Science in Christian Perspective


Letter to the Editor

Don't Tar Van Till: A Response to Anderson and Mills

David F. Siemens, Jr.
2703 E. Kenwood St.
Mesa, AZ 85213-2384

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 49 (March 1997): 70.

In their letter (December 1996, pp. 282-4) Anderson and Mills compare Van Till to Polkinhorne, Peacocke and Corey, and suggest that Mills' view at least partly coincides with those of the trio. But they give no indication of understanding the gulf between Van Till and the others.

Peacocke espouses a view which has become popular among contemporary "theistic" philosophers. Basic to this view is the belief that God is not omniscient, that he does not (or cannot) understand all the consequences of his acts, that he is engaged in an ongoing experiment whose end cannot be predicted accurately. Proponents of this general view usually believe that God has the power to correct matters before they go catastrophically awry, that he will always muddle through.1 This deity is a scientist enlarged, with theories that alter as new data becomes available. Since he is thus limited, he must tinker with the universe from time to time.

Underlying this view is the assumption that God is restricted in time. He lives in the same "now" as we with necessary relativistic corrections, of course. Unless someone can explain how to disentangle the phenomena, it seems necessary that a time-bound entity be also space-bound and matter-bound. In other words, the deity must be within the universe.

In radical contrast, Van Till follows Augustine and Calvin rather than modern views. For him, God is the omnipotent and omniscient Creator, with whom there is neither before nor after. The temporal universe we know is in his eternal care and control. He does not have to tinker at any point because the beginning was perfectly, comprehensively and eternally right. However, he is not precluded from what we see as miraculous intervention, for he is sovereign. But miracles, apart from creative originations, seem almost always to be a divine exclamation point to make us pay attention. Signs and wonders underscore the message of his prophets and his Son.

Mills denies that all required directions could have been placed in the universe at its inception. For him, life began only by direct divine intervention,2 and the development of life required the introduction of genetic information from outside many times.3 The cryptic foundation of this view is that he understands fully all the principles that can inhere in matter and all the natural laws governing its development, or at least the ultimate limits of these. I am confident that he will deny this. But the denial springs from his lack of insight into the ultimate foundations of his outlook. This is not reprehensible, merely the normal state of human beings, for it is extremely difficult to recognize one's most basic commitments. Certainly nothing in the normal training of scientists even suggests that there are first principles.

Unrecognized commitments have their consequences. The modern philosophers noted earlier do not recognize that they are transferring to their deity their own time-bound experience, thus making a God in their own image. This is idolatry as surely as casting a silver Diana or carving a statue of Athena, though more subtle.4 Mills and Anderson, by adopting their covert principle (God can initially do only what I understand to be possible), similarly unwittingly construct their own version of the deity. This deity produced a universe with many information gaps which had to be filled later by direct divine interventions. Despite Mills' vigorous denials and strong protests,5 this is a version of God-of-the-gaps. What is obvious to onlookers is not seen by him from within. The pair have also created a new Van Till in their own image by their attempt to tie him to the authors they note. This is further evidence that they do not understand the theological and philosophical commitments involved.

Notes

1One might be hard-pressed to explain this to those who perished in the Flood. Further, I do not see how to base this assurance within this view. Were I to espouse it, I would expect to act somewhat like the Victorian lady who dropped a curtsy whenever Satan was mentioned. Her explanation was that politeness costs little, never hurts, and "you never can tell."

2Genesis 1 does not support this claim. Heaven and earth (v. 1), aquatic and aerial life (v. 21) and the human pair (v. 27) are the sole entities specified created. Plant life (vv. 11f) and terrestrial entities (vv. 24f) were not, according to the sacred text, created.

3See, for example, Gordon C. Mills, "The Evolutionary Significance of the Species Variation in Cytochrone c Structure," JASA [PSCF], 20:52-4 (June 1968); ibid., "Structure of Cytochrome c and c-like Modifications and Origin of Genes," PSCF 46:236-45 (December 1992).

4Note Rom. 1:23, 25.

5Mills, "A Response to David Siemens, Jr.," PSCF, 48:138 (June 1996).

*ASA Fellow