Pro-Evolution Christians - Camel's Hump?

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!

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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.

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…

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”.

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.


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!]

@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.


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.


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.

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.

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?

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.

This is exactly my approach and I find it widely appreciated and accepted among my scientific colleagues. Why not take this strategy? It is much less contentious then your proposal for a metaphysical science.

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It works, and it enables scientists of any faith or no faith at all to work together!

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That may well be the best approach for a working biologist, Joshua, since the aim is to be part of the scientific community. I wouldn’t expect an astronautics engineer to insist on using relativity to calculate Newtonian orbits - but to understand reality better, the latter is necessary…

But my interest is in the science-faith interface, and I don’t think that the current natural science paradigm deals with that very well, especially in the light of the fuzzy-edges of fundamental physics. And, indeed, in understanding God’s role in evolution. Indeed, I find it’s a major factor in the continued disconnect between Creation doctrine (my primary interest) and current science.

Science is metaphysical, of course - it’s just that the metaphysics is tacitly assumed (and so sometimes denied) as if “metaphysics” means “what Aristotle used to do instead of science”. The academics who worked on divine action a couple of decades ago _did _ do metaphysics, often from a process-philosophy angle when it wasn’t from a science-first position, and their legacy lives on in open process thinking and semi-deism within TE.

I think orthodox Christianity can, and should, do better - as it did historically first in the scholastic system for mediaeval times, and then in the naturalistic paradigm in early-modern science, before its theistic basis was eroded in the Enlightenment. That’s a project in which atheistic colleagues can’t be usefully involved - though it might help them in the longer term if the indications of teleology within living cells comes to fruition. After all, science has been based on at least two separate theistic paradigms before.

But remember my article was posted on my own site for the community that’s interested (which is of a reasonable size and of excellent academic quality, I’m glad to say, if BioLogos authors count!). You can look on those people as my working colleagues. It was George who decided to bring it to the attention of BioLogos. Nobody else is forced to consider it.

Okay, I think understand much better what you are doing, and why your vocabulary confused me.

The word “science” is hotly contested in culture, and scientists are very rigid in how they understand it and who they think has a right to use it. Challenging scientists in how they self-define themselves only leads to conflict. In these conflicts, I usually take their side.

Now, as Christians, we should know that human science (mainstream science or modern science or just “science”) give only an incomplete view of the world. We can and should endeavor to complete our understanding of nature, maybe even supposing how God works out His purposes in the world. This might include specifiying or proposing specific ways of understanding divine action in evolution. I think this what you and Camel’s Hump are trying to encourage. It is not that you want BioLogos to adopt a single position, but for individual TE proponents to more clearly lay out how they personally think about these things.

Am I right here?

So here is something that might seem tangential but is actually critically important when engaging the scientific community with what I consider to be an important and reasonable exhortation. You can’t present this as a proposal to modify or rework science. Ignoring this rule will almost always lead to conflict with scientists. Honestly, the word “science” is such a hot button, I’m not even sure if it helps you here.

I would relabel what you are proposing as calling for “Theologies of Nature” or “Philosophies of Nature” or “Understandings of Nature” instead of using the word “science” or the neologism “metaphysical science.” This a is really important shift in vocabulary that makes much more clear what you are hoping for, and also avoids the controversy.

What do you think?


I don’t really see how getting any more specific with Metaphysics can possibly help anyone.

Metaphysics is pretty much a blank canvas… You can say vanilla… and I can say chocolate… and who is to say who is right?

There are metaphysics implied by various Biblical texts … and denominations have staked their territory around them.

BioLogos does no one any good by taking sides!

@gbrooks9 , I think you need to see this recent article at the Camel’s Hump…

While I disagree with their terminology (for reasons I have already stated), I think they are pointing the need for a plurality of theologies of nature to be expressed and worked out by theistic evolutionist. They are not asking BioLogos to pick a side or adopt one hegemonic position.

With one qualification (in addition to the terminology change), I can largely agree. They write…

So what is my qualification to this? I think that mystery and agnosticism are acceptable responses too. We saw this in @jpm’s recent article on divine action.

My personal position on divine action in evolution is (1) I think evolution is a good description of life on earth, but it is merely scientific. (2) I 100% believe that God designed and created us. (3) I’m agnostic about exactly how God acts to exert His will over evolution, (4) I wonder if the mystery here is intractable (both scientifically and theologically) by God’s intentional plan, and (5) one reason God might make His action in nature unfathomable is to render uniquely powerful His revelation though the life, death, and ressurection of Jesus.

In my understanding, God ensures that Jesus is the “one sign” (quoting Jesus again) in the world that He exists, is good, and wants to be known. As Bonhoeffer writes, “a god who lets us prove his existence would be an idol.” God might be protecting us from idolatry by intentionally rendering His action in the world, apart from Jesus, unfathomable (any thoughts @deliberateresult?) . In this formulation, ID and creation science (to me) feel like Babel Towers: efforts to reach God independent of revelation.

While I do not specify or deny any particular modes of divine action (and am genuinely open to almost anything), I explain theologically (in a Christ centered manner) why I think God might shroud His action in nature with mystery. This is a central component of my “theology of nature” and how Jesus reshapes how I might otherwise approach science, looking for proof and validation. No, now I enter science with confidence, not need any proof more than Jesus.

This response links to me to a long tradition of Christian contemplation on Divine Hiddenness. It is very Reformed. It is very Lutheran. It is very Barthian. It is distinctly Evangelical and Christian. It is a well considered theological position germane to the orthodox Christian faith.

I hope that Camel’s Hump would consider my mystery-embracing theology as an acceptable response to their exhortation. Comment’s here would be appreciated.

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This is a rather key text … by @Eddie, yes? [I put his name as the source of the quote above.]

I have done just this!

I have stated that I believe God has “front-loaded” the Universe at the very moment of creation…

and I have proposed that God uses Cosmic Rays, as well as other forms of radiation, to make pin-point mutations as necessary.

This is NOT a Deistic model, because I also see God as communicating with humanity … through prayer and through inspiration … and this can only be done in REAL TIME.

Can I get any more specific? Gosh, I don’t see how? I don’t know anything definitive about the afterlife, or how God may have structured dimensions or anything like that. So … what more does a man like Eddie need?

What else can I (or anyone else) offer that would make any sense or that is credible?

I suppose you have.

Rather than complaining that they are asking for a unified response from BioLogos (which they are not), I would put it to @Jon_Garvey, is this what you are hoping for?

Also @gbrooks9, while I accept your position as part of the tent and a possibility, do you agree that many Christians would have a hard time with this telling? To them, this “feels” deistic, even though it is not actually deism? I imagine you agree that this might not be an acceptable synthesis for all Christians. That is okay, and does not make it false.

@Jon_Garvey, what more are you asking from @gbrooks9? Just to acknowledge that more exposition of these synthesis from other people are important for the conversation? I could agree with that.