Evolutionary Creationists should distance themselves more clearly from deism

GJDS

Your last two posts are crucial to the question of providence here, I think. Thanks a lot. Eddie’s caution about the limitations of speaking of God’s “sustaining” everything in being is that we have all seen that word drained of its historical theological content (I suppose in a quasi-scientific way), so that it simply means God keeping objects in existence as they go about their business autonomously and he is passive. What philsopher Freddy Freddoso calls “mere conservationism”.

But of course, as you say, since Patristic times the link between providence and creation has been understood to mean that, whatever God has created, including each moment and its events, he sustains and (necessarily as Creator) governs.

Your first post hints that this even applies to human evil:

But since, as Eddie rightly says, that can divert us from the matter in hand by requiring discussion of how God can govern evil if he doesn’t create it, it’s helpful to concentrate on natural creation in this context.

And in that case, the question about whether God governs molecular events requires us simply to ask, “Did God create molecules?” If so, they are governed by him towards his chosen ends for them - which is certainly no problem conceptually if God is as free of time and space as we believe: the question of scale is only a human issue.

Likewise, if we wonder whether he governed the Lisbon earthquake (either actively or permissively for some good reason, as Aleo suggests) we must ask who created tectonic plates and tectonic activity. A creator who gives them an algorithm to follow and leaves them to it is akin, at least, to the “deistic” clockmaker God. But one who is sustaining tectonics creatively from moment to moment is the providential God of theism, both transcendent and intimately immanent.

The question is not really how he does these things, because creation ex nihilo, even of events is, itself, not a scientific process. That’s why I dislike the idea of “God creating through evolution”, as if such a physical process were, in itself, creation rather than the occasion for it.

Unless we’re limiting providence to what is called “general providence”, ie what makes the universe habitable and so on, the laws of nature may be a necessary, but not sufficient, explanation for the contingent events in the world.

So (as a graphic example) if Aleo and his shrapnel are indeed a providential work of God, mysteriously keeping him alive for further service when others perished, we give thanks to God not for the laws that make such escapes possible statistically, but for God’s goodness in making it happen to him, on the assumption that God’s reasons were specific and good.

Perhaps it would be “improper” to speak of God’s “directing” the shrapnel an inch to one side (or Aleo’s head an inch to the other) - but that would be perhaps the only human kind of human analogy to express things. The fact is that “the laws of nature” don’t explain why he’s here to share with us now (“n% of people survive such shrapnel wounds” is an abstraction, not an explanation), though we may suppose the laws to have operated throughout, whereas the designing purpose of God is a good explanation.

For those interested, Thomas Aquinas argues the case pretty well that God must govern individual events if he governs the world in general - I did a piece with some selective links to his work way back here.

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It’s probably unwise for me to wander into the fray without having exhaustively read the 201 comments in the thread so far, but I was just ruminating on some of the comments I did read, including this one, and I thought I’d wade in.

It’s perhaps interesting to note that this “human free will exception” (which I realize you bracketed with a conditional) commits us to a certain theology of imago dei, namely that the image of God refers at least in part to the freedom of the will. So in that moment when God bestowed upon humanity His image, He gave him free will, but not at any time before. Some of the alternate understandings of the imago dei being talked about recently, for instance that it refers to a special divine-human relationship rather than particular qualities of homo sapiens, don’t fit as well with the “human free will exception.”

I recall recent interesting discussions around the free will of worms (Toward a Theology of Creative Worms), but apart from slightly bizarre suppositions of worm, bacteria or even asteroid free will, it’s interesting that the discrete human/non-human bifurcation leaves us insisting that the advanced intelligence of dolphins, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees and even homo erectus absolutely exhibited no free will whatsoever. This is an interesting (some like maybe @beaglelady might say dangerous) sort of theory of mind.

This sort of thinking has I think a long tradition in Christian philosophical thought, but it’s worth pointing out that it seems less plausible these days. I think perhaps this is in fact one of the things that makes this Deism / providence discussion trickier. While most (I think) are still willing to concede that humans are quite distinct from other animals (no dolphin has yet sent someone to the moon, written War and Peace, or built a Burj Khalifa, after all), and they may even say that God holds humans responsible for their violence in a different way from, for instance, how God presumably views warring bands of chimpanzees, I imagine fewer are willing to deny free will as such to mammals of higher intelligence. So that makes it harder to describe free will. Where and how do we discern the existence of free will? Does it extend to all creation (leaning toward Open Theism), no creation (exhaustive providence), or does it apply in some gradated fashion that’s harder to pin down?

I wonder what are all the theological or Biblical building blocks to this hard barrier between humans and non-humans? I know we have “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” and we have the imago dei… What am I not thinking of here?

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Hi Jon,

I know that you have spend a great deal of time and effort dealing with providence. My comment was meant to show that we have a coherent theology that commences with the ontological view (e.g. Athanasius) and this leads us to Aquinas, as you say. I view the foundational as being from nothingness and existence of objects as things as they are (and meant to be by God) as a general statement - if we look for a counter to this, we are left with separated from God and His creation, which is nothingness. These remarks mean that a meaningful and coherent outlook is built on these foundations, and this includes the way we may discuss the attributes of God using imperfect language, while understanding the one-ness of the one true God, and the objects that constitute the creation. The details can lead to a very lengthy discussion and this is not the place for this.

When we discuss our own existence and how events may unfold, I have made some brief comments some time ago. Thus Aleo has provided an account of his experience and his belief is this illustrates a providential work of God, with the mystery that is associated with such unique events. My view is that in such examples, we commence with belief when we discuss such accounts, based on the general belief that God is good and He shows (or displays) His Grace and Goodness through such events. Laws of nature and statistical analysis fails to capture faith, grace and goodness, so I would think such approaches may fall short of the mark.

When I say some statements are improper, I am saying these are not part of the theological discussion - or saying it another way, we would agree that God sustains and determines all events and acts in His Creation, as a statement of faith, and a theology has been developed to show this is reasonable and coherent. We cannot however, make a determination that such and such a scientific observation shows how God has acted in a specific instance. I like the way Aquinas deals with these matters.

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@Eddie

Last year my family was driving up to Texas from southern Mexico. The wheel came off our truck. The bolts just sheered right through. I believe if somehow it were possible to obtain all the data about this event, someone could explain it with reference to friction and torque and tensile strength. I’m pretty sure the wheel came off because of random interplay between of a variety of factors, in response to the laws of physics.

But, the wheel came off when we had just gotten off at an exit that was the only one for 250 km in either direction, 5 km from a city of 100,000 people, while we were moving at 5 km/hour, not 80 km/hour. It came off and practically rolled to the feet of a guy with a cell phone whose son was a mechanic. So of course I consider the whole event to be evidence of God’s personal and loving provision for me. I 100% believe that God orchestrated all those natural causes so that I could wait the six hours for the car to be fixed with access to Diet Coke and air conditioning instead of being stranded indefinitely on the side of a highway in the desert with no water or sunscreen or cell phone coverage.

How does this kind of thing fit into your concept of how God runs the universe? Was the wheel coming off my truck front-loaded into creation from eternity past? That just seems rather silly to me. (So, does the idea of God front-loading penguins at the Big Bang.) Were angels holding the truck together for some amount time, or did they deal the final blow to the bolts before physics would have, so it would all play out the way it did? I don’t know that it’s really necessary to believe God countermanded the laws of physics and performed a bona fide miracle, though sure, he could have. I have no problem affirming that God intended and orchestrated natural random events for my good in that situation.

I don’t see how it is so hard to hold those beliefs in tension (natural random events were at work and God was simultaneously accomplishing his purposes and plan and responding in love to his creation) in the case I described, or in the case of the creation of penguins via evolution.

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Right. Because I have seen EC people (obviously not the people you care about, all those people who are not really part of the conversation here) say in response to your complaints that they think God accomplishes his intentions and desires, designs, creates, orchestrates, and wills things into being.

Ahhh, but did they say “controls” and “guarantees”? Gotcha! Are they willing to confidently assert God specifically intended and manipulated into existence every species that ever existed? Nope? FAIL!!!

Do you see why people think this is a stupid game with you? Seventy-second verse, same as the first.

I’m with Jay that failing to use your preferred verb to describe God’s creative work is not the beef the vast majority of our potential Evangelical audience has with EC. It’s a Bible issue.

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@Eddie

Hi Eddie,

I had been meaning to respond to this particular exchange:

Richard_Wright:
“Of course this means that God set up the universe to evolve an earth, that evolved an atmosphere, life, trees, worms and birds for birds to look for their food for their young.”

Actually, if evolution is true then my statement is also true. Like you said author was thinking about evolution, but God is the ultimate author of all scripture and he used the author to record what in a more detailed expression of the Job quote would be, “I initiated a physical paradigm that developed so that food would be available to complex biological entities should they act on a divine impulse, that is to care for their young.” But since that wouldn’t make sense to somebody living 3-4 thousand years ago they got the passage from Job, “Who provides food for the raven, when its young cry out to God.” As you stated the text is compatible with an evolutionary description of the world, but we don’t need to stop there if evolution is true.

That leads to my critique of the crux of this thread, which is that ECs need to distance themselves from deism so that dissenters might give evolution a chance. That may be true to an extent, especially for certain EC leaders. But in in my humble opinion the impetus is much more strongly on the dissenters. For the vast majority of them, what some EC leaders have stated about God’s role in evolution is completely irrelevant. They neither know nor care about those views. That is, because of how they interpret early Genesis, they won’t even bother to study evolution because in their eyes it’s already wrong and is only taught by, “anti-theist who are trying to disprove God.”

Case in point - look posts from Prode and other YEC posters on this and other recent threads. Do you see any willingness to engage in the science of evolution? (Joe Palsac is an exception).

Also, if they knew the science then they wouldn’t get anxious when statements are made suggesting that God is lazy or aloof in evolution, or that evolution is, “random”. They, after a few courses might now say, “OK, what I once thought as aloofness is God working his will in his infinitely intelligent creation through the forces of that creation and may or may not have worked in a perfection here and there”. That statement would resonate with most people here but not to someone who refuses to consider the evidence. They might also state, “My, what I once saw as, “random” I now see as God providing naturally occurring mechanisms where our magical instructions-containing molecules will make an infinite variety of changes, allowing them to better fit the given environment. I like how God did that!”

Just my 2 cents. :slight_smile:

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As a couple of people have already pointed out, it’s difficult to understand why “I don’t know because I don’t believe the Bible gives the answer, and I’m OK with that” isn’t considered a valid answer. As has been noted previously, it’s considered a perfectly valid answer on other topics.

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As it happened I had a rare conversation with a “militant YEC” yesterday (not so common over here), in the form of a local youth worker hailing from America, I’m afraid. I steered away from arguing my own position (it was an after-church chat over cofee at Christmas!), but picked up quickly on the two “apologetic” thrusts he had.

The first was his argument against OECs that they couldn’t find “the Gap” for their Gap Theory in Genesis.

The second was that evolution was mixture of some true science and a lot of anti-religious ideology.

Now, we (and I) could find much to challenge on that, but I note that when Asa Gray (cited above by Eddie) made his apologia for Darwinism to Christians, by far his major argument was that the science was fully compatible with a strong traditional doctrine of divine sovereignty in providence, which (it has to be said) he usually couched under the term “design”.

Natural selection, he insisted, holds no threat for divine government of evolutionary outcomes. He addressed relatively little the more common arguments in EC “apologetics” nowadays, ie that biblical literalism is mistaken (not many were arguing that in 1860, actually), and that the scientific evidence is too obvious to ignore.

I think he had the key issue, at least for Evangelicals, nailed.

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Yes. And while I think it is an interesting thought, I have not seen that view expressed to you by people you are actually talking with here.

I understand that for as many people who might be offended by the thought, there are probably as many who are offended by people who presume to know without a doubt what God could or could not have done as Creator on issues that our revelation does not speak unequivocally to. An individual’s “idea of God’s omnipotence” or “sense of God’s sovereignty” is not the Christian rule of faith and practice.

They should be allowed to say. “Huh. I don’t know about that.” Pleading the fifth is about fear of self-incrimination. There you go again with the insinuations about hiding one’s true beliefs out of cowardice or intent to deceive.

Yeah, and people don’t want to use your words, they want to use their own. It comes across as narcissistic to me to demand that in order for someone to have succeeded in communicating their personal thoughts and beliefs, they have to select from one of the phrasing options you have provided. [quote=“Eddie, post:219, topic:18370”]
Someone is asked whether God guided evolution. He makes a fuss over “guided” and won’t answer. So, OK, you give the person a chance to use another word. You suggest “steered”? Nope. How about “directed”? Nope, no good. How about “programmed”? Nope, that’s rejected, too. (Think Monty Python and the cheese shop sketch.) You go through Roget’s Thesaurus, trying every word even approximating the idea you’re asking about, and further, you give the EC writer the power to pick the word that conveys his/her idea, even one that’s not in the Thesaurus. The EC refuses to pick a word. You press and press for clarity, and the best you can get is something like “evolution is a God-ordained process.” And what does that mean? That the process is ordained, but the specific results are open? (For open results, cf. Gould, Oord, Polkinghorne.) Or that the results are ordained as well? You ask the EC leader which he means. No answer comes. Net result of hours of frustrating inquiry: the only phrase the EC will assent to is unclear in meaning, and therefore what the EC believes is unknown. Since the purpose of the conversation was to determine what the EC believed, the conversation was a complete waste of time.
[/quote]

Was the purpose to understand another person? Because that is not what the conversation you are describing feels like when you are on the other end of it. It feels like a hostile interrogation, like an attempt to back someone in a corner. What is the point of all this frustrating inquiry, Eddie? To an on-looker it sure seems like the point is to nail people. So I’m hearing that people aren’t super forth-coming when they are being made to feel vulnerable. People “plead the fifth” when they perceive they are on trial.

Well, the internet is bad like that. It’s not resentment. It’s more bemused-ness. I don’t know how one maintains “intellectual openness” to what amounts in my book to whining. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: I understand your complaints on a rational level, and you have lodged them so frequently that I could write your posts for you at this point, complete with your favorite examples and specifics. I just don’t empathize with your level frustration at all. And I don’t agree with your assessment that all these “EC leaders” are hiding their true colors.

But, yes, back to the topic.

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This certainly bears repeating.

Excellent point.

That does seem reasonable. Again, there’s nothing wrong with people saying “I don’t know because I don’t believe the Bible gives the answer, and I’m OK with that”. It’s considered a perfectly valid answer on other topics, such as how the rain can be said to be sent by God whilst also being the product of the meteorological systems He has ordained, or how God can be said to give the birds their food when in fact we see the birds going and getting it themselves. If other people don’t like this kind of answer that’s their problem; no one is asking them to hold this view.

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Divine sovereignty may be a key issue. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs the level of precision and the specific vocabulary choices Eddie recommends to feel the issue has been addressed.

I’m curious if anyone has read the “How I Changed My Mind about Evolution” book. (I haven’t) Did anyone mention coming to terms with God’s sovereignty in evolutionary outcomes as a key factor in their “conversion.” Because the people in that book are case studies of the kind of Evangelical that is BioLogos’ audience.

I claim no expertise in teaching the degree of “directness” that evolution must exhibit before it can be considered God’s method of creating Man–humankind, and in God’s image. Yet I had no perceivable problem on that score with the Confirmation class I taught. First of all, I explained that to understand any role evolution might have played in creating each of them, they had to decide on their definition of Man. If Man could only be a member of the Homo sapiens species, then God must have directed evolution every step of the way from the very beginning. However, if the essence of Man was the possession of a Mind that could comprehend the concept of God and try to imitate Him as much as possible, then, I told the class, they had to consider Miller’s suggestion that there was no reason to exclude an ‘intelligent octopus’. No reason to suppose such a creature exists. Just no reason to claim it could not. The movie, E.T., seemed to break down that barrier.

Most of my students were in late teens and early twenties, and some of a quite strict evangelical persuasion. They seemed not to have any trouble accepting this approach, and so I wonder why it has raised such a ruckus in this Forum discussion.
Al Leo

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