Eddie Asks: Does God Govern Evolution?


(Jon Garvey) #21

Fair enough, but I doubt those two will help your “fairly special providence” view. Luther, commenting on Aristotle’s claim of nature’s ability to generate mice spontaneously from decay:

I doubt that this is a satisfactory explanation. The sun warms, but it would bring nothing into being unless God said by his divine power: “Let a mouse come out of this decay.” Therefore the mouse, too, is a divine creature… But for its kind it has a beautiful form - such pretty feet and such delicate hair that it is clear that it was created by the Word of God with a definite plan in view. Therefore, here, too, we admire God’s creation and workmanship.

He doesn’t do molecules, but he does attribute mouse hair and feet, on a supposedly spontaneoulsy generated mouse, to God’s specific Word. I linked in a previous comment to how Lutheran views of providence adopt the classical view that God concurs even in evil acts, whilst remaining innocent of their evil:

In Lutheran theology, divine providence refers to God’s preservation of creation, his cooperation with everything that happens, and his guiding of the universe. While God cooperates with both good and evil deeds, with the evil deeds he does so only inasmuch as they are deeds, not with the evil in them. God concurs with an act’s effect, but he does not cooperate in the corruption of an act or the evil of its effect.

That is virtually identical to the Reformed position - and is implicit not only in providence as such, but in the basic doctrine of divine conservation - God can sustain in being only that whose being he knows.

As for Molina:

According to the traditional doctrine of divine providence, God freely and knowingly plans, orders and provides for all the effects that constitute the created universe with its entire history, and he executes his chosen plan by playing an active causal role that ensures its exact realization. Since God is the perfect craftsman, not even trivial details escape his providential decrees. Whatever occurs is specifically decreed by God; more precisely, each effect produced in the created universe is either specifically and knowingly intended by him or, in concession to creaturely defectiveness, specifically and knowingly permitted by him. Divine providence thus has both a cognitive and a volitional aspect…

This much is accepted by both Molina and the Banezians.

As I suggested before, God is even more “bothered” over detail in Molinism over other systems since he has to select from all the possible universes by middle knowledge: you can only select between “indifferent” choices once you have ascertained that they are, in fact, indifferent.

Incidentally, Molina too was a concurrentist on divine action, holding like Luther that his “cooperation” was necessary in both good and evil acts (the Banezians tried to exclude evil acts from concurrence, and Molina debated it with them).


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #22

What makes you think I am trying to deny special providence? I have no problem affirming that God acted in the world.

I am merely saying I am not sure that God predetermines all things any more than a Molinist would say he predetermines all things. It makes sense that he cares purposes to predetermine several features of the world, in far more precision that we are capable of understanding. If he is selecting from all possible worlds, it is a possible to say that does hyper-determine all things too. It, however, does not follow that He particularly cares to purpose atomically precise detail the chair I am now sitting in, or the stochastic arrival of bits to your computer as you are reading what I type. With Molinism in mind, we can logically say that God determines all things, but he might not specify all things.

Can He act in the world too with special providence? Sure. I’m not arguing against this. Are such acts important? Certainly.


(Edward Robinson) #23

Joshua, Jon, etc.:

I won’t add further to the theological discussion, but will merely make plain, with a more concrete example, what I think Venema, Falk, etc. have in the back of their minds when they are vague in their answers to the question “To what level did God actually determine evolutionary outcomes?”

I think they believe – based on their conviction that evolution is not a deterministic process, but an open-ended one (which is the view of the neo-Darwinism in which Falk was trained and which Venema appears to emulate) – that you can’t be sure, given hypothetical ancestor X of all rodents, that any particular rodent, e.g., a mouse, or a rat, or a hamster, or a capybara – will evolve millions of years later. So in their view, God might have intended that evolution would produce a broadly “rodentine” group of animals, but didn’t (and not only didn’t, but couldn’t) constrain it to produce mice in particular, rats in particular, etc.

In other words, I think it is for purportedly scientific reasons, not for theological reasons, that they express doubts that God intended the particular set of species that actually evolved on earth. I think they believe that when God ordained the evolutionary process, he ordained a process which by its very nature could not produce detailed determinate narrow outcomes, but only very broad ones. That is, it is the evolutionary biologist in Falk, Venema, etc., not the Christian in them, that makes them dubious about an absolute “predestination” (if you want to use that term) of biological kinds.

I may be wrong, of course; but whenever they have been asked this question, it always seems that it is the biologist in them that is speaking.

That may not be true of your case. In your answer above, it seemed your hesitation was entirely theological and not at all biological. In light of my comment here, you can add in any biological hesitations, e.g., if you think that the open-endedness of “drift” or “variation” or anything other evolutionary mechanism would make it impossible for God to dictate to evolution that it had to produce sulfur-crested cockatoos and duckbilled platypuses, as opposed to black-crested cockatoos and heron-billed platypuses, you can say so.

If biological considerations play no part in your doubts over the degree of precise detail which God might have decreed for evolutionary outcomes, then the discussion is indeed a purely theological one, on the level on which you and Jon are conducting it.


(Edward Robinson) #24

Hi, Jordan. Glad to “meet” you.

I suppose it depends on what you count as “classical Arminian.” I once read an article on the internet by an Arminian who argued that the “classical Arminian” position, as understood by Calvinists, isn’t what Arminius actually held, and isn’t even what all Arminians today hold. So you might have to specify what Arminians do believe (or at least what you as an Arminian believe) about God’s relationship to the natural world.

As for “not very well-represented”, well, I’m not sure that is true, at least of past discussions; BioLogos used to be dominated by Arminians, often in the form of Nazarenes, who are significantly Wesleyan in their roots. Not only Falk and Giberson but several guest columnists brought in by them were Nazarenes. (I always found it odd that a site which purportedly dealt with “Christian theology and science” seemed to deal more with “Nazarene theology and science”.) And Oord was a “Wesleyan” of sorts, or thought he was.

It also used to be a common distinction on BioLogos that certain people preferred the “Wesleyan” to the “Calvinist” theology, and in terms of evolutionary biology, this cashed out (especially for Falk and Venema) as: “God would never be so tyrannical [sc. like that meanie Calvinist God] as to dictate exact evolutionary outcomes to nature; he would give nature its ‘freedom’” Do you see the implied comparison? Calvin teaches a tyrannical God, Wesley one more sensitive to the aspirations of his subjects. (Sounds a lot like the protest of the American colonies against British government, and indeed, the whole “freedom vs. authority” trope that pervades these discussions seems more motivated by American free-church cultural preferences than anything one finds in the Bible or the classical Christian writers.)

In short, I have always found the suggestion that Wesleyans think differently about evolution than Calvinists to be murky, and theologically and philosophically unclear. If you can be clearer than Falk, Giberson, Venema, etc., about how the actual teaching of Wesley (or of Arminius, if you prefer) would cash out in terms of God’s role in the evolutionary process, I for one would be very grateful.


Predictability Problems in Physics
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #25

Exactly. There are all theological hesitation.

No hesitations here at all on this regard.

From the scientific side, I only dispute the notion we could find a way a God’s-eye view of creation. What looks random to us, might be entirely deterministic, and foreknown to God. So it is hard to imagine precisely how science gives us a challenge to providence. Our ignorance is not God’s impotence. So, if it is true that…

If that is what they mean, I’d say they are making an error on both what science tells us and what science tells us. Science is silent about God, and God can specify whatever he wants, and evolution certainly is no hindrance. He providentially governs all things including the random cast of lots, so why not mutations?

Thought, to be fair, I think there is a range of clarify and consideration on this. Some (perhaps Stump and Venema), seem committed to this view (perhaps, and I hesitate to speak for them). Other seems to be much less considered.

Yes that is right. It is purely a theological question for me. Biology plays no part in my hesitance at all. I’m not sure how it could even in principle be a valid reason to doubt providence. God governs the cast of lots, so why not mutations too?

On the theological side, it seems that He does pre-specify many outcomes, perhaps even everything we could possibly observe in biology with ordinary perception. Or maybe less than this. It is hard to know.

My point above is that it not clear why God would care to specify precisely down to atomic detail everything in existence. Of course, maybe He does, in some type of Molinist scenario, but it seems that many possible universes would satisfy the outcome criteria he cares about.

If you can agree with me that God does not care to specify the atomic details of everything, and can allow for flexibility in these things, perhaps there is value is seeing Creation as Command and Response? This model would say God is commanding the creation of things, and the land responds. The commands, however, might be comparable to Thomist forms, specifying the essence of things, but their precise atomic detail. The response of the land and sea, then, is an instantiation of the form, which contains details not specified by the form.

This notion is grounded in the language of Genesis 1, so it seems like it might make sense of Thomism in a modern world as valid theological concept.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #26

I agree, @Jordan, there have been a lot of Wesleyans in the conversation. Darrel Falk is probably the most important example, but there are many in the conversation right now. Not that I have a problem with this, as ther are a lot of strengths to Wesleyans theology. In particular, the careful distinction between knowledgeable and ignorant sin is important, and I think correct. However, Wesleyans often to understand why Calvinists care, for example, about a historical Adam, Original Sin, and Providence. At least that is what I have observed.

As a theological outsider to the conversation, neither Calvinistic or Wesleyan, my goodness it is true there is a different approach to evolution. It is like going to historical reenactment, litigating and re-litigating the same thing over and over again. So yes, it is true that more reformed thinkers find Wesleyans equally inscrutable.

The concerns about Open Theism are valid, but sometimes it is just Wesleyans being Wesleyans too.

Or at least that is what it seems to me.


(Jordan Mantha) #27

Right, but Falk and Giberson are Nazarene scientists, not Nazarene theologians. Oord is/was a Nazarene theologian, that is true. But now you’ve got Haarsmas and I’m also thinking of Alvin Plantiga, Oliver Crisp, Bruce Waltke, Pete Enns, and Tremper Longman III. BioLogos, to me, seems more Reformed-leaning.

I was at the ASA meeting this summer and I felt it was dominated by Reformed (Presbyterian, Lutheran) and Anglican voices. That is just my impression though.

Yeah, me too, but I’m a scientist so I always suspect my theology is suspect. :slight_smile:

I would like to work on this. I have some Wesleyan theologian friends I hope to work on that with. I think this is part of the struggle with having interdisciplinary work – theologians will often find the theology of scientists to be shallow and half-baked, scientists are appalled at theologians lack of scientific literacy. I do hope to facilitate that cross/inter/multi-disciplinary work at my institution.


Predictability Problems in Physics
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #28

And that is true too, though they seem to be more “heterodox” calvinists. Darrel Falk is still a very theologically inclined voice. Current, April Maskiewicz is a favored voice at BioLogos too.

Lutheran? Really? That is hard to see.


(Jordan Mantha) #29

Both still scientists though. There is certainly a Nazarene thread at BioLogos, don’t get me wrong. I just find that much of the theological discussion seems to fall in the Reformed/Calvinist bent. Again, I certainly could be wrong, that is just an impression. Maybe I have some bias as an Arminian who goes to a Presbyterian church :slight_smile:

Not so much in the talks, but I met more Lutherans than Methodists/Nazarenes I think in my sampling.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #30

There was not a single LCMS Lutheran there this year, as far as I could tell. There is always ELCA Lutheran George Murphy, and I like his contributions, but they are closer to Mainline.


(Jordan Mantha) #31

That I can imagine. It does lean towards the mainline for sure.


(Edward Robinson) #32

“Yes that is right. It is purely a theological question for me. Biology plays no part in my hesitance at all. I’m not sure how it could even in principle be a valid reason to doubt providence. God governs the cast of lots, so why not mutations too?”

Thanks for this reply, Joshua. You have answered not only my immediately previous post, but also the question I was going to ask you when I promised a further response to you a day or two ago.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #33

What question was that?


(Edward Robinson) #34

The question that I never asked, because I deferred replying to your earlier statement (which I think was on another thread, but you’ve since started a new sub-thread, so I don’t see it above). The question was going to be: “Is it purely for theological reasons that you are doubting that God controls all detailed outcomes of evolution, or do you have biological reasons such as Falk etc. appear to have?” You have now answered that question, so we are all caught up. :smile:


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #35

You’ve often wanted to know where people stand. I’ve told you. You seem very happily pleased, and I’m glad you are.

So what do you think I"m about where I am coming down? Perhaps you don’t agree precisely, but it is a coherent position, right? Or at least as coherent as any other.


(Jordan Mantha) #36

I usually feel very uncertain about a lot of these things (Divine action, theodicy, origins in general). It kind of bugs me that theological positions don’t usually come with a +/- :slight_smile: I guess maybe that’s what the creeds are for?


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #37

@Jordan are you personally Wesleyan?

You also seem to care about Adam too. Does that make you an outlier, or is there a nuance here I’ve missed?


(Edward Robinson) #38

If that’s the case, it could be a constructive change, though of course since all of those groups contain a wide range of theological views, from conservative to ultra-liberal, one must take the individuals speaking on a case-by-case basis. For example, Terry Gray’s notion of Reformed theology is traditional, and apparently different from Deb Haarsma’s, or at least, different from Deb Haarsma’s insofar as it appears on BioLogos. And of course Anglicanism is so broad and loose these days that it can mean almost anything.

Regarding BioLogos specifically, I’ve already mentioned Terry Gray’s dissent. Plantinga was never more than a rare guest on BioLogos, and I sense they mostly don’t like his take on evolution there (though he doesn’t oppose evolution, I don’t think he talks reverentially enough about it to suit them), and it was only years after BioLogos got started that they gave him a guest spot at all, and he hasn’t appeared since then. Pete Enns I think started out in a Westminster Calvinist sort of tradition, but from what I’ve read on his own blog and his later columns for BioLogos, he has wandered far from that tradition (Jon Garvey would understand in more detail than I do how far), and in any case, he’s no longer associated with BioLogos. The others you’ve mentioned have never been regular writers for BioLogos, though they may have done guest appearances. And I get the definite feeling that Jim Stump and Brad Kramer are not at all partial to Calvin or any Reformed tradition. Also, its two lead columnists until recently were Ted Davis who is Methodist in orientation and Dennis Venema who goes to, I think, a Mennonite church. So I would say that overall, BioLogos is definitely not Reformed in orientation, though the vanishing of the large Nazarene contingent has made it less explicitly Wesleyan. Rather, I’d say that BioLogos has no clear theological orientation at all, except for a vague general reluctance to give God “too much sovereignty” or make his decisions “too deterministic” or the like, and a vagueness about how much of evolutionary outcomes God determined, and how much he “left open” to nature’s “freedom” or “co-creativity” or whatever.

That’s a good project. I would encourage you to keep at it. By the way, one friend of mine goes to a Methodist church, and finds that most modern Methodists have departed considerably from the original Wesleyan tradition (and overall have become much more liberal on most things), so that he is fighting a constant reactionary movement against his own church. I’m not familiar with the details, but one thing you might do at first is try to establish the range of meanings of “Wesleyan” represented by your various theological colleagues you speak to. A similarity of language might sometimes conceal significant differences in meaning.


(Edward Robinson) #39

Your comment didn’t include an addressee, Joshua, so I think Jordan understood it as addressed to him, but I’m taking it as addressed to me.

As far as it goes, what you have said about mutations, God in charge of lots, etc. does not clash with anything that I think. Your further comments about Thomism and Molinism I would need more time to think about before agreeing or disagreeing, but the main part of your answer I don’t object to.


(Jordan Mantha) #40

Yeah, that seems about right. When it comes to origins I see more of that “freedom” flavor. When it comes to historical Adam and other areas not specifically about evolution, I don’t see it as much.