Harmonizing Evolution and Guidance at BioLogos

Continuing the discussion from American Majority accepts God-Guided Evolution - - Is this true for BioLogos as well?:

This exchange, I feel, is salient. It is worth unpacking what works about @dga471’s response for @Eddie more precisely, as this could help clarify what is at stake and how better dialogue can proceed.

The Lead Up

I have not interacted with or read a lot of what Dennis Venema has to say on God “guiding” evolution, but if @Eddie’s account of the exchange is true, then my guess is that some ECs and TEs are treating the question not as a genuine intellectual question but as a rhetorical battle as to not accidentally appear to agree with whatever ID proponents are saying and becoming associated with them and what they represent. The word “guide” seems to have a deep connotation and history in the battle between different origins advocacy organizations. Since I don’t represent any major organization or camp, I don’t feel as reluctant to express my own personal opinions.


I do think that the leadership (e.g. Jim Stump) is strongly inclined to Christian physicalism, and a metaphysical commitment to denying miracles (except regarding Jesus). They’ve stated this in many ways over the years, often (as @Eddie notes) through strategic ambiguity.

As long as they affirm the Resurrection of Jesus (as they do), Christian physicalism and anti-supernaturalism can be consistent with orthodox Christianity, or at least the historical creeds, so no witch hunts please. In fact, it doesn’t seem much different than cessationalism (Cessationalism, a Dying Fashion).

However, I think in the case of BioLogos, this theological position functioned as a presupposition that caused them to make some large scientific errors. It doesn’t seem they were able to separate this theological position from their scientific analysis and claims.


@Eddie, is this close the core challenge for you? Do you prefer if these things are stated up front an worked out, rather than through indirect means?

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I think so. It certainly doesn’t answer the question, since your answer to “what does it mean to say that God guides evolution” seems to be “I don’t know”. But if you don’t know, that just reduces to the faith that it must be so because it must be so. There can certainly be no evidence either for or against the proposition.

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You’re right that I don’t know how divine “guidance” happens. But I would say that even if I can’t answer the question “how exactly does God guide evolution, in light of what we know from science, philosophy, and theology?” right now, I can answer the question “Does God guide evolution?” - which is “yes, like He guides any other natural process, including deterministic ones”.

Perhaps the difference between my reply and the people @Eddie mentioned is that even if we both don’t know exactly how God’s guidance happens, I am willing to openly connect it with some important traditional commitments about God, namely that God is sovereign over all of creation and immanent in it. Secondly, I am also willing to show that I am aware there has been centuries of philosophical and theological work relevant to this. Thirdly, I also explain that whatever the answer to the “how” question is, it’s different from how most ID proponents and some ECs view it.

I think you’re right to point out that these traditional commitments about God are not conclusions to scientific or philosophical arguments, but dogmatic commitments. But shared commitment to dogma, such as that expressed in the Nicene creed, is really important in an intra-Christian context. It is part of what it means to “speak the language of theologians”. There are different rules of dialogue here which must be followed to establish trust. That’s also why Josh will win some sympathy even with YECs when he puts his commitment to Jesus front and center in his presentations.

(I would also say that there is a parallel version of this happening when one interacts with scientists in a certain field. Instead of dogma, to “speak the language” of a field of science, it is important to refer to certain famous models, experiments, concepts and theorems which most scientists in that field hold as important or paradigmatic for the field, in a Kuhnian sense. To do so more effectively establishes your credibility that you know what you’re talking about and that you are aware of and respect the current state of knowledge in the field.)

Now, there is certainly room to explore how special divine action could possibly happen, given what we know from science, philosophy, and theology. Scientists and theologians have gone this route, such as hypothesizing that God could work utilizing the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, for example. I haven’t read enough about this topic to articulate my preferred proposal, which is why I can’t answer the “how” question right now. Maybe once I do, I can actually explain more about how I think God’s guidance in nature actually “works”. But even so, I doubt that my position will be more than just tentative speculation that will not persuade many people, because such is the nature of most theological arguments except for very simple ones. Thus, I think it’s more important that we start by articulating our shared fundamental commitments and go out from there.


Let’s remove the equivocation. You can’t answer how exactly he does it, and you can’t answer even roughly or vaguely how he does it or what “it” is, and it isn’t just right now that you can’t do that, it’s ever. But sure, if it’s your faith in a mystery that you think is essential, there’s no further to go. The conversation ends, and I’m fine with that.

I wouldn’t call this in any way parallel. That’s not dogma, and when we talk about it, we know what it means.

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The part he is saying that parallels science is this:

That is undeniable true about how scientific community works, at least on a social level.

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There are three clauses in the above sentence. I agree with the first two, but not the third. Not sure where you get that from.

I think the parallels are closer than you think. In quantum mechanics, we affirm the results of experiments which are pretty clear and the equations that are deduced from those experiments. But what quantum mechanics really “means” is a complete mystery, as Feynman famously said. But it doesn’t matter. Certain paradigmatic experimental demonstrations (such as the Stern Gerlach experiment) still effectively function as “dogma” in the field of quantum mechanics in a functional, Kuhnian sense.

Note that by “dogma” I don’t mean “something we force ourselves to believe in because we have no good justification for it” but instead “something that is foundational to the field and defines how we form subsequent theoretical predictions and interpret experimental results.” Some “dogma” in science may be well justified by empirical data, some are simply too foundational to be justified by empirical evidence (e.g. the assumption that there is uniformity in nature), and some are just bad assumptions but people haven’t realized them yet.


Yes, I’m referring here mostly to the social level, where rhetoric matter. Because the OP here isn’t just about the substance of the answer to the question of “Does God guide X?” but also how it is presented.


Yes, I prefer things stated up front. I like a world where everybody means what they say, and says what they mean, rather than a world in which people wrap their true feelings and beliefs in all kinds of external guises for self-protective reasons. One of my frustrations with so many in the origins debates – whether atheist or creationist or EC – is that much of what they say and do seems framed in language that disguises motives and commitments. Maybe a prof at a conservative seminary leans liberal, but fears losing his job, so he talks and argues in odd ways that are hard to penetrate. Maybe an ex-fundamentalist is an atheist, but still a part of him wants to hold on to faith, but he disguises that part – even from himself – by zealous tirades against Christianity or religion in general, which deep down he knows rely on caricatures. Maybe a BioLogos leader thinks about God largely deistically, but can’t openly say so in the evangelical atmosphere in his church or college, so he speaks obliquely and ambiguously when ideas such as guidance or sovereignty are brought up.

I grew up in a different world, in liberal, mainstream, wishy-washy Protestantism, where you could say anything without getting banned from your church, and I was educated in secular universities, not religious colleges, where every view from radical Nietzschianism to radical Marxism was tolerated. I’m not used to caginess, guardedness, self-protective masks and dodges, etc. But unfortunately, in origins debates, these things are common. I just got tired of seeing the BioLogos leaders constantly acting as if they were walking on egg shells. I wanted a rigorous intellectual debate on metaphysical and epistemological issues related to religion/science questions, and no one at BioLogos (except Ted Davis) seemed interested in that. They all seemed to be trying to protect something. But my mind is Socratic, the very opposite of a protective mind. I believe in intellectual risk-taking, and that’s not common in origins debates. Tactical speech, tactical silence, etc. are all too common.

One of the most interesting guys in the debates is @vjtorley, who apparently doesn’t care who he offends, but just goes after the truth as well as he can. He even puts his own Christian faith on the table for examination. I don’t always agree with him on details, but I like his fearless attitude. The philosopher knows no fear. But I always felt that BioLogos was permeated by fear, fear of fundamentalism, and perhaps in some cases, of lapsing back into fundamentalism (which is where many EC leaders came from). It’s very hard to have a relaxed talk with someone who is driven by fear, and whose intellectual responses are colored by that fear. I could talk with Ted Davis because he was fearless. The others, from Giberson and Falk all the way through to Kramer and Stump, I found difficult, because they were not fearless.

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Do you think that some day you will be able to say exactly how God acts (or whatever verb you prefer) in the world?

But God acting in everything, or in evolution, isn’t foundational to Christianity, is it?

And I still don’t think the analogy works.

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8 posts were split to a new topic: Do Any Atheists Indulge in Charactures?

Perhaps we may be able to shed light on some of the ways in which he can act specially. Not a complete explanation, but some explanation, narrowing down the possibilities. Your statement was that we can never say anything about how God acts in nature, never ever, not even roughly or vaguely.

God ordaining everything to his goals is foundational to most branches of traditional theology.

Assertions without argument can be dismissed without argument.

What gives you the idea that this is possible?

Everything? So would you say that anyone who doesn’t think so is not a true Christian?

Agreed. Let me try this: in science, the point is to establish that you understand the field; but in religion, the apparent point is to establish that you share beliefs and establish trust based, apparently, on community. I’d say those are not comparable.

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I am probably oversimplifying but I thought @dga471 was making a reasonable point about getting clarity on what is meant by ‘guidance’ in the context of a certain omnipotent god. I think this is reasonably similar to getting clarity on what is meant by ‘heritable’ or by ‘evidence in support of’ in the context of a particular scientific subdiscipline. No one is going to identify guidance by the gods, at least because no one can show the opposite but also because the gods are imaginary. This is not relevant IMO to what Daniel is saying, and so I really think his comparison is fine.

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Well, in their defense. they probably had reason to walk on eggshells.

Perhaps you wanted the intellectual conversation that they were never prepared to give you. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s best to accept as they are, and find elsewhere what you needed.

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Well, yes, given that most of them hardly knew anything about theology, yet made frequent theological statements, when people showed up who actually had read Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Wesley, etc., they might well have felt that they have to tiptoe very carefully to avoid exposure in front of their evangelical target audience. :slight_smile:

Very true, except for the “you”. It wasn’t just me. It was a whole bunch of people. Jon Garvey had the same problem with them. So did Dave Wallace, a guy named pds, and many others. We all thought that BioLogos, with that pretentious Greek-based name, suggesting something academic or at least intellectual, was a serious theoretical effort to harmonize science with Christian theology, rather than simply an advocacy organization trying to make Christians from evangelical backgrounds comfortable with evolution. Hence the constant disconnection in the conversations.

I think that Falk etc. perceived the objectors to their theological statements as creationists acting out of malice aforethought; I think they never perceived that the objections came out of a genuine concern for theological clarity and academic accuracy. I expect that this was partly due to the fact that Falk, Applegate, etc. had no idea at all of how theology was studied in a serious academic (as opposed to evangelical-churchy) context, no idea of the level of historical and philosophical rigor that is required. They simply had never encountered people like myself or Jon Garvey before, and did not know how to constructively react. So they fell back on the reflexes that they had acquired from dealing with Ken Ham, Henry Morris, etc., which is like using badminton moves when the object coming over the net is a tennis ball.

But hey, how did we get into this? Was it George’s question about BioLogos? I think I already answered it: BioLogos never endorsed God-guided evolution. The phrase gave them the cooties. So we can drop the topic of BioLogos. Please!

I don’t think that’s what he was saying, but perhaps he will tell us. It wasn’t about clarity but about shared belief. There is in fact no clarity, and I think he has agreed that there isn’t.

For what I’m trying to say there is not much of a distinction between “sharing beliefs” and “understanding the field”. In both cases one seeks to identify whether another person is a member of one’s community (whether it’s a community of scientists in a sub-field or a community of theologians in a certain tradition). A scientist doesn’t subject every fellow scientist they meet to a comprehensive test on whether they truly understand the field, as that is unrealistic. Instead, we look for shared technical jargon, concepts, and interests, to know that we’re talking “on the same wavelength”.

It seems that you’re just hung up on wanting to make sure that science is “objective” and about “knowledge and understanding” and while theology is “subjective” and about arbitrary “shared beliefs” without justification. That is completely irrelevant from my point. Regardless of the foundation or justification of the disciplines, there are undoubtedly communities of scientists and communities of theologians. They are both communities with certain rules and norms of discourse.

I’d argue they’re in the minority and heterodox, even if they’re Christian. It also depends on the specifics of what they say.

What gives you the idea that it’s not? What’s the use of making statements about what a field of study can or cannot ever accomplish in the future? Seems to be a lot of speculation in both cases.