Does God Guide Evolution?

@Mervin_Bitikofer,

Well said, Mervin! I didn’t realize that there was such a sizable “Science Can Do It All” crowd… and so tender in their feelings!

In this and in subsequent comments, it seems to me that you are still not taking on board one of the main points Jim made in this article. To look for God’s guidance as one particular scientifically identifiable event is to tacitly concede then that everything else is outside of God’s sovereignty. This is not a scripturally viable place where theists should be planting their flags. God is in charge of and guiding photosynthesis and even the humble rain drop every bit as much as everything else. Our understanding of each process (even if it were “complete” in some scientifically satisfying sense) would not at all contradict the theological narrative about that same event.

This does of course lead to all sorts of theodicy snarls that perhaps motivate this attempted partitioning in the first place, but in the end nobody (including IDers) escapes that Gordian knot anyway.

[edited for clarity]

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Well, I don’t know how big that crowd is; I’m only going of comments I’ve heard more than once in this forum (and not just atheists, but from Christians too, come to think of it). The “nones” are quite a large portion of our population now, though I realize that not all of them might qualify as being embroiled in Scientism.

I’m fairly convinced that folks have left the struggle of BioLogos vs. YECs for one simple reason:

they have no confidence that the new generations care anything about religion in the sense that we do.

How can we defeat YEC’s hold on culture, if our future generations don’t see religion as a solution?

Mostly, I burn bridges. haha. In this case, however, I don’t really see a need to build a bridge because ID is fading from the scene, mostly due to its own mistaken forays into politics and culture war. But that’s a whole 'nother conversation.

I don’t have to prevent science from “going there.” The scientists have made their own rules and limited themselves to the study of natural causes. All that we have to do is remind them to “stay in their own lane” when they are tempted to speculate about anything else, including (but not limited to) the existence of God and any statements of meaning, purpose, or value. I’d say that’s a pretty small box that they have locked themselves inside, and we shouldn’t do them any favors by changing the rules to include an escape hatch.

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Let me jump in–speaking only for myself, not for BL, although I am actively involved with BL so I am part of the group Grudem and the others are evaluating.

I’ll make two replies.

First, I believe in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus (and many other genuine miracles also, but let me name only that big one). And–everyone else who works for BL also believes in the bodily Resurrection (and other miracles). So, everyone who works for BL believes that God “intervene[s] or act[s] directly to cause … empirically detectable change[s] in the natural behavior of matter.” Unlike (say) John Haught and many other contemporary theologians who work on “science and religion,” I believe that a video recorder outside Jesus’ tomb would in fact have recorded the presence of his glorified body, constituting empirical evidence of “changes in the natural behavior of matter.” I say this without any qualification. By itself, this should be sufficient to refute Grudem’s definition, insofar as it is alleged to apply to BL. For some reason (I won’t speculate about anyone’s motives), critics of BL’s position just seem unable to see this very obvious fact. Speaking as an historian of science & religion (who probably reads more theology than most historians or most scientists), IMO there just is no viable definition of “Deism” that maps onto BL. None. Let’s please lay this one to rest (he says, hopefully, but doubtfully).

Second, my own view is that God actively guides evolution and many other natural phenomena, but I probably conceive of this differently than Jim–and in ways that Jim might find problematic (perhaps for good reasons). I won’t try to elaborate on objections Jim might raise; he is absolutely capable of doing that, far better than me. I make this point only to indicate to our critics that this is one of those questions (divine action in natural history) on which people in the BL fold have multiple understandings. My view is basically a gussied-up version of Asa Gray’s famous view, that “variation [in evolution] has been led along certain beneficial lines.” As best I can gather, Gray meant that God had personally ensured certain specific outcomes in the history of life, by tinkering (if I may use that word) with mutations. That is also my position. Owen Gingerich holds a similar view: see my review of his book, God’s Universe, here: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/05/300-all-things-bright-and-beautiful. So does Robert Russell: see his chapter in this book, https://biologos.org/resources/books/perspectives-on-an-evolving-creation/. As I’ve come to expect from him, Russell spells out his position in a detailed, nuanced manner. For a glimpse of Russell’s overall view of divine action, see this: https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/series/the-god-who-acts-robert-john-russell-on-divine-intervention-and-divine-action. With regard to the specific case of God guiding evolution, Russell picks up on an observation by physicist William Pollard, namely, that one important place where quantum uncertainty has macroscopic consequences is genetic mutations. Pollard was right: we know that radiation is cause of mutations, and radiation often arises from quantum-level events. Russell then argues that God could genuinely cause certain quantum events (without being seen as “intervening” in nature, since such activity would not break any physical laws or be empirically detectable) that would in turn lead to certain specific mutations.

Anyway, that is the position I presently like best, in terms of mechanisms that flesh out my belief that God guides evolution. As Russell emphasizes, however, such divine action is objective, but not empirically detectable. (Gingerich takes a similar attitude.) My own view on this question is not a counter-example to Grudem’s definition, since he insists that God’s actions be empirically detectable. (Of course I already showed why his definition of TE just won’t work for BL.) On the other hand, my view in spirit contradicts Grudem’s definition: I believe that, if God did not sometimes act in the way described here, then evolution would not have produced human beings and many other specific organisms.

IMO, what I just said gets at what is really the most fundamental point of difference between BL and ID. It’s not whether God works miracles (we all believe God does), it’s not whether the universe is designed (we believe it is designed), and it’s not even about methodological naturalism (every single scientist I know believes that science can understand only natural causes, not supernatural ones). It’s about whether inferences to design are fully scientific, or more philosophical/theological/metaphysical in nature. It should be clear to readers that I believe in drawing design inferences from certain natural phenomena; if not, I wouldn’t have blogged Polkinghorne’s splendid essay: https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/belief-in-god-in-an-age-of-science-john-polkinghorne-part-one. However, like Polkinghorne, I don’t believe such inferences follow necessarily from the evidence, in some straightforward scientific manner. Unless I’m just totally misreading ID proponents, they do in fact believe something like that–and, they have to have that type of epistemic force and confidence in order to advance the cultural reforms that go hand in hand with their view that science requires belief in an “intelligent designer.”

I hope that if I am mistaken to draw this distinction, someone from Discovery will visit here under their own name and provide a corrective. No arguments by proxy, please.

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Thanks, @TedDavis, for your characteristically astute words. I originally had a couple places in the article where I emphasized that this was my view – not the BioLogos view. And in one of the other comments here, I mention the view of God causing genetic mutations as one way some of our people think God’s guidance is best explained. I think that view is worthy of further study. What I don’t think it does, though, is to give an account of God’s action when he isn’t causing mutations. In other words, we still have the problem of what Aubrey Moore called “episodic deism”. And of course the severity of the problem will vary with how many of the mutations God causes in this way, but it is only a difference of degree, not of kind. We still need to account for how God is involved in evolution when he’s not causing a mutation. Now of course, such an account could be given alongside the Russell view of non-interventionist action; but then I start to wonder whether those non-intervening actions are superfluous.

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Hello Ted. Thanks for this. A couple of replies.

Miracles. Yes, but I think the claim under review is more about providence/divine action: God’s (possibly) ongoing interaction with creation in ways that might not be known or observable. Both sides agree that there are miracles, but that’s not where the conflict lies.

Evolution. Russell provides one concrete answer to my guidance question: God guides evolution through random quantum events and genetic mutations. But I don’t think that Jim or Deborah want to go that route. That’s fine, but then I want to know what route they go that would still count as guidance. God as necessary condition is not enough.

ID and science. Yes, ID proponents argue that design has earned its place as science, not merely (!) theology or metaphysics. Dembski has said that if that’s all ID amounts to, it isn’t worth it.

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This reminds me of a quote from Stephen Meyer:

“If there is no evidence of design, and materialistic processes can account for everything we see, then the simplest metaphysical explanation of the reality around us, the scientific reality, is the materialistic worldview: Matter and energy are eternal, self-existent, self-creating, and perfectly capable of producing everything we see around us.” (source)

I find the discussion about God’s guidance to be fascinating, and while I find myself skeptical about @TedDavis’s proposal for largely the same reasons as @jstump, I have huge respect for it.

What I bristle against is the idea (present in the Meyer quote above, and littered throughout ID literature, including the Crossway book) that the burden of proof lies entirely on theists to demonstrate empirically that nature is not a mindless, purposeless machine. In other words, it’s up to theists to show that God is doing something, otherwise the simplest explanation is that he’s absent. With @jstump, I flatly reject this premise.

For me, the real mind-bender of the origins debate is why so many Christians not only affirm this premise, but are among its most ardent defenders.

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@jeffkoperski

If I may ask a diagnostic question of you:

Door #1: Did God just “allow” the “dino-killing” asteroid to strike earth more than 60 million years ago?

Door #2: Or did He formulate the course of the asteroid as part of His intentions at the very moment of creation? . . . . with one thing leading to another until such time as the asteroid has been formed, and then eventually diverted (by prior impacts, or passing gravity fields) on its way to Earth?

Or, do you prefer Door #3?: God, from the moment of creation, intended for the asteroid to hit Earth when it did… but part of the chain of causations was waiting for the precise moment when the asteroid needed to be
created (by means of “special creation”), and then being sent on its way - - not by means of a long chain of natural causation back to the Big Bang - - but by God picking exactly when he would “mediate” between two or more chains of natural causation, in order to clear Earth of the dinosaurs and allow the rise of the mammals!

None of the above, but closer to (1) than (2) or (3).

Thank you for the exceptional speed with which you responded to my question.
Do you need more time to formulate a hybrid response? Or is it impossible to put into words
why you are close to Door #1, but not actually at Door #1?

In the meantime, why would you think a Christian audience would, “on average”, be more comfortable with proximity to Door #1 than with choosing one of the other 2 doors?

I will need more time: approximately a year and half in order to finish my current book project, and that’s assuming that my Templeton grant goes through. I make no claims about what view is most acceptable to a Christian audience. That’s a different question altogether.

@jeffkoperski:

I’m hoping this amounts to a general “As You Were!” to the diverse aggregation of BioLogos supporters and their inclination to perceive God as planning all things.?

It means I don’t have a dog in this fight (yet). I’m still trying to get a handle on the other dogs first.

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Exactly the point. There are literally an infinite variety of ways that God could guide biological evolution, just as there are an infinite variety of ways that he could influence the course of human history. We simply don’t know enough about the exercise or limits of divine power to answer the question. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, no matter how many times the question is asked.

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George, perhaps to look at God putting an asteroid in the right place and time to clear out the dinosaurs is thinking a bit too small. Perhaps God knew from the beginning that it would take a billion planetary systems around a billion stars (or perhaps a billion billion) in order to have one planet develop a life form capable of carrying his image. And he made it so. The causative act is not then the nudging of an asteroid in its orbit, but the act of creation itself

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@jpm

Exactly!

Which is why I produced Three Doors in my initial “diagnostic question”!

What you are suggesting is Door #2. But I am also quite fine with Door #3 being one of the logical options within the BioLogos umbrella. Door #1 seems rather non-Christian to me.

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You may be the next Monte Hall of the forum. Now, which door has the goat behind it?
None of the choices really seem satisfying. But if I had to choose, guess door two would be it, though I would allow for perhaps some fine tuning by miraculous means here and there, though that leaves open the criticism that it really should not need it. However, perhaps there are some things like perhaps initial abiogenesis that needed a jump start. That too would leave the door open for a God of the gaps criticism.

@jpm

Door #3 is the fine-tuning scenario. And some people love that door. Here’s why: let’s suppose you are an artist that works only in clay… clay and glazes of the most beautiful shades. And you have the perfect conclusion to your masterpiece … but the one thing you know in your mastery of clay is that clay will not support the final gorgeous imagery that you want.

What you need is something that won’t work in the natural world of the universe you have created. You want little tear drops of glass, that irradiate with purple light, and that taste like chocolate ice cream.

(Hey, @jpm, don’t ask me about the ice cream… that’s the inspiration I got for this discussion!)

So… at exactly the right moment, you create those gorgeous tear-drops and mix it into your clay … they aren’t natural. They are super natural. And they finish the project perfectly.

Those tear-drops are, in fact, souls that you have just added to a whole world of people you just created!

You say, to my surprise, that you think such behavior will be open to criticism that the scenario should not need such special workings. Humph… that’s a little presumptuous, don’t you think? Who are we to say what is or isn’t necessary in our Cosmos?

The reverse of this kind of presumptuousness is to then surmise… that if God does it, it should be detectable by scientific method. Oh brother … does this kervetching ever end?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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