New Article: Misunderstandings About the Term "God-Guided Evolution"

(Benjamin L. Corey) #1

In a new blog, Loren Haarsma argues that the term “God-Guided Evolution” often has some misunderstandings attached to it. What do you think? What other misunderstandings have you encountered?

(Phil) #2

Enjoyed the article. The statement, " I don’t think God needed to nudge it down particular paths in order to produce what God intended, " expresses well the thought that God is big enough to create a universe that would bring about his desired ends in the first place. Personally, I think God’s desire was to allow growth and freedom within that framework, but that is just musing.

(George Brooks) #3


Thank you for the thread on the new article! I very much enjoyed the article… and here is my nomination for what may be the most complex paragraph from it!:

“Those [see below] are three common and conflicting ways to interpret the phrase “God-guided evolution.” It’s not surprising that they’re common. God’s providence and guidance of the natural world is a complicated theological topic. Evolution is a complicated scientific theory. But none of them are what I mean. So while I can affirm that “God-guided evolution,” I rarely say it. I’ll instead chose other phrases – probably a lot longer and less pithy, but harder to misunderstand.”

Here are the 3 common misunderstandings:

[1] "Evolution is limited to making small-scale changes in species. For really big changes – like making new life forms or increasing complexity – God has to do something more than ordinary evolution."

[2] "…perhaps evolution isn’t limited to making small-scale changes. But evolution left on its own would mean God wasn’t really doing anything."

[3] "But evolution had the potential to go down many possible paths. So God acted from time to time to select, or to nudge evolution down particular paths to produce particular species and ecosystems."

I will enthusiastically agree that these misunderstandings erupt here and there in the middle of discussions. But frankly, I don’t see the misunderstandings coming from a “mis-guided” or “ambivalent use” of the phrase “God-Guided Evolution”.

In fact, the Pew Survey on religious views SPECIFICALLY uses the phrase “God-guided” as the clearest way to present the issue!

In fact, it appears that Pew and Gallup have ended up with just that phrase!


THREE TIMES the phrase “God Guided” is used… and not once did it become a launching pad for clearing up possible confusions. And for the most part, I would expect that to be generally true.

But let’s give each of these “confusions” their just due:

[1] "Evolution is limited to making small-scale changes in species. For really big changes – like making new life forms or increasing complexity – God has to do something more than ordinary evolution."

Yes, this will come up. But not because anyone was so bold as to say “God-Guided”. One’s correspondent may very well say, “How do you mean guided?”.

And this is when you can unload that terrible burden bound to the whole idea of explaining God’s role in the Cosmos. But this is not the fault of the phrase “God-Guided”.

[2] "…perhaps evolution isn’t limited to making small-scale changes. But evolution left on its own would mean God wasn’t really doing anything."

So this comes up now and then in my own discussions. And if it is a Creationist, I challenge the comment immediately! When God made Adam… was there a part of Adam that he didn’t do something to? Did the Lord God “coast” when it came to making the kidneys or the liver? Was he “just hoping” the body would give itself a good shakedown … and make things the way he hoped it would be made?

I think most people would immediately reject this kind of innuendo. When God creates the lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) … nobody questions that God specifically engaged in the minutest of details of their genetic packaging! God does design Chromosomes!! And why wouldn’t he?

But as soon as someone discusses God getting involved with the details of Evolution … there’s a tendency to see a little squirming … a little bit of an “eww” factor… so it’s clear that we need to help make people comfortable with the whole idea. If God can make a whale from “mud” … then he can certainly make one from millions of specific genetic configurations and evolutionary processes like the process of selection.

When people suggest that the asteroid that killed the Dinosaurs was sent to Earth in order to let the mammals take over from the Dinosaurs… that would be God controlling the environmental factors that led directly to the evolution of primates. Drying out the jungles of the world then helped make the circumstances that created “running primates” to fill the gaps of opening up the jungles and turning them into rolling plains and steppes.

Now, as for this final consideration:

[3] "But evolution had the potential to go down many possible paths. So God acted from time to time to select, or to nudge evolution down particular paths to produce particular species and ecosystems."

Theists will do what they will. There is no stopping them. But there’s nothing in the phrase “God-Guided Evolution” that implies that God stops guiding. So I think we are perfectly safe in this regard.

But let’s discuss this third item: there is a video tape of Behe being asked about how God would work “His Design” into a creation of natural processes. And Behe spells it out rather precisely - - hypothetically we presume - - but not as a far-fetched thought, but as his best guess.

And he describes God getting his “billiards ball shot” all lined up … and then WHACK (that’s my sound effect)… God triggers the big bang, and the balls start heading out in a all sorts of directions… but in directions God planned for. Some think it sounds Deist… but this is God working the Cosmos… while answering prayers … and keeping the whole system from flying apart.

In Behe’s description, there is not a single mention of miralces, de novo creation, or anything. Behe presents God as working everything through natural processes… thus, making “design” pretty hard to differentiate from everything else … its all part of the billiards ball shot!

(George Brooks) #4

I neglected to say one more thing:

God can engage the universe by means of miracles… or he can engage the universe by natural laws.

It’s all God.

And there is no INTERVENTION. Saying God intervenes in the natural affairs of the Universe is like saying bringing a cup of milk to my mouth with my left hand is intervening in my drinking process… which is normally done with my right hand.

There is no intervention. There is only God.

But your mileage may differ… and Theists will usually differ on the most trivial of points.

But it is not because there is something awkward about “God-Guided Evolution”. It’s about as elegant a phrase as we are going to find.

(George Brooks) #5

If we look at the title of the article in question,
"Misunderstandings About the Term “God-Guided Evolution”,
it would appear that “God-Guided” is, if anything, still vague.

But the alternative would not be “God-Ordained” … because “Ordained” has many more meanings than “Guided”.

So, if vagueness is the problem, it isn’t resolved by using “God-Ordained”.

The question remains: what is less vague that doesn’t sound like Calvinism?

A Gradient of God’s Engagement with His Creation?:

  1. “Predestined by God”
  2. ? ________________
  3. ? ________________
  4. “God-Guided”
  5. “God-Ordained”
  6. “God-Allowed”
  7. “God-Tolerated”

Do we have any recommendations for getting “closer” to Predestination or Calvinism … but still not saying that?

Postscript Note: I am not attempting to insinuate BioLogos into Calvinism. I refer to a definitive Calvinistic phrase as an anchor on one of the gradient.

Now… if we step back from that statement… what is stronger than “God-Guided” … but not as strong as the Calvinist statement?

Frankly, I’m having a hard time finding anything stronger than God-Guided. I think if I had found it… I would be using that phrase instead of God-Guided!

(Phil) #6

We could have the ever popular but even more ill-defined "God sustained " or perhaps consistent with Eden, “God planted” or “God nurtured.” I am fine with simply “God created” then leaving it open to be as it will be. Not sure where that would be on your Calvinism continuum however, or why we have a Calvinism continuum for that matter.
Back to the OP, I think that all of these pithy suggestions have much the same problems with giving misconceptions, perhaps except for “God created,” as that phrase implies that evolution is wholly of God and whatever it is, is from God and God alone, but truthfully when dealing with the general public, few look beyond the superficial meaning. In the end, I think that Dr. Haarsma is correct. We have to use more words and engage in conversation to adequately communicate our desired meaning.

(George Brooks) #7


It’s been my intuitive hunch that any descriptive phrase might be entertained up to… but not including … actual Calvinism … not because Calvinism is wrong… or impossible… but because BioLogos and others are not trying to teach Calvinism…

… but that the idea that God uses natural processes is a page from the Calvinist viewpoint.

So… I mark one end of the continuum with a definitive Calvinist statement … and am now working our way BACK from that explicit statement.

As for your proposed: “God created”…

It certainly sounds like it could go somewhere on the continuum… but where on the scale depends on how you end the phrase, right?!

"God created "… ummm… what are you saying he created?

If you say “God created LIFE” or “God created chromosomes”… how exactly do you get yourself to a stance on Evolution?

Are you proposing: “God Created Evolution” ???

(Phil) #8

That was my thought, and while it sounds a bit awkward, perhaps is part of its charm. That is what I tell myself about my awkwardness, anyway.

(George Brooks) #9


If you had 30 seconds to explain the BioLogos position to a potential Christian donor, you would
prefer to feature the phrase: “God Created Evolution”… rather than “God Guided Evolution” ?

I’m not going to dismiss your preference here … but I wonder why you think it is preferable to make an awkward statement instead of a more clear statement?

(Phil) #10

Of course, most of this is just word play, but the word “created” seems to imply ownership and responsibility, as opposed to “evolution of a cold random universe.”

(George Brooks) #11


I certainly agree about that!

But you don’t think the phrase “God Guided Evolution” takes us to a non-random universe rather quickly?

(Tim) #12

There is really no way to specifically define God without direct revelation, but is that part of the problem? Is there a difference between creating God and understanding God?

The default view since Moses, is that God “created everything”. Other than that, the view was “man-handled”. Perhaps it is time to get past the view through ancient lens and go with what an actual scientist would do, after the initial step of creation? God “guided” does soften the view of “man-handled” for all sorts of philosophical reasons if not social correctness.

Imo, when God “steps” in the OT, it was viewed as God man-handling, but it was always according to the will of mankind, how an event would turn out. To me the “man-handling” is just that, man itself. If there had been enough humans on God’s side, anything that God did contrary to nature would be, intervention on man’s behalf. Otherwise nature was going to take it’s course. NOT that God actually sent destruction or change. That view is just a human projection about the conflict between God’s will and human will.

Now it can be said that omniscient God set up the universe to to act naturally in a way that at a precise time, humans and nature would coincide a precepitous event to test human will. Thus setting up an act of intervention, but that is part of the paradigm of allowing creation to have a will of it’s own.

We ponder this all the time, subconsciously that God has created an alien race, programmed to destroy earth and all of humanity. We distrust God on all accounts. But this is no different than if some random event happened and part of another star system took out the solar system, because this seems more than just a scientist carrying out a scientific experiment. I do not think we reject the notion that God is a scientist because we cannot get past the default view of the ANE. It is the clash of wills and wanting God to be something different than us. I am sure that if humans are still around in 10ky, they will read all this modern account as God “being a scientist”. Not because God is or is not. But because that was the focus of modern humanity and our interpretive view of God and creation.

It is difficult to get past the notion that this was just an experiment on human will, because of the anthropomorphic principle. We simply declare there is no God, and that settles any conflict. That is not because we know everything, but only based on our limited knowledge. But I doubt that our scientific methods are so much at odds with God as to imply they are only unique to human will. Science is a part of the universe experience given to us by God, and thus part of God’s will as is everything else.