Science in Christian Perspective


Letter to the Editor

 

Retrogression and Relapse: 
About Mills, Moreland, and Their Ilk

David F. Siemens, Jr., Ph.D. ASA Fellow

Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Los Angeles Pierce College

From: PSCF 47 (December 1995): 284-5.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, Isaac Newton presented a rational basis for Kepler's Laws. However, he did not believe in the stability of the solar system thus described, holding that God had to intervene from time to time to restore order. Phrased bluntly, Newton's God was not smart enough to design and to create a fully functional universe, although he had the insight to catch problems before they destroyed everything and the power to restore stability as needed. A little more than a century later, Pierre Simon de Laplace demonstrated that Newton's principles adequately explained all the motions of the planets and their satellites. This view was later extended by John Couch Adams and Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier to interpret the vagaries of the orbit of Uranus as produced by the yet unobserved planet, Neptune, which was soon spotted. In other words, the solar system is stable and God does not need to be called in periodically to keep it from ruin.

Recently, some scientists have claimed that aspects of the solar system demonstrate elements of deterministic chaos. While this may suggest a return to Newton's view, one may propose a different outlook. For example, it appears that a renegade planetoid smashed into the primordial earth to produce the moon and many aspects of the earth-moon system which benefit, or even allow, life as we know it on this planet. That is, what seems a random destructive event produced a special order. Natural events, whatever their characteristics, accomplish God's purpose.

Long before Newton, orthodox theologians enunciated a view that fits Laplace's demonstration better than Newton's. They speak of God as omnipotent and omniscient, all-powerful and all-knowing. The declaration, "I believe in God, the Father, Almighty," goes back to the early Roman Baptismal Creed which antedates the misnamed Apostle's Creed. The original fourth century Nicene Creed declares: "We believe in one God the Father Almighty, " The Augsburg Confession speaks of the Trinity as "of infinite power, wisdom and goodness." Luther's Small Catechism calls God "omnipotent" and "omniscient." The Reformed Gallican Confession calls God "omnipotent" and "all-wise." The Anglican Articles of Religion speak of God's "infinite power, wisdom and goodness." Only the Anabaptist Dordrecht Confession, among these sixteenth century statements, does not refer to the deity's omniscience. One may also note both omnipotence and omniscience in Aquinas, though he does not use the terms: Summa Theologica, Part I, Q. 7, a. 2; Q. 14, as. 1, 9 and 15; Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 50 and 55; II, 7.

In contrast, in a posthumously published work, Three Essays on Religion, John Stuart Mill argues for a finite deity. This is also found among those who, following Alfred North Whitehead, espouse process theology. Only very recently, as noted in Christianity Today (January 9, 1995), pp. 30-34, have such views been publicly argued by those calling themselves evangelicals. All these views claim that God may be surprised by events in creation. These last, however, insist that God has the power to modify miraculously the consequences of the unforeseen occurrences. In this they have returned to a view like Newton's.

Gordon C. Mills (PSCF 47:112-122 (June 1995)) and the authors of The Creation Hypothesis noted by Howard J. Van Till (ibid., pp. 123-131) express what is essentially the same view. Their God has to tinker repeatedly and directly with the developmental sequence in order to produce a working universe. They defend their outlook by computations of "impossibility." But I recall a time when the developmental sequence of the embryo was called miraculous by scientists. Now we know something about the sequential activation of genes, often the same gene at different times in different locations; the diffusion of various factors, some of which have been found to have specific activities even in the adult; controlled apoptosisˇ with new discoveries being made regularly. Embryological development is more and more understood in terms of biochemistry. It is increasingly difficult to roll one's eyes heavenward. Does this exclude God from the normal developmental process? Only for those who do not understand that God is as active in providence as in miracle.

I recall when it was claimed that a protein (enzyme) was absolutely necessary to process hereditary material. Now I read of self-catalyzed RNA reactions. It was claimed quite recently that the folding of proteins had to be guided. Now I read that they naturally fold themselves into the proper functional configuration in vitro as in vivo. Amino acids, which, it was declared, either could not form or would necessarily be more rapidly degraded by natural processes, are extracted from meteorites. The list could be extended tremendously, with more and more gaps closed as research continues.

Admittedly, this does not close the gap Mills mentions: cytochrome c with a chance probability of 2x10-65. However, I suspect that there are reasonable ways to recalculate the probability, and that the apparent difficulty of synthesis will be reduced as new discoveries are made. In any event, I do not want to hitch my faith in a Creator to the current limitations of scientific explanation.

Materialism has been widely accepted from the time of Heraclitus to the present. Even when the notion of a Creator, a uniquely Hebraic view, became widespread, the belief in the autonomy of nature or matter commonly remained. It is clearly evident in deism, the outlook that dominated eighteenth century thought. Even among avowed theists, the commitment is evident. It is present in Mills' claim that no natural process could produce cytochrome c: supernatural intervention is required. This tacitly denies the strictly theistic tenet that God is as active in growing grapes and fermenting juice as in the miracle at Cana.

Additionally, there is a problem with biblical interpretation. The Genesis week specifies but three creative acts, expanded to five in the usual discussions. If we understand these as episodes, each including several acts, the total number is still relatively small. It seems to me that this is as far as sound exegesis and hermeneutics can stretch. In contrast, Mills and the contributors to The Creation Hypothesis must posit thousands, or even millions, of miraculous episodes. This is a further consequence of their failure to understand and commit to true theism rather than to the popular deistic modification thereof. Since the point is philosophically subtle, I understand that a scientist might not detect it and its consequences. But philosophers Moreland and Meyer should have avoided the error. However, any scientist should recognize that "miracle" and "supernatural intervention" cannot function in a scientific context. So Van Till must be highly commended for grasping the theological, philosophical, and scientific consequences the others missed.

The others have been suckered by the Zeitgeist, even as they reject parts of it. Their inadequate or improper assumptions include (1) that God is too limited to produce a proper universe through "natural" means; (2) that God is only present in the gaps in scientific explanation; (3) that scientific discoveries, no matter how comprehensive, will always leave the same gaps that now allow their deity to act; (4) that matter or nature is autonomous; (5) that "miracle" and "supernatural" can somehow function in scientific theories. They will certainly deny some of these points, yet they are clearly implicit in their writings. All these errors need to be rooted out before they can present a proper theistic view.