Evolution and God's Sovereignty (and the BioLogos view)

(Christy Hemphill) #1


I think some of the disconnect between what you wish you heard from BioLogos and what you actually hear may be the intended audience and who you imagine the intended audience should be. What side of the continuum you are talking to matters when you are framing your talking points. I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that much of the argumentation that comes from ID folks is aimed at discrediting material naturalism as a philosophical system and developing a scientific apologetic against atheism. They spend a lot of time talking to that side of the continuum. More power to you, I hope lots of people come to Christ as a result of those efforts.

It would never occur to the vast majority of the people I interact with to argue against a Designer/Creator. That is an a priori assumption. They will argue quite vehemently against granting any validity at all to evolutionary biology. I think a lot of times when BioLogos speaks to people on this end of the continuum, you criticize them for not simultaneously hammering away against atheism.

I don’t have a dog in the “everything in life can be explained through natural mechanisms” fight. I have zero commitment to that proposition. I don’t know what theology you are referring to as being tied to evolutionary mechanisms. I thought everything was so compartmentalized around here that you either got a science article or a theology article and the two did not overlap? :stuck_out_tongue:

I can’t imagine how verifying that there are currently unidentified mechanisms at work in addition to natural selection would change my theology. Just last week I was one of the people insisting that science and naturalism don’t speak to most of the important things in life. I believe those crazy stories about the people who get organ transplants and develop unexplained love for opera or Indian food and find out their donors had those loves too. Or twins separated at birth who have these bonds that genetics alone don’t explain. Sure, why not. Life is infinitely complicated. Or, some might even say irreducibly complex…

From Dinosaurs to Birds

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(Christy Hemphill) #3

I’m just curious how you imagine anyone answering this question with any kind of precision or accuracy.

Would it be sufficient to say that God has everything to do with evolution because without his sustaining power and presence sourcing creation’s existence, it all ceases to be? I seem to remember something to that effect in the Haarsmas’ Origins book.

Or are you seriously looking for people to identify a specific “God mechanism”? Or a breakdown between what percentage is God, what percentage is “random”? Isn’t it a little presumptuous to think it’s even possible to draw those kind of lines?


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(Christy Hemphill) #5

“I don’t know” and “maybe” are transparent answers one can evaluate, as far as I’m concerned.

I think you are posing questions that don’t have definitive answers, Speak for yourself about your trust issues. I personally find it much easier to trust people who are honest about the difference between pure guesses and actual deductions and keep them separate. I don’t care what Francis Collins’ “opinion” is about what percentage of our being is soul/spirit and what percentage is material/biological. It seems to me you are asking a similar question. What percentage of evolution is God and what percentage is totally natural, if you had to spit ball a number? How much meaning would that number really have?

It’s enough for me to hear someone say they believe God is intimately involved in the ongoing running of the universe, that he has a purpose and a plan for creation, and that miracles happen. I believe all those things and I have heard them repeated plenty at BioLogos.

Pinpointing “what God does” in evolution essentially the same question as “how God works” in evolution. My answer is “I don’t know.” Does God micromanage the whole thing to the smallest detail? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not hiding anything or being evasive. Those are the answers.


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(Christy Hemphill) #8

I think they are guessing, yes. Some people don’t really see the point in trying to be all that specific about exactly how much of our faith is what we choose with our free will and how much is God choosing us. I don’t know on that one either. I’ve worshiped in Real Presence churches and in “it’s just a symbol churches” and I didn’t feel the need to commit to a firm belief either way. Both are ways of trying to understand something that is at its essence not something you can pin down. Not everything requires a theological commitment, not that there is anything wrong with having one. Also, natural selection can be investigated in a way that predestination and the mysteries of the Eucharist cannot, so it’s not exactly apples to apples here. Conceptual models of spiritual realities are fundamentally different in some ways from conceptual models of physical realities. What relevant passage would you suggest we exegete to build our spiritual conceptual model for natural selection?

This cracked me up, but then I wondered if maybe you weren’t trying to be funny.

Nope. I have not. It’s not on my bucket list either. All I said was that “I don’t know” and “maybe” are satisfactory answers for me, if they are the answers people give. I don’t assume that someone not giving a “straight answer” is hiding their true opinions. Though, I’m sure that a lot of people’s public answers are political and guarded to some degree. Christians are notoriously tribalistic and judgmental to those who fail their pet litmus tests, so I don’t negatively assess the character of any Christian professors or writers with networks in Evangelicalism who don’t subscribe to the Donald Trump school of public discourse. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to avoid misunderstandings and keep their paycheck and good name.

I don’t share your disappointments and discomfort with people’s lack of explicitness, and I don’t think discussing natural processes in natural terms without reference to theology is unacceptable. I don’t think of myself as that liberal, so I think you are projecting quite a bit when you say that all theologically conservative people share your discomfort and frustrations and the reasons for them.

On the list of “things Christians should be outraged about” the fact that some EC writers have not explicitly distanced themselves from atheists frequently enough or in the contexts you wanted to see them do it is going to be a tough sell in the currently bloated outrage market.

(Christy Hemphill) #9

Thanks for the heads-up, but I’m content with the potentially dumbed-down and un-nuanced lay-person version. I have a long reading list of things I’m supposed to read for the field I’m supposed to be working in, which isn’t evolutionary biology. :wine_glass: Speaking of which. I have 100 pages + of journal articles about bilingualism I need to get cracking on for a class, so I must bid adieu for awhile.


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(Christy Hemphill) #12

I don’t have a problem with that either. No one is obligated to answer all my questions, just because I wonder something. People are allowed to have personal boundaries and decide not to put everything they think and believe out there to be dissected and evaluated and judged (which seems to be exactly what you want to do.) for whatever personal reasons they have, and it doesn’t really matter if you or I think they are good reasons or not. There is no social contract that says if you write something you have to explain yourself to every critic who demands more from you.

Well, most people don’t really enjoy those kind of peeing contests on online forums, especially when the topic is outside their field of expertise, so I can’t say I blame them. It takes a special kind of person who prefers to spend their precious free time here and not on Netflix. I find it amusing, but I admit to being weird.

Hmm. It seems to me that the whole point of dialoguing with other scholars is to help you clarify, refine, and at times change your thinking. The point is not to keep quiet until you can pontificate on what you understand perfectly so as to bless the world with your wonderful understanding. There are enough people in academia who hold this misunderstanding to make the average conference painful, but just because it’s “normal” doesn’t make it good.

I agree. Maybe it’s different for your generation, but in my generation and those younger than me, you get points for being perceived as kind and open-minded and gracious and intellectually humble. So BioLogos wins points for that. I’m betting they’re aiming for a younger demographic than most of the people who fuss about their communication belong to.

I’ll treat this as a serious question, and not just a distracting rhetorical move. I think the bishops at Nicaea were using their sanctified imaginations and the spiritual gift of discernment to solidify a conceptualization of the meaning they constructed from special revelation and the tradition of the apostles. I don’t think the doctrine of the Trinity is “fact” in the usual sense of the word. It’s not an observation, it’s not a logical deduction. It’s a theological truth claim that we accept by faith was revealed in a spiritual way to the Church.

So again, what passage do you suggest we exegete to arrive at a spiritual imagining of how God works in the process of natural selection? That’s where your argument breaks down as far as I see it. Doctrines are established through a process of spiritual discernment in conversation with special revelation and the body of Christ. I retract the word “guessing” but I don’t know a good English word for a process that involves faith and enlightened imagination to arrive at knowledge. You don’t study DNA and come up with doctrine.

:dizzy_face: See, it’s this kind of thing that make people not want to engage with you sometimes. We get it you read lots of books and can name drop all the smart people throughout history. What is the point of this paragraph? I personally think it is more amusing than intimidating, but some people are insecure.

No, he doesn’t have to explain anything. You want him to. That’s different. And it seems to me that we’ve already covered the ground in other threads that what you think can be thought and reasoned to is not what everyone on earth agrees can be reasoned to. How are you supposed to come up with a textual/traditional position on natural selection when natural selection is a foreign concept to the text and the tradition? And the text and tradition have led people to come up with some truly mind-bending conjectures about sovereignty. We had to invent words like infralapsarianism. Don’t pretend “sovereignty” is a settled topic that we all hold hands and sing cum-ba-ya over.


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(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14


Excuse me for butting in (but it is my blog and you have refused to stay on topic.)

Eddie, when you talk about sovereignty you are talking about God’s relationship to God Creation.

There are traditionally two ways to see God’s relationship to the Creation. The first is to say that God has absolute control. That seems to be the way Eddie tends to cast this problem, but absolute control borders if not becomes monism or pantheism and determinism.

In his recent response to Albert he toned down this view and said that God does not have absolute control, just general control.

The other view is Western dualism which no one likes but everyone basically practices, if not espouses, especially modernists. God controls the spiritual, while nature has its own realm. Christians claim that God is sovereign over nature, but how we have not worked out. It just is.

A new view is the triune view of reality. God and Nature are separate, but related. Just as God created humans with a triune nature, God created the universe with a triune nature. God governs humans by divine moral law and the Spirit. God governs nature by natural law and the Spirit.

God does not govern by direct control, even though God could govern by direct control, thus it is a triune system or systems.

Eddie, if you are going to make the question that of Sovereignty, you have not changed it. The question is still cosmology/world view or monism, dualism, or triune.

It is an important question, but it is not one that you have solved. You need to solve it before you can expect Christy to address it.


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(GJDS) #16


The main ‘sticking point’ that BioLogos has not dealt with in terms of their stated goals (i.e. ‘faith and science’ and ‘evolution is not contrary to God as creator’), is the notion that evolution is truly random - if we think this through, it removes God as creator in a formal theological sense. What at times seems to me is this; articles posted on this forum seem to skirt the issue (e.g. stochastic as random, or God uses chance, and so on). An interesting article (I hope my cut and paste works) that gives a somewhat subtle treatment of God and the creation is by BRIAN D. ROBINETTE, THE DIFFERENCE NOTHING MAKES: CREATIO EX NIHILO, RESURRECTION, AND DIVINE GRATUITY, Theological Studies 72 (2011). This article also examines claims by some who believe God is weak. is sometimes ‘stumped’ by His creation, and perhaps He gets into trouble with evil, and so on - putting these somewhat humorous outlooks to one side, I think BioLogos has real theological problems in this area - it is not a bad thing to remind BL of this.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #17


First of all I never said that traditional theology was wrong, even though it is flawed. Its problem is that it does answer some of the key questions that people have today, in large part because it is based on outdated philosophy.

Second, you cannot hide behind tradition. That is what the Pharisees said, and they were dead wrong. If you insist in living before 1800, that is your decision.

Third, before Paley and Darwin were theologians really concerned as to how God created the platypus. If they thought that God created species individually, then of course God willed each one into being.

Four, however once it has been determined that God works through scientific natural laws, then the idea that God wills individual events life causing the sun to shine and the rain to fall to happen. That does not mean that God is not behind these events, but God doe not need to micromanage or micro-will.

And God saw that there was something missing in His plan. So God made some dinosaurs bipedal and gave some of these feathers, not for flying, but for insulation. Then God willed that these dinosaurs shrink in size, while He made the others grow quickly in size.

Then God caused an asteroid to hit the earth so the large dinosaurs without feathers would slowly die out. God willed that the small dinosaurs with feathers to develop their upper limbs as wings and their dinosaurs bills into beaks for eating insects, seeds, and small animals. And so God willed birds into existence.

Five, what I keep telling you is that you have break out of your dualist view, that life is either random or determined. That is a false dichotomy. There is a middle ground, and that middle ground is “freedom,” which is both structured and not determined.

You continue to associate TE’s and me with Wesleyan theology, because it does assert freedom over against predestination of your friend Calvin. However neither theology is adequate to justify freedom. This is why I suspect your opponents except for me are silent an sovereignty.

Six, Sovereignty has traditionally meant predestination, but nature ruled by divine natural law is too
complex to be understood that way, which is the reason that Lou gives for rejecting God. Thus it is understood as ruled by freedom or random chance. The right understanding is freedom, but this can only be explained by the complex/one cosmology, that you refuse to consider.

Seven, I am critical for scientists for rejecting scientific evidence contradicting Darwinism. I am critical of philosophers and theologians for rejecting philosophical and theological reasons for questioning Darwinism.

Please respond rather than just asserting that your views are traditional.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #18


Even using this example the dogs in this situation who able to adapt by whatever way to a corn diet, are selected in by Natural Selection. No one says that they asked for this gift. Usually a species is malleable to some extent and those who have the right genes or right abilities are selected in by Natural Selection because they are BETTER ADAPTED to take advantage of the resources found in the ENVIRONMENT.

My point is that it is the environment that determines which genes will survive, Without the environment of poverty, the tortilla gene would not be selected in.

(Christy Hemphill) #19

Sorry for the misunderstanding, but I wasn’t suggesting you were insecure. Just that sometimes your argumentation style brings out other people’s insecurity, and that may be one reason why they drop out of conversations. If someone feels like they have to spend an hour on Wikipedia and check out and read a few library books in order to be worthy of responding to your points (not saying you made them feel that way on purpose, it’s their issue) they will probably just bow out. It’s my impression that most people are pretty insecure and defensive and tend to take things more personally than was intended, and that makes communication a challenge.

It’s not the first time a doctrine has been reevaluated. Is it really that awful to say you think Christian theology is only “allowed” to say true things? I don’t think of that as imposing an unwarranted hierarchy of science over theology so much as applying the definition of Christian theology. Theology is the pursuit of the truth about God and his actions in the world. By definition, it can’t assert demonstrably false things. That’s not telling theology what it’s allowed to do, it’s being coherent. So yes, if traditional doctrine asserts that women are less human than men or Africans are less human than Europeans and we come to believe that is demonstrably false, we “veto” the traditional thought on the matter. I understand primageniture is more central and reevaluating it creates bigger theological waves, and the whole thing should be approached with appropriate caution and humility. I understand not everyone accepts that the traditional doctrine is demonstrably false. But no, I don’t agree that just because a pattern of thought has a long tradition in the church, it can never be “vetoed” by something true.

I think the discussion of sovereignty is important and interesting. But it will inevitably involve some conjecture and lack of clarity, because there is a lot about sovereignty that is not clear from Scripture. And unlike science which has continually developing avenues of investigation, theology has a finite revelation and a finite tradition. So there should be room in the discussion for people to admit that their way of conceiving things and relating an objective discipline to a subjective discipline is not airtight. Pretty much every attempt to describe sovereignty consistently will fall apart somewhere under scrutiny.

Good point. Though sometimes easier said than done. And a lot of time the conversation derails on the definitions.

Sorry. :grin: You could see if Brad can make it a new topic. I agree that we need a more robust conception of sovereignty than the ones that are currently available.

@GJDS The discussions of how random is still subject to sovereignty have hurt my brain sometimes. I think the word is used in different senses too often and it muddies the waters a bit. It seems to me there is random as a mathematical term (not able to be predicted by us) and random as a naturalistic philosophical claim (not controlled by God) and it is not always clear in what sense the word random is being used by a particular writer or commenter.

Yes, I think so too.

Yes, that is my understanding too.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #20


Good, so we agree that natural selection and thus evolution is based on adaption.