Are we just splitting hairs?

I was reading a post by RJS where she discusses “Adam and the Genome” and found this statement particularly appealing:
"Evolution can be design. We should move away from the idea that evolution and design are mutually exclusive. God can and does work through a wide range of process that we consider “natural.” The distinction between natural process and divine action can distort our view of God’s work in his creation. "
complete article here, worth reading:

It seems that this thought process impacts the way EC and ID relate, and even how YEC and EC relate, as often we hear from our YEC brothers and sisters that EC is just naturalism.
So, the question posed is, Do you find the distinction between natural process and divine action is artificial, and how does it affect how you see creation?

1 Like


To be fair, the distinction between process (efficient causes) and design (final causes) is one that a lot of ID people - and ECs like me - have been making for years, usually to a response of blank incomprehension.

The natural/supernatural dichotomy is one not made in Scripture, in which all things are ordered by God, making secondary causes essentially instruments of divine governance, not autonomous agents. I suggest it’s a cultural artifact produced by the way modern science developed, and (in the end) doesn’t work with a robust theology.

I did argue that here, but here’s a link to a reiteration.


I do think it’s artificial. Jon and I disagree on this topic (which we’ve kind of beaten over the head in another thread). I don’t see such a stark dichotomy between a nature that is endowed by it’s creator to run on its own that man can struggle in, study, understand and come together to manipulate to their benefit, on the one hand, and God working at times to prosper His kingdom and to help individuals with their salvations on the other.

Yes, the bible doesn’t make a distinction between natural and divine processes, nor could it at the time. I’ll say it again, I my own opinion anyway, God ordaining the universe with it’s own intelligence to get us here is well within the confines of a traditional theology where God is in control of nature.

There are legitimate disputes about the ability of God to predict the outcomes of certain aspects of nature. But, as far as I can see now, they are not too much for God of the bible, but are for us. In the end, I don’t think we know enough about certain things to make the claim that, “God can’t know what it will do, so he can’t guarantee us getting here.” It is God we’re talking about, after all.

As I’ve stated before, if it seems that nature runs on its own, maybe it does. If God wanted us to know that he’s doing something in nature, why isn’t it evident? I know Jon will respond that science and good theology won’t allow a, “get’s it done on its own” nature, but I simply disagree.

I only have one little quibble with your description, my good @Richard_Wright1:

". . . I don’t see such a stark dichotomy between a nature that is endowed by it’s creator
- - to run on its own - - < < < I think this is an awful phrase!
that man can struggle [with] . . . "

I would propose this rewrite:
". . . I don’t see such a stark dichotomy between a nature that is endowed by it’s creator

- - sustained by God’s will each and every moment - - <whose dreadful idea is it that nature "runs on its own"?

that man can struggle [with] . . . "

Hi George,

Aren’t, “sustained by God’s will each and every moment” and, “endowed with a divine intelligence to accomplish God’s ends” really the same thing?


Sounds good to me, @Richard_Wright1!

My problem was the phrase:
". . . is endowed by it’s creator - - to run on its own - - "

^ ^ ^ Worst phrase in metaphysics I’ve ever seen. From God’s perspective, what does “run on its own” mean, except short hand for Deism from the pre-1800’s?

1 Like

Hey, at least we’re talking metaphysics here, which is the right area to look at!

My separation of “final causation” (aims, purposes, designs) from “efficient causation” (means and processes) doesn’t, as far as I can see, clash with Richard’s view, even if my personal outworking of that and his are not the same.

If God has in mind a purpose - be that the arrival of mankind or chamelions, the salvific death of Christ, or the KT event - and creates a Universe in which that purpose is fulfilled, then the fulfilment is ultimately the result of divine action, and the means he has created are, in effect, mere details in terms of theology.

Now, those details may be important and worthy of study in their own right, such as the relationships between regular causes we study as science, but they should not be seen (in terms of final causation/teleology) as being independent of God. In classical theology, the limiting case of this is free human action, which has its own agendas and causes, and yet is seen to be subordinate to God’s final purpose and will (as in classic cases like the death of Christ in Acts 4.27-28, or the placing of Joseph in Egypt in Genesis).

The real divergence of view comes if God’s final causation and efficient causation are completely divorced from each other, for example by suggesting that “Nature” is given true independence by God, in the sense that it may or may not achieve God’s purposes, or that it would be “coercive” for God to build such purposes into the way things are. If God does not achieve his (final) purposes, then it’s a different kind of universe from the first.

There are actually only two possible kinds of such independent causes: choice and chance. The first would operate where “Nature” is personified as “free”, as well as in a radically autonomous view of human choice. One has then to deal both with the question of powers independent of God, and where the “free will” of this Nature actually resides, if it even makes sense.

The second, chance, would operate where ontological randomness is admitted as a true cause, ie where God creates processes not subject to his final causation, or in other words processes which cause themselves for no reason. Here there is a logical impasse to believing in God’s governance, for the whole point of positing such randomness is that it is a power beyond God’s control.

Agree, for the reasons above - except that even in Deism, “running on its own” implied running to a pre-conceived plan (God’s final causation), like an automaton. Shift that into the computer age, and make that “running on its own” a complex algorithm involving decision nodes and the rest, and it doesn’t alter the case to speak of: if God plans the ends, and creates means sufficient to meet them, then they are “running under God”, not “on their own”.

1 Like

I am struggling to understand this - can you elaborate.

Perhaps a little more accurately, one might think of it as an extremely complex version of a “cellular automata” program [wikipedia ref]. A practical application of these sorts of modeling techniques is modelling how a disease might spread in a particular population; I did something a bit strange like that some time ago in this work where you have a “population” composed of “agents” that have certain behavioral and cultural patterns that you can define, and then you randomly drop a disease into their midst. By any measure, these “agents” are always very simple (they possess a very limited number of adjustable parameters or “characteristics” and those “characteristics” are typically hard wired at time zero), but perhaps God’s supercomputer (said in jest) does not have to concern itself with memory, processor speed, or scalability issues. At any rate, the point is that, in principle, you can design a program that operates like an “environment” and put within it a set of independent (or even in principle somewhat dependent) characteristics for its “agents” and “environment”, provide a set of initial conditions, and play out a simulation to see the outcome. If we were to permit even the environment and the agents to morph and change over time, it is possible to simulate evolution in principle (depending on how much detail you demand, and how much time and resource you have). I know some people who do that sort of thing in fact.

In general, our “simulations” are almost always very short term and aimed at a plausible change of a particular characteristic. Even at this level, it seems like this is basically chaos, though I surely haven’t verified whether small variations in the initial conditions can actually be described in terms of a Lyapunov exponent. It is a bit hard to test even, because these are “agents” and “environments”, not mere simple parameters in a differential equation. Nevertheless, we can claim that God knows every simulation and selected the proper initial conditions. So even the concept of “intervention” is difficult to call entirely deist, because we do say, as Christians, that God is in control, and events are in effect ordained

For example, Isaiah 37:26-29
“Have you not heard?
Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities
into piles of stone.
Their people, drained of power,
are dismayed and put to shame.
They are like plants in the field,
like tender green shoots,
like grass sprouting on the roof,
scorched[d] before it grows up.
“But I know where you are
and when you come and go
and how you rage against me.
Because you rage against me
and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
by the way you came.

So God does know, and nothing in this passage implies that God even directly steps into the picture, but merely carries out his preordained plan on schedule (so as to say). Well, in the context of God’s message to Sennacherib, it is hard to tell in verse 29 if “reached my ears” should be read literally or figuratively. God is all knowing and knows Sennacherib’s heart. … For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

Not to pick on our fellow brothers in Christ, as I have struggled with these matters myself. However, one of issues with ID and YEC is the penchant to expect to see God doing “action” somewhere in the process. This is man: the CEO pressing the button, the presidential speech before opening some project, etc. We should ask, is this God? Though it is far beyond our ability to even imagine, if God already took all the events in the creation of the heavens and the earth into account, and planned a specific outcome, how is not the whole thing “intervention”? … and mind you, I am not proclaiming that God didn’t intervene, that I simply don’t know. However, even if we don’t find some smoking gun anywhere indicating “miracle happened here”, maybe this even says how far more awesome God really is.

by Grace we proceed,


Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

I don’t think my statement is all that difficult to understand. If we accept for the sake of argument that men evolved, then I contend that God could have, and in my opinion did, give this nature autonomy, having its own laws, that were designed to get us here. That submits to traditional theology since it was God’s intention for us to get here from the beginng - that we’re not a, “happy accident”.

Hi Richard,

No worries. From your response I think you are proposing a universe that was set at the beginning and it went in its own way - so it is no accident and yet has autonomy.

The phrase that has thrown me is “its own intelligence”. This could mean it has its own purpose and intention and decides outcomes. I suspect you may not mean this, but I think you may understand why I find this notion difficult to grasp.

On laws of nature, we can discuss these at length - briefly however, these are constructs of human intelligence and reason as we endeavour to comprehend the creation. The significance of this is the intelligibility of the world of objects which means human intellect can access objects and derive reliable articulations (maths mainly). I cannot see this reversed and nature displays intelligence - meaning its own intent and end results.


Right! I’ve never been a fan for this kind of speculation. It sounds wrong … and I think we can safely say that it is wrong.


There are two meanings of “autonomy” that are sometimes confused, and make all the difference in this discussion.

The first is the sense you use, which is that of “specific laws given to specific folks” - “laws for the self”. To speak less than scientifically, God gives different laws to lions and to lambs, to quanta and molecules, and (in the manner of Wayne’s “cellular automata”) they obey their maker’s plans, fulfil his will - or maybe in another perspective manifest the information inherent in the algorithms.

The other is that underpinning our current society (and hence many opinions held by scientists, theologians, and even Evolutionary Creationists), which is that of autonomy as “specific laws made by specific folks” - “laws from the self”. I suspect we agree on the difference, and on which apply in God’s creation - but (to qualiify George’s assumption) I think we can only safely say the latter is wrong by presenting reasoning and by understanding revelation, because God could have left the universe to plan its own destiny, and there are many Postmodernists, Open Theists and Libertarians who say he did.

With that (I think) agreement, I’d simply add that, in my view, reason and revelation don’t present the “good” version of autonomy as God’s entire dealings with the world - there is immanence as well as transcendance, contingency as well as order. The scientistic explanation for the latter is randomness - Monod’s “Chance and Necessity”. I say the Bible teaches neither, but rather “Choice and Law.”