Dr. Loren Haarsma on God-Guided Evolution!

Six foot when I wake up.

George,

I often say, “God used evolution to create the species” or “God used the mechanisms of evolution to create.”

I’m not 100% happy with that verb, “used.” Some scholars who I respect don’t like it, and I understand their reasons. I still say it, because I haven’t thought of anything better to say that’s equally succinct.

To be use more theological terms, I might say, “God created and providentially sustains the natural mechanisms of evolution which he used to create the vast variety of life forms.”

Or I might clarify what I mean by also saying things like the following:
God uses the laws of nuclear physics and electromagnetism, and the random motion of particles in the sun, to keep the sun shining. God uses the laws of gravity and motion to keep planets in their orbits. God uses evaporation and condensation and atmospheric dynamics to send rain on the righteous and unrighteous. God uses worms to feed robins. God uses the laws of quantum mechanics and the random motion of molecules in the air to create a vast variety of beautiful and unique snowflakes. God uses the motion of continental plates to create high mountains and deep ocean trenches. God makes island ecosystems more diverse over time by using the mechanisms of evolution along with wind and ocean and birds to bring new life forms to the islands. God uses random mutation, natural selection, and all the other mechanisms of evolution to produce new and diverse species over time, and so that species can adapt to changing environments over time.

The point of giving so many examples is to encourage people to see “divine action” in biological evolution just the same way as they see (or at least, as they ought to see) divine action in every other part of the natural world.

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@LorenHaarsma

Dr. H, I think I must agree with your usage! Though my typing fingers frequently have a life of their own (when typing oft-repeated phrases) … whenever my mind can intervene, I will be delighted to use this:

“God used evolution to create the species”.

… with the occasional spice that “God used the mechanisms of evolution to create…” can add to old school boilerplate! Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule.

P.S.:
Last thought: do you think we can get Dr. Behe to adopt any of these expressions? I am told on good authority that miracles do happen…

I think that part of the problem is with the wording of “God uses evolution” which makes it sound like evolution is an inanimate tool like a hammer and so everything that happens is all about how God uses that hammer. But evolution is not an inanimate tool any more than our use of evolutionary algorithms to solve problems or come up with new designs. It is a very animate process that produces its own solutions and designs.

So a better comparison would be with how we use democracy to govern our country or free market in our economy. It is not about control. Evolution is part of the process of life itself and all that evolutionary creationists are saying is that God is involved with the process the same way God is involved with our lives.

@mitchellmckain

Okay… in your view, is Evolution any different from evaporation and condensation, which God uses to make thunder storms?

My view?: They aren’t any different.

I look forward to hear you dance your way around this…

Extremely different. It is the difference between life and inanimate objects. Evolution is not a mechanical process. It is really just the process of learning. And no, learning does not require a brain or consciousness. This has been demonstratively established with computer programs which can learn all by themselves how to play our hardest games better than we can ourselves without any input from us regarding how to play such games well. To be sure the computer programs are technically mechanical and have to simulate randomness but evolution is in the real world where randomness is fundamental because of quantum physics.

dance around what?

The facts are pretty clear and the way you prefer to see things is no obstacle whatsoever.

@mitchellmckain

No… it’s not different at all, not in any important way. Conversation is over.

If I may, Loren, what action?

When I’m asked this question in an in-person conversation, I find that I can give a better answer if I first find out more about what the person asking the question thinks about divine action in other parts of the natural world. So I might ask questions like these: What do you think God is doing when robins hunt for worms to feed their young? What do you think God is doing to make the sun shine? What is God doing to make the rain fall where it falls? Do you think God controls where every single molecule goes on every snowflake, and if so, how? What is God doing when a child grows from a single fertilized cell to a newborn infant? People could give a variety of answers to those questions, and based on their answers, I can better answer them regarding what I think God is doing in biological evolution.

When I’m answering that question in writing (rather than an in-person conversation), I might write someting like the following list:
“God designed the fundamental laws and conditions of creation. God gave existence to creation. God sustains and concurs with the natural laws he created – natural laws which include both deterministic and random processes. God might have selected the outcomes of particular random events to guide natural history down particular paths. God can do miracles, and might have performed miracles at various points in natural history, although it is unwise to look at every gap in current scientific explanations as evidence of supernatural miracles. At some point in human history, God began to give special revelation to human beings in various ways.”
Each one of those sentences is worth paragraphs of clarification, but for that clarification, I’d ask you to check out some things I’ve already writen. I also highly recommend Robert Bishop’s essay at BioLogos on “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation”.

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Thanks Loren! My binary concurrence.

Came across this poem this morning on the subject:
https://www.journeywithjesus.net/poemsandprayers/629-denise-levertov-primary-wonder

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@LorenHaarsma, As you know BioLogos is about evolution and it contains the word Logos in its title which refers to Jesus as the Creator in the beginning of the Gospel of John.

On the other best known book of evolution of our time is The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. The Selfish Gene claims that evolution is not guided by God in the form of Jesus Christ, but by the Selfish Gene.

In Chapter 10, Entitled You Scratch My Back, I Ride Yours. Dawkins outlines scenarios with three different types of players, suckers (apparently Christians, who live by “altruism” a phone world view which says that one must do what others what you to do, cheats, who take advantage of all and will ride your back if allowed, and grudgers who are generous to a limit and then aren’t.

Somehow this speculation becomes scientific evidence without any basis in ecological research while symbiosis which has much scientific support is denied and ignored, No doubt philosophical bias played a big role. Theologians bought into the model of the watchmaker, but we know that the universe was not designed and created like a watch. YEC insistence that the universe was created in 6 days does not help things.

Today humans can create a machine that can provide transportation, like a car and then another machine that can drive the car, called a computer. God created the physical universe through the physical laws of the universe, and though the chemical laws of the universe created life and through evolution created humanity, but it is through the ecological boundaries of the earth that humans are shaped. God used one natural process that God created to shape and control another natural process that God created. No One could do this but God, which might be a reason why some people do not want to accept this.

God did design the universe and the hallmark of God’s design is the everything in INTER-pendent. Everything is related to everything else. Everyone is related to everyone else. No body is really more important than anyone else, because everything and everyone is important.

You do have to respond to me now, just like you did not respond to my concerns before. I am theologian, not a scientist, like you. I do not have a Ph. D, so no one has to listen to what I say. I have written a book to explain and back up what I say, but no one wants to read it That okay. I know “my place.”

All I want to do is discus the facts, which I take to be the mission of BioLogos, not to put forward a particular view. Thank you for your attention.

I’m one of those people who don’t like saying “God used evolution to create humans.” My motivations, which are probably different from others, stem from my suspicion of too much realism in scientific theories. I don’t think Darwin “discovered” the theory of evolution as much as he “developed” it. Scientific theories are our making. Too be sure they have to explain some independently existing reality, but I don’t think it is quite right to say evolution itself is some independently existing tool that God had sitting on a shelf and said, “Hmm… I think I’ll use this tool to create humans.” Instead, I think it is more accurate to say, “Evolution is the best scientific description we have for how H. Sapiens came to be.” Then, of course, I also want to say, “God intentionally created human beings in his image” but I don’t take that to be a scientific statement.

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j, I like the paradox.

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@jstump

Maybe that should be your standard footnote for SCRUPULOUS description of the situation.

Is such care really required? I have to wonder.

Are you hesitant to say God uses evaporation and condensation to create rain?

To me, evolution is more an abstraction that links observed processes into a cohesive idea. That may be where part of the problem lies in communicating it to others, as some are not as open to abstractions.
In your question George, a more accurate analogous question might be, " Does God use the water cycle to create rain?" The water cycle does not create rain, but it describes processes that do.
In some ways, evolution is somewhat more like theological ideas like the trinity, in that the trinity is not directly mentioned in the Bible, but is a construct devised to help us understand the nature of God.

@jpm

Why would I worry about whether Evolution is mentioned in the Bible? The water cycle isn’t mentioned in the bible either. One might argue that Condensation (as dew, and clouds forming over the ocean) might be mentioned.

But this is rather outside of the question here.

I spend some time watching this YouTube channel: FermiLab.

Dr. Don Lincoln does a simply brilliant job of explaining “physics” to the layman. And at the end of many a show, he says: “Remember, physics is Everything!”

He will frequently describe a process or an event in theoretical physics and point out that from a Purist viewpoint, the description is not quite right … but it is close enough to make it understandable to laymen.

So when @jstump tells me he intentionally avoids using a simple description … because technically it is probably not perfect … I have to shake my head a little.

We have Creationists who ask why cats don’t evolve into dogs… and he’s worried about being too specific with the word Evolution?

In contrast, Biblicists are perfectly happy with the idea that God made humans out of dust… SOMEHOW… SOMEWAY… and there’s not a bit of concern about not being able to specify ANY of that.

By all means feel free not to participate when there is something you simply do not want to hear. But if you think this means I will disappear, shut up, and go away, you are gravely mistaken.

So for everyone else out their who is willing to listen…

There is huge difference between physical processes defined by a mathematical equation and a theory like that of evolution which is described by a set of principles. Do we have a mathematical equation for life? LOL No, we do not. And FYI, despite the fact that some of the more ideological biologists have jumped on the idea of equating life to the DNA molecule, life isn’t defined by a chemical formula either. Evolution doesn’t even go near the problem of defining life itself… that is more the purview of abiogenesis, and the more recent scientific work has been looking at metabolism first evolutionary processes that can bring such molecules as RNA and DNA into being.

So… back to the question of the thread, which about God-guided evolution. That definitely describes me. I believe in a God who participates. But with living things that means participation as a shepherd, teacher and parent, for designers and watchmakers are the creators of non-living things. Evolution is a process of life and not a tool for God to use for controlling things.

@jstump, Thank you for your response. You bring up an important issue. Most people on both sides of the evolution issue think that it is clear cut, but ti is not because the discussion brings out many serious relates issues which are not easily resolved.

The issue that you bring up is the nature of knowledge, is it real or not? Some people say that the laws of science existed before the Creation and that God used them to bring order to a primordial Chaos.

Christians believe, backed by the Big Bang, that God created the universe ex nihilo, which means that in the Beginning God created matter, energy, space, and time. It is hard to see how or why the Laws of Physics would exist before time, space, energy, and matter.

We say that we cannot really understand God. That is true, but not the way that it r4eally is. We cannot understand God unless God reveals Godself to us. The way that God reveals Godself to us is through God’s Creation, God’s Spirit, and God’s Word/Jesus Christ. What is clearly beyond our ken is how God designed the universe and created it out of nothing

Evolution is not independent of God or creation, but God did create a system to populate the earth with plants, animals, and humans. God created it so it is real, even though it is not a physical thing, but a system. It should be pointed out that God is real also even though God is not a physical thing.

I am saying that physical things are real, but so are ideas and knowledge, but what do they have in common that gives them reality. My answer is that they are relational, as is God. The universe is composed of embodies relationships in relationship. Science is about the physical relationships in our world… Philosophy is about how we know the relationships that govern our world, and theology is about the spiritual relationships we have with God, others, and ourselves. God is Love.

Another important issue you your comment brought to mind is the nature of evolution in terms of complexity. If people think a evolution as a thing, then there is an assumption that we are in agreement as to what evolution is, but is this true?

Evolution is a complex system. The biggest contribution which Darwin made to the science was to define evolution as Variation, primarily changes in genetics and Natural Selection, which determines, which life forms will survive and thrive. They are entirely separate and interactive, which makes this process foreign to our linear, dualistic thinking.

Sadly science has for the most part concentrated entirely on the Variation or genetic aspect of Evolution, while people like Dawkins and I who are concerned about the philosophical aspect of evolution are more concerned about the Natural Selection aspect, which has not been scientifically verified. This means that most people can confirm that evolution is real because genes and geology confirm common heritage, even though they may disagree about Darwinian selection based constant struggle between members of the same species for limited resources. In other words, life is evil forcing other species and others to fight each other for existence.

Life is not evil. Life is good, and people and members of other species work together within God’s good ecological plan to create o beautiful home for all.

If the Theory of Evolution is true in some important respects, and false in others. is it right or wrong? If in our desire to encourage evangelicals to study science we affirm the way that evolution creates and transmits changes through genes, but neglect to point out failure of survival of the fittest, do we really help them or science?

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