American Majority accepts God-Guided Evolution - - Is this true for BioLogos as well?

Agreed, George, if the person who says “evolution is God’s way of creating” goes on to say something like what you said, then it would constitute an answer to the question. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on BioLogos, and you certainly wouldn’t find any of the life scientists who have ever posted there (Venema, Applegate, Falk, Ussery, etc.), saying “God chooses the mutations” or “God chooses the path of common descent.” For years I tried to find statements that came within a country mile of those, and was never able to find one.

My objection, as always, is not that the BioLogos people don’t believe God guided anything – they can believe whatever they want. My objection is that they avoid clarity on the question. And I think the motivation for avoiding clarity is plain. Direct affirmation of guidance could sound like “God of the gaps” or “miracles”, and BioLogos has always been at pains to convince the world that it (unlike those dastardly ID and creationist folks) does not believe that non-natural interventions were needed to produce life, species, or man, and therefore BioLogos is fully “scientific.” On the other hand, saying that God had nothing to do with the outcomes of evolution would plainly be against Biblical and evangelical Christian faith, and BioLogos sees itself as within that faith. So a murky, “God had something to do with evolution, somehow, sometime, but don’t ask me how,” is the safest answer, avoiding reproach from both evangelicals and mainstream biologists at once. One’s thesis can never be attacked if one doesn’t offer a thesis in the first place.

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@Eddie, I get that this might be your experience with BioLogos but I just want to maybe also throw out there that with a lot of people these may also legitimately be honest answers to the question and not a purposeful avoiding.

My experience with most TE/EC folks (not the ones that run organizations) is that they honestly don’t know how God used evolution and don’t know if “guide” is the right word to explain it or not. They believe God is real and has interacted with the world and that evolutionary science is an accurate understanding of how nature works. Beyond that though, it’s maybe not clear to these people, either from Scripture or from science, how God’s interaction with natural history really works. Is it all just providential and “hidden” from us? Is it an initial start to life, now to far in the past to know for sure? Does he guide all mutations, or some mutations, or no mutations?

If science is blind to God, who is going to put the pieces together to help people understand what “God-guided evolution” means? It won’t be science. This is the direction ID could have gone, but instead it seems like an almost entirely deconstructive project (finding holes in evolutionary explanations, attacking methodological naturalism, pushing “what about …”isms). I don’t think BioLogos has adequately answered the question “what does God-guided evolution mean?” but maybe that’s not something that’s easy to answer for anyone. Maybe we need a new generation of philosophers, theologians, and scientists who are of the CASE (Christians who Affirm the Science of Evolution) variety to dig into this question in an interdisciplinary and exploratory way instead of siloed and entrenched “camps”.

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If you say something that has the syntactic form of a question, but isn’t really a question, then it should not be a surprise if the response has the syntactic form of an answer but is not really an answer.

“Does God guide evolution?” is a properly formed question. It is intelligible, and in principle answerable. Among possible properly formed answers are: “Yes”; “No”; “Maybe”; “Yes with qualifications”; “No with qualifications”; “I don’t know”.

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Well, that would not be my question. My question – and it would not be to “BioLogos” as such but to Haarsma, Applegate, Stump, etc. speaking as individuals – “Do you think that God guided evolution?”

If any of them responded by “What do you mean by God guiding evolution?” then I would clarify what I meant. But I find it interesting that most people on the planet, who think about the subject of evolution and God, have a rough notion of what is meant by God guiding evolution, and that it is only the TE/EC leaders who make a big fuss about it, as if it is some kind of trick question, and start splitting hairs about what the words mean.

If I said, “Is the casino dealer guiding the outcomes of the poker games?” no one would have any trouble telling that I was asking whether the dealer was manipulating the deck so as to produce certain outcomes. And if anyone did have any trouble with my meaning, I would say, “I mean cheating – giving himself winning cards, and others losing cards, so that the house will win more often than it would in non-rigged circumstances.” After that clarification, anyone who claimed that he did not know what I meant would simply be evading the question.

It is not intelligible to people who are not sure what is being asked. There natural response would be to ask for a definition of “guided” but you seem to object to that response.

If I got an answer of “yes” or something similar, that’s when I would ask what “god-guided” meant. Surely the proper question isn’t to ask what the questioner means by it but to ask what the answerer means by it.

Most TEs/ECs are well-read in the science but don’t have a clearly articulated metaphysical view of God and also tend to assume a Cartesian discontinuity between the natural and supernatural. Thus to “guide” something is to periodically introduce a discontinuity in nature like a Paleyan watchmaker.

My own answer, as a classical theist, CASE, and Calvinist: yes, God “guides” evolution, in the sense that he ordains it exactly to his divinely chosen purpose, but he also “guides” gravity, electromagnetism, chemical reactions, and all other natural processes in the universe. There’s nothing particularly special about evolution. There is no part of the natural or supernatural realms which escapes God’s sovereign will. There are no accidents or true randomness in the system.

That being said, I don’t affirm occasionalism, where God is the direct cause of every natural phenomenon that we observe. Instead, I affirm the traditional view that God works through secondary causes by imbuing genuine causal power to various entities in nature, but he is still the primary cause of the being of everything. How exactly God ordains everything to accord with his will is not something that anyone can know for sure. It is partially a mystery. But I don’t think it matters much to know the details, since even natural laws are ordained towards God’s sovereign will.

Is this a form of avoiding the question? I don’t think so. There are many parts of the Christian faith where we affirm certain beliefs (e.g. that God is a Trinity) but we cannot fully explain how that “works”.

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Agreed, on all points. But note that if a TE/EC thinker has that understanding of “guide” then the TE/EC will answer “No” to the question “Did God guide evolution?” Yet when Dennis Venema was asked by “Crude” on the BioLogos Forum whether he thought God guided evolution, he did not answer “No”; he instead stretched out the discussion over several days by asking Crude what he meant by “guide.” And though each of Crude’s reformulations made it crystal-clear what he meant by “guide”, still Dennis kept answering obliquely. The question was never answered. This was gamesmanship, not sincere dialogue. We know this for certain, because in many other places on BioLogos, Dennis had made clear his view that, while God could have tinkered with evolution to bring about certain results, Dennis saw no need for God to do so, natural causes of evolution being (in Dennis’s view) sufficient to account for all the results without need of additional tinkering, adjustments, guidance, manipulations, etc. from God. So in other words, Dennis did not believe that God “guided” evolution in the sense you are talking about (introducing a discontinuity), but in his conversation with Crude wouldn’t say so straight out. And if would have been easy; all he had to say was: “If by “guided” you mean, intervened supernaturally, broke the continuity of nature to cause evolution to arrive at a point it would not have arrived at by the usual natural mechanism, then no, I don’t think God guided evolution.” He could have said that at the very start, and saved much time and verbal wrangling. That’s what he would have done, had he been interested in communication, rather than verbal hairsplitting.

Anyhow, I’m not blaming you for an old conversation you weren’t party to, but merely indicating that sometimes claims that one doesn’t understand what the other person means are not credible. And this sort of gamesmanship was a routine feature of responses in the BioLogos Forum all through the Falk/Giberson years, and continued to some extent under Haarsma’s regime. The culture of the place was very defensive, especially whenever a questioner was perceived as representing either ID or creationism.

As for the rest of your answer, it is more philosophically able than anything I ever saw on BioLogos. None of the BioLogos leaders, many of whom had published celebrated books on faith and science, ever rose to the level of articulateness that you have demonstrated in this post, and in many of your other posts. This is all the more striking, as you are much younger than any of them, and they have had in some cases three or four decades of “lead time” on you to read up on theology, philosophy, etc. I would like to see a little more energy and intellectual dedication from people claiming to be able to show that faith and science are not in conflict. A little more reading of Aquinas, Augustine, Luther, Wesley, etc. After all, you are not a philosopher or theologian, but a physicist, but you have been making time to read difficult Thomistic philosophy and theology, and your level of understanding shows this. The BioLogos folks could have done the same. But they never did. (With the usual exception of Ted Davis, and later, Jim Stump.) They seemed to believe in preparing their arguments on the science side, but “winging it” in their arguments on the theology side. It was most frustrating for those who wanted to see high-level conceptual interaction between the fields.

No, your answer does not avoid the question. I wish you were in charge of BioLogos. :slight_smile:

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@Eddie

Do you agree with me that the answer is YES ?

Well, I’m sure that if Crude had ever received an actual answer from Venema, after a few days of trying to get one, and if Venema’s answer was not sufficiently detailed for Crude to be sure how Venema meant “god-guided,” Crude would have asked for more clarification. But since Venema never answered the question, but danced all around it, the discussion never got to that point of potential clarification. It just petered out in frustration, as Crude, seeing that Dennis had no intention of answering the question, no matter how often it was clarified, gave up.

No, I don’t. Keep in mind that I was referring to a specific case where, even after the definition of “guide” was provided, the answerer kept dodging the question. Take a look at what I wrote to Jordan above about the casino dealer. How much clarification does one need, before one should be able to understand a question like that, and answer it? At what point is it legitimate to suspect that further demands for clarification are just stonewalling?

And as I said to Daniel already, a very clear one-sentence answer was available to express the view of the answerer in that particular case.

However, let’s come back to the main point I was making to George. The main point is that BioLogos leaders have never defended a position called “God-guided evolution.” Indeed, the term is almost never even mentioned there, except when George has brought it up for consideration. Whatever might be meant by “God-guided”, the BioLogos leaders have shown no interest in the phrase, nor in the ideas George attaches to it, e.g., the idea that God might have tinkered with mutations. I say this not to say anything against George, but merely to answer his question in his title. The answer is: “No, it’s not true for BioLogos.”

As for what Americans who answer surveys understand by “God-guided evolution,” that’s hard to say, since the surveyors are looking for simplistic answers and the people polled aren’t given the opportunity to offer refined answers. But if most Americans who signed up for “God-guided” on the survey understand “guided” in the way that Daniel suggests the term is normally taken, then they mean that God tinkered with natural causes to get certain results that he wanted. And that position seems to be held by hardly anyone affiliated with BioLogos.

The answer to which question?

  1. The answer to the question, “Did God guide evolution?” may well be YES.

  2. The answer to the question, “Has BioLogos as an organization ever endorsed God-guided evolution?”, is clearly NO.

  3. And the answer to the question, “Have ANY BioLogos leaders ever publicly endorsed God-guided evolution?”, is “Virtually none.”

(Ted Davis’s comments a year or two ago are the only clear example. And a definite distaste for the idea has been expressed at various times by Kramer, Stump, Venema, and Falk. Applegate and Haarsma have always stayed safely and diplomatically vague, so it’s hard to say what either of them believes, but the preponderant attitude has been that evolution could have achieved all that it achieved without any “assist” or “guidance” from God.)

Historically, however, the notion of God guiding evolution at certain points goes way back. We see it in Asa Gray, and in Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, at least regarding the case of man. And in a modern “quantum” version by Robert Russell. (For Russell, the guidance is scientifically non-detectable, but real, and makes a difference to evolutionary outcomes.) Its recent unpopularity among American evangelical TE/ECs appears to be connected with the culture-war atmosphere in the USA; “guided” evolution sounds dangerously close to intelligent design, and for many, intelligent design sounds dangerously close to creationism. So the preference among modern TE/ECs seems to be to concede the God has in some vague way something to do with evolution, but is “hands off” as far as any detailed transformation is concerned, does not “guide” in the normal English sense of the word, even if he might be said to “guide” in some much more tenuous sense of the word.

@Eddie,

I’ve been arguing these points for many months … good to have someone else who can discuss these points without a mental breakdown.

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I would agree with you that the casino dealer question is pretty straight forward. But the question of how precisely God interacts in the universe is very very different, especially when it comes to evolution. You are mixing scientific knowledge, philosophy, and theological tradition/doctrine. I think the question of “God-guided evolution” is a “perfect-storm” question and so it seems likely to make people who care about these things hesitate, want to split hairs, and be very careful about word-choice and definitions. It can also get people fired if they somehow choose “wrongly”.

@dga471 did a very good job of articulating his view, but he also stands on a long philosophical tradition there.

I think that’s right. I think for many non-Calvinists/Thomists (Arminians, open theists, etc.) the theological and philosophical ground may not as well established, or at least there might be more mystery involved for them and so they may simply not be able to answer the question with that level of specificity. Arminian Baptist theologian Roger Olson describes his view of providence as "God is in charge but not in control.” I think that could well represent many of the EC/TE folks I know. I don’t know that it is very different from @dga471’s view at a superficial level, but if you start going into the metaphysics of causes, randomness etc. there will be disagreement and uncertainty and people may really just not know how to go and further than “God is involved, but we don’t see any scientific evidence of it”. This is the positional difference between BioLogos and ID, as far as I can tell. EC/TE do not see any scientific evidence of God’s supernatural action in the development of the natural world, whereas ID does. It seems to me that many EC folks just say that if God intervenes in natural history, it is at a level (apparently) imperceptible to science … you know, like GAE. I don’t think they necessarily have a philosophical or theological reason, but it’s more of an observation.

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Your thoughts are well stated, Jordan. A few notes:

  1. Olson’s statement is found in an article on free will; he is there talking about God’s relationship to the outcomes of human choices. It’s not clear to me that, even if the distinction he is making works regarding human free will, it works regarding entities which do not (in the traditional Christian understanding, anyway) have free will, such as atoms, proteins, cells, sub-human organisms… My line of investigation has never been an attempt to win a victory for “Calvinists” over “Arminians” regarding the free-will question; I’ve been concerned only with what God does or does not “control” at the sub-human levels of being. So whatever Olson’s distinction between “being in control” and “being in charge” may mean, and whether or not it is defensible on the subject of free will, it doesn’t really help me to deal with my question.

  2. I’m less concerned with whether there is any “scientific” evidence for direct divine control of events, than in whether someone believes that God does exert such control. So, for example, Robert Russell says that God’s quantum-level divine action cannot be detected by science (looks just like chance as far as we can see), but Russell still believes that God is acting, and acting in a way that actually changes outcomes; God is determining the outcomes of evolution by special divine action, whether that can be proved by science or not. That is what Russell appears to think. As far as I can tell, Ted Davis believes something similar. But as far as I can tell, Darrel Falk, Dennis Venema, Kathryn Applegate, Deb Haarsma, Jim Stump, Brad Kramer, and many others do not think that; they think that God doesn’t give instructions to nature regarding results. Stump and Kramer, in particular, expressed a degree of dismay when Ted Davis stated a Russell-like position. They don’t seem to like the idea that God is guiding or directing outcomes, even when that is done in such a way that science cannot detect it. This tells me that more is going on than merely a disagreement with ID over the detectability of God’s action. There is actually a kind of distaste for a God who acts directly, rather than leaving everything to natural causes. This goes beyond a reaction against ID; it indicates a certain theological preference. What I’ve been trying to do is get more TEs to be more forthcoming about their theological preferences.

  3. I’m sympathetic with the problem of getting fired. ID people know that problem well! Let me say that I’m not one of those who think that TEs should be fired for “believing in evolution.” I do think it’s appropriate, however, to raise some questions when TEs teaching in Christian institutions seem to be almost embarrassed by the suggestion that God might act on the world of nature to produce outcomes that he desires. When that “vibe” comes across, one feels that the TE may well be more sympathetic with the remote God of the Enlightenment than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I can understand officials at seminaries being worried, not that the TE accepts evolution, but that the TE isn’t sure that God is in control of evolution’s outcomes. (And of course, some TEs openly deny that God controls the outcomes, such as Oord, and Van Till (well, before his apostasy!), and, in a more nuanced way, Polkinghorne.)

Yes, but I certainly know Christian scientists who are thinking through that lens – what would the world look like if God allowed the natural world to develop “freely” instead of many individual “interventions”. I see the Calvinism/Arminianism debate to be very analogous to the ID/EC debate.

But won’t a person’s belief God exerts such control depend (at least significantly) on scientific evidence one way or another? I take science as a significant data point in figuring out what is real about the world. If I want to know how God interacts with the physical world, it seems to make sense that I would actually look at how the world works.

[General statement, not specifically addressed to @Eddie]

This where I get a little confused about these conversations about BioLogos. I mean, maybe Deb, Jim, Dennis, etc. are fine with a Russell-like position regarding God’s action in evolutionary history, maybe they aren’t. I haven’t seen anything either way from them. But why should we care? Do you think BioLogos is pulling the wool over people’s eyes claiming to be Christian when they are not? Do you think they reject their own belief statement? Yes, from what little I’ve seen, they have a hard time articulating what “God-guided evolution” would mean. Yes, they seem much more sure that ID isn’t the answer. Do they have theological reasons for that, I’m guess that’s part of it. So what? What is the threat there? They may just be wrong, but that doesn’t have much to do with EC/TE as an origins model that I can tell.

I always feel like I’m walking into the middle of an extended fight between two of my friends when we talk about BioLogos here. I’ve seen a lot of positive things coming from them over the years and have only had good (thought limited) interactions with the people there. I have spent almost 0 time on their forum. Of course I think Josh has done an excellent job here at PS, with GAE, and especially with the forum.

I actually came to PS to figure how we might go about the quest to see what “God-guided evolution” might mean and how strong of a possibility it might be. Instead so much of the time we get wrapped up in personality conflicts and squabbles about this or that organization. It’s frustrating to say the least.

But analogies can be misleading. Why are Arminians upset at the thought that God would control free will? Because, in their view, it would take away the centrality of choice, of voluntary assent to God; it would for them remove authenticity from religious faith. I can see the concern; I can understand the sentiment. I can even sympathize with it. But I feel zero such sentiment about God “forcing” slime molds to become vertebrates, as if he is violating their “slime mold dignity” by forcing them to evolve into something else without their “consent.” When it’s put this way, one can see that the analogy is a superficial one. An idea has been removed from its original religious context and moved to another realm where it doesn’t belong.

So do I. But we don’t have anywhere near the detailed knowledge of evolutionary changes, either at the molecular or the phenotypical level, to be able to say that we have decisively eliminated the possibility that God is steering evolution in a hands-on way. The most complete set of land-animal-to-whale fossils we can muster doesn’t establish “no special divine action involved.” Not even when you add in all the DNA sequences – the mere similarities and differences aren’t enough to tell a full causal story. So if someone concludes that evolution is now known to have required no special divine action, that person is reaching far beyond what he can demonstrate.

Now, given that situation, why would a Christian scientist be eager to conclude that God had no direct involvement in the evolutionary process? Why would there be so much bristling (at worst) or foot-shuffling while the eye tries to find the nearest exit sign (at best), when the idea that God guides evolution is broached? Remember, I am not talking about mere agnosticism (maybe God guides evolution and maybe he doesn’t; let’s explore the possibilities with an open mind); I’m talking about a palpable expression of distaste for, or at the very least, a yawning lack of interest in, a God who acts in direct ways.

Remember that the very first theistic evolutionists – Gray, etc. – had no problem with the language of God guiding evolution. But such older TE/ECs were still operating out of a traditional notion of God: God is King, Lord, omnipotent, sovereign, master of nature and history, whose will is unyielding, and who can and does guarantee that whatever he wills, shall come to pass. But for many modern theologians, such a God is a “tyrant”, who does not “love” his creation or give it “freedom” to creatively “actualize itself.” They would replace God the King with with God the Governor-General, who instead of imposing his will, defers to the will of the people as expressed through their representatives. Or replace God the Father of strict morality, who would steer his children along the path of righteousness, with God the progressive “modern parent,” who gives his teenage children (organisms) the freedom to make mistakes (experiment with evolutionary searches, many of which lead to the dead end of extinction) as they try to find their own way. Modern TE/EC (since about 1995) tends to be influenced by modern theology and thus tends to conceive of God through different metaphors than did traditional TE/EC. (There are of course individual exceptions to all such generalizations.)

You ask me, “Why should we care?” I’m not saying you should care. I don’t tell people what they should care about. But I do express what I care about. And I care about keeping theology free from modern mushy sentimentalism about God. I’m not the slightest bit bothered, religiously or theologically, by the notion of a God who steers, guides, pushes, etc. evolution in directions he wants it to go. I find that completely compatible with the Biblical portrait of God all the way from Genesis to Revelation, and in tune with the conception of God held by most Patristics, Scholastics, and Reformers. I don’t find such a God a “bully” or a “tyrant” or a stifler of his creation’s “self-expression.” To me, that’s all warmed over hippie 60s language that has no moral resonance for me.

As for personality conflicts on this site, they aren’t for the most part between TE/EC and ID people. They are mostly between ID and creationist people on one side, and atheists on the other. Internet discussion groups tend to attract people who are very sure of themselves, and don’t want dialogue, but only “pistols at dawn” confrontations. That’s sad. But people like yourself, Daniel, Joshua, and others, one can have a constructive conversation with. Thanks for your questions and comments.

@Jordan (cc: @eddie , @swamidass )

[1] YEC’s believe God controlled the creation of the exact genomes of each kind.

[2] If a YEC decides Evolution really is the best explanation for the origin of life on Earth, the odds are he (or she) will still see God as exercising the same level of genome micro-management.

[3] Conclusion: One should expect that a YEC who embraces evolution (especially those who also believe in miraculous creation of Adam & Eve) will sustain the idea that God micro-manages the genomes of Earth’s life forms.

[4] Why would we think someone who was a former YEC suddenly abandon the principle that God is in charge of genomes everywhere and for all the eons that life has existed on Earth?

LOL! Oh look another of Eddie’s silly strawmen. Now everyone who argues the pro-science consensus on evolution must be an atheist. :rofl: Still Eddie wonders why he doesn’t get taken seriously.

@Timothy_Horton,

If you reject out of hand any discussion involving God’s use of Evolution - - you are contributing to these kinds of errors.

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