Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

God “Tinkers,” He “Interferes.” But Why?

Red Sea Crossing.png
Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed asks, “Why would God design a world where he needed to tinker constantly to make things work?” OK, JC, I’ll take you up on that. The same blog post suggests that the idea of intelligent design hasn’t stood up “well to the test” of science. 
In my line of work, we get JC’s question about “tinkering” or “interfering” all the time. Doesn’t it blow a huge hole in the idea of a Designer at work shaping nature if this Designer feels the need to interfere so frequently with the products of his creativity — whether to perform a miracle like splitting the Red Sea, or to shape, somehow, a species?
In his book Finding Darwin’s God, Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller asks sarcastically,

Is the designer being deceptive? Is there a reason why he can’t get it right the first time? Is the designer, despite all his powers, a slow learner? He must be clever enough to design an African elephant, but apparently not so clever that he can do it the first time.


It’s like a car that needs to go into the shop all the time. We assume it was poorly designed.
The question asked by Jesus Creed and Kenneth Miller is fair. I posed it myself in an earlier entry about miracles. What positive good is served by God’s having set nature up this way? The ancient tradition that explains the Hebrew Bible has an answer.
In a nutshell, God is exemplifying his own freedom as a moral example to us. The idea is wrapped up with the Hebrew word “kodesh” or holy.


This peculiarity of nature was not discovered recently. Almost a thousand years ago, in the classic work of moral reflection Duties of the Heart, the Spanish sage Rabbi Bachya ibn Paquda explained the verse in Psalms (135:6): “Whatever God willed, He did — in heaven and on earth.”
Rabbeinu Bachya, as he’s called, emphasized the importance of reflecting on the signs of God’s wisdom in nature. 
Creation, he writes, was not all through one law. If it had been, that would have left a deceptive impression: “When a thing always acts in a certain way, this indicates that its actions are not the expression of its own will but only of the nature imposed upon it; that there is some force that compels it to act in this fashion….One who acts out of free will, however, acts in various ways at various times.”
God wished to “indicate His oneness and free will in all His actions.” So he “created diverse things, according to the dictates and timing of his wisdom” (Gate of Reflection, Chapter 2). A creation that was entirely ruled by law, smoothly and gradually building up complexity, would have precluded this. It would have seemed that this natural law was the source of “creativity,” rather than God’s being so.
Instead, the Designer’s work went forward in fits and starts, with relatively sudden bursts and radiations of creativity — “tinkering.” Paleontology shows exactly this pattern in the fossil record.
God sought to model freedom of will for us. So Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, writing at the same time Darwin’s Descent of Man was published, explains a verse in the song the Jews sang at the splitting of the Red Sea on their way out of Egypt — the very event that got us onto the discussion of miracles in the first place.
“Who is like unto Thee, O God, amongst the gods! Who like Thee is uniquely powerful in holiness! Feared in psalms, accomplishing miracles!” (Exodus 15:11).
To be holy doesn’t mean to be pious. In a human, holiness “is the highest possible degree of moral freedom, in which the will to morality has no longer any resistance to overcome, but is absolutely ready to carry out the will of God.”
As the verse from Exodus says, God in his own supreme freedom and independence is differentiated from false “gods” — “all other powers and forces that are deified by men,” forces, as those in nature, to which men ascribe supreme power. God alone performs “miracles” or “wonders” (in Hebrew, feleh), actions that occur “purely and absolutely by the free and untrammeled will of the doer, independent of, and mostly in contrast to, the existing laws of Nature.”
God’s first “wonder” was the creation of those laws themselves. His “further interference” with them “remains a feleh, a wonder,” even if we don’t recognize it as such.
In an etymological note that confirms this, Hirsch points out that feleh is also the Hebrew word for a vow (Numbers 6:2), an act in which a person takes on himself an obligation independently of moral law.
Why does God act this way, causing confusion among the Kenneth Millers of this world? The purpose is all for us, that we should be “holy,” recognizing our moral freedom from nature: “Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:1).
The lesson couldn’t be more relevant today when a staple of secular culture is the dogma that we’re all in the grip of our nature. As we are told about homosexuality, for example, gays can’t help but act on their particular sexual impulse. It’s their nature and acting on it is irresistible to them. Therefore government needs to create new legal institutions to validate their lifestyle. Hence, same-sex marriage.
This is not me trying to “read into” ancient texts to suit my views on political issues of the moment. It’s right in the classical sources themselves.
But the importance here goes far beyond politics. We all are tempted by the excuse of “nature” — “I can’t do it.” “It’s not in my power.” “It’s my nature!” Holiness — of which I would hardly claim to be an exemplar, but the points still stands — means saying no to nature and yes to God.
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Glen Davidson

posted April 22, 2009 at 5:29 pm

So it’s just the happy-go-lucky nature of god that so many organisms have lived, died, and have gone extinct. Never mind that only evolution is predictive in these matters (that most species would go extinct, especially), the same death toll, heredity-constrained “designs,” and kill or be killed mores, afflict nature, thanks to god, as we’d expect from evolution.
Seriously, when did religion become a way of piling excuse upon excuse for god being no better than we’d expect from chance?
I can see that Klinghoffer understands himself to be holy, since he says “no” to the workings of nature which are predictable from physics, and yes to a god who apparently can’t or won’t rise above the cruelties of nature.
If that makes David holy, though, what does it make god?
Glen D

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Your Name

posted April 22, 2009 at 6:54 pm

So, “God sought to model freedom of will for us”? Maybe that “explains” (sort of) why he keeps tinkering with nature but it doesn’t explain why he didn’t do a better job with his model. Why is it so hard to distinguish between his actions and the results of natural law and chance? Surely he could have made his tinkering more obvious and, therefore, more instructive. It can’t be because he is trying to be subtle — that would conflict with his motive to be a teacher. All you’ve done is turn God from a bad creator into a bad teacher.
As usual with such ad hoc explanations, you’ve created as big or bigger a problem with your “solution” as you set out to solve.

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Jeff Jenkins

posted April 22, 2009 at 8:47 pm

God is a God of relationships. He doesn’t just sit back and ignore His creation. He takes an active part, and enjoys inter-relating with His creation. Of course, sin separates man from God, but God (the Son) interfered and came down as a human being to perform the greatest heroic act in history, and died on the cross, so that those who put their trust in Him will be His children and will live with Him forever in Paradise. Those who reject Christ Jesus are His enemies (they are not His children; in fact, the Bible says that, on Judgment Day, God will tell them, “I never knew you”) and are under His wrath, and they will be eternally punished for their mutinous rebellion against their holy and righteous Creator (‘eternally’ because a sinner can never pay for his sin himself, just as a poor person in jail can never pay for his fine himself).
God is also a God of variation. Hence micro-evolution, different traits, etc. Any good artist utilizes their creativity and does not make everything exactly the same. God has set up boundaries (i.e., you can’t cross a dog with a cow), but has still set it up so there is diversity. Some creatures fly, some creatures breathe under water, some creatures live most of their life underground, etc.
As far as gays, what if the same ACLU, lobbyist groups, etc. that have been fighting for their special rights (as well as for those of NAMBLA) were to begin saying the same thing about pedophiles? Namely, that they “can’t help but act on their particular sexual impulse” and “It’s their nature and acting on it is irresistible to them. Therefore government needs to create new legal institutions to validate their lifestyle.” In fact, I have heard ex-gays say online that nobody is born as a homosexual, but that a choice is made somewhere along the line. I also believe that, just as some Native American tribes have a weakness for alcohol, everyone has a weakness for different sins and temptations. We accept that alcoholics and drug addicts have addictions that need treatments, but, because of lobbyist groups, etc., we refuse to see that the various sexual perversions, including homosexuality, are also addictions.

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posted April 22, 2009 at 9:16 pm

“As we are told about homosexuality, for example, gays can’t help but act on their particular sexual impulse. It’s their nature and acting on it is irresistible to them.”
Okay, that’s a harsh way of interpreting it, don’t you think? Yes, it’s their nature to be attracted to the same sex, like it’s presumably your nature to be attracted to the opposite sex. They can “resist” this attraction just as much as any other human being can. Most of them just don’t see a reason why they should have to or be expected to, anymore than a heterosexual person would be expected to. So this notion of yours that gay or bisexual people see themselves as instinct-driven animals is ridiculous and not just a little offensive.
“Therefore government needs to create new legal institutions to validate their lifestyle.” More like the government ought to stop passing laws that treat non-heterosexuals as second class citizens just because the “gay lifestyle” makes certain people uncomfortable. (What does that term even mean? What does this “lifestyle” encompass? Is it the parades? The clothes? Talking with a lisp? I need a concrete example that I can visualize.)

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posted April 30, 2009 at 11:45 am

“As we are told about homosexuality, for example, gays can’t help but act on their particular sexual impulse. It’s their nature and acting on it is irresistible to them. Therefore government needs to create new legal institutions to validate their lifestyle. Hence, same-sex marriage.”
So many lies, so little time…
You are NOT “told” that at all. I am gay whether or not I “act” on the attraction. And that is all homosexuality is – an innate attraction to one’s own sex. Acting on one’s attraction is neither “irresistible” nor undesirable. You betterosexuals “act” on your own innate attraction to the oppoite sex all the time. Or do you find it equally “irresistible”? And if so, why shold acting on one’s sexual orientation only be the privilege of the str8?
Your “Therefore” and your “Hence” are non-sequiturs, not to mention falsehoods (aka big fat LIES, aka aSIN). The government does not “need to create new legal institutions”. The institution of marriage will do just fine, thanks anway. (Clue: I am legally married, whether you like it or not. And the government didn’t need to do a thing, except register my marriage and confer upon it the exact same benefits, privileges and obligations that you got when you married.)
What the government DOES need to do is make sure all marriages are recognized (does the government “validate” your/B> “marriage”? My marriage was validated in my Church) equally, and thus ensure ALL citizens are treated equally before the law. Please look up the Equal Protections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. And, while you’re at it, you could then look up the Full Faith & Credit Clause. You might also want to refreh your memory about the inalienable rights to both LIBERTY and the pursuit of happpiness. Oh, and this “promise” of “liberty and justice for ALL”.
The government needs to ensure ALL citizns are allowed to fully participate in all of society’s institutions.
P.S. What is this “lifestyle” of which you speak? Mine consists of doing laundry, dishes, dusting, vaccuuming, cleaning bathtubs and toilets, reading the newspaper, watching TV, having friends over for dinner, going to Church, taking vacations, walking the dog, earning a LIVING (as opposed to a “lifestyle”). IOW, it’s sorta (if not exactly) like YOUR “lifestyle”.
Clueless and hateful is a wicked combination. Stop bearing false witness about God’s gay and lesbian children.

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Your Name

posted April 30, 2009 at 11:48 am

I fail to see any “wisdom” being “recovered” in this vile, false and hollow pernicious post.
Do better.

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Your Name

posted May 1, 2009 at 3:16 pm

That was a pretty nasty, racist swipe against native Americans too. Gives credence to the old “scratch a homophobe, find a racist” dictum.
Why do religionistas find it so easy to be pernicious? They seem to wallow in perpetuating false, derogatory stereotypes, and then have the nerve to tell us we should live according to their worldview.

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