Guided or Providentially Governed Evolution?

Continuing the discussion from Methodological Naturalism, So Falsely Called:

For the record, I do not say it that way. I say, rather, that God providentially governs evolution, however it is that He chooses. How He governs evolution is not clear to me from science or theology.

God might “guide” evolution, but that word carries a burden of meaning I’m okay with, but do not want to insist upon. I prefer strongly the language “providentially govern.”

Maybe next time say…

We affirm evolution that is “guided” or “providentially governed” by God.

That way we both get to use our preferred language, without boxing each other into a corner. What do you think?

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Of course God “providentially governs” the laws of life and death. The topic that almost no TE seems to want to touch --with a ten-foot pole --is the prospect that God also “providentially governs” or even “specially instantiates” instances of highly innovative and strategic genetic change.
Meyers wants to call this “unaccounted for changes to genetic information.”
TE’s seem to want to deny that such situations ever exist.
Perhaps these are simply faith positions for which no amount of “evidence” can conclusively prove one or the other perspective, exclusive of the other, because BOTH exist.

I’m fine with that possibility. I’m not comfortable with insisting that it must be so.

I do not deny that it exists. I’m just agnostic about the precise details.

Or maybe because the evidence doesn’t tell us the precise details.

Well, as Christians, we cannot avoid the fact that the evidence tells us that God is both Creator and Sustainer… which is a pretty good clue.

But how?

One version of Molinism, for example, would not require God to ever directly intervene in evolution. Is that guidance or not? Is it possible? Sure it is, and it allows for God’s providential governance. This is just as satisfying a solution, for me, as is…

Maybe He does directly inspire mutations, but I’m not concerned with that as long as we affirm His providence.

The trick is conceiving of an inactive God Who never gets involved with a universe that’s still, somehow, not deterministic.
In a deterministic universe, the only moral accountability would be God’s.
The God revealed by the Bible is active, and shows no particular problem with directing natural or other scientifically unusual or singular events. Agreed?

I never said God was inactive, and never gets involved. I’m just saying I do not know the details of how he works out his will, unless he reveals it. He did not, however, tell us about about genetic mutations in Scripture. Maybe He did. Maybe no. I don’t mind if you believe He did, but I’m agnostic on this.

Wouldn’t insist that you not be. Peace!

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A topic worthy of investigation, from a genetics perspective, is the account of Jacob’s behavior, and the claimed results in Genesis 30.
"Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country.Give me my wives and my children for whom I have served you, and let me depart; for you yourself know my service which I have rendered you.’ But Laban said to him, ‘If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the Lord has blessed me on your account.’ He continued, ‘Name me your wages, and I will give it.’ But he said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you and how your cattle have fared with me. For you had little before I came and it has increased to a multitude, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I turned. But now, when shall I provide for my own household also?’ So he said, ‘What shall I give you?’ And Jacob said, ‘You shall not give me anything. If you will do this one thing for me, I will again pasture and keep your flock: let me pass through your entire flock today, removing from there every speckled and spotted sheep and every black one among the lambs and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and such shall be my wages. So my honesty will answer for me later, when you come concerning my wages. Every one that is not speckled and spotted among the goats and black among the lambs, if found with me, will be considered stolen.’ Laban said, ‘Good, let it be according to your word.’ So he removed on that day the striped and spotted male goats and all the speckled and spotted female goats, every one with white in it, and all the black ones among the sheep, and gave them into the care of his sons. And he put a distance of three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks. Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods. He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.Jacob separated the lambs, and made the flocks face toward the striped and all the black in the flock of Laban; and he put his own herds apart, and did not put them with Laban’s flock. Moreover, whenever the stronger of the flock were mating, Jacob would place the rods in the sight of the flock in the gutters, so that they might mate by the rods; but when the flock was feeble, he did not put them in; so the feebler were Laban’s and the stronger Jacob’s. So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys. - Genesis 30:25-43 NASB (speckled and spotted sheep were not preferred by shepherds, because it meant the wool was not as profitable. But, speckled and spotted sheep have higher levels of melanin systemwide, and are more visually acute. Jacob’s strategy makes perfect sense as a matter of the laws of genetics operating along with [assisted] natural selection.)

This thread had me thinking again about a recent Babylon Bee satire piece of Ken Ham claiming that Mike Trout’s amazing baseball abilities are the best evidence of intelligent design. It got me thinking about God’s action. I and all Christians would affirm that God did make Mike Trout. He is the result of Intelligent Design broadly defined. But how? If we were to follow Adam and his descendants all the way to Mike Trout would we be able to identify how God made Mike Trout? Would we be able to identify supernatural intervention to create the exact combination of alleles that IS Mike Trout today? I doubt that God has intervened in normal providence at all to make Mike Trout but that is not to say that God is not providentially guiding the entire process and has not knit Mike Trout together in the womb.

Mike Trout has alleles and many other genomic features that did not exist or were not in the same configuration in Adam and Eve. They are the product of mutations (again broadly defined). Is not each difference that is exhibited in Mike Trout part of God’s plan? If so God is the author of those changes but yet again, I think we would be hard pressed to understand how God has caused those changes to come about outside the context of describing him via probabilistic statistics.

In my mind, there is probably some common ground among Christians here that God formed Mike Trout via a common ancestor in Adam (or group but that is beside the point here) and that the means of his forming is via providential governance of His creation. In this instance, this governance is going to look most similar to what EC/TEs are thinking rather how ID or YECs generally view creation. The question then is how far can providential governance (however that is implemented) extend with respect to understanding most or all of biological diversity?

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Not sure what this actually means. Let’s take a simple case that Mike Trout happens to have allele “F” which is somehow eseential to his existence, and which has a probability distribution in the general population.

If God governs Mike’s existence (his actual existence), then one way of another he ensured that Mike has Gene F: probability has only a meaning in relation to a particular set of unknowns, ie that we humans don’t know why anybody in particular has gene F, but we can measure that uncertainty mathematically.

The probability, then, is nothing real in nature, but a measure of human uncertainty as to cause. It is no more meaningful to God that the statem4ent “Nobody knows what happened to the Marie Celeste” has relevance to him.


I only meant that Trout has a particular allele X. I know that God made Mike Trout and so God has somehow ordained that Mike Trout should have allele X vs one hundred other options present in other individuals. I don’t know how God made that happen even though I can describe a way it could happen and that description doesn’t include God in the formula. Yet, I don’t say that God was not responsible or intended that particular outcome. And yes this is confusing which is why I’m already regretting wading into this discussion.



Every time you write this vague sentence, attempting to be generic, you trigger people reading into it.

If you would add a few more qualifiers, or at least one more qualifying phrase, you could stay out of the confusion zone where you constantly have to explain your position. Here’s a possible example:

I do not know any scientific details of when, where or how God specifically engages in supernatural activity, but Christian theology frequently suggests that everything that happens, other than Free Will events, are directly the result of God’s intention (whether naturally or supernaturally supported).

Which part of this, @swamidass, would you feel you need to change? Explaining why would be helpful to everyone.

I’m good with this view, @jongarvey


If theological considerations tell you that every mutation required to create the human species was intended by God, would that still be “providential governing”? Or would such a consideration compel you to say that God “Guides Evolution”?

I’m just trying to tweeze apart the element or elements that distinguish between “providential governing” and “divine guidance”.

Excellent news, George! You should be able to see why it makes a nonsense of the concept of “chance” in a theistic setting.

@jongarvey… RE-STATE the entire distinction (or non-sistinction) and we will see.

Actually, George, the language of “providence” is more standard, and certainly more thought-through in the history of theology, than the looser term “guidance”.

However, since in classical theology God’s providence extends to everything it’s customary to distinguish general providence from special providence, and that distinction is also where most of the controversy lies.

As already evident from some of my quotes from Newton and forbears above, general providence is the creation and set-up of the universe, which in scientific terms more or less corresponds to “laws of nature and initial conditions”, and in the early scientists’ thinking, therefore, it correponded to the “natural” that was their field of study. The Deists believed only in general providence, ie they saw the Universe as a clockwork, deterministic machine, in which nature ran without any “interference” by God. “Providential government” in this case means, in effect, “precision engineering.” Note that, strictly speaking, a clockmaker could “guide” a clock to tell the correct time at point n simply by faultless design and manufacture.

So those TEs who believe that, once God had set up the laws of nature, it “needed no further supernatural intervention” are saying they only believe in general providence within the natural realm - though there is a distinction (seldom clearly stated) between (1) those who believe that nature is so set up that it unfolds exactly as God planned, and (2) those whose view of “general providence” doesn’t cover the whole creation, so that all or some of evolution turns out fortuitously, God is delighted or saddend at what it does, and he slaps his image on any intelligent species that happens to arrive, if it does at all.

In between are the Molinists who believe that God allows chance or “freedom” to do its thing (2) but only creates the one universe where chance and freedom happen to coincide exactly with (1). Personally I can’t see where chance gets a look in when the outcome is planned, known and duly created, but it seems to suit some people OK - I don’t think they’ve fully considered how chance only means “ignorance of a specified agent about specified events.”

Special providence, however, the early scientists regarded as supernatural, or even miraculous; as interventions either suspending laws of nature, or simply changing events by employing them (as we do when we throw a rock). Newton (or his disciples) disputed with the Deist Leibniz that the kind of universe in which God was not immanently active through special providence was not Christianity.

In this case, God “guides” his creation by his direct action apart from the laws of nature + initial conditions. He is immanently involved with it, in the jargon. Creatio continua, in some major traditions. So in standard theological terminology a person’s general viewpoint is demonstrated by whether they believe God governs only by general providence (and it’s helpful to pin them down on just how “general” they believe such providence to be, for a weak view of general providence leads to a creation partly independent of God’s intentions), or whether they believe he governs also by special providence.

The question, of course, is theological rather than scientific.


George, I’ve already done many articles on chance, which can be accessed through the search function on The Hump, or for the insider version read William Briggs, whose book I reviewed here.

But one could state it in pithy shorthand by saying that to be truly provident (as God is) is to leave nothing within ones care to chance.

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Let’s just check that idea out. @AllenWitmerMiller, do you agree with @jongarvey’s assessment?

@swamidass, do you?

Up until your posting, @jongarvey, I was under the impression that God did not “allow freedom to play out” in God’s mind, as one of many possible results (before selecting one of them) …

but in fact,

allowed various “natural laws” to play out in God’s mind, based on different factors selected by God, and selected by God, all before actually forming all of Creation.

The difference then becomes: the @jongarvey Scenario: there is some “freedom” not ultimately defined or controlled by God (but the results of which God knows)…


the @gbrooks9 Scenario: the only points of freedom are those freewill actions by those entities God has provided freedom, surrounded and embraced by a mosaic of natural law and supernatural engagements, which God has contemplated and executed at the beginning of Creation, throughout the operation of all Creation, up to the End of Days.

I can only assume that even if Molinism, technically speaking, doesn’t agree with your approach, this will still be your approach, because you believe there are somethings (other than the free will of humans) that are beyond God’s normal control (but, presumably, not beyond his omniscience).

While I reject that idea… and that the only thing that is “free” in that sense is free will… and everything else is either naturally lawful, or supernaturally and directly rendered (in the midst of God’s sequence of naturally lawful natural order) by God.