Is God limited by the laws of nature? If so, this may help make sense of the problem of suffering in the natural world

Hello everyone!

Alejandro D’Brot here. I’m a lecturer in the Biological Sciences department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas - essentially a secular institution with Methodist affiliation. I did my PhD and post-doc in genetics, development and disease at UT Southwestern. I’m Peruvian. Grew up agnostic. Have been on a journey with Jesus these last 20 years.

Thanks Josh Swamidass et al. for putting in the hard work to get this forum off the ground. Reading the conversations that have surfaced here around Adam and Eve reminds me of when I first became aware on theistic evolution. In both instances, I discovered there is a community of scientists and Christians who share many of my thoughts on these topics. Incredibly refreshing and encouraging to know you are not alone!

There are so many ideas I would want to discuss that deal more directly with biology and genetics, but I would like to start with one of the more recent theological/philosophical ideas I’ve been mulling over. This is the first time putting these ideas to paper, so bear with me.

Disclaimer: I am not trained in theology or philosophy. I am virtually certain these ideas are not new or unique to me (they may even be found on this very forum!); I am simply not well-read enough to be aware of those who have pioneered and expounded on them. I believe they may fit best with process theology but I’m not sure. I hope that someone can enlighten me and point me to existing literature :).

Proposal: God is limited and this helps make sense of creation, eschatology, and the problem of evil in the natural world.

All Christians and theists accept that God is limited to some extent.

Is God evil? No. Does God hate people? No. I think most Christians believe God is good and he is loving. Evil and hatred of people are contrary to his nature. This is reflected throughout the Scriptures.

“Can God create a rock so heavy he cannot lift it?” This statement is illogical and circular, therefore we cannot impose it on God. Most agree that God abides by the rules of logic. Thank you C.S. Lewis.

Open theism proposes that God is limited in his knowledge of the future.

My question is: can we extend God’s limitations to the laws of nature (mathematics and physics)?

If so, was God limited in how created the universe, the earth and humans? I think most of us think God is limitless in his creative abilities. He can create ANYTHING imaginable. If God CAN create anything conceivable, this implies this universe is the best conceivable universe, right? Why would he create anything less than that?

But maybe this universe is not the best conceivable universe. Maybe this is the best universe that God could have created given the limitations of the laws of mathematics and physics. In other words, our idea of what is possible is unrealistic and unattainable, even by God. So maybe the best universe God could have created necessarily involves the long arduous natural processes of birth and death of solar systems, evolution, natural selection, tectonic plate shifts, volcanic eruptions, flooding, earthquakes, etc.

I think to most people, this would imply that God is not omnipotent. But as we’ve seen, God cannot act contrary to his nature; he cannot act contrary to logic. Similarly, perhaps God cannot act contrary to the laws of nature. This does not necessarily mean these exist apart from God or outside of God. Maybe the laws of mathematics and physics, like goodness and love, are part of the very nature of God and, therefore, he cannot act contrary to them or outside of them. So perhaps, this is simply an extension of what it means to say that God’s power is limited by his nature.

Now, if this universe is the best God could have created given the limitations of the laws of nature, does this mean the universe is subject to an eternity of pain and suffering? No. I think creation is ongoing and still happening. I think this is alluded to in Revelation. Here comes the eschatological part.

The new heaven and new earth (which is really heaven coming down to earth) described in Revelation 21 and 22 appears to be a description superior to that of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2. This implies that the universe is not simply being redeemed back to Eden, but beyond Eden. This implies an ongoing act of creation. Further up and further in, as C.S. Lewis put it.

I see God’s covenant with Israel and the incarnation of Jesus as two important milestones in God’s continuing process of creation. He has chosen to partner with humans to “redeem all things” or, in this view I am proposing, to “co-create” with Him. In the incarnation, he has chosen to enter into our suffering, open the fountain of forgiveness, and give us His Spirit to empower our “co-creation” with Him, our “reconciling” all things to Christ.

This is obviously pretty unorthodox theology. I know there are numerous problems that arise with this view. I think that one of the most glaring counterpoints to be made from an orthodox Christian standpoint is that God works via miracles throughout the scriptures. IF by definition a miracle is God suspending the laws of nature, then why could he have not done this at the point of creation? I don’t think this is necessarily a defeater and I’m sure this has been addressed by others when arguing for theistic evolution/evolutionary creation.

I hope some of you find these ideas to be interesting and worth discussing here. Maybe these ideas have already been expounded on by philosophers or theologians, old and new. If so, I would LOVE to be made aware of them so I can read up more! Regardless, it has been exciting to explore these ideas and I think they have important implications on the problem of evil and theodicy.

Any thoughts? Please discuss!


HI, and welcome.

Two very quick comments:

I don’t. Nor do some others here.

I think that would render impossible some of the miracles described in the bible, such as extending the length of a day.

Let me first say that I appreciate your response.


Do you not think that God’s power is limited to by his own nature? Can God be evil? Can God hate people? This is pretty standard theology.

Yes, as I stated toward the end, miracles are a big sticking point. But still, it depends :slight_smile: .

Did God have to break the laws of nature to extend the length of the day? Is there a way in which he could have worked with the laws of nature to extend the day? Perhaps.

Also depends on how you read and interpret scripture. I don’t have a problem with reading that text in a non-literal way.

I don’t expect the ideas I proposed in my post will sit well with orthodox Christians. However, I have listened to enough open theologians and process theologians to know that there are Christians out there who may share enough common ground with what I proposed and can therefore engage these ideas in more nuanced conversation.

Would it not render impossible any act of God at all other than passively actualizing the laws of nature? In what meaningful sense could God be said to have created humans if it all happened through natural processes? How is the new Eden supposed to arise without miracles? Perhaps there are good answers to these questions, but I don’t see them. The invocation of C.S. Lewis certainly doesn’t help, as he seems a very muddy thinker though an entertaining writer.

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Hey John! Thanks for your response.

In light of what you posted, I think I misread Roy :). Sorry Roy.

When I said

I meant Christians. I now see my mistake. My apologies!

Not sure where you two are at, but if you are atheists or agnostics (some of my favorite people [not sarcasm]), then let me just say that there are other views on God and his activity than the mainstream Christianity you may be familiar with. I’ll reference open theism and process theology. Perhaps what I’m discussing may be too far left field to be even considered within the Christian realm, and may be better suited as non-classical theism.

I guess what I’m proposing is that God acts through natural processes. I personally am okay with the idea of God simply setting the stage - laws of mathematics and physics - and then letting it all play out. I personally do not feel the need to believe that God supernaturally intervened in nature to create humans.

Maybe the new Eden arises through present means? The slow, painstaking processes of seeking peace with others and learning to become good stewards of the environment. There are many ways to read and interpret the Bible - especially the book of Revelation, which uses a ton of allegory.

Haha, touche. He uses the phrase in the Chronicles of Narnia, a children’s book series, to describe Narnia as never-ceasing in wonder and beauty. I borrowed the phrase to ascribe the same poetic idea to this present on-going act of creation. And when I say creation, I mean a naturalistic process initiated by God.

The theology in the opening post certainly gets around Epicurus’ Trilemma:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?


I can agree with that, though in fact the definition of “Christian” is contentious. It’s easier to discern a True Scotsman. More importantly, I don’t know if this brand of theism can be distinguished from atheism. What, in this view, is the difference between a universe + God and a universe, period? If the addition or subtraction of God makes no difference, as it appears to from my reading of your statements, then what’s the point of having one?

I have been unable in the several years that people have been saying that to discern what it means or could mean. Nobody has to act through natural processes. They just happen on their own. If God had a physical form, then sure, as people act through natural processes just fine. You pick up a hammer, you pound in a nail. But this doesn’t seem to be what’s implied for God. Nor is it miraculous intervention. Some have suggested the careful setup of the initial conditions of the Big Bang, the supposed “cosmic billiard shot”. But isn’t that still a miracle, merely once only and long ago? So that doesn’t fit. Some have proposed that this is an ineffable concept, and while that certainly puts a stop to the discussion, it doesn’t really settle anything.

How’s that working out for us so far? The evidence does not suggest that we’re approaching the Earthly Paradise, unfortunately. We might be able to save some form of civilization, but I don’t see a radical shift in human nature coming.

Initiated how, and when? That’s the rub.


Welcome to PS Alejandro! :slight_smile:

We occasionally see discussion about what God would not do, or should not do.

In other forums it’s not hard to find people who think God can break any paradox. These folks do not abide by the rules of logic even if God does. :wink:

It sounds like you have a lot to offer, and I look forwards to discussions with you.

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You might be interested in the work of Tom Oord, in particular his book, * The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (2015) 978-0830840847

His take to open theism is Relational Theology which (roughly) says that God love means that he never coerces.

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No need - it happens a lot.

Assuming atheists/agnostics aren’t familiar with non-mainstream views of God is probably worse than assuming people aren’t atheists/agnostics.


I can’t think of one. Stopping the planet’s rotation would have required breaking the laws of motion. Time-dilation would have required breaking various laws of physics, including fluid dynamics and friction.

You haven’t suggested a way either, so perhaps there isn’t one.

Though since you seem to be suggesting the Bible may not be accurately describing actual events, there may be no need for one.


So true. I think that in large part this is the product of Protestantism being founded on dissent. Differing views result in “speciation” of denominations which eventually give rise to entirely different lineages of Protestantism. But on a positive note, this allows the religion to evolve, which means it will (sorry to break it to you, haha) be around for a very long time.

Also, Protestantism is an enlightenment baby and, as such, prioritizes doctrine and theology above spirituality and practice of the way of Jesus.

I guess I see God as interacting with the human mind. The mind being the interface between nature and God?

I try to stay as far away from God of the gaps theism as possible. The only place I sometimes make a concession, depending on the day, is perhaps the “cosmic billiard shot” as you put it.

Moreover, I’d say this whole enterprise we call the universe is, even if one does not ascribe to the supernatural, a “miraculous” thing. Don’t misconstrue me - even if we could explain every detail of every mechanism of every phenomenon in nature in a purely naturalistic way (which I think may very well be possible), I think one can still be in awe and in wonder of it all. In fact, I’m not sure if you can be a scientist and NOT be in awe and wonder of it all. The sheer improbability of our minds mining the depths of the universe puts a smile on my face :).

Maybe in the same way that language is a phenomenological manifestation of being human, the strong force, gravity, complexity over time are all phenomenological manifestations of being God. I’m being very Buddhist here perhaps but maybe everything is God. And maybe God is more than the universe.

I don’t see a radical shift coming either - hence my calling it slow and painstaking, haha. But I’m with Steven Pinker on this one. I think humanity as a whole has come a long way, it still has a long way to go, and we have what it takes as a species to make it there. Especially as we learn to deny ourselves and lay down our lives for our neighbor.

Wow. apparently I have the optimism of a secular humanist, haha.

I guess you could say that’s what we’re all dying to find out!

Good points and questions! Forgive me for rambling :).

Thank you for being gracious :).

I was actually going off your responses to my post. At first I thought you two were fundamentalist Christians, haha!

Thanks, Jordan! Will do!

Thanks, Dan! Very kind of you. Looking forward to getting into the biology and genetics and learning from everyone here.

That sounds like very little. God is all in your mind?

One can be in awe and wonder without there being anything that ought to be called a miracle. This is equivocating on definitions, and that’s not good practice.

This isn’t exactly Buddhist. It’s more college freshman’s first encounter with weed. I certainly don’t have a clue what it means, though to be fair, I’m not high.

I don’t really think we have time to go that long way.

Pantheism is, as the British say, pants.

I had to look up what the British mean by pants. Gave me a chuckle!

However, what I described is not pantheism, but panentheism. This isn’t necessarily any less pants, but sadly the pun is lost on panentheism :).

I see what you did there. No, God is not all in the mind. But perhaps the mind is the best place to experience God. It is the best place to experience beauty. It is the best place to experience love. It is the best place to experience. Period. For me, that is enough :).

Absolutely agree with you here. Pardon my cheekiness :). I guess what I was trying to convey here is that the awe and wonder that nature evokes is what many would call a “religious” experience. Thus, if nature is the only expression of God we could ever experience, that is alright with me.

Maybe not exactly Buddhist, but Buddhist nonetheless. Here’s a beautiful quote from Soyen Shaku, a late Zen Master.

“Again, Buddhism is not pantheistic in the sense that it identifies the universe with God. On the other hand, the Buddhist God is absolute and transcendent; this world, being merely its manifestation, is necessarily fragmental and imperfect. To define more exactly the Buddhist notion of the highest being, it may be convenient to borrow the term very happily coined by a modern German scholar, “panentheism,” according to which God is πᾶν καὶ ἕν (all and one) and more than the totality of existence”

I am having a blast sharing my off-the-cuff and in-progress ideas on the topic, but I want to make it clear that my intention with this post is not to convince anyone of anything, least of all, atheists.

My original post was directed to Christians (I have edited it to reflect as much - thanks, Roy!) with the intention of getting their thoughts on these more progressive ideas (which again I am certain are not unique to me - Jordan: planning on picking up that Tom Oord book soon!). I suspect there may be a greater likelihood of finding Christians that are open to unconventional theological ideas on this forum than on others.

Anyway, just want to make sure to state my intent and posture here :). Happy to keep exploring the topic with you and the rest!

Can you elaborate? What leads you to this conclusion? What do we do about it? Curious to hear what your thoughts are on this. Not saying you are wrong on this (again not trying to prove anyone right or wrong). Just genuinely curious :).

Isn’t it the only place to experience? Not sure where you’re going here.

But that experience doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with God. Again it’s not clear what you’re trying to get at.

Global warming, more or less. It appears that we will do nothing as the climate deteriorates to the point that civilization will be destabilized. If I knew what to do about it I would tell you. But the outlook from here isn’t good.