Matthew Stevens' article proffers a purely scientific approach to the coherence of theism (given his area of expertise).1 It is a remarkable undertaking but in the end leaves more problems and inaccuracies than it attempts to clear up. In his article, Stevens is interested in the coherence of a view that perceives God as being actively involved in the biogenesis of human life and God as being omniscient. He is not interested in the broader question of God’s existence (something Stevens believes cannot be proven one way or the other). In this rebuttal, and given the relative brevity of Stevens’ original article, I will deal with most of his points but in two phases: The more important issues that require immediate attention and one lesser important issue that elicits a general concern. Also, I shall try and treat Steven’s arguments with the same brevity he has offered to his readers.
The Evolutionary Argument Against God’s Existence
In a curious version of the evolutionary argument against God’s existence, Stevens’ guns are concentrated on young-universe views of creationism. Stevens writes:
“To claim, as some creationists do, that the Earth is only about 6000 years old is laughable and naive. If God created Man and gave him intellect and reason, it is a slap in God's face when people refuse to use their gifts and the evidence all around them to argue against the seemingly miraculous chain of events leading to their existence in favour of the egocentric viewpoint that God created the universe just to put them in it.”
Judging by the final challenge he poses in what follows in this paragraph (“If you were God, would you want to go to all the bother of creating something extraordinarily complex just so some unimaginative person could deny it?”); I take him to mean that God would not have created the universe with the appearance of gradual processes in the formation of human beings despite His own creation protesting such processes. He is not as perspicuous as I would like him to be, but if this is his objection then he is scoring points for the more moderate and relaxed views of creationism and not for the camouflaging of God in creation.
Even more perplexing in Steven’s analysis is his brush-off of the Intelligent Design movement’s response to Darwinian evolution. He “summarizes” the Design movement’s critique as “I am not capable of understanding how [evolution] works. Therefore it doesn't.” No careful critic of Intelligent Design, I dare say, would make such a straw man. I can only surmise that Steven’s has not done the necessary homework here but has merely echoed the sentiments of his peers. Many Christian philosophers of science have painstakingly sought to understand and portray an accurate definition of evolution to everyone’s satisfaction,1 so this is just deceptive and counterproductive to the intercourse of the debate.
God Cannot Have Foreknowledge
On the subject of divine foreknowledge, Stevens’ article would make any aspiring open theist excited for the very reason that the open theist is enthusiastic about Stevens’ conclusion that God cannot have foreknowledge. Though open theists prefer more philosophical and theological approaches to this issue, Stevens appropriates science in his critique of divine foreknowledge. He begins with the assumption that foreknowledge “has to be based on matter or energy . . . the universe itself" and so his argument becomes the following:
p1: "[I]f the universe is a computer model of itself, it is incomplete."
p2: [The universe is a computer model of itself].
p3: [If the universe is incomplete, no one can rely on it to given an accurate description of itself.]
C1: "God cannot rely on it to give an accurate description of itself." (MP p2,p3)
C2: "There remain gaps in God's knowledge of the universe." (entailed by C1)
What appears to me to be the most obvious troubling aspect of Stevens' argument here is his inference from C1 to C2 (which may be to take p3 as dubious as well). This is to say that just because the universe itself may not contain the necessary information for prediction by an omniscient being does not mean that God cannot know that information. This is easy to see by analogy: For most Christians, it is understood that human beings possess libertarian free will. Purely on a scientific analysis, no neurophysiological construction (mathematical or otherwise) can predict the future actions of people. Yet God is said to foreknow those actions despite human actions not having a self-contained "computer model of itself." It is possible for the universe that the basis of God's foreknowledge is not the predictability of specific particle trajectories but, rather, that God simply would know what was going to happen based on what would happen, not on what must happen. Perhaps God knows all counterfactual truths (that is, He knows what every person, place, and thing would do under every circumstance s/he/it could be placed in). This means that God's foreknowledge would not be based on somehow processing every particle's velocity but by already knowing what would happen if the universe were created as type n (where n is any feasible type of universe for God to create). So, in reflection, C1 could stand as perfectly true but this does not entail the truth of C2.3
Furthermore, I fear that Stevens may actually misrepresent Gödel's entire study of his Incompleteness Theorem. For Gödel, a mathematical system is considered to be consistent if a statement S and its negation are
Cosmic Tinkering - Should This Be?
Stevens asserts, “If God is perfect, then why does he have to keep tinkering?" This, of course, is a misunderstanding of God's creation. It isn't that God has to keep "tinkering" in the sense of re-working distinct parts that fail to operate, but God freely and decisively chooses to interact with His creation for reasons that one can only speculate about. Only on the assumption that God would only create static universes would one walk away wondering why God acts dynamically. Of course Christians do not believe that God has created a static universe and that, if nothing else, chooses to swing His artistic brush of creation for His own delight and joy and for the joy of the creatures whom He made to receive this special attention.
ConclusionFar from presenting a "limited God," Stevens has only succeeded in showing his audience precisely why philosophers have moved beyond this sort of trivial critique. Only in the fertile minds of the untrained atheologians will we find such solecistic critiques of God's attributes. But since it continues to be in vogue for many skeptics, my prayer is that this article will illuminate the deficiencies of such approaches.
1. In using "expertise" I am referring to his background in science, not in theology. How he utilizes his scientific background to comment on metaphysical and theological doctrines actually goes beyond his specialty.
2. For example, see Del Ratzsch, The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side Is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996).
3. Stevens continues by intimating quantum mechanics into his argument when he adds, "If we could be precise to a Planck length about the position of an object of a kilogram, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle tells us that it would be impossible to know whether the object was at rest or traveling at anything up to 3.3 m/s.” Again, God's knowledge might not be based on quantum predictions but on His knowing all counterfactuals. Nick Herbert notes in his book, Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics (New York: Anchor Books, 1987), at least eight different metaphysical positions on quantum reality so that it is not clear if Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is about ontological absence or epistemological ignorance.
4. See Kurt Gödel, On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems (New York: Dover Publications, 1962) and "Uber formal unentscheidbare Sätze der Principia Mathematica und verwandter Systeme I," Kurt Gödel: Collected Works, volume 1, edited by Solomon Feferman (Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 144-195.
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