Does God Guide Evolution?

(Jon Garvey) #82

Ted, this prompts an interesting thought about how both ID and EC are trying to struggle along with the post-Huxley exclusion of God from science, in their different ways.

ID people will say, methodologically correctly, that an inference to design is not an inference to the Christian God, or even necessarily to divinity at all, so that it would be incorrect to make theological claims. But at least part of the hedging is that if they do embrace “the Designer” as God, it is verboten as empirical scientific investigation, because empirical explanations must be naturalistic.

I guess because their theology is in this way cordoned off from the science, and even the philosophy, lack of theological uniformity is to be expected.

On the other hand, Evolutionary Creation, possibly for equally sincere methodological reasons, is very clear that if God is involved in evolution, it’s in some non-empirical way, or in cracks between the quanta. The theology is cordoned off from science as it is in ID - not sure about the philosophy.

Yet EC is, at core, a theological project, and in particular (if we loosely say that EC arose from biologos, and within BioLogos) that means Evangelical Theology. So theological appraisal is more apposite, it seems to me.

In my case, having emerged from methodological naturalism after a career at least nominally dependent on it, I don’t see any need to maintain a distance between science, philosophy and theology, which is why The Hump of the Camel and its Classical Providential Naturalism sits uneasily with both EC and ID.

(Jon Garvey) #83


A sore point with me - human free will and randomness of any flavour are simply not the same animal, and randomness (in nature) is something of a chimaera arising from the naturalist perspective, which sees only chance (randomness) and necessity (unchangeable laws).

The universe could be entirely random (from our limited perspective, as you say), and yet be entirely determined even at the material level, ordered by the inexorable laws of science, quite apart from any theological consideration. What counts more is whether anything is undetermined, in the sense of random, to God - the question of ontological randomness. I consider ontological randomness incoherent in a theistic universe, not least because if it did exist, it would increase nobody’s freedom, but simply make both creation and Creator victims of chance. Epistemological randomness (“chance from our perspective”) explains nothing except ignorance from our perspective, which certainly can’t be a cause of anything.

I don’t know your inner wishes not because they are random (except in the bare sense that I’m as ignorant of them as I am of US baseball teams), but because they are free choices, within inevitable limits. And that means that something is central to our reality that is neither lawlike nor indeterminate, but rationally and freely determined: we are amongst those who determine the world, because we make final causes and execute them by efficient causes. Rocks and genes don’t, but why would it bother them?

That power to determine bits of reality is our daily experience, but why should it not be equally fundamental in nature? If some undetermined mutations disrupt my parents’ happy lives as Australopithecines so I become a careworn human, then I’m merely a victim of randomness - my life is still determined, but by a blind fool.

On the other hand, if those mutations were only “random from my perspective” because I didn’t recognise them as God’s final causes translated into efficient causes, then I’m a beloved recipient of creation blessing… Asa Gray’s “beneficial pathways” are the difference between being a designed, rationally free, creature and being a spontaneous Epicurean accident. Latest Hump post is relevant.

(Jeffrey Koperski) #84

I think I can answer that one. The difference is that TE style guided mutations must never produce a result that would contradict standard evolutionary theory. Those guided mutations must be sufficiently discrete and hidden so that they do not present anomalies that science must then address. Hence textbook science is never threatened by the philosophical/theological belief in guided mutations.

For Behe, guided mutations are one possible means through which God overcomes evolutionary barriers to irreducible complexity. Insofar as irreducible complexity is an anomaly vis-à-vis neo-Darwinism, it constitutes a challenge to textbook science.

Surprisingly, then, both Behe and Bob Russell can agree on divine action through QM. What they disagree on is whether what is produced will ever constitute an anomaly in the eyes of evolutionary biologists.

(George Brooks) #85


Thank you for your very astute observation! Your question seems quite right to ask.

And now that I have read Behe’s comments, I have to wonder if is really an I.D. supporter any more. Frankly, his comments seem much more in line with my own comments more than a few years ago.

Early in my time here, I suggested that well targeted cosmic rays were certainly sufficiently energetic to trigger the precise mutations that God might want in a long molecule of DNA.

But I have also been teased by such ideas… and I won’t risk triggering a guffaw from you or others by repeating the exact aspects of the good-natured teasing. But to this day I have to laugh when I remember that humorous provocation! :smiley:

(Richard Wright) #86

Hi John,

Thanks for your response. I’ll start from then end:

Richard Dawkins said a god who could initiate a universe that evolved man would have to be, “intelligent beyond understanding”. So God’s omniscience is displayed more powerfully in that scenario. But I believe, John, that you’re mischaracterizing my view in saying that nature is, “independent” of God’s immanent choices. Nature doesn’t behave independently at all but evolves in a manner that is dependent on the way that the physical laws of nature work on the special properties of matter. So a meteor that crashed into the earth 66 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs was inevitable because in this particular iteration of the physical realm, designed by God, it had no other choice but to do just that.

There’s been a fair amount written here over the last 2 years or so on increasing biological information, so I’m not sure how much of a problem it really is. But it seems to me that that idea creeps close to a, “god of the gaps” argument. As far as no evidence for, “a precise algorithm within the Big Bang”, that claim smacks of the science version of the Omniscience Bias. I’m guessing that we’re just not there yet, and probably will never be IMO.

I’m not seeing the argument here, essentially that nature can’t produce a conscious, intelligent being that has free will and can change nature. Why can’t a deterministic nature, designed that way by it’s creator, create that? Similarly, why can’t nature create a being that has the capabilities to engage the spiritual?

I’ll state for you my, “3 Types of Life” theory. That his universe displays three types of life, cosmological, biological and spiritual (cosmological includes non-biological systems on earth such as tectonic plate movements and meteorological patterns). Only spiritual life has an opposing force that counters the will of God, therefore necessitating Him to intervene, but not for the others. Therefore, I don’t see God monkeying with nature in response to prayer inconsistent with anything essential.

The question should really be, “Why should God have to do anything when His greatness can be powerfully demonstrated in the creation a physical paradigm that can produce what he wills” or, “why should God do something that is unnecessary due to His omniscience”. As far as the angels, “kicking their heels”, they must have been doing something before the physical was created and certainly will when its destroyed, so I don’t see that as very persuasive at all. And beyond that, if God is outside of time, then I don’t think He waits for anything. Only we do, existing in the physical realm.

I’ll give you my history in this. A few years ago in LA (where I live) I was at an apologetics conference put on by my eventual apologetics instructor Dr. John Oakes, that included a round-table on 4 Christian views of evolution. At one extreme was a young earth creationist, who flew in from the Midwest (my only experience with a YEC) and at the other was Dennis Lamoureux, whom I had never heard of (I was new to apologetics then). John Oakes and he both believed in evolution, but John’s stance was that, “God did a few things along the way” to get us here, which was my view at the time and remained after the conference. But I had to admit to myself then that Dr. Lamoureux made a convincing case, which seemed powerful in it’s radicalness and I was drawn to it somehow. Shortly down the road, after independently abandoning concordance, I no longer needed to have God intervening in evolution to give, “truthfulness” to, “bara” and, “asah” and I happily defaulted to Dennis’ view. In all, it just seems a best fit for the evidence. And besides that, I don’t have the theological objections that you and Eddie have. The arguments just aren’t that persuasive to me, and further, theology for me doesn’t have the epistemological value in origins that it has for you and he.

I don’t know if anyone connected to Biologos in any real way has ever was open to, “open theism”, at least not since I’ve frequented here. The term seems to me an oxymoron, if the God referred to is the god of the bible.

Another reason I like my view nature is that it tears down one more wall when reaching out to knowledgeable skeptics, when I can argue that God didn’t have to, “intervene” in evolution.

In the end, who are we to tell God how He must, or not, work in nature. If the best we can (and probably will be ever to) ascertain is, “God guides evolution in ways we can’t detect” then he might be causing particular genetic mutations working through quantum indeterminacy, or it was all programmed from the beginning. For me the 2nd option works best because if God works through an evolving nature, then His glory is best manifested if that nature has the inbred intelligence to do it without direct interventions, and there is on less hurdle for me to convert scientifically-aware skeptics.

(George Brooks) #87

So I see that I am a little distant from your view, @Richard_Wright1.

But I really do like your comment: “if God is outside of time, then I don’t think He waits for anything. Only we do, existing in the physical realm.”

That is a marvelous point!

But as for the issue of “intervening” in nature, or not, and the question of “open theism” and such, please remember that BioLogos is attempting to be a “big umbrella” … or to drive the “Big Bus” … or any other cliche you prefer.

Some Christians “gotta have” their miraculous… and some Christians just don’t. But BioLogos exists to smooth the way for either wing of the spectrum to feel at home and comfortable with their views.

I myself am relatively comfortable with God working 100% through natural law… but I must admit being attracted to the notion that God intentionally

intercepts chains of natural law

with special actions that steer the Cosmos in the precise directions he requires to accomplish his goals.

And if all this is folded up in a Universe where God does it all simultaneously… no matter how much time it feels like to the human mind … I think that makes for a marvelous hybrid explanation of all the mysteries of God I might entertain.

Thank you for contributing to the God-shaped edifice in my brain!

(Richard Wright) #88

Nice post, George.

Here is the only disagreement I may have:

BioLogos is a Christian organization, but I don’t see, “open theism” as being Christian, because any interpretation of the bible must have God intending humans, and not that we are a serendipitous cosmic accident.

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #89

I think you misread Open Theism. Or, at least, some versions of it. If you look at the perspective of, say, Greg Boyd, it actually increases, rather than decreases, God’s providence, because God is able to plan providential responses to all possible choices by free creatures. Here’s what Boyd actually says (quoting just the first two paragraphs of “How People Misunderstand Open Theism” here):

Open theism holds that, because agents are free, the future includes possibilities (what agents may and may not choose to do). Since God’s knowledge is perfect, open theists hold that God knows the future partly as a realm of possibilities. This view contrasts with classical theism that has usually held that God knows the future exclusively as a domain of settled facts. There are no “maybes” for God.

The debate is not about the scope and perfection of Gods’ knowledge, for both open theists and classical theists affirm God’s omniscience. God always knows everything. The debate, rather, is about the content of the reality God perfectly knows. It comes down to the question of whether or not possibilities are real.

Also, you don’t have to have been on BioLogos that long — less than two years — to see an Open Theist on the BioLogos blogs (alongside all manner of other Protestant theologies):

(Jon Garvey) #90

Hi Richard

It’s not my place here to critique your views (and in my post, I simply critiqued a view you had suggested, without owning it as your own). But just a couple of comments for others.

I note that part of Ted davis’s comments to me yesterday were based on his rejecting the “straightjacket” of determinism. So one man’s grand view of God in making laws all-powerful is another’s fatalism. I note that, as a choice of model, these are merely personal philosophical preferences. It is my view that neither current science nor the Bible teach material determinism, so what I might like to be the case is secondary. Which leads to…

Then the assertion is a matter of faith, not evidence: we cannot base views on evidence that might appear in the future (or not). The faith in this statement seems twofold: (a) that despite lack of current evidence, a deterministic nature is the case, because it is philosophically preferred; and (b) that there is a firm principle that any alternative view is a “god of the gaps” argument (and that principle, I guess, must be a belief in methodological naturalism extended to include ones metaphysics, despite the lack of empirical evidence for its validity).

Even if those arguments are solid (which is open to question), there is a profound difference between “new biological information may arise by natural causes” and “natural causes will deterministically produce the mankind that God planned.” At best they argue that Darwinian evolution can work.

Because free will, and probably consciousness, are not material properties, and so are inherently unable to arise from purely material laws. Otherwise, we could make spirits or minds in the laboratory, and angels could arise from Darwinian evolution. See Tom Nagel on that. Likewise, there is no evidence that deterministic causes can produce indeterminism (for example, algorithms to produce “random numbers” only produce patterns resembling random distributions. They are fully determined by their inputs). Perhaps it’s possible, but I’ve not seen convincing philosophical arguments to overturn those denying it is - so it would be another matter for faith in a position apart from evidence from nature or Scripture.

Karl Giberson was running BioLogos when I started and is an Open Theist. Thomas Jay Oord did guests posts here a year or so ago. More broadly “open process” theology, ie that nature has a degree of autonomy to create itself in, sometimes, perverse ways (quite the reverse of your divine determinism) has been used by in-house people like BL president Darrel Falk, visiting writers like Francisco Ayala and prominent TE people discussed and recommended here (like John Polkinghorne). It’s all there in the history.

This may indeed be a valid apologetic compromise, but it is as much a compromise as the medieval Catholic espousal of the intellectually respectable Aristotelian and Platonic metaphysics, which proved to be something of a deadweight when the fashion changed. More recently, much recourse was made in the last century to what “modern man” could no longer accept - now that “modern man” has become “postmodern man” Bultmann or John Robinson seem dated.

My own “testimony” is that I find that neither a determinstic view of nature nor “occasional tinkering with nature” describes how Scripture describes God: rather nature is what he does, sometimes according to regular patterns, and sometimes by contingent choice. That is certainly analogous to how we, as spiritual beings, affect the world in our more limited way.

That approach is indeed not acceptable to the many who disagree with it because they embrace naturalism. But then, sometimes even scientists see that it makes sense of both the world and Scripture, and suddenly it’s no longer an apologetic problem!

(Richard Wright) #91

Hello A.M.,

Yes, I actually vibe with Open Theism. What I assumed Jon was referring to was the sort of theism where an, “intelligent octopus” would had sufficed for God’s intelligent creations, which sometimes here is colloquially referred to as, “open theism” (small, “o” and, “t” as compared to capital).

(Jon Garvey) #92

George, this argument is indeed a good one, but also raises an objection to Richard’s “determinstic laws” model. Since God is eternal, why should he privilege only the beginning of creation, the Big Bang, with his activity?

Likewise, it would indeed be very intelligent and remarkable for a being in time to make a machine that unfolds exactly as intended. But for a being outside time, wouldn’t eternal action impinging on every moment of the universe be both more glorious, and a greater revelation of his ubiquity, not to mention his Fatherly care or (in a trinitarian context) the living word of the Son?

(George Brooks) #93


But Jon, this is exactly how I interpret the idea that God doesn’t wait at all.

The moment of Creation, the End of Days, and everything in between, would be interpreted (by me and my minions) as all happening simultaneously! There would be no privileged time period.

I am not so foolish as to require this view of anyone else. But on an intuitive level, I would certainly be very moved to meet anyone else who held this view!

I once read a speculation that suggested the difference between riding on a photon, and riding on a space ship going 80% of the speed of light.

The latter event was easier to comment upon: the traveler at 80% of the speed of light, would experience time more slowly - - but only from the viewpoint of someone, not on the ship, carefully studying the aging process of the passenger. The passenger would experience no difference.

But what about a passenger on a photon?.. a “mind” traveling at the speed of light? It was suggested that there was no time at all for the photon. Someone who attempted to communicate with the mind on the photon would find it impossible, even with special equipment, because unless the mind was powerful enough to accept years of “digits” (or telephathy) in a single moment, all outsiders would be unintelligible.

And if the photon had a clear path to traverse the entire universe, from the passenger’s view, it would be accomplished in just a moment. If such an interpretation is valid, it makes one consider the only thing or mind that could be a passenger on a photon (or on all photons) would be the Cosmic Mind.

(Jon Garvey) #94

Then we’ll have to meet…:slight_smile:

It’s actually fairly standard theology that God creates in one eternal “now” - dates back to Augustine, at least. And that corresponds to the (largely) Eastern idea of creatio continua, ie that that single act of creation is, in time, ongoing moment by moment. Or, his sustaining and government of the universe is indistinguishable from his initial creation. “My Father is still about his work…”

The particular application I make here is that such ideas, arising from a standard concept of divine timelessness, don’t really mesh with a theology in which the initial creation unfolds in time “without supernatural interference” - for ongoing creation simply is ongoing divine action. The music only plays because the musician is still playing.

To me, a world of natural, “autonomous” secondary causes like that only really sits with a concept of God creating in time - it’s only impressive to creatures bound by time - but man is intended for eternity.

(George Brooks) #95


I would suggest that your “reaction” to these ideas (and how well they seem to mesh, or not mesh) is more due to the entrenchment of the human mind in a Cosmos that seems ruled by Time. I have virtually no “reaction” of this kind to the idea. In fact, I find it rather exhilarating to think of God operating all at once, everywhere, instantly - - even if in a way that my limited mind cannot truly grasp.

(Jay Johnson) #96

From a human perspective, I can’t see how you avoid “both” as an answer, simply because of human finitude.

First, I would say that EC “is very clear that God is involved in evolution.” There is no “if” in that statement, since the position itself asserts that God guided evolution.

Second, EC does not require that God is involved in some non-empirical way. For instance, consider the following chart:

Historically, the largest increases in braincase volume occurred between 800-200 Kya, a period which corresponds to wild swings in climate. It is thought that coping with that rapidly changing environment contributed adaptive pressures that fed into increased brain capacity. As an EC, I have no problem asserting that God is in control of climate, and that is not covered by “cracks between the quanta.” I also note that climate is merely one of the empirical levers God could have pulled to achieve his ends.

Part of the problem relates to Wittgenstein’s criticism of philosophy, what he called “our craving for generality." We do not need a general theory of God’s guidance; it would lead to more confusion, not clarity.

(Jay Johnson) #97

I should correct myself before @Jon_Garvey gets around to it and say that maybe, possibly, there is a small chance that I was r-r-r-rong in this statement, but only because I place unguided evolution (evolution by chance) into the theistic evolution category. In my humble opinion, I am merely ahead of the pack in defining evolutionary creation as God-guided evolution.

Oh, dear. Is my ego showing? haha

(George Brooks) #98


And let’s not forget the euphonial acronym: E-G-G, or Evolution-God-Guided…

… or perhaps Evolution-Guided-by-God ?

I can’t remember the poster who first suggested EGG … but I’ve always appreciated that little spark of life that the letters help represent!

(Jon Garvey) #99


If you’re ahead of the pack, I was there 8 years ago. I just couldn’t get clear agreement on the fact from many of the ECs I was engaging.

(Jay Johnson) #100

I was speaking tongue in cheek, of course. The history of the conflict between ID/TE/EC doesn’t really matter to me, so I’ve not bothered to look into it much. Honestly, I’m more interested in the quality of the wine than the label on the bottle. I’ll leave it to others to define the positions and stake out the territory.

(Jon Garvey) #101

Ah, but it makes a difference when you’re spending moiney on the stuff.