Does God Guide Evolution?

That is what I was saying here:

To your question of God’s guidance in everyday life, Dallas Willard outlines a few principles in his book Hearing God, but most often it is through secondary, “ordinary” means, not miraculous interventions. To the outside observer, these appear perfectly mundane, as if nothing at all out of the ordinary had happened. And, if you try to explain an instance of God’s guidance in your life to an unbeliever, they will always have a “reasonable” alternative explanation, which usually comes down to “coincidence.”

Along the same lines, I see no reason why God could not guide evolution through secondary, “ordinary” means that would leave no trace to the outside observer. To demand that God’s guidance be empirically detectable in evolution when it is not in any other situation is an unreasonable demand. And although I can look at the process of evolution through the eyes of faith and see God’s involvement at every step, the unbeliever will always have an alternative “reasonable” explanation, simply because they are determined to find one.


I had/am having an email exchange with Eddie, who raised good points in regard to a post of mine above where I had written:

He responded (rightly I think) to me/us that this is a logical fallacy in which I take one statement: that “events should, in principle, be able to be identifiable as God’s actions”; and to assume the person so convicted then is implying that God’s hand is not in everything else such as photosynthesis or rain drops. I am not showing Eddie’s email here, but I do paste my response to him below.

I concede my error in logic. And I should know better too, having taught about that fallacy (assuming the inverse – or “affirming the consequent” as I guess it is more commonly called) in some of my own classes! You are correct that it does not follow that stating that action X is from God necessarily implies that action Y is not.

In the interest of defending myself somewhat and giving some push back, let me see if I can reformulate my position in something of a more coherent manner. So you state that those (such as Aquianas of old or perhaps some IDists today) can affirm that some actions of God might be scientifically detectable as such, which in no way forces the conclusion that God’s hand is not therefore in everything else too. [my former error which I now repent of thanks to your challenge.] Okay. Acknowledged. Here is what remains that still stands between me and whole-hearted, strong-ID endorsement. I am not aware of any compelling success on the strong-ID front in their mission to produce this empirical evidence that distinguishes phenomenon X (God’s special action) from phenomenon Y (God’s ordinary action). Granted, I’m not in any position to have directly evaluated all proposed evidence that has thus far been advanced. So I’m relying on experts in various fields whom I decide to trust to have reliably vetted all such evidence for me, and I can accept or reject their appraisal of it, but that judgment of mine involves trust since the subject will often be outside my capacities for direct evaluation. And here I think you and ID proponents attack another potential weakness: if all these experts on whom I bestow such trust have themselves adhered to a prior commitment that such [distinguishing] evidence cannot possibly exist, then how could they possibly be reliable judges of arguments advancing that very proposition? Am I correct to guess that this is what you see as a fatal weakness of methodological naturalism – that commitment to it disqualifies one from being able to render valid judgments in sorting out what might be God’s special action as opposed to God’s ordinary action?

If I have accurately captured your thoughts above, I’ll even further concede that I think this is a valid point too, though there are answers to it which may be given. One would be that my trust of experts is not a blind trust. I do have enough fundamental scientific knowledge and literacy that, when coupled with an expert’s skilled communication abilities to meet the lay-person half way, I can evaluate evidence almost directly. Another answer is that I remain to be convinced that methodological naturalism is so completely the poison pill that its detractors make it out to be. I.e. while many do emotionally adhere to that commitment as a strongly metaphysical one [thus validating your criticism in spades], there are yet many others [committed theists and Christians, no less] who continue to give ID arguments a fair hearing, and yet continue to not see anything convincing. Is that warrant for cynicism? Perhaps. But I do think it important that these fair hearings continue to be given for this very reason – so that your valid concerns do get some answer. Those who hold to a ‘softer’ form of MN as a mere description (rather than a harder MN as an imposed prescription) need to continue to weigh in freshly as trustworthy experts on these questions so that we don’t fall prey to your criticisms.

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I do believe I’ll copy and paste my response here onto the forum since I gather you can’t, and it involves me retracting some of what I posted there [here].


My simple response , if God is the creator of all existence , the author of the " grand equation",
"God said let " …
Then by default every natural law , mechanism , checks and balances that govern existence is by God’s command .
It is my opinion that God need not micro manage his own systems ,if he is perfect in his knowledge , then any event is by his design ,and that God’s direct involvement in most things is a matter of prophecy/foreknowledge/instruction/wisdom /gifts of the spirit ,etc etc …

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And thus you render useless the term natural vs. supernatural.

There is a role in creation for God’s special acts of the miraculous… in addition to the general acts of the constant miracles that some people hold natural law to be.

Interesting point of view. First you reject scientism then you claim to adhere to the scientific evidence for evolution which in itself is based on scientism.
The better view in my opinion is that God created everything in 6 days as clearly and unambiguously stated in the bible and hence no darwinian evolution was required. God also built in the required ability to adapt to signals picked up from the environment and adapt and or speciate in response. Rapidly.

On the other hand if God is guiding the evolutionary process and death occurred before the sin of Adam, then God is the most horrific monster in all of the disease, pain, death and suffering he caused. God then is rightfully described as by Dawkins. There can be no middle ground on that one. Either God did it or He did not. You chose to let it be stated that God did it. So God is responsible for it.

P.S. It’s also interesting that you vigorously quote the bible to support your point of view yet do not quote the very pertinent texts in Genesis 1 and Exodus 20:8-11 where God clearly states that He created in 6 human-understandable days. These texts clearly contradict any notion of evolutionary creation. [content removed by moderator.]

Phil @jpm,

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.

This thread shows, perhaps for the first time in years, just how widely the views within (the higher levels) of EC range. Whilst I welcome, for example, the distancing of Ted from John Haught’s view of the resurrection, the latter still writes as a theistic evolutionist. A theological “position” on origins that can both affirm or deny the bodily resurrection of Christ is too theologically broad to be helpful to the Evangelical Church, and so the boundaries need to be more clearly drawn. Is Haught (purely as an example already given) “within the pale” of BioLogos, or not? Is Ted’s disagreement with him just an example of big tent diversity, or a demarcation boundary of “biologos” as Francis Collins’ theory?

(Analogy - Eddie has pointed out to me that the Theistic Evolution tome was not produced by Discovery Institute [contra Deb Haarsma’s post], but apparently by Biola.

Edit - I didn’t mean to give the impression that the book was an official Biola effort, but that a number of the writers are from there - and it’s published by Crossway. In either case, it’s not a Discovery Institute project.

If we want to attribute all ID to “Discovery Institute”, then are we not also bound to attribute all theistic evolution to “BioLogos”? Clearly not - each issue must be discussed in its own right, and not as “What ‘they’ say.” It would have been better were Eddie allowed to speak for himself here, of course)

Reading the thread up to this point, it is clear that pushing some of the points made would reveal some of the views stated to be simply incompatible - and I guess that pushing is required (elsewhere) to provide a process of natural selection and narrow the field of what is internally coherent, not to mention compatible with science and Scripture.

However, what seems the nearest thing to a common denominator on the thread, and a USP for BioLogos against ID, is some idea of the necessary completeness of “natural processes”, lest (as in your own stated preference here) you fall foul of the “God of the Gaps.”

And yet, to me, it is hard to find solid ground on which to base such a belief in the completeness of science, once one cheerfully accepts the reality of extra-scientific categories of divine action, or willing, or whatever word doesn’t create such a gap.

Presumably to clarify “natural” one must take some definition of scientific causation like “material efficient causes,” and make the intellectual leap to claiming that there is, in fact, such a causally complete chain in the Universe, to which divine action is either completely orthogonal (as in Jim’s formulation) or acts in tiny gaps that science already acknowledges (as in the Russell/Davis quantum mutation idea), or which has occasional naughty exceptions, as in your comment.

But the completeness of such science, like the corresponding theological idea that God must not act simply as “another” cause in his creation, is overturned by BioLogos’s universal belief in miracles, as stated by Jim. In that realm, bread and fish are multiplied by God, acting as a cause in the world, involving supernatural material efficient causation. Any argument that this involves Jesus as incarnate in the world is overturned by an OT equivalent like the widow’s cruse. Few, I think, argue that such acts come under “natural material efficient causes.”

The “science offers complete explanation” belief then has to become a belief in a closed (as far as material efficient causation goes) system of “scientific causes” that is universal “in nature”, but not in salvation history. The boat is then beginning to leak badly, because “salvation history” and “nature” are only human divisions of the world, and we need some firm basis for claiming that God sees “nature” as any different from “salvation” - what if they are both aspects of his immanence in all things?

It’s the old (but good) analogy of God as a master musician rather than a master artificer: not only is there no music at all if the musician is not playing the instrument (divine conservation), but the character of the music is the ongoing outcome of the player’s action (divine creation, government and providence). There are no gaps to fill, because the instrument, without the player, is dead.

One may disbelieve in the player, which leaves one having to believe the music arises from some other invisible entity such as Epicurean chance, but then the belief that the instrument is a complete explanation of the music is not so much incomplete, as simply wrong.

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An interesting question is, what do we mean when we say something like, “God brought this person into my life,” etc. How does God do these things? It seems our answer to how God guides evolution would be the same answer we would give as to how God guides our every day lives. I’m not really sure how to answer that yet. I guess I appeal to mystery and say that however it happens, it’s clear that it DOES happen!

Mark, just picking up this point in relation to my reply to jpm, the whole controversy, virtually, rests on this. Two millennia of theology have dealt pretty comprehensively with divine continuous creation, providence, answered prayer and personal guidance. Mystery remains, but it is not inscrutable.

Suppose we do place both God’s active relationship with believers and evolution (and nature more widely) into the same “mystery” category. Then we have a simple analogy: just as we identify that our providential escape from death was God’s act, we might say that the evolution of the human eye was equally so. Neither case is provable, of course, to the unbeliever, but neither would regard nature as causally autonomous either, which seems to me the key issue.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees, if they would not believe his worlds, to believe the miracles, the implication being that any explanation of his works falling short of divine action would expose them as, in effect, fools. The results demonstrated the divine action adequately. Whether or not “science” would be competent to recognise such a thing is of very little import - the human scientist who failed to recognise the limitations of his methodology would be as much of a fool as the Pharisees.

So it’s not logically possible that there was free will in creation before Adam?

This option is not without its problems, but it is at least a “middle ground.” Your dichotomy is false, my friend.

Good discussion. It seems to me that there is a difference in everyday occurrences, and specific miraculous acts, but yet this division is an artifact of modern thought, as I suspect ancient people would not make that distinction.


You can’t have it both ways.

Your verdict about a God using Evolution doesn’t seem to blush at all about God’s unflinching willingness to destroy the innocents by means of the Global Flood, or by means of the Destroyer in the Book of Exodus.

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That “artifactual” idea cuts deep, it seems to me, quite apart from ancient lack of distinctions… On the one hand, as we pray each day for our daily bread, we’re clearly expecting God to provide, but not necessarily miraculously.

On the other, the major question on nature that we consider here, the creation of the species, isn’t exactly an everyday event. The origin of life even less so, of course, especially if one holds to universal common decent, in which case it’s as unique an event as any miracle.

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@Prode,let me start by saying , I have no interest in shaking your faith , if your perspective feeds your spirit well , by all means , I would see you fed .
But in the interest of friendly debate , i first offer you this -
A spirit hath not flesh and bone , correct ?
God is a spirit ,correct ?
So tell me , where was God standing ?
Equator , Alaska , Andromeda Galaxy ?

Daylight only happens on one side of the earth at a time , so where was his spirit standing , off earth there is no day and night .

One day is with the Lord AS a thousand years and a thousand AS one day …as ? Like ?

Day :Yom -
-a period of light and dark
-A general term for time
-Point of time
-Sunrise to sunset
-Sunset to sunset
-A year
-An unspecific timeframe
-A long span of time - age-epoch -season

Which definition of " Yom" is the " day " of the almighty God ,alpha and Omega , beginning and end ?
I suspect our understanding of time is quite limited, and understanding time as the timeless God does,is likely beyond us …
Sorry it took so long to respond , Sunday is a busy day .

To your other point …I think you have misunderstood my statement , it’s likely my fault , I am no writer of note …
“Guide” is a slippery slope …
I believe God is the author of the mathematical equation of existence , then all processes of the natural are part of that equation ,
It is my speculation that God is so vastly knowledgeable that he can inact that equation by his spoken command …
There were two trees in the garden , correct ?
One the tree of life
Other ,the tree of knowledge of good and evil .

One tree was forbidden .
One by lack of mandate , may not have been .
Adam is cast from the garden and by default the tree of life … mortality .

As for " the evils of God " …I think the argument is flawed from the start …death is the price for flesh .
Second , God being the creator of this wonderful artwork , it’s his to do with as he sees fit , it’s up to us to accept and live with it , if God chooses to take a life , it is his to take .
Lastly , people seem to love blaming God , but it rains on the just and unjust alike …
Tornados happen to righteous folks too , it is a natural event that serves it’s natural purpose , it doesn’t mean God is smiting sinners in some vengful rage .
Yet , before the flood , God gives Noah foreknowledge , before the plagues of Egypt , God gives forewarning, before the destruction of Sodom God gives warning , etc etc .

People focus on the natural events and not the prophecy / forknowledge granted by God …
In this regard , I feel people miss the point .

" I would that ye all spake with tongues but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying."

@gbrooks9 …agreed , prophecy given by God , direct contact ,or by agent is not the same as a tornado …
But in the natural / physical events …what is supernatural?
Perhaps you could give me an example ?

…God created it all , all of existence …what is unnatural ?

[quote=“Jon_Garvey, post:57, topic:38358”]

An interesting question is, what do we mean when we say something like, “God brought this person into my life,” etc. How does God do these things? It seems our answer to how God guides evolution would be the same answer we would give as to how God guides our every day lives. I’m not really sure how to answer that yet. I guess I appeal to mystery and say that however it happens, it’s clear that it DOES happen!

Jon, your post deals with two events in my own life that I have spent decades trying to understand and put into words. The first is your quote from @Mark1 dealing with “chance encounters” that have important, unexpected consequences. My “chance encounter” occurred at a Gordon Conference some 20 yrs. ago. Actually the format of the Gordon Conferences is designed to encourage “chance encounters” between scientists who are working very similar problems but mostly unaware of each other’s work. The relaxed atmosphere and relative abundance of unstructured ‘leisure’ time encourages a more intimate idea sharing that often speeds up their research. But the “chance encounter” between Prof. Eric Lien and myself did NOT involve the subject of the conference (computer-aided pharmaceutical design) but one of a theological nature that had resulted in a problem with his marriage: Must one profess Jesus as one’s Savior to avoid eternal punishment? I brought this up in my previous posts, describing the encounter as "The Miracle of the Panel Truck". Like so many miracles, there was not any defiance of Natural Laws. Just a defiance of the odds of many millions to one. Later Eric declared to me that the encounter had an important and positive effect on his life, and, although my role in the encounter was little more than as a bystander, it did impress upon me that God is daily present in our lives.

In your quotation, Jon, you state that it would seem sometimes that a providential escape from death was an act of God. In Jan. 1945 I experienced, within a two day span, two such “escapes”: (1) a grenade fragment knocking a three-inch hole in my skull without knocking me unconscious, and (2) two days later having a massive cerebral hemmorhage treated so effectively that I survived and not merely in a vegetative state.

Of course my relatives back home, who prayed for me daily, needed no other explanation than their prayers were answered. But how does one explain the other G.I.s who were prayed for just as diligently but were killed or disabled for life? Was I spared because God had some role he wanted me to play? If so, and at age 92, I must have already fulfilled it. So what was it? If the Afterlife is anything like I imagine it to be, I should know fairly soon.
Al Leo


Thanks for this, Al.

Understanding how God acts in response to prayer is a different question from the fact that he does, of course. That providence is contingent and not entirely law-based should not surprise us, since nature is the same and - so we believe- the same God governs both. And Jesus healed many, but not all - we do not doubt the first because of the second, except as a reason for unbelief.

I suppose your examples could be explicable by God’s setting up the Big Bang so that you met Prof Lien, or got injured in just such a way in such circumstances, but it’s a cumbersome and impersonal viewpoint compared to the simpler one that God is active, caring, answers prayer in real time etc.

The temptation to talk about “chance” or “coincidence” as an explanation (rather than a statement of ones own experience) is worse than either, because it replaces, or supplements the Christian, theistic, Father with an “impersonal, independent force that has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Now where did I read that before??


Hi John,

Is it an acceptable stance, in your opinion, that God created the Big Bang to produce humans on its own and answers prayers once they come?

Hi Richard

Let me avoid the word “acceptable”, as if it were up to me to accept anything. The question is, is it “viable” or “true”? It has, let us say, a few problems. To name but a few:

  • A history of life determined entirely by laws of nature is definitionally pure orthogenesis, which was rejected as the prevailing theory of evolution in the 1920s and 30s in favour of contingently open-ended Neo-darwinism. Apart from anything else, there seems to be an informational problem in producing a specific, complex outcome such as mankind 12 bn years from an initial explosion and the simple laws of physics. Where is the evidence for such a precise algorithm within the Big Bang?

  • If it were true, it would mean nature is entirely deterministic or else it could not produce such a specific outcome. That’s an unpopular view theologically since the demise of deism. Philosophically it is not clear to me how a deterministic natural creation would produce a creature with true free will that can change that deterministic natural world. One could, I suppose, abandon free-will…

  • The above scenario also suggests that material processes alone can produce spiritual beings. One could, I suppose, abandon the idea that man is spiritual as well as physical… otherwise, God must do something new.

  • If nature needs to be so utterly lawlike to produce the goods, then God’s subsequent monkeying about with it in response to prayer seems irresponsible, or at least inconsistent (I’m assuming here that we’re not saying the sole purpose of the Big Bang was to produce humans - we are not God’s only creative goal).

  • That inconsistency reflects more broadly on the character of God: I’m not clear why he should watch the laws unfold “without special supernatural intervention” (Collins, Language of God, p200) for 12 billion years without man, whilst the angels kick their heels, I suppose; and then change a purely transcendent policy for an immanent one in which he responds to his creation’s needs in response to human prayer.

  • Linked to the last point, where did the idea come from (historically, I mean) that it is more fitting for God to work in nature entirely through natural laws established at creation? I don’t find it in history before the Deists, who took the mechanical philosophy of the 17th century to a theological extreme. Even Robert Boyle and Francis Bacon had taken a doctrine of divine providence for granted (even I believe in nature, when they weren’t doing science), and it is artificial, at least, to reduce providence to the inexorable outworking of fixed laws. The first incarnation of the Royal Society spent much time and ink in defending both general and special providence, and Newton later sought to synthesize the two - in doing so, of course, merging any fundamental distinction between God’s treatment of “nature” and “humanity”.

That’s just a few of the problems I see. There seems to be some divergence of view on this within the BioLogos “hierarchy”. Deb Haarsma’s recent article seemed to suggest a view of evolution as divinely lawlike as what you suggest (though elsewhere she invokes chance of some description in addition). Jim Stump’s contribution here seems to suggest hidden guidance in consort with laws, though I don’t really understand what that means in practice. Ted Davis favours at least occasional guidance of nature through the quantum indeterminacy that isn’t causally determined by the Big Bang. And the now apparently disappeared “open theism” strand at BioLogos would have argued for a “freedom” of “Nature” that leaves the future undetermined by God and, therefore, logically unable to produce man by design.

To me, the inadequately answered question is always, “Why should Christians want to believe that nature is independent of God’s immanent choices?”

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I think @Prode was attempting to say that Young Earth Creationists don’t have the problem that Evolutionists have. The point of my post was to show that we all have the same issue, if you are willing to notice that with or without so-called Original Sin (or the so-called Fall), there is still God taking the lives of those who have not yet arrived at the age of moral judgment.


Oh, goodness. That dog just won’t hunt!

There are 3 basic scenarios… about God and natural laws [my three doors!, but in a different sequence]:

1] The theory that everything God wants and does can be thought out and planned, using only naturally lawful actions, all from the moment of creation. Example: the planet killing asteroid that wiped out the Dinosaus was planned from the first moment of creation.

If we exclude the “real time” nature of God answering prayers, this would be the essence of Deism. Naturally, however, we do not exclude the real time nature of God answering prayers. I.D. proponents usually reject this position, because it would mean everything is lawful, with no way to distinguish between what God does directly or indirectly.

2] The theory that God bridges long runs of natural lawful actions with miraculous (non-lawful) events and actions. Example: using the same planet killing asteroid theme, this scenario would suggest that God could use special creation to create the planet killer (> poof! <)… and sent it on its way to hit Earth.

This bridging activity can be an “over-ride” for what would happen ordinarily… OR, it could be necessary because natural laws are not sufficient to achieve the desired results on their own. This would be the realm that I.D. proponents believe they should be able to detect with scientific method.

3] What was treated as door #1 in Posting 38 above, is a hybrid theory that, frankly, I don’t think makes much sense. It presupposes that God allows a whole category of natural events to happen without having much to do with them. Example: in this case, the planet killer asteroid is something that natural creation sent on its way to Earth, without God intentionally planning it, and him allowing it to hit the Earth. This is an odd theory in that it attempts to characterize God as being fairly busy with other matters (rather than describing God as involved in all matters), and that he shapes his goals and plans a little bit at a time, instead of all at once.

“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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