God the CEO

August 3, 2010 • 8:17 am

Here’s our sophisticated theology of the week, an explanation of why the deity runs his creation using random processes, like mutation or the chance fertilization of an egg by a sperm, instead of direct intervention:

Why does God use processes many of which involve non-determinacy rather than direct action? We don’t know for certain, but some plausible answers have been suggested:

First, let’s consider the question of why God uses secondary agents rather than direct action. The Genesis account of human creation says that God placed the man and woman in the garden to tend and care for it. This passage is often seen as revealing God’s plan that human beings should serve as his stewards of the earth. By establishing processes rather than using direct action, God has made a stable, understandable world that humans are able to steward.

Second, let’s look at why such processes include non-determinacy. One plausible answer is that it is simply good management practice. Good managers don’t micromanage; rather they focus on the big picture and leave the details to subordinates. Thus non-determinacy provides a highly effective process for generating and maintaining stable ecosystems and life itself without direct control on God’s part, when direct control would mean constantly managing every aspect of billions of billions of billions of molecules. Another plausible explanation for non-determinacy is that God lovingly gives freedom and/or agency to creatures. We might say the Creator creates creatures that join in the creative process. Genesis 1 seems to support this view, for Scripture several times says God that commands creatures to “bring forth” other creatures.

71 thoughts on “God the CEO

  1. direct control would mean constantly managing every aspect of billions of billions of billions of molecules

    That speaks volumes for what a tiny, pathetic god they worship. Forget managing billions and billions of stars, this one gets in a puff after trying to manipulate billions of molecules (something my cat can manage comfortably).

    I wonder how this god ever managed something as trivial as having a waterfall split into three as that must have involved many billions of molecules. Considering how poofy their theology is, you’d think they could at least manage to make it internally consistent but no, it seems that theologians have an even smaller range than their god. (Someone has to, after all.)

  2. Good managers don’t micromanage; rather they focus on the big picture and leave the details to subordinates.

    Yes… because most human managers are neither omniscient nor omnipotent.

    In fact, the reason so many managers are tempted to micromanage is because, rightly or wrongly, they believe that their judgment is superior to that of their employees. Good managers don’t micromanage because they realize that a) that assumption is not always correct, and b) they do not have the resources to make all the decisions anyway.

    (a) does not apply to an omniscient god (his judgment would be inherently superior to all humans) and (b) does not apply to an omnipotent god (he has no resource limitations). BZZZ! Sorry, try again.

    1. Exactly the points I wanted to make. Yeah, who knew omnipotence was so taxing? I thought god possessed unlimited power. Apparently after using too much magic, he needs to take a rest.

    2. You beat me to it. I can only add that the gulf between the “good managers” who don’t micromanage and their subordinates is a lot smaller than that between an omniscient god and an upright ape.

  3. Stopped reading after “We don’t know for certain”.

    Not interested in a lengthy explanation that starts with that premise.

    1. You’d prefer theology where they believe they’re certain, ’cause there is a lot of that floating about and I’m not convinced it’s any better. Uncertainty is also the starting premise of all scientific papers.

      1. I haven’t see many scientific papers lately that start with: “We’re not quite sure about all this, but we’ll throw it into the group anyway”.

        1. The Abiogenesis FAQ on TalkOrigins opens with: “Yet in the last decade significant progress has been made in all those areas, even though details are still sketchy and problems persist on many issues.”

          ie: they aren’t certain but here are some intriguing ideas. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to dig up similar quotes in cosmology, string theory, dark matter, dark energy, and other topics on the boundaries of our knowledge.

          I get the same vibe that they won’t stand behind their own paper before anyone has read or critiqued it, but seriously, the “science isn’t certain so it’s all garbage” thing has been tossed about for a century, you’d think that sceptics wouldn’t try to throw it back at them. You’ve finally got someone who admits they don’t know everything and you want to beat them up because of it?

          1. Yeah, but the one thing they remain CERTAIN about is the invisible guy in the sky.

            They offer two explanations for how a sovereign God could be compatible with chance and end their paper with:

            “Both are plausible; in fact both may be true. But at this time neither scientific nor theological knowledge is adequate to say more.”

            Actually, scientific knowledge IS adequate to say more… –mainly that the whole paper seems to be an attempt and humans trying to rationalize a magical being into existence through semantics.

        2. Really? In my field tons of papers say that – never mind the ones which begin “actually, we think this is probably wrong but let’s work out what would happen if it weren’t, just in case.”

    2. Okay, that wasn’t quite honest of me: I DID read it.
      But really, is this considered a ‘theology’?

      “we don’t know for certain..”
      “plausible answers have been suggested”
      “this passage is often seen as”
      “one plausible answer is ..”
      “another plausible explanation [] is ..” (So, which of all these different ‘plausible’ answers/explanations IS it?)

      Not exactly Ph.D. material.

        1. I am creeped out by how much they are borrowing from the writing style common in modern journal articles, with such heavily disclaimer-ed language. Maybe to a fence sitter, such language can come across as honest reflection on the topic. I am not lauding them (most certainly not)- I am infuriated by it. It helps they have Francis Collins to set the editorial style on these articles. Their goal is to blur the lines between science and religion – and it sure is coming through in their writing.

        2. It is the result of mistaking possible for probable. Sure its possible. Lots of things are possible. But based on what we currently know, is it probable?

          Nah.

        3. Well, they have to appeal to as many different sects of Christians as possible to pass off the “science is compatible with Christianity” meme.

          They are in a funny position of having to tell others how they could interpret their religions so that it fits with science and sounds more rational.

        1. Yes, I have.
          And every now and then, I re-read it!
          When I need a good laugh.

          “Hi! My name is Ken Hovind”

          I think that sentence alone deserves a Nobel Prize.

      1. The correct plausible answer is whichever one makes the reader feel best. Seriously, this seems to be a standard approach in apologetics: for any theological problem, just provide a bunch of potentially mutually-exclusive alternatives, realizing that most folks will find at least one of them emotionally acceptable.

        These efforts are not attempts to provide rigorous solutions that will convince non-believers, they are merely attempts to soothe the faithful when they bump up against some intellectual conundrum. All that is needed in such cases is something that sounds plausible.

        1. Yes– nebulous “feel good” fuzz that allows the reader to hear what they want to hear and confirm their biases.

          It comes very easy to someone whose learned to see a barbaric old book as the best book ever written.

          1. “who has” not “whose” (grrr– now I’m feeling even more self-conscious of all my typos after the post on grammar.)

  4. The other is that God guides the unfolding of creation by steering the operation of non-deterministic processes toward outcomes of God’s choosing. Both are plausible; in fact both may be true. But at this time neither scientific nor theological knowledge is adequate to say more.

    How is this not playing an ID card? I thought this goes against the BioLogos guiding principles. Karl?

    1. Good point.

      But isn’t that where evolutionary creationism (aka “theistic evolution) overlaps design? Miller equivocates on deist creativity (“unfolding”) vs theist creativity (quantum woo) as well – all in the guise of having evolutionary creationist belief.

      But as it is an ID card in disguise, perhaps we should call them out as we see them.

  5. I just love when apologists take practices that make good sense, given the limited and finite resources of human beings, and then apply them to the omnipotent.

    This also reminds me of the reverse ontological argument, the one where God’s greatness is maximized if he managed to create everything without actually existing.

    1. I’m not sure how they define “greatness”, but that works for omnipotence. Omnipotence of gods is maximized if they manage to create everything without actually existing.

      Analogously, omniscience of gods is maximized if they manage to know everything without actually existing.

      Finally, omnipresence of gods is maximized if they manage to be everywhere without actually existing.

      … oh, well then.

  6. I don’t get it. Surely either this god thing pushes around the atoms or it doesn’t? Is it omniscient & omnipotent or not? Secondly, how can a modern person possibly attribute to a Bronze/Iron Age person (who composed the text) such a high degree of sophisticated theological nuances? That means this modern person can ‘interpret’ the text until, well, kingdom come, but all it is – is interpretation of a Bronze Age text!

    1. God the good manager – he doesn’t micro-manage – but to whom then does he delegate moving around non-conscious atoms? Djinns? Angels? Do they have hydrogen atom angels & helium atom angels perhaps? Does one angel have responsibility for a certain number of atoms, & what happens when they get spread out? Sorry – it seems to me that this guy is just talking out of his fundament

      1. Instead of layoffs (staff reductions), He uses plagues, comet/asteroid impacts, massive volcanic eruptions, angels of death, pestilence, etc. to maximise the efficient use of suffering.

        1. Yes, especially since gods create the biosphere first, and the problems later. They could easily do the reverse, and no one could complain. But noo…

  7. “….. god has made a stable, understandable world that humans are able to steward.”

    First of all, understandable by who exactly, and stable by what measure? Last time I checked, millions of rational skeptics are still pondering over things in nature that they are trying to ‘understand’. And any fool with any knowledge of the planetary, environmental, geological, demographic, political history of earth wouldn’t dare call this place stable.

    Humans today are neither able nor willing to steward the world into any sort of stability. Either god failed catastrophically in his ‘creation’, or this whole concept (and the article) is a load of baloney.

    1. I would think that “stable” and “non-determinant” are pretty much antonyms — it is amazing how the article uses the one as the basis for the other.

      1. Yeah – basically they are making excuses on behalf (of for?) god.

        Stable is when god said – “let there be light”.

        Non-determinant is when he says, ‘I don’t know that the hell to do, this place is effin’ out of control. I think I am going to ignore, and let BioLogos come with an explanation’.

    2. The Earth is totally not understandable by humans. Maybe if we lived for two or three hundred (or thousand!) years, but right now it takes a lifetime to fully understand one teeny tiny little aspect of our universe (like, say, the Earth’s climate), and most people don’t even bother because they’re too busy trying to understand how human constructs like finance or law or government work.

  8. Good managers are also good communicators. They solicit and give feedback.

    The christian god not so much. 6,000 years into the project and we still don’t have a universally agreed mission statement.

  9. “some plausible answers have been suggested”

    Read: Some ad-hoc theories have been thrown against the wall to see if anything sticks, and we should be given partial credit for the effort.

  10. Is this what passes for “sophisticated” theology these days?

    Just how do these smart folks “know” what they’re saying is true?

    Let’s ask the source–

    God, do you really run the cosmos like Ken Lay of Enron?

    (waiting for an answer. . . . . )

  11. God has made a stable, understandable world that humans are able to steward.

    Are these humans the same ones as the significant portion of the American population that believe the jebus will come real soon now to judge the living and dead and then trash the place ?

  12. Um, doesn’t this speculation addressing the question of *WHY* God works this way skip over the more fundamental question of *WHETHER* God works this way?

    I mean, that is really the more interesting one anyway, and kind of a prerequisite to elevate the “why” question above the “angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin” level.

    1. Well, they have made their intentions quite clear in the first paragraph – “but some plausible answers have been suggested”.

      Given that the definition of “plausible” gives – “describe that which has the appearance of truth but might be deceptive”.

    2. No! You may not discuss whether or not the Emperor has clothes! You must acomodate our discussion and begin talking about whether or not his silks are simply amazingly fine, or if they are in fact the finest possible silks. We all have to start from a common ground here.

  13. So, is Biologos where one submits one’s obviously apologetic article for cash and Big Questions Online where one submits one’s less apologetic article for even bigger cash – or have I mixed it up?

    Or does one simply send one’s accommodationist article directly to the Templeton Foundation, and let God them sort it out?

  14. Silly.

    For the first “answer”, it’s nice of God to use natural processes so that the world is understandable to us, but he seems to have messed up. First, those processes aren’t all that easily understandable (leading to all those women burned as witches because people couldn’t understand the cause of bad weather or disease). Second, God seems to have forgotten to make the most important thing understandable to us from nature: evidence of his own existence!

    For the second “answer”, managers avoid micromanagement because they can’t do it effective, due to limits of time and knowledge. God doesn’t have those limits, so it seems silly to suggest the parallel with human managers.

    C’mon, does this fool anybody?

    1. Apologetics nearly always looks stupid to outsiders. It’s meant to comfort the distressed believers who have learned a bit too much to really hold to the group’s beliefs, although it usually claims to “build bridges”, “reach out”, etc.

  15. Good managers don’t micromanage; rather they focus on the big picture and leave the details to subordinates.

    First, good managers hire good and competent subordinates. Meanwhile, Yahweh has frequently charged his subordinates with tasks and respnsibilities which they could not handle, and which He, being omniscient, knew they could not handle, and then punished them harshly for their failure.

    Ergo, God is not a good manager.

  16. Why waste a thousand words on this when a picture tells it all? Just look

    http://longstreet.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83542d51e69e20120a60bb632970b-pi

    The Macromanager is in the upper part of this cosmographic chart while the micromanagers, making efficient use of distributed interactions, are somewhat lower.

    Except…erm…that we are not sure whether they were more or less efficient before than nasty business with the snake and that tree…Fortunately plausible ideas have been put forth to cast light on this murky episode. Was that a discontinuity-cum-singularity in the system, indeterminacy of some importance? Maybe, perhaps!

      1. Well, we do not know for certain whether we should talk about “Fall” or “Trip”, but there are many plausible accounts according to which eating forbidden things can indeed lead to all sorts of falls and trips.
        Serpent or no serpent, it seems.
        Unfortunately we do not know what Luther and his associates had been been eating before they published the picture in 1534, but there are plausible accounts according to which they must have been inspired by the inerrant Word of God.

  17. The obvious problem with theology, sophisticated or unsophisticated, is that it has nothing to go on. Consider this quote (from the above):

    Second, let’s look at why such processes include non-determinacy. One plausible answer is that it is simply good management practice.

    What makes this answer plausible? Because we can think it? Or because it makes sense in relation to questions of human management? Even the analogy doesn’t work, because we don’t know that there is a manager. In fact, the only reason for thinking in terms of management is because it is implausible to suggest that there is a god who manages things directly. If there is, then the god is pretty bad at it. So, it must do it indirectly. But we have no evidence for that, so what makes it plausible, after all? Because that’s the best we can do? Well, we could suggest that there is no such thing as a god. Well, couldn’t we? Based on the Biologos article, isn’t this just as plausible?

  18. Then why posit a God at all? It only complicates things and is, ultimately, unnecessary for the explantion…

  19. Ergo, god is not omnipotent.

    Ergo, god is not omniscient.

    Ergo, god is not omnibenevolent.

    Ergo, god is not god.

    Ergo, god is not.

  20. Good managers don’t micromanage; rather they focus on the big picture and leave the details to subordinates.
    Tell that to the falling sparrows.

  21. “Why does God use processes many of which involve non-determinacy rather than direct action?”

    OK, the premise is already a load of shit; no need to look at the conclusions. Those fools need to answer the questions “where is your evidence for a god” and “why do you claim that god is involved at all”.

  22. Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Gnu Accommodationist sophisticates theology:

    – Gnu Accommodationism, undeniably, don’t know “why”, “for certain”.
    – Gnu Accommodationism, unfalsifiably, don’t know what, at all.

    Gnu Atheist sophisticates empiricism:

    – Falsifiability, it tastes good!”

  23. It sure does take a lot of effort to make faith and facts “compatible”. It’s a pity that this mental effort can’t be put to better use… oh wait, it can.

  24. That nondeterminacy is teleonomy,which as the atelic or teleonomic argument eviscerates. The poor person has matters backwards , and indeed is relying on backward causation, the effect before the cause and the future before the past as Weisz in ‘ The Since of Biology,” notes.
    The argument notes that the weight of evidence evinces teleonomy – chance- nondeterminacy- which contradicts divine input, and thus from the side of science, incompatibility exists!
    Faith doth that to people!
    Theologians are comedians!

  25. Or in the words of Chris Smithers:

    “I’ll just lay back here in the shade
    And watch everyone get laid
    That’s what I call Intelligent Design”

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