Well a new nonsmoker tends to be a little extra strident in their enthusiasm for others to improve as they have.
Ah, got it. No, I am not trying to proselytize with respect to evolution – I thought maybe somehow you had newly inferred that I was a universalist with respect to salvation.
Yes, I’m with you on providence and the chance element too. To misappropriate an Einstein quote, “God does not play dice”. I know some Christians, like the physicist Ard Louis have dealt with the chance element by saying that God front loaded all the information into the process so that it out worked exactly how he wanted it too. That is certainly possible, but that always seemed too open to criticisms of deism to me.
The benefit of the providence approach is that it situates God’s role in evolution within a historic Christian doctrine. Namely, that God guides, sustains, and directs the universe and its natural processes. That way when we talk about God’s direction of evolution we’re falling back on historic teaching as we explain some we see science.
Would I adopt the title evolutionary providentialist, though? Dunno. I like evolutionary creationist (as opposed to theistic evolution) because it, IMO, puts the emphasis in the right place - on a transcendent, all powerful creator God of scripture. The term Theistic evolutionist seems to put too much emphasis on evolution and not enough on theism, whilst leaving the theism undefined. I think Francis Collins has similar concerns - if I recall correctly. Evolutionary providentialist certainly puts a nice emphasis on a beautiful Christian affirmation about God, but I wonder how many Christians in the pew could tell us what the word means and why it matters. Let alone draw the connection to science they might already be skeptic (or hostile) towards. what do you think?
I guess no label is perfect and all are open to misunderstanding. I guess go with whichever think most accurately discovers God’s work, sits most comfortably with your own conscience, and enables you to have the most fruitful dialogues with those who see things differently (or the same).
Thanks, Dale, I’m glad you liked the article.
Also I’ve been meaning to say. I love the Mandarin duck in your avatar.
As you may have noticed in my brief ‘conversion’ account, I have preternatural numbers of providential interactions with my Father. Fathers enjoy giving their children unsolicited gifts sometimes and delighting them with surprises (and maybe others, vicariously ). The mandarin duck is one such and the reason for my choice of my profile photo.
There’s a co-instants account involved of when I saw one in the wild on a gray and chilly day in November of ‘04, swimming in the weir pool of the disused Werdinsel mill on the Limmat River in Zürich, Switzerland… the timing of it was startling, my being then and where! (It wasn’t that green. )
Some aren’t exactly fun, if you saw my kidney account, but they are all good!
Of course the duck itself was startling(! ) – I had never seen one before, and it took me a little while online to identify it. Apparently there’s a small population in Switzerland, a whopping 10-20 pairs fifteen years later, according to this Swiss birdwatching site (okay, birdwaiting site, if you’re picky ).
It fits my theology, anyway:
Really great article, Liam. Very well written!! @LM77
Wonderfully written article…and the journey described echoes the journeys that many others have taken…and/or are on.
Thanks for writing about your journey. Your article was very helpful in terms of how to process apparently conflicting views.
Good advice, and a great article! Sorry I took my sweet time getting around to saying that!
No problem Jay. Thanks for taking the time to say so.
Very well written and thoughtful, much appreciated from this fellow Reformed Christian. One quick thought and a quick question if I may…
For what it’s worth, I have seriously considered this approach, being a Calvinist myself… if I believe that God “freely, and unchangeably ordain[ed] whatsoever comes to pass” through the “contingency of second causes”, could it not be possible that God had similarly guided the “free” evolutionary process through his providence to achieve such stunning feats of engineering as we see in a mantis, yet with an unseen and unseeable hand? Not unlike how he had guided, orchestrated, and determined the free choices of Joseph’s brothers (you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…”)?
There is significant merit to that approach. For me, though, what keeps me from embracing this aspect of EC is not so much the theology, but the science. There is a point where, however much God may have chosen to use otherwise undetectable providence, the marks of recognizable and purposeful design start to become incontrovertible, and clearly distinct from what unguided nature could achieve.
I compare it to cards… if you and I were playing cards, and you noticed that I had dealt myself 12 royal flushes in a row, I could hypothetically argue that, similarly, this outcome is entirely under the providential control of God, and he could be using all the strictly natural means at his disposal under his general providence to achieve this… but at some point you would start to recognize there is some very recognizable and detectable agency going on here. Science and the regular laws of nature interacting with chance alone, however guided by God’s normally unseen hand of providence, simply would at some point cease to be an adequate explanation.
I asked for non-YEC books on creation and science by Reformed or evangelical authors. To my surprise, the suggestions came flooding in.
Just out of curiosity, have you read anything from the ID perspective looking at the strictly scientific (i.e., non-theological) approaches that question the adequacy of contemporary science on these topics?
But the problem you note involves the interpretation of the science, not the science itself. Evolutionary Creation does not entail a belief in “unguided nature” as the final cause of anything. What you see as “incontrovertible” marks of design, others see as quite debatable. What Pascal said 350 years ago still applies:
I admire the boldness with which these persons undertake to speak of God. In addressing their argument to infidels, their first chapter is to prove Divinity from the works of nature.(Note: This is the argument from design current in Pascal’s day.) I should not be astonished at their enterprise, if they were addressing their argument to the faithful; for it is certain that those who have the living faith in their heart see at once that all existence is none other than the work of the God whom they adore. But for those in whom this light is extinguished, and in whom we purpose to rekindle it, persons destitute of faith and grace, who, seeking with all their light whatever they see in nature that can bring them to this knowledge, find only obscurity and darkness; to tell them that they have only to look at the smallest things which surround them, and they will see God openly, to give them, as a complete proof of this great and important matter, the course of the moon and planets, and to claim to have concluded the proof with such an argument, is to give them ground for believing that the proofs of our religion are very weak. And I see by reason and experience that nothing is more calculated to arouse their contempt.
It is not after this manner that Scripture speaks, which has a better knowledge of the things that are of God. It says, on the contrary, that God is a hidden God, and that, since the corruption of nature, He has left men in a darkness from which they can escape only through Jesus Christ, without whom all communion with God is cut off. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
This is what Scripture points out to us, when it says in so many places that those who seek God find Him. It is not of that light “like the noonday sun” that this is said. We do not say that those who seek the noonday sun, or water in the sea, shall find them; and hence the evidence of God must not be of this nature. So it tells us elsewhere: Truly, You are a God who hides Himself. Is. 45:15
True, I am speaking of my interpretation of the science (hence the words, “for me”). ; thus I don’t particularly demur. I simply am observing that, philosophically, there is some point at which God’s involvement in any system will and must be recognizable as being intentional design, over and against what is explicable by (otherwise) unguided or (directly) unaided natural processes.
If you had looked at the (original) stones on which God directly carved the Ten Commandments (in ancient Hebrew, presumably), natural forces (alone) would simply be a wholly inadequate (and laughable) explanation for that phenomenon… regardless of what natural means God may have employed to do the actual carving.
Thus far I hope we can agree?
Philosophically, there is no requirement that God’s involvement “will and must be recognizable.” Simply put, for his own reasons God may have intentionally designed a system in which his involvement is ambiguous. Now, if you insist that God’s involvement must be evident, then the unbeliever would ask why God didn’t make that fact even more evident, such that it could not be missed. In short, clear proofs of God in nature would be destructive of faith, not beneficial. It requires no faith to believe in gravity. The evidence is “finely tuned” by God so that there is enough light for those who only wish to see, and enough darkness for those of the opposite disposition. (Pascal again. Sorry.)
But the evidence in nature is not so obvious. God does not have to reveal himself, and even when he does, many people will still find a natural explanation. See John 12:27-30, where the crowd decided the voice from heaven was thunder. Even some who saw the risen Jesus harbored doubts (Matt. 28:17).
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Why? With God controlling the shuffling of the cards you could deal yourself royal flushes for a very long time if that was His will. Yes the results would indicate something is going on but you would be unable to determine how this is happening.
I’m afraid I have to agree @Bill_II here. You could suspect or intuit agency, but there would be no way to demonstrate it. That’s where the Discovery Institute et al. have blown it.
We know who is in control, and it’s not us. Even though there is a lot of evidence, it cannot be proven scientifically.
You don’t need to apologize for sharing Pascal here, Jay!
In fact … try to imagine the possible scenarios where such a “requirement” was in place contra Jay’s assertion above. What would this require of God?
Scenario 1: God would have to somehow explicitly mark off those particular “set apart” works with an unmistakable signature. [Yes - the resurrection uniquely qualifies, but what is in sight here seems to be something repeatedly and routinely demonstrable and universally observable.] In other words, what is sought is something that, while part of the regularity of observable life, is nonetheless unmistakably God’s fingerprint. This would then require (or inevitably be followed with) a dichotomy between sacred and profane. I.e. this over here? … It’s holy ground. All the rest of the stuff over there? Nothing to see there … It’s not of God.
And that erroneous conclusion is, I suggest, the fatal demise of the above scenario for any thinking Christian.
Scenario 2: God must be a “bit player”, i.e. an unmistakable and visible participant within the created order. Here lies the wish of the skeptic … “well, if God really wants me to believe, all that is needed is God’s special appearance to me here and now.” And again … on the Christian view of things, Jesus himself fills this qualification. But given that even his contemporaries did not universally recognize any divinity about him, it is no surprise that even more historical removal will leave today’s skeptics unsatisfied. So they want the unmistakable appearance for present appraisal, and ratified by an otherwise impossible magic show …(think John Denver’s ‘Oh God’ movie.) So imagine that all this happens. What does this make of God? Again, God would be seen as the “bit player” within the order of things. Here is God now in this “courtroom” in front of us – meaning that God is apparently absent elsewhere. It is the charlatan god that is (rightly?) mocked by skeptics as the apparently deficient super-human. Strong - yes, but not nearly strong enough apparently as such a god is repeatedly arraigned on growing mountains of theodicy charges. The atheist may reply … “wait a minute! Don’t you brag on Jesus doing exactly these sorts of displays? Calming seas with a word… raising the dead… defeating death himself? How is all that any different?” To be sure; they have a point there, that is not entirely here answered. But I do offer a partial answer: Jesus also makes the bold claim that he has done nothing that would be above, or prohibited for any of his disciples to follow - and in fact they can be expected to do even greater works! (John 14:12 and surrounding verses). So in essence, I think Jesus is here inviting us all into his own full humanity in God. In some ways this nullifies or repudiates our need to cast about and “find God here” or “spot God there.” In fact Jesus warns us about those sorts of obsessions, and even predicts that charlatans will try to fulfill our obsession by putting on just such a show as we want. (beginning at Matthew 24:23).
This, I suggest, is the fatal answer given to this second desired scenario above. But in an important way, this answer makes things much worse for today’s would-be believers. It invites the skeptics to literally (and rightly!) challenge self-identified disciples with the request: “so where is the substance? You brag on Jesus doing all this great stuff … and he said we should be expecting more to follow, not less! So what’ve you got? Or are you going to hide behind your cessationism?”
And that is our encouragement and our fear. It may lay bare the enthusiasms for scientific grandstanding. But it replaces it with something much scarier for all of us self-identified Christians today. Maybe that is why we prefer to hang back and fuss over our scientific obsessions instead.
[To give believers more of their fair due … this ‘partial’ answer is, I think, made more complete by acknowledging that the sorts of things often demanded of believers and the spirit in which they are demanded (…‘prove to us…’) is exactly the sort of thing Jesus had a disdain for. When crowds got uppity in that way, he had a way of either putting them in their place, or fleeing their obsessive enthusiasms, or even … just getting himself killed. So while we believers like to make much of ‘spectacle Jesus’ calming seas and calling down angelic hordes to put the Romans in their place - (Oh wait! That last one turned out to be a demonic temptation, right?) … we only celebrate ‘spectacle Jesus’ at our own peril. Because he wasn’t about lording it over others; he was about calling others to follow in his very footsteps as he donned the towel and lovingly did the work of a slave. So both believer and skeptic alike share in unhealthy obsessions that Jesus, in the end, would not own. And that would be the more complete answer to offer here.]
You are making a form of Paley’s watchmaker argument where scientific observations are the watch. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that your analysis’ level of abstraction is too low. In other words, if you say, “Look at this protein synthesis mechanism! It’s proof of divine design!” then someone else can say that the mechanism arose by evolutionary dynamics.
In my opinion, it is much stronger to go up a level of abstraction and say that evolutionary dynamics are “the watch,” so to speak. That there can be evolutionary mechanisms at all is quite remarkable; this suggests God’s creation and providence throughout history, right up to the present moment.