Eddie Asks: Does God Govern Evolution?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #41

Yes, that was to you @eddie, but happy to hear from anyone with more theological knowledge than I.

Great. That is good news.

I think we can wonder at which level he does specify creation. It is going to be hard to know, however, because does not exactly tell us an answer.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #42

On providence they seem to have difficulty articulating their position. Regarding Adam, I remain very surprised at the degree of resistance I’ve seen to a Genealogical Adam. It still does not make sense to me. On so many things they are poorly defined theologically. On Adam, they are supposed to be a big tent. So why be so resistant to a Genealogical Adam? It still makes no sense to me.

Maybe @gbrooks9’s understands. He has talked to them more about it than I in recent months.

(Edward Robinson) #43

I think a lot of the theological discussion in the comments section represents Reformed/Calvinist thought, because many of the ID and creationist folks who contribute to the discussions are at least partly influenced by Calvinistic thinking, and partly because Jon Garvey is there, and partly because I (before I was banned) chimed in with comments often agreeing with Jon’s about God’s sovereignty, and for that reason was frequently taken as a Calvinist (though I’m not in complete accord with Calvin on everything, and in fact would be better described as an Anglican, provided one means by Anglican nothing like the current US Episcopalians but something more like C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers & Company). So yes, Calvinist themes come up on BioLogos often enough, but I never saw much Calvinism in the columns there. And that was surprising to me, because after Falk and Giberson (the Nazarenes) left, and Deb Haarsma took over, I expected a shift in the Reformed direction. But it never came.

(Jordan Mantha) #44

That’s a good question, and one I maybe don’t have a good answer for. I grew up in what people would probably consider a fundamentalist or very conservative evangelical culture. Denominations, in general, were considered too liberal and probably not truly Christian. So, even when I went off to college I mostly just went to non-denominational, conservative evangelical churches. It wasn’t until landing in the midwest, teaching at a denominationally-affiliated university, where there is a church on every block, that I started to seriously look at “traditions”.

I would say that my understanding of quantum mechanics (I’m a physical chemist so I’m not going to even try to compete with the real physicists around here), divine action, and soteriology have all mixed to make me lean towards an Arminian view of things. I probably can’t narrow down to Wesleyan (entire sanctification/Christian perfection I just don’t get) but I would probably agree a lot with most conservative Methodists.

I admire Lutherans and Anglicans as well, and find liturgical churches to be a very new and meaningful experience (except I just can’t get over y’all using actual wine at Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper). I mostly want people who will let me explore tough questions with them without kicking me out, I don’t need to agree on everything. I just have a hard time with the idea of subscribing to a single denomination, they all have good points to make theologically and lots of baggage.

My department has people from Lutheran, Methodist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Catholic churches, we seem to get along but we’re mostly teaching science and math, not theology.

(Jordan Mantha) #45

That certainly doesn’t make me an outlier in the midwest. There’s a reason the Nazarenes that have contributed significantly to BioLogos are from the coastal schools. It’s possible that I could be an outlier for Christian scientists who lean more towards TE/EC than YEC/OEC, I’m not sure. After being corrected by @jongarvey and @Eddie, I’m reluctant to say anything about anybody :slight_smile:

In the end though, once I decided that something like origins and Adam are not a matter of salvation, I’m more interested in how to enable my students to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian in a scientific field than I am with my own personal position. I mostly believe that people come to different conclusions for a variety of reasons and my job is to make sure that, as much as possible, it’s for the best reasons - a solid understanding of the science, a critical and experienced mind, a thorough examination of the evidence, and a heart that seeks to follow Christ. Of course, at some point I’d also love to have a clue as to what the “right” answer is. :slight_smile:

I care about origins and Adam because I’m interested in digging into more satisfying answers about how God works in the universe and how to read the Bible better. Genesis 1-3 are some really important data points for that. The idea of God working “through” evolution is intriguing, I just don’t really have a good idea of what that means. If Adam and Eve were “literal” historical people and the Garden of Eden had real GPS coordinates, that would also be intriguing, I’m just sure in what ways yet. I don’t think it would change how I read the Bible one way or another, but certainly it could be relevant for understanding the way God works. That Adam & Eve were a de novo creation wouldn’t be as interesting to me as why they were a de novo creation.

(George) #46

What a great question for a thread!!

@swamidass, i wish i had the answer. They ARE supposed to be Big Tent.

So i would think inevitably they will have to acknowledge Geneal. Adam!

Why would any Creationist gravitate to BioLogos as long as PeacefulScience.Org is the only Evolutionary group willing to discuss Special Creation of Adam/Eve?!?!

(George) #47


I knew a lot of ENC folks. In my college days i was mystified by the doctrine.

But now i think i get it.

I view it as ine notch below transfiguration… as shared by Moses and Elijah…

The perfective aspect of humanity…

(George) #48

An astute observation… lost among the zealots of both sides…

(George) #49


I sometimes explain it like so:

In the view of Creationists, God personally constructs the genomes of all Earth’s creatures… by miraculous Special Creation.

If God leaves so much natural evidence that it is impossible not to allow for God to incrementally shape all Genomes (via generational mutations) … that would be how to interpret God-Guided-Evolution.

(Jon Garvey) #50

I shared (and still share) your earlier experience - I remain very suspicous of denominational traditions, because they seem often to mean taking one element of the founder’s theology and pushing it to the extreme. A Baptist minister I knew used to say the denominations are all nicknames - ie they come from Old Nick (ie Satan).

I think the problem people like Eddie and I have is that if we want to know a Wesleyan, or a Lutheran, or a Calvinist viewpoint we’ll read Wesley, or Luther, or Calvin, and often find little in common with what those denominations have become nowadays. Only it doesn’t sound so authoritative if people say “me and my mates like to believe that…” rather than “in the Orthodox tradition we believe that…”

Worse, identifying oneself with a tradition also tends to identify one with that tradition’s prejudices against the others (“Arminians believe in free will, Calvinists don’t, so I could never be a Calvinist”).

I think that “dead hand of tradition” even affects the science-faith interface (and I agree with your point that theologians need to be science savvy and scientists serious about theology - that’s why you need more physicians involved :grinning:).

One example - in the conservative Evangelical circles I moved in in my misspent youth, Thomas Aquinas was the guy who held up science for centuries by imposing Aristotle on Catholicism. Hooray for Luther and the freedom of modern science. I never realised that that was merely an echo from political and intellectual struggles of the 16th and 17th centuries, and that it is equally true (or half-true) that Francis Bacon was the guy who held up science for centuries by imposing Epicurus on Protestantism.

So my approach has been to ask myself (and others) the hard questions: if one takes the position that “God creates through evolution,” for example, and especially if one sets up to spread that position to others, it had better be a coherent position in relation to science and theology (and related fields like metaphysics and philosophy).

In my own case, the “freedom of creation” trope so common at BioLogos , and mentioned above, led to my “idealogical separation” because not only could I make no sense of it, but nobody there could either.

(Jon Garvey) #51

Josh, the error here is in the phrase “any rational being.” I raise this again because of an interesting piece on the subject which, although starting with Aquinas in the title, takes its longest argument from a contemporary Durham theologian, Simon Oliver.

The key concept, which I was trying badly to articulate before, is that God’s knowledge of creation is causal. He does not stand alongside it as “a rational being” as we do… at least until one gets into Willima of Ockham and univocity, in which case God becomes more or less like us only more so.

(George) #52


Ironically, this is when i started to get the inkling of how BioLogos was a “big tent with exceptions”!

I was asked how did i envision God using Evolution to make new life forms. My answer was pretty simple: God could use gamma rays (among all sorts of other enrrgy sources) to make whatever mutations he wanted.

The peanut gallery erupted!

Some said god would NEVER do that… others said God would rather wait for the mutation to occur on its own.

And so i spent a year as basically the only one who would go public with God acting deliberately and intentionally to create mutations.

(Edward Robinson) #53

I do recall beaglelady attacking your suggestions along this line. I remember her remarking sarcastically about God “chucking asteroids at the earth” to kill off the dinosaurs, as if supposing that God ever acted directly in nature was too ridiculous to even consider. Whether asteroids or gamma-ray mutations, beaglelady would be against it. But that’s not surprising, since over her time on BioLogos she also frequently cast doubt upon the veracity of Biblical miracle stories.

I could not defend your suggestions once I was ejected from the forum, but I would have, if I had been there.

I’m told by a very informed and reliable source inside the ASA/BioLogos world that a number of ASA and BioLogos people actually do think in terms of direct divine action affecting the course of evolution. So it’s possible that some other BioLogos folks secretly believe that God directly acted in the evolutionary process. But getting any of them to move from private thoughts along those lines to public statements of such an opinion was in my experience impossible. I don’t know all the reasons for this, but surely a big one among them was that BioLogos has frequently criticized ID and creationism for supposedly endorsing a “God of the gaps”; to endorse God-steered mutations, after lambasting others for giving God any explanatory role in origins, would have looked very inconsistent. But such self-muzzling for strategic purposes would conceal very real differences among the BioLogos people. It’s too bad that the perceived need to show a united front against ID and creationism might be having the effect of concealing from the public the degree of diversity of views among EC/TE leaders. As always, politics gets in the way of truth.

(Jon Garvey) #54

That part of your story is mine, only back in 2011-12.

(Jon Garvey) #55

@Eddie @gbrooks9

I came to BioLogos (or rather, to the whole orgins question) with the Reformed viewpoint that since God is working by concurrence behind all events, one could happily say that “God works through evolution” and see the natural process as the outworking of God’s creative activity, whatever the actual mechanisms turn out to be.

And so there would be no overwhelming theological problem in placing some of that divine activity in the outworking of rather neat laws of nature, guiding the creative outcomes by secondary causes … the problems with that are scientific more than theological, despite its deistic flavour.

But the problem is that almost invariably “God creates through evolution” soon becomes “God allows evolution to create,” and the “evidence” for that includes things such as we see on a current thread here - “poor design.”

If we change the word “design” to “creation” , as in “God creates through evolution”, then the argument is logically an argument to “poor creation.” Since no-one (except the plethora of atheist contributors on such forums) wants to accuse God of bodging creation, evolution becomes a kind of Platonic demiurge, delegated by God to design and create on behalf of God, who presumably sketched out some suggestions on the back of an envelope.

Evolution, or major parts of it, turns out to be the alternative to, not the means of, creation. And accordingly the biblical concept and doctrine of “creation” have to be redefined radically from the revelation of God’s wisdom and power (in the tradition, the Logos representing the invisible attributes of God visibly) to nature’s autonomy, spontaneity and so on.

Much of the time nature gets it wrong: name any human organ from the prostate and maxillary sinus to the spine and reproductive system, wisdom teeth, or recurrent laryngeal nerve - God’s image is a Boris Karloff character. Or else evolution does what a “Moral God” would never do (they believe) - create parasites or viruses, or indeed run the entire system on constant agony, suffering and waste. And the Demiurge goes beyond evolution, too, because God would never throw asteroids at innocent dinosaurs, parasites and viruses.

In that scenario, the atheist at BioLogos who suggested “efficient causation” as the sufficient definition of “creation” was absolutely on board with “evolutionary creation.”

(Jordan Mantha) #56

Is there a big difference in your mind between “God creates through evolution” and “God allows evolution to create”? If there is, could you expand a little? It seems like you’re saying there’s a bit of a slippery slope that ends with people using “God creates through evolution” to mask an essentially deistic view based on evidence from “bad design”. I’m interested in if you see this as a logical inevitability or perhaps if it’s just because a way of saying something that “sounds” better to Christian audiences without actually engaging theologically.

(Jon Garvey) #57

Yes to the last, as I’ve been arguing for years!

Let’s start from the many claims and assumptions in Scripture that God takes sole responsibility and glory for creation (which there’s not space here to document). The implication - indeed often the overt claim - in that is that creation is just what God intended, giving context to the Genesis conclusion “god saw that it was very good” (note I’m not suggesting good=perfect, but good=as intended).

The means by which God might achieve this are, in themselves, unimportant - though, for example, a Deistic clockmaker is for other reasons problematic). So let us suppose that, as per Kathryn Applegate, God were able to set up the laws and initial conditions so that creation emerged just as he planned by a process of evolution. In that case “God creates through evolution”, and “evolution” carries its original sense of an unfolding of what is inherent in nature, analogously to the growth of the plant from the seed.

(Note, as an aside, that this is not the only, or even best, scenario, but it would qualify as “creation through secondary causes”.)

On the other hand, if evolution is conceived, as it tends to be in science, as intrinsically open-ended (cf Gould’s concept of re-running the program with different results), then one has to have some concept either of it possessing an intrinsic will (evolution as a conscious agent “freely” choosing) or of Epicurean chance producing results controlled neither by nature or God. Both of those are problematic theologically, even before you ask why God would want to leave creation to chance, or to what could only be termed a Demiurge (in this case personified Nature, or Evolution, since actual sentient organisms don’t get any choice in how they evolve).

This would be “allowing evolution to create,” and unless it were directed by some additional care from God in the form of, say, special providence, it would inevitably be subject to the fallibility of all the material creation - as indeed Plato’s (and Gnosticism’s) original Demiurge made a hash of implementing God’s “perfect forms”.

We see such conclusions in the “poor design” argument, and specifically in Darrel Falk’s or Karl Giberson’s suggestion that pathogens and cruel cats couldn’t possibly be God’s work, or Francisco Ayala’ litany of design faults and immoral outcomes which it would be “blasphemy” to ascribe to the Creator. It goes right back to Darwin and his parasitic wasps, of course. But the inevitable conclusion is that there are two Creators, not one - with no very clear way of attributing anything to God except by arbitrarily dividing nature into “good” and “bad.”

The common way of squaring this circle is by “freedom” talk - that God didn’t plan to create specific outcomes, or indeed it would be obsessional, or tyrannical, or unimaginative, if he did. But it’s hard to see what sense such freedom talk makes if it actually means molecules are forced by stochastic events to produce poor outcomes which, in many cases, God would not even like and which, in the rest, are fortuitous and so worthy of no praise either to God OR Nature.

It’s Deistic in the simple sense that it intends for God to be transcendant rather than immanent - but has no way of avoiding the distant God either observing all the supposed “waste and suffering” in impotent distress, or not actually caring too much as long as he gets to see interesting stuff done by someone else. It’s more Gnostic, as I’ve said, in that the heavy lifting of creation is done by some kind of assistant-God, who is not super-reliable.

But the bottom line is that the Scriptures we claim as authoritative know nothing whatsoever of any of this - creation is God’s own good work, and indeed the work of Christ himself as Logos - which is not only worthy of our conscious thanksgiving and praise, but in some metaphorical way offers God such praise and thanksgiving itself, not for its creativity, but for its creation.

I don’t think there’s a shadow of uncertainty on this in the Bible - the alternative idea comes from prioritising something else over Scripture.

(Neil Rickert) #58

Then I think you have a dilemma.

If you want to rule out Gould’s idea of the contingency of evolution, then you would also be ruling out any possibility of free will. And if there is no free will, doesn’t that make a mockery of theology?

(George) #59


This is you spinning a theodicy problem within a text that has long accepted any theodicy perceived is intentional (as per Pharoah’s heart is hardened - - old and new testament).

(Jon Garvey) #60

No, this is me denying the theodicy problem.