Pro-Evolution Christians - Camel's Hump?

(George Brooks) #1

BioLogos participant @Jon_Garvey has published a very good article (URL link at bottom). In it one of his conclusions is this:

"Evolutionary Creation cannot give a naturalistic account of evolution, and then say “of course there’s an immortal soul, too”, or “of course, some of us think providence may be involved too” or “of course, God somehow turns stochastic outcomes into eternal purposes”.

“It [Evolutionary Creation] must integrate those aspects of God’s creative activity into a unified picture, however incomplete that will inevitably be. Aquinas managed it nearly a millennium ago for his times. There’s a duty on Christians to be radically inventive in tackling these matters with new tools.”

So I question the assertion - - It Must ?!

This is a DENOMINATIONAL or even PERSONAL question. Everyone has a different view of this syythensis.

  1. Roger thinks God would NEVER touch a chromosome. And yet God takes a bone from Adam and creates Eve? Even if it is a metaphor … it seems to allow for God to touch human biology…

  2. Others think God doesn’t touch ecosystems and just waits for individual moments to act. Act doing what, I’m not sure.

There are so many ways to synthesize God’s involvement, over millions of years, to arrive at the moral beasts we call humans!

This seems to be the very reason that BioLogos resists trying to SPECIFY a synthesis.

The only thing that we supporters of BioLogos seem to agree on is that whatever God did or didn’t do… he’s been at it for millions and millions of years!

Jon, have you ever considered how many ways there are to answer the question you insist be answered? If folks provide their answers, it is important not to say there is only ONE possible answer. There may only be one that is true … but there are many, many possible answers.

The Camel’s Hump

(Benjamin Kirk) #2

I question it too. Why must it? Does Young Earth Creationism integrate everything into a unified picture? Does the Big Tent of the ID movement integrate ANYTHING?


It seems rather to be a case of 'Don’t ask, don’t tell"

(Jon) #4

That’s like saying "Christians cannot give a naturalistic account of rain, and then say "of course God causes rain too:, or “Of course, some of us think providence may be involved too”, or “of course, God somehow turns stochastic outcomes into eternal purposes”. Thinkers of the medieval era had already surpassed this level of argumentation, by the thirteenth century.

(sy_garte) #5

I am not certain that Jon’s words quoted above are being properly interpreted. Just above the quoted paragraph, Jon wrote " It [Theistic Evolution] cannot plead the limitations of science, because it is not a scientific enterprise, but a bridge between science and God. There are plenty of atheist voices denying such bridges. They cannot be countered simply by saying the same things and adding, “but we believe in God, too.”

My interpretation of Jon’s point in that post is that he is calling for us to work on new approaches to more fully integrate our theological with our scientific understanding. I agree with this idea, and with the need to attempt to find ways to do this work. I also agree with George that this is not going to be easy, since at the moment at least, such synthesis or integration is subject to a variety of different points of view. And George is also correct that we should reject any one particular answer as “the right one” at this point, since TEs have not come to any special consensus.

But I think what Jon is saying is that its worth trying to get there. I certainly agree with that, but I cannot offer any profound insights on how to that, other than by continuing to discuss, argue and think about the “bridge” between science and faith that TE is responsible for building and maintaining. Not an easy task, but perhaps its the one we are called to take on.

(Peaceful Science) #6

Hello all. Before I respond in a small way to the substance of the article. I do want to thank @Jon_Garvey for his kind note to me in his blog:

Swamidass has suddenly (and perhaps to his own surprise) become a big player in the origins discussion. Firstly, a piece he’d written on common descent was attacked in several episodes by ID philosopher Cornelius Hunter. Then he crossed swords with scientists like Ann Gauger from the ID camp on the same issue, and then personally braved the lions’ den of Uncommon Descent, where he suffered undue savaging from vocal Creationist opponents of all things evolutionary there.

He’s now become a regular poster on BioLogos, promoting an orthodox and providential account of theistic evolution with which we’d be very happy here on The Hump. It’s notable how irenic his manner has been throughout, finding common theological cause with individuals within ID (and even with Creationists like Todd Wood) even after what was evidently a bruising encounter.

This is a pretty on point description of what happened. Though I do want to acknowledge that Vincent Torley in the ID camp has been very kind to me. I can confirm that this whole episode was, in fact, entirely a surprise to me. It is interesting how life plays out. Still trying to figure out why they thought I was so important to attack…

Also, I do want to let you know, as a result of this new found interest in my work, I’m going to be starting a blog soon. I’ll let you know when it is up.

Those of you curious about the articles that set off the firestorm can find them at my lab’s website:

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #7

Nature and the universe are totally interconnected. That means that every process has a role and purpose within the whole. and each particle is important.

Because the universe is a cosmos there are no naturalistic accounts of rain, if one defines naturalistic as strictly devoid of meaning and purpose, which how Scientism defines Nature and natural. See Monod’s Chance and Necessity. Nature4 and the universe are rationally structured and thus have meaning and purpose.

Jesus said that Satan is the Father of Lies, meaning that all lies come from the Evil One. The OT says that God is not human that God would lie, meaning also that God does not lie.

Dr. S, you wrote on your blog that God being all powerful could create a world that appeared to be old, but is not. That is not true. God does not create false appearances. God does not lie. I am sure you said that for arguments sake, but we must make this very clear, God does not lie. God does not act in a deceptive manner.

By the same measure, some people claim that there is apparent, but false design in nature. That is not true, because God does not lie. God created nature to be what it is, not a mirage…

That does not mean that appearances can’t be deceiving, but when we look at tings the right way we can tell objectively what is true and what is false. This is the basis of the scientific method. If the scientific method is false, then science is false.

Jon is right. We need to give a rational, scientific explanation of how God guides evolution. In Life Solution Simon Conway Morris gives his. Ben Chapman gives his in his new book, The World from Dust., and lastly I give mine in Darwin’s Myth.

(Peaceful Science) #8

I should point out that the article in question was designed to be inclusive to Christians that reject evolution, giving them a way to approach the evidence without abandoning their theology. I offered the possibility that God specially created us to look like we share an ancestor with apes. Then asked, why might He do this?

@relates, how do you fit these two statements together?


To be clear, I do believe the earth looks old because it is old. I believe also we look like we evolved because we did evolve. Moreover, I do not believe that God is deceitful.

At the same time, science is limited, and it does not consider God. It is entirely expected that it will make mistakes, especially if and when God acts as a first cause. At the very least, we expect science will only give us an incomplete view of the world. This says more about science (and human) limitations than it does about the character of God.

Is it really right to so quickly dismiss the possibility that scientific “appearances might be deceiving”?

(Jon Garvey) #9

George - I was away for a day, hence delay in replying to this thread.

On the face of it, your question has extraordinary implications: that because there are different denominational, or personal opinions on a matter, there is no point discussing it, or assessing their various strengths.

Thinking denominationally should and will occur (“We Baptists cannot agree with Catholic claims on Papal supremacy because…” “We Catholics claim this because”) The proof of the pudding is that people often make a choice between the positions.

But the suggestion in my Hump piece was not about any particular position, denominational or personal, but in one way much more modest - that no position on origins which includes the divine (such as Evolutionary Creation) can afford to neglect discussing the interaction between the material and the non material which are both ubiquitous parts of his creation.

I see no reason why an organisation like BioLogos should not even feel towards some tentative conclusions - after all, it is quite specific in preferring mainstream evolutionary theory even to the point of distinguishing it from the evolutionary viewpoint of someone like Michael Behe, let alone from Special Creationists.

It has also positioned itself with mainstream Evangelicalism, and so has every right (and even duty) to prefer metaphysical foundations that are compatible with that over those that aren’t, whatever any individuals or denominations might say (and I’m not really aware of any denominational dogma on such matters).

Of course, the fact that this might entail moving away from a 17th century metaphysics to something more in tune with how things have developed isn’t a modest suggestion at all - if I’d presented a detailed program for such a metaphysics it would have been purely arrogant. But I didn’t!

(Jon Garvey) #10

Hi Joshua

First, I hope you don’t feel I was attacking you behind your back in my piece on The Hump of the Camel. Far from it - you’re a breath of fresh air on the scene!

Rather, I saw your off-the-cuff remark on immortal souls as a handle on which to hang some thoughts of my own, something I often find helpful. I wouldn’t for a minute assume that such a remark would express the sum of your thinking on the matter: but it is the kind of remark that not infrequently _does _ express the sum of some people’s thinking, so I thought it worth developing.

Your exchange with Roger above shows the kind of helpful dialogue, in the right subject area, that I’m advocating. Roger, absolutly rightly in my view, challenges the dualism of the “nature/supernature” dipole, and then argues from that. (Incidentally, physicist Dr Ian Thompson commenting on The Hump points out that my “dualism” is an unfortunately overused word, and suggests “fragmentation” instead).

You in your reply productively question some of Roger’s assumptions: I especially like your: “Is it really right to so quickly dismiss the possibility that scientific ‘appearances might be deceiving’?” which takes us away from easy slogans (eg “science is never deceptive”) to making considered judgments (“Why might things not be as they seem? Might God deliberately introduce ambiguity into nature, and if so why? Or maybe it’s my faulty epistemology that is making something obvious seem obscure?”).

Your views on the intrinsic limitations of science appeal to me from my own reading in Polanyi, Eddington and others: too often Christians will deny scientism vehemently and then practicse it in a soft form by using science as the criterion for forming theology (perhaps much critical theology is based on just that, and its certainly hard to see “evolutionary theologies” of sin, for example, in any other light, since they overtly prioritise sience over Scripture).

My main point in the post was to suggest that, having realised the intrinsic limitations of science, we might actually be able to expand it to cover more of the created order than it does, by revising its now rather superannuated metaphysical foundation.

(Jon Garvey) #11

Quite so - and modern science quite consciously abandoned it for something that returns science to a Cartesian non-integrated approach. That’s a point I specifically make in the article, and have frequently pade in the past…

(Jon) #12

Well you seemed to have abandoned it when you wrote this.

"Evolutionary Creation cannot give a naturalistic account of evolution, and then say “of course there’s an immortal soul, too”, or “of course, some of us think providence may be involved too” or “of course, God somehow turns stochastic outcomes into eternal purposes”.

(George Brooks) #13

I think your post is very well done … except for the conclusion. I’m not trying to be mean or unreasonable. It IS a very good post. And I agree with its tone and aim in lots of little ways.

But what exactly do you think is possible?

Think of the derision I have endured simply because I think God used cosmic rays to alter DNA molecules!

I have been asked to PROVE this … as if most everyone agrees that the Creator of the Universe shouldn’t be expected to be familiar with how to make cosmic rays.

There seems to be an awful lot of agreement that Science can never prove God, or even EXPLAIN God. And so, as soon as we invoke God’s role, by definition it is something BEYOND science and evidence.

And yet your writings suggest that we are somehow lacking in if we don’t attempt to include such aspects in our proposals.

@Jon_Garvey, tell me what your reaction is to the Cosmic Ray explanation for God’s intervention in evolution - - and then we can all better gauge the reasonableness of your request regarding the entire Evolutionary scenario.


(Jon Garvey) #14

Thanks for the appreciation, George. I quibbled only with any implication that the subject should be off-limits or intractable.

Your cosmic ray example is in the first instance to be tackled at the level of science, rather than metaphysics. The question of whether cosmic rays alter DNA molecules is, I suppose, subject to purely material investigation. But I’m surprised (actually, I’m not, sadly) that it should receive derision as an idea in itself, because the original introduction of mutationism into the evolutionary synthesis seems to have taken ionising radiation as the obvious cause, after all those experiments with X-rays and so on. Remember all those pulp comics in which scientists, flies or any other damned thing exposed to radiation mutates into the Incredible Hulk or whatever - the idea was filtered, in garbled form, from mutationism. (Incidentally it didn’t consider the possibility that mutations from radiation might by physiological it’s worth reading James Shapiro on that fascinating development).

But the bigger question is whether God uses such radiation to tailor mutations, and here is where metaphysical considerations come in. Until three hundred years ago, there would simply have been no question about it amongst all Christians but the Deists: if evolutionary mutations are involved in a creative process at all, then God is providentially behind it. Just as if the environment guides evolution, God’s providence is guiding the environment. repeat ad lib.

That would be so amongst Catholic Thomists, Reformed Calvinists or even Arminian Methodists, the latter only exempting human free acts from “providence” and putting then under “foreknowledge” instead. In fact, it was the position of Alfred Russel Wallace too just a century ago. Providence was largely the very thing that distinguished Christian Theism from Deism - God is an immanent Deity, not just a transcedent one, directing his Creation to its ends: not a god of “actions at a distance” and “past choices” of a clockwork cosmos.

So if people objected to your idea theologically, rather than because they deny the scientific proposition that cosmic rays cause mutation, it is because they have acquired a more restricted view of providence than that of the bulk of the Christian tradition.

Providence itself is a theological claim, but as part of the subject matter of philosophy, it always received a metaphysical treatment to attempt to bridge the interaction between created processes and God’s control. The majority conclusion was some form of concurrence, which fitted neatly into Aquinas’s Aristotelian treatment of causation, and was also ably expounded by Suarez.

Whoever suggested to you that science could, or ought to, prove a metaphysical theory based on a tenet of faith is obviously a bit hazy on the limits of science - which can’t even prove its own metaphysical presuppositions. that isn’t to say that various arguments from design are invalid - just that they fall short of mathematical proof. But then, so does science itself.

Someone above suggested that Creationists and IDist don’t attempt an integrated picture, so why should TEs? It seems a bit lame to take ones agenda from “the opposition” whose thinking one thinks deficient, but in fact there are those in both those camps who’ve done some good work on it.

If we take the best expressions of YEC (amongst the mainstream Evangelical denominations rather than the cartoon fundalmentalists) there is no problem - the most thinking of them have inherited a robust doctrine of Providence, which allows them to understand meteorology AND pray about the weather. That said, what I called the “natural-supernatural dualism” in my article is so pervasive that there’s often a cognitive disconnect there, as amongst TEs. My article would be written for them as much as anybody else.

One might ask why these “thinking YECs” can’t accept evolution as God’s providential work. The answer is that they could - if they didn’t prefer a literalistic approach to the age of the earth from the Bible.

Regarding ID, Vincent Torley, with whom Joshua has had fruitful agreement, is not the only Thomist in the movement who has sought to ground design in metaphysical considerations. That is why they are often bemused at why TEs find it so hard to understand that “design” does not necessarily mean “interference” or “tinkering”, but “final causation”. Outside of Thomism, William Dembski has a very worked-through attempt at an information-based metaphysics in his book Being as Communion. But years before that he commissioned with Bruce Gordon the symposium The Nature of Nature with a “cast of thousands” from different positions both within and outside traditional Christian approaches: even Howard Van Till’s in there.

What has struck me over several years is that Theistic Evolution has been much less willing to look at these things, especially from the traditional Christian starting point. Partly that seems to be because it prides itself on its scientific credentials, and so doesn’t seem to see past the (usually unacknowledged) metaphysics of Enlightenment science. Then much of the academic theorising in the revival of theistic evolution in the last part of the 20th century was done by those espousing non-traditional theologies like Panentheism and Process Theology in tandem with an overly high view of science’s scope.

That seems to have carried over even when those theologies were rejected, resulting in a view of providence that is as often as not “mere conservationism”, allied to an Open Process view of nature’s autonomy (cf Van Till) which, apart from keeping God aloof from the process of evolution, also doesn’t have much consciousness of the need to account for the immaterial parts of creation like mind.

Classical Christian metaphysics is not interested in explaining God (and even proving him by reasoning is an apologetic aim, not a goal of science). But what it can, and should, seek to explain is (a) How God and his creation interrelate and (b) More pertinant to my article, How science deals with theimmaterial aspects within creation itself - information, mind, teleology etc.

What material method God might use to direct evolution isn’t really in that bag.

[Apologies for typos I’ve edited the worst, and there rest is intelligible, I think!]

(George Brooks) #15

@Jon_Garvey, to me it’s like arguing WHICH side the toggle switch has to be for God to manifest itself?

God COULD arrange an entire Cosmos at the very moment of creation.


God COULD nudge and prod during the entire course of the Cosmos.

It could work either way. And the difference in one scenario or another is based on premises that might be embraced or rejected by an entire denomination … or by individuals within a denomination.

Trying to compel BioLogos to BE SPECIFIC is a diversion … and not productive … when faced with Christian real estate that varies completely depending upon time and place… and doesn’t really matter to the BioLogos mission.

(Jon Garvey) #16


I don’t think you’ve quite bottomed out why there is so much animus here against ID, which is happy with either frontloading or “nudging and prodding” (and in most cases declines to come down on either side), but which maintains only that there is divine intentionality at work.

Be that as it may, you’re certainly still missing the fact that my Hump post is not about divine action at all, but about the need for an “extended synthesis” in the metaphysics of science. Not the same question at all.

(George Brooks) #17


I guess I still don’t “get it”. You say we need an “extended synthesis” … and I think we’ve covered the issue with a two-option short answer:

  1. all-loading at creation or
  2. “nudging and prodding”.

What’s there left to say?

The former is based on an entirely lawful system, or at least an entirely “all known” system.

The latter is based on an entirely known system, with real time nudging because the system is not fully lawful.

That’s pretty much the only metaphysics we need.

(Jon Garvey) #18

George - your two options scarcely touch metaphysics at all. If anything they’re about the methodology of creation, which is closer to science, maybe philosophy, than anything (Is there evidence that the current universe is a closed system or not).

In this case, though, I’m not even addressing the metaphysics of divine action (though I’ve done so extensively) but the mataphysics of nature itself, and hence what kind of metaphysics ought to govern the practice of science.

That is, neither of your two options has anything to say about intentionality, teleology, mind and so on within the natural world.

(Peaceful Science) #19

Am I correct in intuiting that you are advocating using science to pin down the exact nature of divine action? Am I correct in guessing you are opposed to methodological naturalism?

(Jon Garvey) #20

No Joshua - far from it. In the specific post linked, I’m suggesting we need a broader metaphysics of nature itself, to deal within nature with the immaterial aspects of nature. As Ian Thompson (a quantium physicist who’s written much on a theistic approach to science) lists in the comments there, this includes immaterial aspects of the mind including consciousness, intentionality, purposefulness, rationality and being motivated by the good. But it would also include the role of information, teleology and intentionailty in the non-human realm.

The human soul (some definitional work required there) is only a “divine act” on the Catholic doctrine that each soul is individually created by God - and even then, it is only manifested within the natural substance “a human being” - one mainly indivisible whole, according to Aristotelian hyelomorphism.

But the soul is a created reality , not just a religious construct. In fact, it’s our identity. And surely science should deal with as much of created reality as it can, especially since the limited category “material” is really rather nebulous in these quantum times.

That said, I’m not a big fan of methodological naturalism for two broad reasons. The first, linked to the above, is that it defines “nature” in the same terms as metaphysical naturalism, that is in material terms, thus leaving out large swathes of creation. It’s a hangover from 17th century concepts of the world.

Secondly, just as the immaterial properties of human mind impinge on the natural order, classical Christian doctrine is that God’s providence impinges on it too, not only in miracles but in the very government of nature. Or rather, what we call “nature” (as half of the Enlightenment’s crude bipartate division of reality) is an expression of God’s active government of creation

John Salehamer points out how, after Deism’s demise, Evangelicals still unconsciously clung to a deistic view of nature as an autonomous “clockwork” realm, rather than as God’s instrument of government. Thus in reading the OT, it was OK to think of God governing Israel via his covenant blessings and curses, which are predominantly the forces of nature, by deeming them “miraculous”. But of course, “things is different now.” However, the Bible describes those things as God’s routine, immanent, interaction with of nature, not as unusual supernatural interventions or tinkerings - but not as “letting nature get on with its job” either.

So in fact, “things is the same now”, or ought to be, so we need to think through the implications of how that will work out if we have a strong doctrine of providence. The theoretical heavy lifting will be done by philosophy and theology, as it was in the last period when Christians seriously attempted such a thing in the time of Aquinas and his like. But it can’t be hermetically isolated from science, since it’s the way the world is, not just the way God is.

That’s nothing to do with science pinning down exact modes of divine action - but it may mean being more precise about where the boundaries are and so getting closer to them from the empirical investigation side, whilst being clear on the theological and philosophical side about where God’s creative activity may be recognised.

The alternative is to consciously restrict “science” to the merely material as before, but to refuse to grant it a monopoly as a description of natural reality. In today’s culture, that would be no less radical than a new metaphysics, but a retareat from, rather than an expansion of, knowledge.