Eddie Asks: Does God Govern Evolution?


(Edward Robinson) #1

Jon can speak for himself. As for me, I’ve never, not once, not in a thousand posts on BioLogos or anywhere else, asked how God “providentially” governs evolution. I’ve asked:

  1. Whether God governs the outcomes of evolution;
  2. Whether that governance includes the divine foredetermination (not merely divine foreknowledge) of all the outcomes of evolution, only some of the outcomes of evolution, or none of the outcomes of evolution.

I have asked this of every TE/EC leader that I’ve been able to personally converse with. None of them will answer.

Their usual dodge is that science cannot answer the question. But I have never demanded a scientific answer, only a personal opinion, speaking as a “whole person” not specifically as a scientist.

I have wanted nothing more than a simple survey-type answer, and not one TE/EC leader will give it.

If I asked the TE/EC leaders whether they thought there were abominable snowmen, they would not hesitate to give me their opinion. If I asked them whether they thought that polytheism was true, they would not hesitate to give me their opinion. If I asked them whether the doctrine of the Trinity was true, they would not hesitate to to give their opinion (even though they wouldn’t have any better idea how the Trinity works than how God’s providence works!). But if I ask them whether God determined (not merely predicted, but determined, i.e., willed, guaranteed, compelled the outcome) that evolution should produce elephants, or platypuses, or men with five fingers instead of six, every single one of them clams up, or answers the question with a question, or otherwise dodges the question.

There is nothing tricky or sneaky in the question. It involves no scientific judgments, no endorsement of ID, no endorsement of natural theology, no denial of evolution or of any particular evolutionary mechanism. I just want to hear individual TE/EC leaders’ personal opinion whether God determines some, all, or no evolutionary outcomes. I see no valid reason for any of them to dodge the question, given that they are not being asked for proof, not being asked to tie their professional scientific reputation to their answer, and will be allowed to revise their answer 24 hours later if they change their mind. There is no obligation, no trick, no trap, simply a natural question that a normal person might ask (and indeed, many normal churchgoing people do ask, even if TE/EC leaders in their presumptuous intellectual superiority think those average churchgoers are silly for asking it) about God and the evolutionary process. But the TEs in BioLogos and the ASA treat the question as some kind of insidious Fifth Column for ID or creationism which must be repulsed.

If Frances Collins can say, not speaking as a scientist, “I believe that God is Three Persons in One”, I don’t see why Dennis Venema can’t say, not speaking as a scientist, whether or not he thinks God determines all the outcomes of evolution, or leaves some or all of them “open” (to “nature’s freedom” or whatever else).

John Polkinghorne, in his writings, answers the question clearly enough. So does Ken Miller. But Haarsma, Applegate, Falk, Giberson, Isaac, etc.? When I’ve asked them, it’s wiggle and squirm city.

The joke is that they all claim to be so “Biblical”. Well, the Bible shows God as determining (not merely foreknowing) all kinds of very specific outcomes in the lives of individuals and nations; in some cases even the moral decisions, as e.g., when he hardens the heart of Pharaoh. (Yes, I know the verb is passive in most cases, but in one it’s pointedly active.) If the TEs can swallow God determining the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, Judas’s betrayal, the boy born blind, etc., why can’t they swallow God guaranteeing the emergence of elephants, or man rather than an intelligent octopus? Or maybe they do accept God’s determination at that level of detail; but if they do, then why the caginess and evasion? Why not just say it?

I can think of no good reason for withholding an opinion which commits someone to no scientific conclusions, and is totally revisable, unless the person withholding the opinion has something to hide. But maybe there is some other explanation. If so, I’d like to hear it. But rather than giving excuses for why they shouldn’t have to answer the question, I’d rather they just answered the question.


Predictability Problems in Physics
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

@eddie thanks for the clarification.

I am not TE/EC/BioLogos leader, but I am a PS leader. I can answer for myself:

  1. Yes, he does govern the outcomes of evolution.

  2. He foreordains all that he purposes to foreordain, and does not tell us exactly what that is in most cases. I’m sure He specifies some things, but I am doubtful he specifies everything in every precise detail, because I’m not sure why he would care about every precise detail.

And there you have it. No dodge from me.

What do you think?


(Daniel Ang) #3

If you believe in the authority of Scripture (regardless of the details of how to interpret it), it seems hard to get away from reading Genesis and not come to the firm conclusion that God intended for humans to be created, even if it was through evolution or any other process. Because of that I find it hard to believe your account that no TE leader has ever answered your question…for example, a quick search on Francis Collins’ speeches turns up the following:

God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution. That was the way in which the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet was to come to be. And most especially, that plan included us, human beings.

By speaking of God’s plan, I think there is an affirmation that God governed the process to execute the plan, including the creation of all living things and human beings. Is this not explicit enough for you?


(Edward Robinson) #4

I haven’t conversed with Collins. I’ve conversed with the others. And whenever specifics are asked about, e.g., whether God intended and determined rats specifically, or mice specifically, Venema, Falk, etc. always become murky and muddy in their answers – and the murkiness and muddiness seemed to be connected with their Darwinian understanding of the evolutionary process, i.e., that evolutionary futures are indeterminate due to the vagaries of mutation and selection. But it was hard to tell, because they wouldn’t explain the source of their hesitation. To speak of lesser lights, i.e., those who are gung-ho TE/EC fans and comment a lot on BioLogos, beaglelady would not commit herself to whether God intended elephants specifically – and she’s the big fan of Ken Miller who said that instead of man evolution might have spit out a superintelligent cephalopod to represent the “image of God”. But when she was saying such things, no BioLogos moderator or columnist ever stepped in to question her theological statements.

(They never objected to her theological statements when she mocked certain Biblical passages, either, but that’s another and broader issue – though it’s relevant, because some of her remarks were outright heretical by any denominational standard, and were unchallenged, whereas ID’s suggestion that God might sometimes leave his designs detectable, which is not heretical in any orthodox branch of Christianity, was attacked by columnists and moderators as well as commenters as “bad theology”. So it was always interesting how BioLogos would “look the other way” regarding bad theology (when it came from writers who were loudly onside with BioLogos’s position on evolutionary creation), but examine other things with an electron microscope for possible theological flaws (when it came from anyone who was even cautiously critical of BioLogos’s view). )

Note Collins’s phrase, “marvelous diversity”. I have no problem with it, but again, in beaglelady’s mind, it meant, “God willed that evolution would spit out lots and lots of really interesting variety” – not that God willed the specific set of results we have on the earth. As if evolution were songwriter, and God a musical impresario, and said to evolution, “Go out and write me twenty hit songs, in a variety of genres; I leave the melodies, harmonies, and lyrics completely up to you.” In fact, when asked about some of those specific results – five fingers on the hand of man, rather than six, and about elephants, she said specifically that God didn’t determine those – implying that God left those things to the “bounces” of evolution. Falk called this sort of non-committal attitude to particular species, genera, families, etc., “God giving nature its freedom”, and said that this was good “Wesleyan” theology. (It wasn’t, but never mind that.) Others would call it “open theism”.


(Edward Robinson) #5

I’ll get back to you, Joshua. Thanks.


(Jon Garvey) #6

I’m not sure why, being the sole Creator of all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, and infinite in his care as well as his knowledge, he would not. At what point is reality below his cognitive or compassionate resolution? Is it as low as the resolution of human faculties, which might enable a physicist, for example, to get a Nobel prize for capturing and describing one new quantum event at he LHC?

The Open Theists mostly put the “limit of resolution” at the level of the free will in human affairs, and “chance” (rediefined as “freedom”) in evolutionary events. But there is a specific history behind that limitation of providence, going back through process theism and, ultimately, back to the Socians. I don’t think it really existed before then anywhere in the Church.

I suggest he does not need to, if he has told us globally:

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will

Now, the meaning of that hinges upon the scope of παντα, “all things”: fortunately we have that in the previous verse:

…the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.

So the “all things” God works according to his purpose appear to be all those things that will be summed up in Christ. What in the creation is not covered by the work of Christ?

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

And what things will not be filled “all in all” by him in the new creation? The precise details whose care is in doubt now?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #7

@jongarvey, in your view did God author sin?

I’m certainly not a open theist, but niether am I on board with Calvin’s predestination. I’m more alinged with something like molinism.


(Jon Garvey) #8

Nobody in orthodox Christian history has ever said that God is the author of sin. But the Scripture says:

You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand [foreordained = proorizo] should happen.

I note that it doesn’t say “…what by your power you had discovered they would decide under such circumstances,” but no odds. The fact is that this worst of evils was covered by the work of Christ - its foreordination actually enabled the work of Christ. In your view did God foreordain that conspiracy, or not? If not, what does the text actually mean?

Yet that is scarcely in the same ball-game as his providence over nature, which is not evil but, according to God’s word, “very good.” In your view did God “make the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them”? If the answer, again, is Molinism, he needed to care not only about details of the world he made, but about the details of infinite numbers of worlds he did not make, or how could he know which one to create?

My position is that God is lovong towards all that he makes, not what he doesn’t make.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #9

@jongarvey let me just say that there are more options than reformed predestination on one hand and open theism on the other. Deviations from predestination are not a slippery slope to open theism.


(Jon Garvey) #10

@swamidass
It seems to me you reacted against the word “predestination” in my citation from Ephesians, even though it was written by Paul, not Calvin (whom I never even mentioned). But that word just happened to be in the sentence before the part to which I drew your attention: “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

You’ve brought up God and evil, and you’ve balked at predestination - but you’ve not answered why there should be exemptions in nature to the counsel of his will, which he doesn’t care about, nor why that should be in the light of the many details that Scripture says are within his purposes, from sparrows and pattern on flowers to casts of the lot and the disputes that lost Rehoboam Solomon’s kingdom.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

Nope.

I have no problem with predestination in Ephesians. I’m just not on board with Calvinistic predestination. The question was not about evil, but about sin, because you claimed God created all things as to mean that nothing exists without his direct willing it. I was just noting a counter example when I pointed out sin.

I did say there should be exemptions as if to meet some standard. Rather I wonder why it would be important precisely how many hairs I have on my head. Certainly God cares enough to know, and perhaps he wants some people to be bald or to be meined. However, it is hard to understand why specifying the precise number (10K vs. 10K +1) of hairs could be important to any rational being.

Perhaps God willed Rehoboam to lose Solomon’s kingdom, but did he will every detail as to how that took place? I’m sure there were some constraints, did he precisely insist upon every precise detail down to atomic precision? I’m not sure why any rational being would care.

There is a duality here (@Philosurfer). If molinism is true (and it need not be), if God is selecting from all possible worlds, then he is selecting one with all these details specified. However, it seems that there would be large number of nearly identical universes that would equally fit his will. I’m not sure why he would care down to atomic precision as long as at the higher level facts are as he chooses. So even if He might technically choose one configuration of everything, I’m convinced that every detail of said configuration is indespensible.


(Dr. Patrick Trischitta) #12

Yes, God requires all humans to believe in him and He has this special place where all non-believers will go after they die and be tormented for all eternity, but He loves us.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #13

@Patrick God is just, and no one goes to hell for merely unbelief. Moroever, traditional theology has always included a minority who hold to anhilationalism. We’ve gone over this many times, so I am sure you are begin provocative. Have you read this yet?


(Jordan Mantha) #14

This is very true. I would say I’m closest to a classical Arminian and work in a theologically Wesleyan institution. However, that stream of theological tradition does not seem to be very well represented in these types of discussions. On the other hand, I do think it tends to make them more open to idea of God creating “through” nature and not obsessing so much about what part is God and what part is nature.


(Jon Garvey) #15

If it’s any help I did do two posts unpacking Arminius’s own writing on creation and natural providence back in the day, so at least the Hump of the Camel has considered his work.

I drew on it in writing my book.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #16

@jongarvey thanks for the links. There are more options than Calvenism, Arminianism, and Open Theism. I’m not putting myself in any of those three camps.


(Jon Garvey) #17

Well, there are more options than evolution and creation, too. The problem is thinking of any.

In the case we’re discussing, obviously no two thinkers are allke, but these “big” names are mentioned as covering the general possibilities. So on the question of providence, taking into account their differences over human free-will, Arminius and Calvin (and certainly Luther) share one pole which would also be occupied by virtually all mediaeval theologians from Augustine onwards. Mainstream Catholic and Orthodox theology would be in the same camp, and John Wesley absolutely so. And rabbinic Judaism, of course.

The Open Theists (on providence) might develop their arguments from (but well beyond) classical Remonstrant Arminianism on freedom, but more directly inherit Socinianism, and aspects of Deism, which acknowledged general but not special providence.

It’s hard to think of any other significant positions (especially those held by major traditions) apart from the obvious possibility of mixing the two up, and speaking of a partial special providence, perhaps, just as someone might assert that science insists on rigid physical determinism, but that they also believe human actions are entirely undetermined. Easy to assert - less easy to render coherent.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #18

Luther and Molinism both appear to be two distinct additional options. This is also a paradox that is difficult to cleanly settle into any answer, which invites inquire into new conceptions.


(Jon Garvey) #19

Beware of proposing new solutions to questions that have been asked for several thousand years - it’s more likely to end up as an old heresy than a new breakthrough!

On the question of God’s attention to detail, for some reason I’m reminded of this:
1
It’s one of fifty 13thC misericords in our local Cathedral, and the carving is on the underneath of the seat, usually folded down and hidden from view. They figured that God would see it anyway, so the decoration was as important as it was in the visible statuary.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #20

That is why I’m drawn most strongly to the Lutheran approach. I’m probably somewhere between Molinism and Lutheran.

That’s fine. However, the artisan did not shape this down to atomic accuracy. At some point, the details stop mattering.