Intelligent Design - Natural Theology

Last updated Fri Oct 11 17:47:13 EDT 2002

Defining Terms

Philosophical and Scientific Naturalism

Naturalism is divided into two camps. Philosophical Naturalism, or Positivism, refuses to consider theories not based exclusively on natural causes. Scientific Naturalism considers any theory that is testable by natural means. In other words, it is willing to consider non-natural phenomena that are repeatable and testable in the manner that science requires. Similarly, there are two kinds of Agnostics. Those who don't know whether there is a God, but are willing to find out. And those who maintain that it is impossible in principle to know whether there is a God.

Most naturalists were Positivists, but a few were not. Dembski mentions Sober, who maintained that a theory of design might eventually be testable.

Explaining Intelligent Causes

Some people try to separate science and theology. The idea is that science looks only at natural causes, theology looks only at intelligent causes. This has been called the "separation of facts and values". But this is absurd. Apparently intelligent causes are all around us. Nevertheless, it is common in our culture to explain obviously intelligent causes as natural causes. For example, "Handguns kill."

Charles Hodge pointed out that there are three ways to account for intelligent causes:

  1. Both intelligent and natural causes are at work in the world. This is the view of Socrates (as described by Plato), Hodge, and Dembski. Note that this view does not suppose or deny miracles. Nevertheless, Darwinists often try to equate intelligent causes with miracles.
  2. Only natural causes are at work in the world. Apparently intelligent causes are the result of Divine Providence. This is the view of Augustine and Charles Babbage. Babbage invokes the metaphor of a deterministic computer preprogammed with all the workings of Providence.
  3. Intelligent design is only an illusion. There is no intelligence, design, or meaning - only the blind operation of natural causes. This has been the predominant view of modernism for more than a century.

The Fall in Brief

British Natural Theology began in the first camp. Then, with Babbage began a move to the second camp: from Design to Natural Law. But with design concentrated in abstract laws, it was untestable. Finally, there was a move to Agnosticism (since Atheism was still taboo) and Positivism.

The Worst of Both Worlds

The successor to Hodge at Princeton was Warfield. His compromise was to explain most intelligent causes as Providence, but allow for occasional miracles. As Dembski puts it, "contrary to Natural Theology, this "uses physical causes to do the work of intelligent causes; contrary to positivism, it employs the taboo concept of miracle." For most of its history, science was a uniquely Christian endeavour. From this point on, science became Agnostic and even Atheistic.