If evolution is happening and that superguy actually exists, he must know every possible outcome and every possible intricacy. If he is both before and after at the same time, and in all intermediate instants, in every single fold of spacetime, if he knows all… then what the heck?
    Not that I believe in such metaphysical speculations but at least I have bothered myself to think about it. The most random of processes would not be random to him, the earthling perception of time would be at his reach but not be his nature.
    I’m just flippant about the low level of these theologists.

  5. Kristine

    “God” is just an excuse for these tools at UD to mind the business of other people. Theistic evolutions just aren’t thinking the way that they (UDudes) think that they should think. Thoughtcrime! An “omnipotent” deity is the dream of those who contrive to dictate the qualities of that deity for others. It’s a power grab, nothing more.
    Sometimes in my more reckless moments I imagine a United States taken over by the doctrine of intelligent design, only to collapse with incessant internecine theological wars.

  6. Larry D'Anna

    MarkCC: You’re usually right on the money but today I think you are quite wrong. Cudworth’s arguments may be a little bit confused but his point is valid. As I understand it, that point is: If God exists and evolution is true the either 1) God did not pre-plan that humans would come to be; or 2) God is micro-manipulating natural selection so it will all work out the way he wants it too. 1 is plainly at odds with Christianity. 2 is plainly at odds with natural selection. If you are a Christian, and you believe in evolution, then you must believe that the selection pressures of all these eons have not been natural, but rather have been somewhat-or-entirely artificial selection pressures designed by God to create mankind, and cleverly disguised as natural. Of course I prefer the far simpler explanation: God isn’t real and evolution is exactly what it appears to be.

  7. Larry D'Anna

    There is a third possibility that Cudworth and I both missed: God chose the initial conditions *just* *right* so that humans were predestined to come to be in this evolution, though we are improbable in the space of all evolutions.

  8. Chad Groft

    To #6 and #7; there’s a fourth possibility: multiverse. All of the possibilities occurred, and one of them is us. (Which is what I suspect actually happened.)
    Anyhow, Larry, how the hell’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in years!

  9. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    There’s a third and a fourth possibility.
    The third is what you mentioned; if you’ve really genuinely got an omnipotent being, and it wants to create a universe where a species like mankind will develop as a result of the natural processes of that universe without any further intervention, that it can do that. That’s the problem for people like Cudworth: he wants his God to be omnipotent, but he puts limits on its omnipotence.
    The fourth possibility is that mankind wasn’t a *specific* chosen outcome. You can imagine an omnipotent deity creating a universe that had physical laws chosen so that intelligent life was an inevitable outcome, but not have a specific pre-selected form of intelligent life in mind. Cudworth doesn’t admit that possibility, because he wants earth and humanity to be the center of everything: every event that ever happened, every story that he can find in his holy book has to be true – and more that true, it has to have been an explicit goal of the deity from the beginning of creation. Mankind as one possible acceptable outcome out of many is just not something he’s willing to consider. And yet it’s entirely consistent with the religious beliefs of many people that God created a universe in which intelligent life would arise; humans are (one example of) that life; and then that God interacted with the intelligent beings that arose.
    That last one is closer to deism than to what Cudworth means by Christianity, but it sure seems like it’s completely consistent with the beliefs of numerous religious folks.

  10. NonyNony

    Cudworth is clearly not thinking straight at all. The Vatican “solved” this problem a long time ago (though the current holder of the Papal Throne doesn’t seem to understand that they “solved” it).
    First – assume that your deity is both all-powerful and all-knowing. He sees all of time and space as one and knows the “answer” to any question that might be postulated.
    Next – said deity wants to create life such as the life that we see on planet Earth – a self-sustaining ecosystem that requires no overt “meddling” by said deity.
    Finally, since said deity knows what needs to be done to end up with human life within such bounds, and has the power to do anything he wants, he can setup the initial conditions in such a way that it ends up happening. To a computer scientist it would be like taking a series of pseudo-random functions and figuring out what seed you need to put in to the first one to get your desired outcome. He knows what outcome he wants, he can just “solve backwards” to get the initial setup and wham – human life is created.
    I mean, I’m not even a believer anymore and I can see how to setup that argument. And it can’t be falsified (can’t be verified either, but religion isn’t about proof). There’s no way to say that an omniscient, omnipotent deity didn’t setup the universe in such a manner that things look “random” to those within the system but that anyone outside the system (e.g. the deity) can easily see is pseudo-random. Hell he’s already all-knowing and all-powerful, so for him there’s no such thing as “random” anyway. If they can justify humans having free-will while simultaneously the all-knowing God knows what you’re going to do anyway, they can certainly justify this.

  11. Jarrett

    I AM a Christian. A Catholic, actually. And I don’t like fundamentalists one bit. IMO, fundamentalists completely miss the point of the entire New Testament. Didn’t Jesus leave us a guide on how to treat each other? Instead of caring for the afflicted and poor, they’d rather argue about evolution and abortion and homosexuality. Arguing over tiny little parts of some part of the Old Testament or Mosaic Law and missing the “big picture”. Not really so different than the Pharisees that Jesus had such a problem with back in His day.
    I hate being ashamed of being a Christian because of what others do and say in His name.

  12. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    I sympathize. I’m a religious reconstructionist Jew. And I think that the ultra-orthodox fundies (including my own brother) completely miss the point of Jewish law. They’re so obsessed with the details, with finding every nook and cranny of every law in order to make sure that they follow it perfectly that they totally lose sight of what the laws are supposed to mean.
    And so you get people like the Israeli orthodox shouting to kill people, idolizing murderers, and doing everything in their power to make the world a worse place, all in the name of Judaism.
    One of my best friends in grad school was a Muslim from Bangaladesh, who used to complain about how the muslim fundies made a mockery of the Koran.
    Fundamentalists of all stripes are, at best, deranged; and at worst, downright dangerous.
    It’s not specific to Christianity, or to Judaism. In fact, it’s not even specific to religion; some of the worst excesses of communism have been perpetrated by people with that same fundamentalist mindset, only focused on the writings of Marx, rather than a holy text.

  13. Flaky

    ‘2) God is micro-manipulating natural selection so it will all work out the way he wants it too. … 2 is plainly at odds with natural selection.
    Actually, it’s not at odds with natural selection. Rather, it adds another form of selection to the play, call it ‘divine selection’. God must’ve made specific selections at certain points, perhaps at almost every point, but natural selection would still be there, working in concert with divine selection. This implies that it would be theoretically possible, but practically impossible, to know exactly the points at which God intervened. In other words, God borders on scientifically testable, which is where many moderate Christians seem to place God.

  14. Egaeus

    In my opinion, the problem with some of the arguments in this thread is that they too put limits on God’s omniscience. If God is omniscient, then he can see all possible outcomes, but then no matter what he does, he knows in advance which outcome will happen. He can’t introduce randomness from his perspective. To an omniscient god, there is no randomness. He knows the result of every coin toss in advance.
    Then if you accept the above, you have the result that through the very act of creating the universe, by knowing its outcome in advance he is responsible for all suffering and evil in it. If most Christians are correct, then he has also condemned innumerable people to eternal suffering in hell. It’s hard to argue that that is the work of a loving god. But god gave man free will? Then that would imply a non-deterministic universe, which is impossible from the perspective of an omniscient god.
    So you have a variation on a well-known logical trap. Can an god create a universe so random that he can not know the outcome? There are only two answers, and both are wrong if you assume an omnipotent, omniscient god.

  15. Dan Lewis

    Why can’t an omnipotent being deliberately limit its own freedom of action? That seems to create a space for free will even if you think that God can do anything. That is, Cudworth may not exactly be stuck on the horns of that dilemma, depending on how flexible his beliefs are, of course.
    At my wife’s 20th week ultrasound, I can choose to learn the sex of the baby, or I can choose to be surprised. Perhaps God chooses to be surprised.
    From my human perspective, of course, I am surprised. No matter how deterministic the world turns out to be, it turns out I personally don’t have much of a choice but to live as if I have freedom of action.

  16. mufi

    As a former Orthodox Jew, I recall my struggling, not so much with Darwinian evolution per se (although there were brief occasions for that, as well), as with a modern-historical approach to biblical exegesis (particularly as it pertains to the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, which rabbinic tradition insists was dictated verbatim by God to Moses in more or less the same form we have today).
    So, for example, a biblical scholar of the modern-historical school might argue in favor of a literal reading of the Creation story (i.e. that the original authors intended it to be read literally, because that’s how they truly viewed the cosmos), even when Orthodox rabbinic tradition allowed for a more metaphorical reading (e.g. based on later talmudic or medieval rabbinic commentaries) – one that is more harmonious with contemporary knowledge. I mark my departure from Orthodox Judaism when I began to (a) read the modern-historical scholars (since even that can be problematic for an adherent to the faith) and (b) publicly admit that I found their interpretations more plausible than those of the Orthodox tradition.
    I share all this just to insert the following point: there are subtler ways of being “fundy” (which I interpret here to mean a stubborn adherence to first principles or tenets, even in the face of contradictory evidence), some of which don’t necessarily involve conflicts with proponents of Darwinian evolution or an insistence upon biblical literalism.

  17. Dan Lewis

    I should add of course that calling God “a being” is an unhelpful simplification (sorry). It is a hole in the argument that ought not to be passed over lightly.
    Following Tillich and thinking of God as “the ground of Being”, or as some strange intersection between immanence and transcendence, serves to show that arguments about God creating a rock so heavy he can’t lift it are misguided.

  18. themadlolscientist

    One of the things that has always struck me as very odd about many fundamentalists is that they insist on an omniscient, omnipotent deity – a deity without any limits of any sort; and yet simultaneously, all of their discussions of this supposedly limitless being are based on such a limited notion of what their deity can do.

    Right on! Right on! Right on! I’m a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, and I loathe, abhor, despise, detest, and abominate Fundamentalism and all its associated headfuck. When the Fundamentalists get to yaddayaddayakyakking, I want to strangle them – or at least yell in their faces:
    I could go on, but my keyboard would spontaneously combust and my monitor (and yours) would probably explode……….. I think I’ll go back to the Ham-slamming party over at PZ’s place.

  19. mufi

    As a postscript to my earlier post:
    Bad math and bad science are, of course, symptoms of bad education. Inasmuch as that bad education is *religious* in nature, it is likely impacted to some degree (at least among the Abrahamic faiths) by the doctrine of biblical inerrancy; i.e. that the Bible or Koran must be right *in some way* — either literally or metaphorically — because God authored it (if only via prophetic dictation), and God doesn’t make mistakes.
    As others suggest above, classical theology has always had its share of philosophical problems (in particular, reconciling the divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and lovingness with the human experience of injustice, cruelty, and indifference). Personally, I find these problems more troubling than they’re worth (i.e. even *without* a doctrine of biblical inerrancy), but that’s not even the half of what biblical or textual fundamentalists must live with in order to remain steadfast in their faiths.

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    As much local determinism by selection is a fact, it doesn’t change that evolution is autonomous, path dependent and non-teleological, nor that variation is independent of the functional needs of the organism.
    Selection gives feedback so that the genome in effect learns from the environment. I realize that feedback is confusing. Cosma Shalizi shows that learning systems can be modeled by time and so causality working backwards. It is done by an inappropriate closure between the learning system and its environment, a full model doesn’t have those attributes.
    The main problem for the claim that human-like intelligence, however defined, was a forced outcome from initial conditions is that evolution is path dependent. And deterministic chaos, which is part of the environment and therefore affects these paths, makes it impossible to know the outcome from initial conditions.
    Now, I assume, you could claim that gods may be omnipotent, even if this is a problem for the above claimed free will, however it is defined. But I fail to see how such an impossible knowledge of infinite precision, breaking the logic of math and physics, saves the argument by admitting that gods are illogical.
    It is especially curious to make such arguments on a CS blog, where there are many examples of fundamentally uncomputable numbers et cetera.
    And I also note that the argument is supposed to be based on the very same logic that it rejects.

  21. Egaeus

    I don’t think your argument works. It’s more like knowing the sex of your child, but then chosing not to know it. It doesn’t work. But even if you grant that god can do that, then you just admit that god is not omniscient.

  22. Egaeus

    Oh, one more thing. While asking “can god create a rock so heavy he can not lift it?” may not be useful, I think that my phrasing of the question is far from misguided. It addresses the fundamental nature of god. Is he the benevolent sky daddy, or malevolent sadist?

  23. JuliaL

    Thanks for the interesting post. I had asked, before realizing you had posted, at Panda’s Thumb about this problem of declaring that processes with a random element are “out of God’s control.”
    Cudworth seems to be arguing both for a god that can/does intervene, and also a god who is powerless to intervene in any situation with a random element. I’m wondering if he would agree that God is incapable of intervening in any manner in a lottery, or of answering a prayer for help from a person near suicide if that person is holding a gun and playing Russian roulette.
    It would be fascinating to know whether Cudworth really intends the apparently necessary implication that people can control God in that they can, by means of deliberately adding a random element to any situation, restrain God from intervening.

  24. Anonymous

    To be fair technically the statement is valid. I mean Christianity as a belief system is inconsistent (or incoherent depending on how you interpret things). Not to really get into this here but the problem of evil really is a proof of contradiction for a good, omnipotent God. Arguments about the need for free will don’t fly as such a god could easily have given us each free will in our own independent VR type universes where no suffering actually occurs but most christians pretty explicitly reject the idea that other people’s suffering is fake.
    Thus any claim of the form X -> christianity is inconsistant is a true claim if we read -> as the material conditional.
    But I feel like hitting myself for being so nitpicky.

  25. Flaky

    Torbjörn said ‘And deterministic chaos, which is part of the environment and therefore affects these paths, makes it impossible to know the outcome from initial conditions.’ That got me thinking. I suppose God could have such faculties of mind that he may reason the outcome of evolution from given initial conditions, but this reasoning itself constitutes as an accurate simulation of the universe, the inhabitants of this simulation would see their world just as real as the ‘real thing’.
    Alternatively, God could a priori know all the possible outcomes for all possible initial conditions, but this in itself would also constitute as a simulation and would be very much out of God’s control, because all conditions would exists equally as part of God’s knowledge.
    Of course, any God that transcends logic poses obvious theological difficulties.

  26. Nick Johnson

    I’d love to see your evolutionary programming system – this sort of thing fascinates me. I take it the programs you evolve are written in a Domain Specific Language, rather than Python (like your evaluation functions)?

  27. Luis

    God must‘ve made specific selections at certain points
    If God is so super-super as monotheists claim, then he must not anything. He may, he can… but not “must”.
    Also, if god is so super-super, he has not done anything, as time would not be an issue for him (or her or whatever). There is no past and no future for him, unless he condescends to earthlings’ perceptions. It’s like thinking of the author of a comic book (or a film, if you wish): the “time” of the artist would never have anything to do with the “time” of the book: they are independent.
    I know people gets confused about this even when thinking in just the physical reality: time is so pervading to our experience that we tend to extrapolate it to anything everywhere. But in fact time, or more precisely spacetime, is both specific of our Universe and relative within it. Anything outside our universe is with all likehood independent from our experience of time, and certainly that should be the case of that God guy if he exists at all.
    I should add of course that calling God “a being” is an unhelpful simplification (sorry). It is a hole in the argument that ought not to be passed over lightly.
    From a theistic perspective that is what he is: a being (an all-powerful being if you wish). Theists, specially monotheists, don’t accept that the Universe is part of God but a separate, distinct, creation, much like a sculpture is distinct from the artist – hence they are separate entities, separate beings. That is not the case from a pantheistic perspective, of course.

  28. Jonathan Vos Post

    As I said on an earlier thread on this kind of Theophysics:
    Sort-of Updating on George Shollenberger and His Book
    Category: bad math > Debunking Creationism
    Posted on: March 6, 2007 2:12 PM, by Mark C.
    … In the ID interpretation, it seems to say that God transmits information to Man via the Creation itself, with the physical universe “hinting” and a transcendental reality beyond the physical. This was a standard notion in the medieval notion that there are two Books — the written words of the Bible, and the “Book of Nature” — namely the physical reality of the starry heavens and Earth.
    Mystics stated that these 2 books, or two magesteria, were isomorphic. That is, that they were in some symbolic one-to-one correspondance. The notion was that by sufficiently deep study of the Bible, one could know all that there was to know of Nature — and vice versa. It seems that Galileo, Kepler, and Newton at least partially believed this in a Mathematical and Scientific sense as well….
    So omniscient God knows us entirely. Hence why is there any problem in “man transfer[ing] information to God”?
    Surely God has no problem with channel capacity, or noise, or signal intensity, or frequency cut-off?
    Prayer is considered a special way for “man transfer information to God.”
    Talmud taught, and Christianity accepted, that a short prayer was just as good as a long prayer. Hence doxology, “The Lord’s Prayer” and the like.
    Hence, in that view of the world, I don’t see a problem with information transfer in either direction between Man and God.
    Or am I misunderstanding?
    Wesley, by the way, continues in this vein to discuss miracles:
    21. But it is on supposition that the Governor of the world never deviates from those general laws, that Mr. Pope adds those beautiful lines in full triumph, as
    having now clearly gained the point: —
    Shall burning Etna, if a sage requires,
    Forget to thunder, and recall her fires?
    On air or sea new motions be imprest,
    O blameless Bethel! to relieve thy breast!
    When the loose mountain trembles from on high,
    Shall gravitation cease, if you go by?
    Or some old temple, nodding to its fall,
    For Chartres’ head reserve the hanging wall?
    We answer, If it please God to continue the life of any of his servants, he will suspend that or any other law of nature: The stone shall not fall; the fire shall not burn; the floods shall not flow; or, he will give his angels charge, and in their hands shall they bear him up, through and above all dangers!

    This analysis is also useful in refuting the Koranic angels violating Relativity, or the Ark of the Covenant making time-warps.
    Omitted for brevity: distinction between conventional theological models of God as Immanent (bottom-up, interactive) versus Transcendental (top-down, hands-off except maybe for miracles) versus various combinations.
    As to timelessness, both the old Testamanet and the New Testament contradict each other on such matters as whether or not God can be “surprised.”

  29. Jon H

    “Suppose you’re an omniscient, omnipotent deity.”
    Also, a deity who arguably exists outside what we know as time.

  30. deusami

    Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
    Proverbs 16:4 “The LORD works out everything for his own ends–even the wicked for a day of disaster.”
    In the words of Solomon I see that God does at least recommend throwing dice (and may do so Himself–sorry Einstein) and that he also intervenes, though the process of intervention is fuzzy. I agree that most fundamentalists tend not to allow God either the omnipotence or the omniscience He has.
    As for being a cosmic Sadist, it is truly ennobling to man for an omnipotent/omniscient creator to allow man a choice independent of his creator, even if that choice has very negative outcomes. It seems the traditional God we know in the west/near east is far more concerned for the dignity He granted us on that matter than the outcome. Anyone who’s parented for more than about 8 months knows the difference between your will and your child’s will and at a slightly older age you discover the sanctity of that will. Even if you MUST oppose it (and you must), you dare not crush it for it would mean the destruction of that child’s unique personhood–what most thoughtful Christians would correlate with the concept of being created “in the image of God.”
    Thus the concept of “Divine Selection” or even in a broader sense, Divine Action seems to most appropriately fit the limited information I have available to me. It appears that God has, in fact, either suspended or manipulated the laws of the universe as we understand them at certain points in history, though He rarely (on the whole) does so. Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade) did a study on prayer in the Bible and found only two recorded acts of God’s intervention that were not specifically requested–creation (which in this debate may or may not necessarily mean a unique God-intervention) and redemption, which is a topic for another day. Therefore, the traditional God I understand from the Judeo-Christian texts both throws dice and tinkers with his creation, but only upon request, and only in the way He deems appropriate.
    One final note: Graduation rates in the US are abyssmal, literacy rates are horrid and overall educational quality has been markedly reduced in the last half century since Skinner convinced people that Religion was dangerous (which it can be, not unlike fire). However, the societies that have had the best overall educational success (both individually, corporately, and along both gender lines) seem to be born out of religious educational systems. Most of the greatest classical minds were religiously trained (Newton, Pascal, etc). The foremost literacy training system in the world was generated by a linguist and missionary who worked in the Phillipines in the 50’s. Most of the home-school curricula I’ve seen is uniformly better (more research based) than the public school curricula. Yes, there are fundamentalist dogmatics involved here and there and there may be some spectacular failures, but for overall functional quality, the general education system can’t match it.
    Besides, the best metaphysical answers that scienceism generates are woefully inadequate. Their responses regarding identity, meaning and context often border on dispair. The answer, “I don’t know and you can’t know” doesn’t leave a person with a lot of direction. At some point we have to risk faith, but not necessarily blind faith. That kind of faith is more of an educated acknowledgement of our limited understanding, in a position of request for more information. George Washington Carver seemed to fare well in his science from that position of faith.

  31. Larry D'Anna

    MarkCC: You are right that there’s nothing in the theory of evolution by natural selection that conflicts with the idea of a diest god, but Cudworth isn’t a diest, he’s a Christian. Certainly Christianity-as-Cudworth-understands-it demands that Humans were specifically designed by God. Perhaps that’s the wrong understanding of Christianity. I’ll leave that question to the Christians.
    Chad: I can’t think of a way that many-worlds directly conflicts with Cudworth’s religious beliefs, but it sure does raise some bizarre questions: If i commit quantum suicide (kill myself or not based on the outcome of a quantum-random experiment) then what happens to my soul?
    As to how I’ve been :-), I’m good; married, still living in Maryland. How about you?

  32. Mu

    I fail to see why a God chaperoning an evolutionary process would violate free will. Free will, by definition, needs intelligence, or, to stay with the previous analogy, the kid has to grow up. So an omnipotent being could guide nature along just fine until the point it decides “this is it, you’re on your own. Now lets see what you make of it”. If you believe in miracles, raining mana and zapich for 40 years to help you chosen along, a quick stir in the primordal soup, bad eyesight for that scorpion gunning for the first proto-fish and a nudge on an asteroid to stop that dinosaur experiment don’t sound too far fetched to keep things on track.

  33. sirhcton

    Addressing #26, about evil. Theodicy may be the central issue of theology concerning an omnipotent creator. So far, I have read no truly satifactory explanation.

  34. themadlolscientist

    In the words of Solomon I see that God does at least recommend throwing dice (and may do so Himself–sorry Einstein) and that he also intervenes, though the process of intervention is fuzzy.

    God plays Fuzzy Dice with the universe? Does he have a set hanging from the rear-view mirror of His Chariot?

  35. deusami

    Don’t know about God’s chariot, but I think I may get a set for mine…(of the Pilot version)

  36. Jud

    (1) Cudworth’s criticism of evolution is idiotic because it treats the issue of free will in an omnipotent deity’s Creation as a problem *only for evolution.* Has the man no background whatever in Christian theology? (Don’t bother, I’m sure I already know the answer.) This is an issue that Christians have wrestled with since Christianity existed.
    (2) ID is by logical necessity more constraining to the abilities of a creator/designer than is evolution. ID fundamentally depends on the proposition that there are features of living things that could not have resulted from evolution. In other words, assume a creator/designer with a level of capability permitting It to fashion a universe in which species arise through evolution. If ID is true, it necessarily means that the creator/designer does not have this level of capability.
    This means (1) an “intelligent designer” cannot be the omnipotent, omniscient God of the Bible, and (2) any argument asserting that evolution negates the existence of a Supreme Being applies with even greater force to ID.

  37. deusami

    Jud’s arguments are strong, but they bypass the free will of the creator himself. Just because it is logical that an infinite omnipotent, omniscient God COULD use evolution to create every creature and process we see, it does not logically follow that he would, of necessity, do so or not not do so in every instance. That would be a matter of His choosing. If he has the infinite time (or the ability to be outside of time) to tinker with it infinitely, who is to say he doesn’t? Who is to say he does? Maybe he enjoyed slapping together the duck-billed platypus–for giggles, and didn’t care much about worms. Maybe he tinkered with both. Maybe He did something special with man. Maybe he designed Man into the system at the beginning. I have opinions on that one, but they are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
    Psyco-socially there is a world-view on the part of most ID adherants (from their training and personal experience) that God is the kind of being that would directly intervene in the process. A deist would be far happier with Evolution, but has a hard time with miracles (and is not likely to see any, even if they happened). Most scientists (and engineers) are fascinated with isolated processes where no divine intervention is necessary or warranted and draw a world-view from that experience. This world view shapes what they expect God (or lack of god) to do.
    All of this is genuinely irrelevant to what actually happened. If God, outside the system, tinkered with it as it went along, it would be pretty dicey to see directly because he could as easily change the rules of the universe as change any peice of it.
    What makes this more difficult is that your a priori assumptions may directly impact not just what you observe, but what actually occurs. We see that all the time in human social systems. A person who believes he is rejected by a group will likely be rejected by that group because he acts out of that belief. What if belief/faith truly is the key to not just the observation but the occurance of God interventions? When your world view interacts with your world, strange things can happen.

  38. Paul Murray

    Even an omni-whatever being cannot do something logically impossible, like setting in train a “truly” darwinian process and also guiding it.
    Unless …. unless He set up billions of earths like our own, and obliterated all the ones He foreknew would not produce little fleshlings “in his own image and likeness”.
    ps: that line “in his own image and likeness” makes much more sesnse when you appreciate that the writers of Genesis were polythestic heathen, and “god” in this line is plural. They were just explaining why the races look different: each god created his own race – the negroes are black because the god that created them is black, the jews have a hooked nose because Jehovah does, etc.

  39. Jud

    deusami wrote: Jud’s arguments are strong, but they bypass the free will of the creator himself. Just because it is logical that an infinite omnipotent, omniscient God COULD use evolution to create every creature and process we see, it does not logically follow that he would, of necessity, do so or not not do so in every instance.
    Ahh, but I’m not the one who’s attempting to use the ability/inability of a deity as a logical/scientific principle. Indeed, I agree with you, “Friend of God” (Deus Ami) that an omnipotent, omniscient deity could use or not use evolution in specific instances as It pleased.
    ID styles itself a scientific theory, not just opinion or speculation on what a Designer may or may not have done in a particular instance. Fundamental to this theory is the proposition that certain features could not have occurred through evolution. That is, in our Universe, such a thing could never happen. Thus, if our Universe had a Creator, this Creator would necessarily have to lack the capability to set in train any series of events that would lead to the evolution of such features. Otherwise, all of ID is merely opinion regarding the actions of a fundamentally unknowable deity, and while I might be happy to agree with that characterization, I very much doubt that supporters of ID would.

  40. deusami

    I have a feeling both groups are attacking straw-men. I believe the ID folks may indeed be stretching things if they (as you are indicating) don’t believe that God COULD set in motion such a train of events, but I’m not sure they would go that far–though I could be wrong. I have a feeling they are more likely to posit that based on the evidence they observe (significant changes over relatively short periods of time), evolution in the traditional sense is not likely to be the primary mechanism of change in those instances. The mechanism of change (in their view) is divine intervention. It’s not that God couldn’t use evolution. Most lower level ID adherants would posit that He didn’t in at least some instances, based on the revealed truth (as they read it) in the Bible and their natural observations. They seem unwilling to attempt to look for an alternate observable mechanism, which I would think is lazy, from a scientific point of view. Good science (and good theology) always should ask not just whether God did it, but how, and why (if that can be known).
    On the other hand, most scientists would also agree that the gradual changes that traditional (Darwinian) evolution posited are not, in fact, likely to precipitate those quick-change events and do attempt to posit mechanisms that would speed up the traditional evolutionary process.
    I believe the only place where the two points of view would dramatically disagree (when you got down to defining terms clearly) is in the case of man, where the ID folks would die fighting for the idea that man is clearly unique in creation and was made “by hand”, so to speak.
    The point is that regardless of the mechanism (observable or otherwise), finding a mechanism does not, in fact, rule out a process involving Divine action. If an omnipotent/omniscient God is able to generate an evolutionary system from a random seed (or any other process) then He would be equally capable of generating and manipulating other processes either at the beginning or along the way at His choosing. Their argument that some of these quick changes appear to meet specific needs that could not be independently developed through a traditional evolutionary mechanisms (eg. worked up to little by little) does offer circumstantial evidence regarding the existance of something manipulating the system from the outside.
    As to the knowability of God, I need to default to standard theology, partly because it makes observational sense. The existance of God can be inferred by circumstantial evidence from the creation (the second Book mentioned by Jonathan). However, it cannot disclose the nature of God any more than watching a security tape of my actions could accurately portray my thoughts or dreams. My own husband might have a hard time doing that completely after 20 years of relationship. The potential for other unseen (multi-dimensional?) actors in this drama further complicates matters. Without interaction with and disclosure from that entity, we could only guess.
    This is where, logically, the ID folks have a theoretical edge. While a scientist searching independently of God can say I don’t know if God exists and even if He did, I don’t know whether he did all of this all at once or intervened every nanosecond, a person (or scientist) in relationship with God can, in theory, go to God himself and ask, for himself. It might not satisfy everyone, but for the person involved, it answers the question.
    It probably makes for interesting policy decisions in the end. It’s hard to make a public policy that says–“You go ask for yourself. I’m not sure.” As for the training of children, this will, of necessity, generate two systems of education. In the end they are not truly incompatable, but people will likely make them so.
    My own experience with God (as someone has indeed pointed out that Deus Ami does mean God friend) tells me that He’s not at all uncomfortable with our intellectual discomfort, but does answer what we can understand when we ask (again, see George Washington Carver).
    BTW, no true Friend of God would presume to speak for Him unless directly instructed to do so, although many immature friends often do. Please pardon them as you would pardon a child who misquotes his parents at a dinner party.

  41. Wry Mouth

    “Evolution is an amazing tool. Set up correctly, it can be used to produce an adaptive, self-regulating system with pretty much any desired set of properties.”
    I own some pretty cool “pop-up” books, like Alice in Wonderland.
    It’s a personal weakness; I admit it.
    But I think of the evolutionary model, based on DNA, as God’s Coolest Pop-Up Book Ever.
    I am not surprised to find that some Christians find subscription to evolutionary theory incoherent if wed to Christian tenets of faith. It’s a big tent, after all, with some billion followers.
    I just don’t happen to subscribe to *their* particular theory, at this time. I have met Christians aplenty who have a very strong faith in evolutionary theory, so I don’tsee the two belief systems as necessarily mutually exclusive or incoherent.

  42. Wesley Parish

    Well, there’s several questions being asked here. One is the nature of $DEITY, one is the nature of the universe, one is the nature of the evolutionary process, which is a biological form of feedback system.
    And all of this seems to be bound up with the question of the nature of humanity.
    One of the things it’s useful to drop is the Victorian conceit of evolution having an aim – tophatted Victorians being the focus, the summit, the aim of evolution, naturally. Scientifically the idea of a specific target for the evolutionary process is worthless – you can’t make any predictions from such a premise.
    How that relates to $DEITY? You can generally guess the purpose of any given object by investigating its functions, its forms and its environment. And $DEITY is by definition, beyond such analysis. Religions are human social constructs, and so we can guess some of the purpose of religion by considering its value as a social glue. But because $DEITY is beyond such analysis, we can’t investigate any of $PRONOUN’s functions, forms, let alone $PRONOUN’s environment.
    And so, a good part of this debate is by definition, beyond solution. Is it possible, for any value of $DEITY, for $PRONOUN to play an active or directing role in the evolutionary process? Certainly, but since $PRONOUN’s ordinary behaviour, etc, are not directly visible to humans for us to build up an idea of the sort of behaviour we can expect from $PRONOUN, there is no way of knowing when such has occurred.
    Just my 0.02c worth!

  43. aaron c

    There are huge numbers of random algorithms as well, which according to Cudworth, are not really tools, even though they can be used to solve problems and calculate results. I’d say that Cudworth’s uninformed opinions on evolution and/or computer science aren’t really worth much. Are you sure his name wasn’t Cudworthless ;)?

  44. Stephen

    God may be omniscient and omnipotent, but she could also be lazy. If so, it seems reasonable that she might create a Universe that is compatible with life. And that Universe might be big enough that even if life is unlikely, humanity would spring into being *somewhere*. One little spark, and just wait. There could be life on 1e22 planets in just the visible part of the Universe, which is known to be a small fraction of the whole Universe. Not bad results just for speaking up.
    But the Universe might also be big enough that Spock and Alph were created too. God is omniscient, so God knows about them. And God is omnipotent, so both Spock and Alph were made in the image of God too. After all, both Adam and Eve were made in the Image of God. That doesn’t mean that God’s gender is ambiguous. She is capable of being exactly the right image for both.
    And, of course, God created the Universe. But what does it mean to lift the Universe? Where would you stand? If God moved the Universe, how could you tell? So God certainly can make something that is so big she can’t lift it. And clearly, the egg came first by many millions of years. Geez.
    Gould may have said that if you rewind evolution and try again, you don’t get the same result again. However, there is now evidence that you can.
    By freezing e. coli samples periodically, they can go back, thaw some out, and try the experiment again. They get similar answers for similar environments. This doesn’t mean Evolution is wrong, far from it. Evolution is totally vindicated, though the paper doesn’t attempt to say such a thing. You really have to read the paper.

  45. Glazius

    Heavily cribbed from a humorist, of course:
    –Can God create a rock so big he cannot lift it?
    –Why not?
    -He would not.
    –Why wouldn’t He?
    -Would you?

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    FWIW, catching up on old threads:
    Flaky, yes, it could all be a giant simulation. But it is indistinguishable from Last Thursdays or other in effect solipsist scenarios.


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