EC and Romans 1:19-20

EC views evolution (cosmological and biological) as occurring in accordance with natural laws, without the detectable intervention of a creator. Therefore, after the Big Bang, there is no natural evidence for the hand of a creator, which is a reason atheists give for seeing no need for God.

Romans 1:19-20 declares people accountable on the basis of the evidence of creation:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

How are these reconciled?

Hi, Mark.

[My own emphasis added into your quote above.]

The first part of that sentence is accurate, but the second part does not describe EC generally (or at least not all of us.) I wouldn’t agree to that statement unless the second bit was qualified to add: “…without science being able to identify events as being direct actions of God.” Some ECs might be deists and insist that God does nothing, but I (and at least a few others here) think that God is intimately involved with Creation in an ongoing way - through any and all processes whether we may identify them as “natural” or no. I do think creation as a whole does speak praise to its creator for those who have the faith to see it that way. Which is right in the heart of scriptures. So right from the get-go, your question misses its target, and far from needing to reconcile anything with scriptures, these views are already right there in the heart of scripture itself. To me the much more challenging (indeed insurmountable) question is, how do young-earthers reconcile scriptures with a commitment to falsehoods? That is a challenge I have yet to see any YECer here meet.

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Thanks Mervin for that clarification at the outset. I’m not intending to imply EC is equivalent to deism. I’m willing to proceed with the qualification you suggest:

EC views evolution (cosmological and biological) as occurring in accordance with natural laws, without science being able to identify events as being direct actions of God. Therefore, after the Big Bang, there is no natural evidence for the hand of a creator, which is a reason atheists give for seeing no need for God.

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I reconcile it like this.

  1. When those verses were written they were far from where we are scientifically. They had no clue about evolution and so on really. So the evidence was based on something not science. They were not looking at nature and making scientific conclusions about the world. So if the science was not scientific then it was something else and I think that something else was philosophically. I think it was based on faith. The unseen things was not atoms and genes but the workings of the heavenly realm. All of it through the lens of faith. Instead of coincides being just that. They were divine and for life snd righteousness.
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I also definitely believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of creation. In ways we can’t even tell. I think the Holy Spirit comforts birds , ants and the lions. While I don’t believe there is any scientific evidence to prove the supernatural I believe there is plenty of evidence through the lens of faith. I see love in nature all over. I see beehives working together. I see ants building little dirt civilizations and protecting the Queen. I see trees of different species nurturing each other through the network of roots and fungi. I even see God in the way a wolf teaches its cub to hunt and kill a deer and I see love and God in the way a deer teaches it’s young to lay still in the hay while she darts off trying to draw the predators attention to her. I see goodness as a societal consciousness as accountability and freedom continues to grow. I have no reason to doubt my faith in Yahweh just because I can’t prove him through science and math.

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Our mediocre BB and the eternity of BBs before don’t need Him either. Paul needed Him. Nothing in nature except our evolved senses of incredulity and the numinous needs Him. Against all that stands the earliest Church of Jesus. Testified by the seven consensual letters of Paul and the decades later gospels. Assuming Jesus to be God incarnate and all to be well requires no other divine intervention whatsoever.

If you look at Michaelangelo’s David can you tell something of the nature of the sculptor? Do you need to see the tool marks on the statue?

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This ‘EC’ knows that we do have objective evidence for God’s providential interventions into timing and placing in the lives of his children, even mutations in DNA, without breaking any natural laws, so to infer God’s guiding hand in evolution and even abiogenesis is not a huge stretch. It can also be inferred in the size of our special moon and thus the evolution of the cosmos.

There is no objective evidence – no evidence independent of what you want or believe. Yeah, however much you want those atheists to bow down to you, they don’t have to. It is a matter of faith. Jesus said so.

Are you trying to rewrite that passage in order to make those atheists bow down to you? Because Romans 1:19-20 does NOT say…

For the existence of God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his existence has been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So those blasted atheists are without excuse for believing differently than you do.

But doesn’t the Bible speak of unbelievers? Yes. But when it does it invariably talks about people without a moral code who simply take and do what they want. This does not describe atheists at all. Many have rejected theism precisely for reasons of morality and they very often do quite better at morality than the majority of theists. These passages were simply written before the distinction was made between atheism and moral nihilism. Once again you need to be aware of how the meaning of words has changed since the Bible was written.

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Ironically, I see those verses in a very different view. If nature is a testimony to God’s nature, how can calling observations of nature false not be blasphemy? Perhaps too far a swing to the opposite side, but also something to consider. However, in looking at it as finding God in nature or creation, i think those who accept scientific findings often are even more in awe of God as creator, as knowledge of the universe through astronomy or on the micro-scale the working of the cell both only seem more wonderful the more we learn. What we need to remember to do as we observe and live, is to see God in everything, not to see nature separate from the works of God. That is ultimately what the verse tells us to do.

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The thing about evidence for design in nature is that it looks kind of obvious intuitively, but it’s very, very hard to prove with any form of scientific rigour. Part of the problem is that we don’t have any objective measurable criteria for what would constitute evidence for design. ID proponents have come up with concepts such as irreducible complexity, but they tend to jump the gun and claim that structures such as the bacterial flagellum are irreducibly complex when in reality they are not.

Even when it comes to things designed by humans, there are some things where design is indistinguishable from randomness. Cryptography is one example here: well-designed cryptographic algorithms result in files that contain vast amounts of information (trade secrets, personal information etc) but without the decryption keys and an understanding of the protocols used to encode the information, they are indistinguishable from random noise.

As far as Romans 1:19-20 is concerned, the way I understand it is that it tells us that what we see in nature tells us something about the processes that God used to create everything, and that these details are clear and unambiguous even to unbelievers. In other words, that what we see in nature is an accurate reflection of reality.

For example, we can see from the expansion of the universe that it had a beginning. Back in the mid 20th century there were two competing theories for the origin of the universe: the Big Bang theory, which said that it had a beginning, and the Steady State theory, which said that it didn’t. A lot of atheists preferred the Steady State theory (the term “Big Bang” was actually coined as a term of derision by Fred Hoyle, who hated the idea) but the Big Bang won the day with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background by Penzias and Wilson in 1965.

Evolution is a subject that is often misunderstood. It’s quite clear from the evidence that God used evolutionary processes – descent with modification over billions of years – to create humanity the way that we are today. But this doesn’t tell us that God doesn’t exist. Rather, it tells us that we’re not as important as we like to think that we are. It takes a lot of humility to accept that we are related to chimpanzees, and one fairly common reason why creationists object to it is that it offends their pride. (I say this because this was a mistake that I made myself.) But these verses in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 should give us pause to reflect here:

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

So basically, I view Romans 1:19-20 as not just telling us about evidence for creation, but about knowing what our place is in it. It’s really a call to humility and not to think that you can just get away with behaving however you like.

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Objective evidence can be disbelieved, even when you have it (and we do). Jesus said so. Then it is still a matter of faith.

We should take a look at what Romans 1:19-20 does say, though we should put it back in context.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

The first thing to do is to identify who/what this passage is speaking about:
18. a) those who suppress the truth - an example would be the creationists who ignore everything God sends us from the earth and sky to insist on what they want to believe even if they have to lie to do so. But there are other examples like Goebbels, who said, “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth,” Lenin, who advocated hiding the ultimate goals of the communist organization in order dupe people into supporting the revolution unwittingly. Regardless, whether you are lying for fascism, communism, or Jesus, it is suppressing the truth and replacing it with lies.
18. b) wickedness - most people know what this is, and Jesus makes it quite clear in Matthew 25. All you have to do is imagine that the person you are dealing with is God Himself and know that how you treat the stranger is how you are treating God also.
18. c) ungodliness - a search of the Bible reveals this to include the following: plotting iniquity, neglecting the hungry and thirsty, false prophesy, suppressing the truth, sin, contemptuous dealings, grumblers, malcontents, following their own passions, loud-mouthed boasters, flattering people to gain advantage.
21. These are people who know God but do not honor Him, (religious hypocrites?)
22-23. Those claiming to be wise and worshipping idols.

Second thing to do is examine what has been made clear in God’s creation:

  1. His invisible nature
  2. eternal power and deity
  3. creator of what has been made

There is no scientific evidence. Nature can and does still inspire awe and the desire to worship in many humans. I don’t think Paul was talking about methodological naturalism, I think he was talking about the aspect of the human conscience/mind that seeks meaning and purpose and a connection with something beyond us. The “God-shaped hole” as some people call it. I don’t think we do a service to the Bible when we take an author’s attempt to communicate something in a context and we make it into some kind of universal absolute decontextualized propositional truth. Clearly Paul was speaking into a context of Hellenistic Roman culture and he did not have the scientific method or philosophical naturalism in view.

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It is critical to consider both cultural and textual context, and I appreciate your concern that I may be misapplying the passage to some degree. I’m not certain myself. It does seem though that Paul is making an assessment of the human condition that extends well beyond his time and place, to echos of a debased humanity pre-flood.

The ESV Study Bible offers this interpretation: “The entire natural world bears witness to God through its beauty, complexity, design, and usefulness. without excuse. No one should complain that God has left insufficient evidence of his existence and character; the fault is with those who reject the evidence.”

No question, a modern atheist can still be enthralled by nature. David Attenborough’s famously passionate commentaries come to mind. My wondering is this: an evolutionary framework with no discernible requirement for a creator—to what degree does this give an unbeliever “plausible deniability” with respect to the Romans passage? Not in any real sense of course, but insofar as it facilitates the illusion of being “an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

Not that EC would be responsible for this as such. But if EC is wrong, and has given too much ground so as to bolster philosophical materialism, then that’s a problem. Similarly though, a militant and factually selective ID or YEC position could also be harmful and problematic. There’s clearly a need for care and humility from any perspective in this debate.

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Sure, but I think humans are known for using whatever is at their disposal to pursue their own autonomy, pleasure, and power. That doesn’t make the tools people use to do this, money, relationships, religion, politics, science, something we need to avoid or denounce. It just means we need wisdom.

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Also, people aren’t doing science for evangelistic reasons. So the whole enterprise of harmonizing evolutionary science claims about reality and orthodox Christian claims about reality is to eliminate tension between truth claims, it’s not to convict people of sin and draw them to Christ. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job through the work of the Church. So I’m having a hard time understanding what the big danger in presenting evolutionary creation is. It’s starting with the premise that God is the creator and his invisible qualities are clearly seen. And then adding to that the affirmation that science accurately describes aspects of the natural world.

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I don’t doubt EC proponents themselves start with the premise that God is the creator and his invisible qualities are clearly seen. But this may be problematic for EC itself. In positing a process of creation empirically indistinguishable from one widely held to not require a creator, EC at the very least is open to being dismissed with a stroke of Occam’s razor. And therefore, ironically, the more successful the harmonisation, the less compelling EC’s God hypothesis is to science.

Regardless, EC does aim to eliminate tension between truth claims. If its claims are true, that’s a worthy enterprise.

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But that’s just it … God isn’t some scientific hypothesis - some mere cog among the chain of causalities that we can scientifically trace back through and identify as Deity. So - except in the reactive, still-fundamentalistic imaginations of opponents to religion - the sort of God that runs around as a Zeus-like bit player, nudge here, miracle there just to keep creation on the guiding rail, … that isn’t what most ECs I know of are advocating. And even when God did incarnationally become (in the Christian view) the most localized as participant with us on the stage of Creation, even then - we hardly see anything like an affirmation of Zeus-like behavior - despite the herculean efforts of some Christians to cast Him in those lights. This isn’t a denial that God can do those sorts of things - in fact I even believe God does; but this is not any sort of scientific hypothesis (and would be a useless one if it was). It is a faith conviction that I embrace on the testimonies and experiences of believers.

That last line is well-stated.

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“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

There are many ways how this passage can be viewed. We should look at the context, as @mitchellmckain did. We should also think of the whole creation, the big picture in addition to details (forest, not just individual trees).

Think how much energy there is in the universe, all originating from one spot, if the BB theory is true. Some say that matter and antimatter cancel each others, so that the energy content of the universe is zero. This view is blind to the fact that stars and galaxies contain lots of energy and matter. Existence of matter and energy is a miracle that demands faith from us. Either we believe in creation, or have even more faith and claim that everything just popped into existence, without a creator.
If we connect the vast amount of energy in countless stars and galaxies with the belief that God said and everything started (bang), the creation tells a story of a God that is vastly more powerful than the humans could perceive 2000 years ago.

If we look at the details within the universe (things that have been made), there must be countless details that could reveal us something of the creator. We are blind to most of these details because we live inside the scene - the miracles and messages are too ordinary for us that we would note them.

In this sense I believe that the universe does tell a story of God, independent of how God created us. We should see the messages that are surrounding us but we are too often blind, both atheists and believers.

“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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