“Theistically Guided” Evolution as God’s Incarnational Work | The BioLogos Forum

Harvard botanist Asa Gray, shown here in 1868, was not only the first American Darwinian but also an early proponent of what he himself (in 1880) called “theistic evolution,” though he was probably not the first person to use that term. Gray endorsed the explanatory power of natural selection, but he also believed that “variation has been led along certain beneficial lines” by the Creator, guiding the process of evolution. Robin Collins’ conception of “theistically guided evolution” is similar in spirit.

Introduction (by Ted Davis)

Original sin and the Fall of Adam and Eve pose major challenges to proponents of Evolutionary Creation, both at the level of theology and also at the level of biblical interpretation. BioLogos does not endorse any one response to those challenges: our view is that the church deserves a serious, pluralistic conversation about evolution and original sin. In an effort to help foster that conversation, we already provide numerous resources, among them these:

Further resources are being developed by some recipients of The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution & Christian Faith program.

This series offers yet another perspective, as we serialize a paper by philosopher Robin Collins, entitled “Evolution and Original Sin.” In this final installment, Collins explains his position on God, evolution, incarnation, and purpose—the whole shebang. Readers will note how Collins draws eclectically and insightfully on elements that others often keep deliberately apart: theistic evolution, intelligent design, and divine kenosis. I’m keen to hear what you think, not only of this finale but also of the whole series; please be forthcoming with your comments.

IV: A Theological Postlude

The next view we will look at is what I will call the historical/quasi-literal view. Like the HI view, this view denies the existence of a literal Adam and Eve, but unlike the HI view, it still retains the traditional idea that humans fell from some sort of state of moral, spiritual, and intellectual integrity through an act of disobedience to God. C. S. Lewis, for instance, expresses this sort of view in what he calls a “Socratic myth” that is, a likely story (see The Problem of Pain chapter 5, particularly pp. 77-85). According to Lewis, when hominids reached a certain state of development, God gave them the capacity for both self-consciousness and consciousness of God, while at the same time putting them in a paradisal state in which all their appetites were completely under their control, and in which they lived in complete harmony with one another and God. Eventually, however, one or more of these creatures decided to choose their own selves over God, to “call their selves their own” (p. 80). Once this happened, they fell, their minds and hearts becoming darkened and alienated from God, and in the process losing control over their own appetites.

Although Lewis’s view runs into fewer problems than the literal Adam and Eve view, it still runs into two of the same problems which the HI interpretation avoids. First, it runs into the problem of accounting for how human beings fell: if they were in such perfect relationship with God, how could they be tempted to turn away? Second, as explained in more detail when we critiqued the literal Adam and Eve view at the end of the last subsection, God’s bringing these first humans into such a paradisal state knowing that they would inevitably fall seems unmotivated, a sort of game that God plays. The only advantage I can see of Lewis’s interpretation over the HI view is that it is closer to the traditional view of Adam and Eve being created in a moral, spiritual, and intellectual rectitude.

Finally, although this is not necessarily a problem, Lewis’s account involves more of an act of special creation than he suggests. The reason is that a linguistic community seems to be essential to human self-consciousness and free will. But, since a particular language is something that one learns from one’s ancestors, either that language would have had to slowly evolve—which would imply a slow evolution of self-consciousness, contrary to what Lewis presupposes—or God would have had specially to teach the first humans some particular language, which would involve a major act of special creation.

The Ideal Interpretation

As in the HI view, this interpretation sees the Genesis story as representative of an ideal for which we ought to strive. However, our “fallen state” is more the result of our evolutionary heritage than the result of free choice. The evolutionary process left humans in a state of incompleteness, with various impulses—such as aggression—that we must learn to transcend or control.

This view fits the best with process theology and traditional liberal theology, which typically embraced some sort of evolutionary optimism. Taken as a complete interpretation of the doctrine of original sin, this view, I believe, fails both to take sufficiently seriously the depth of our bondage to sin as assumed in Scripture and to include the social, communal, and historical dimension of sin as part of the doctrine.

Existential Interpretation

Above, I have sketched the basics of the HI view of original sin, and have indicated why I believe that it is more adequate than the major alternative views that we have examined. Here, I want to briefly indicate how it this fits into an entire theology that takes evolution seriously.

The view of evolution I propose is what I will call theistically guided evolution. I define theistically guided evolution as the view that all life on earth is the result of the evolutionary process (“descent with modification”), but in various places God guided or influenced this process. God could guide the evolutionary process by mutating some gamete or even adding new information to the gametes, thereby resulting in one organism giving rise to a significantly different offspring. [Here Collins has a footnote: I prefer to think of God’s guiding the evolutionary process in a non-mechanical way, a sort of nurturing or brooding over the evolutionary process as God is said to brood over the waters in Genesis 1:2. For a sophisticated account of how God could have guided the evolutionary process, see Robert Russell, “Special Providence and Genetic Mutation: A New Defense of Theistic Evolution,” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation; some of Russell’s ideas are presented in another column.] Since in this view God works in and through the natural process of reproduction, the offspring could be said to be both the product of the natural operation of the world and a creation of God. The extent to which God guides the process, and the extent to which the evolutionary process is a result of unguided chance plus natural selection, however, remains an open question.

[Collins has a two-paragraph footnote that I’ve put here.] I should note that I also consider it an open question as to whether God’s guidance of the evolutionary process is detectable, having never seen a good argument against this idea. Thus, at least in this sense, the view I sketch above is sympathetic towards the so-called intelligent design movement, the central claim of which is that some sort of intelligent guidance is detectable in the evolutionary process. My primary theological motivation for postulating that God guides the evolutionary process is that it puts God into a deeper interrelationship with creation, while still leaving room for creation to act on its own. Accordingly, it fits better with the image of a relational God, as suggested by the doctrine of the Trinity. Further, it paints a picture of a God who is a nurturing but not overbearing parent with respect to creation, which I believe conforms better to the Biblical witness. The other view, in which life is left to develop by means of unguided chance plus natural selection, tends to portray God as a great engineer who after the act of creation abandons the world to its own devices.

The view of theistically guided evolution that I am advocating also seems to be the best explanation of the scientific evidence: unlike the other major positions, it accounts for both the evidence for macroevolution such as presented in this volume, and the seemingly impressive arguments against the adequacy of unguided chance plus natural selection as the primary driving force of evolution. (For a fairly good overview of many of the scientific arguments for some sort of guidance of the evolutionary process, see David Ray Griffin, Religion and Scientific Naturalism, pp. 265-292.) One of the most impressive arguments against the adequacy of unguided evolution, I believe, is the argument that unguided naturalistic evolution cannot explain human consciousness or our capacity for highly abstract theoretical reasoning. This argument has been advocated by both prominent atheists and theists. (See, for instance, philosopher Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, pp. 130-143, philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, chapter 12, and theoretical physicist Paul Davies, “The Intelligibility of Nature,” in Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature , pp. 149-164.)

Theistically guided evolution is part of a more general view in which God typically works incarnationally within the natural world to bring it to fulfillment, instead of working by externally imposing form and design on the world as postulated by various scenarios involving some type of special creation. In effect, this view takes the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation as indicative of the general way in which God redemptively works within all creation. God enters into the material matrix—the Word becomes flesh—and from the inside brings it to fulfillment.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1:14) Sandro Botticelli, Annunciation (1489-90), Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Now, the New Testament implies that the fulfillment of creation is one in which God is all in all, in which God is in some sense fully present within matter. Many New Testament Scriptures speak of this ultimate fulfillment of creation. Romans 8:18-23, for example, tells us that the whole creation will be set free from its bondage to decay and share in the glorious liberty of the children of God. Similarly, other scriptures speak of God’s ultimate purpose being directed toward the redemption of all creation: In Ephesians 1:10, this ultimate purpose is to “gather all things in him [Christ], both in heaven and earth”; in Ephesians 4:10 it is for Christ to “fill all things”; in Colossians 1:20 it is to “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven”; and finally, in 1 Corinthians 15:28 it is for God to be “all in all” What I am suggesting here is that just as from the beginning matter had the potentiality to be conscious, or at least embody consciousness, so matter has the potentiality of carrying or being infused with the divine life in a much deeper and more complete way than it is now, though we cannot at present see how this will occur (just as we cannot yet see how matter can embody consciousness).

From this perspective, one can see God’s ultimate purpose being that the material cosmos become a full participant in the divine life. Following standard Eastern Orthodox theology, this complete participation of humans and creation in the divine life could be understood as participation in what the Orthodox call the “energies” of God in contrast to the essence of God (see, for instance, Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, pp. 74-5, 97-101, and 133-34). For the Orthodox, the energies of God refer to the life of God—that is, “God in his activity and self-manifestation” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, rev. ed., p. 22) — whereas the essence of God refers to God’s innermost self, which is forever inaccessible to us. Using this distinction, Orthodox theologians claim to be able to affirm the eventual complete participation of redeemed humanity and creation in the divine life while at the same time excluding “any pantheistic identification between God and creation” (Ware, p. 23).

God’s ultimate purpose being this full participation does not mean that evolution necessarily needs to be linear. As we know from the fossil record, evolution is more like a giant bush, with the human line being one small twig. At first this might make the process of evolution look purposeless, and the evolution of human beings as a lucky accident, as Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould has claimed. The existence of all these other branches, along with the many that have died off, only appears purposeless if we claim that God’s sole purpose was the eventual evolution of human beings. But, there is no necessary reason to restrict God’s purpose to us. In fact, even though humans can be considered the “highpoint” of creation and the avenue through which it will be redeemed (for example, see Romans 8:21), the above Scriptures make clear that God’s purposes involve all of creation.

[Collins has a lengthy footnote that I’ve put here.] This perspective also helps, I believe, with the question of the redemptive status of highly evolved hominids that are clearly not human, such as Neanderthalsand Homo erectus. Recent genetic evidence strongly indicates that Neanderthals were not human (David Wilcox, “Hominid Origins: The Genetic Evidence,” in this volume). Nonetheless, they had a larger brain than humans, and they used tools and probably fire, and seem to have buried their dead, indicating religious beliefs. The existence of such beings—which have a form of sentience between currently existing non-human primates and humans—really presses the case, I believe, for including all of God’s creation in God’s redemptive plan. Otherwise, it looks as though God abandons creation. Further, once we adopt this perspective, the meaning of human existence is put into a different light. This world is not simply a testing ground for us to make a decision for or against God. Rather, I suggest, our purpose is to have “dominion” over all creation in the sense that Jesus gives to this idea: that is, those who are in authority are servants of all. Humans are called to be servants of each other and creation, and thereby be the agents of the redemption of all creation (Romans 8:21). Perhaps Adam and Eve’s tending the Garden of Eden could be thought of as an image of this sort of servanthood. Yet, they chose control, instead of servanthood, when they ate of the knowledge of good and evil, and this was the Fall.

It should also be noted that this idea of God working within creation provides a theory of inspiration of scripture according to which God worked incarnationally through the literature and concepts of the Hebrew culture, with the end result being that some of their writings became the vehicle of divine revelation. This theory was already implicitly behind our account of Genesis 1-11 and is fairly common among biblical scholars. It was well articulated, I believe, by C. S. Lewis, for seemingly independent reasons based on his profound knowledge and appreciation of literature. According to Lewis, “the Scriptures proceed not by conversion of God’s word into a literature but by the taking up of a literature to be the vehicle of God’s word .... Thus something originally merely natural—the kind of myth that is found among the nations—will have been raised by God above itself, qualified by Him and compelled by Him to serve purposes which of itself it would not have served. Generalizing this, I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature—chronicle (some of it obviously pretty accurate), poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the service of God’s word. Not all, I suppose, in the same way. There are prophets who write with the clearest awareness that Divine compulsion is upon them. ... There are poets like those in the Song of Songs who probably never dreamed of any but a secular and natural purpose in what they composed. ... On all of these I suppose a Divine pressure ... The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not ‘the Word of God’ in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God.” (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 116, followed by pp. 111-112)

Lewis then goes on to say that we might not like this method of inspiring scripture but that we must be very careful not to impose on God what we think is best, or our preconceived ideas of how God must have done it. Rather, he claims, we must look to the form and content of Scripture itself to determine how it was inspired. Similarly, I would argue, we must not impose on God preconceived ideas about how we think God should work in the world, but rather look both to nature and to Scripture.

He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil 2:8) Sitting with my wife in the second row at Passionsspiele 2010, directly in front of this scene (which we were not permitted to photograph), was truly a profound experience.

This idea of God’s working within creation also makes sense of the doctrine of the atonement. According to the doctrine of the atonement, it is through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that we are saved from sin and reconciled to God. In the view of atonement I develop elsewhere—which has close affinities with the views of several of the early Greek fathers of the Church, views that were later developed through the centuries by the Eastern Orthodox Church—salvation consists of fully sharing the life of Christ, as implied by Jesus’s analogy of the vine and the branches in John 15 (see my essay, “Girard and Atonement: An Incarnational Theory of Mimetic Participation,” in Violence Renounced). Because of the Incarnation, this life is both fully divine and fully human; and because of the cross, it is fully in solidarity with the depths of human brokenness, sin, alienation, mortality, and the like. Because of its fully human component, and because it is in full solidarity with the depths of our life situation, we can participate in it. As Paul indicates in Romans 6, by participating in this life we are redeemed from sin and reconciled to God, and freed from spiritual bondage and darkness. Thus, the effect of original sin is reversed. I call this theory the Incarnational Theory of Atonement, and defend it as being scripturally, morally, and theologically sound.

Moreover, this incarnational way of God working in the world also fits with the way in which God works as revealed on the cross and in the kenosis hymn of Philippians 2:5-11: God does not work by external force from the outside, but from the inside through a process of self-emptying love (see George Murphy, “Christology and Evolution,” in this volume). In fact, I would suggest, insofar as creation has sentience, Christ has been sharing the sufferings of creation since the foundation of the world. Indeed, this could be thought of as the deeper meaning of Rev. 13:8, which under the “non-predistinarian” translation states that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. God has never been an absentee father. The crucifixion is simply the culmination of this process. Finally, this idea of God’s working incarnationally within the material matrix makes sense of God’s continuing work in the Church and in history in general. For instance, God uses weak and frail human beings to carry the Christian gospel, and God appears to work within history largely by inspiring human beings to great moral and spiritual endeavors.

In sum, the idea of God’s working incarnationally within the material Cosmos provides an overarching idea that coherently unites many elements of Christian theology and disparate things we know about the world: it sheds light on the significance of the incarnation, eschatology, the nature of inspiration of scripture, the doctrine of atonement, the cross of Christ, and how God works in human history. The HI interpretation of original sin simply provides one part of the story regarding how God has worked and continues to work incarnationally in the world.

Looking Ahead

That’s a ringing conclusion indeed! When I return in about two weeks, I’ll launch a new series based on my own research on the history of Christianity and science before the Civil War—the period when natural history first made its way into American colleges. Please join me again then. In the meantime I’ll be reading your thoughts about Robin Collins’ ideas.

References and Credits

Robin Collins’ chapter from Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. Keith B. Miller (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), is reproduced by kind permission of the author and the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers. Collins often cites other chapters of this outstanding book, not only in this excerpt. There is probably no better comprehensive work on Evolutionary Creation.

All Scripture quotations in this paper are from the NRSV translation.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blog/theistically-guided-evolution-as-gods-incarnational-work
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Of course it takes total hubris for us to claim to KNOW God’s purpose . Until the time of the ‘enlightenment’,Christian belief served as the only satisfying insights into the basic elements of His purpose. Nowadays modern science supports a belief that evolution is God’s method of advancing life forms, and we can speculate that He sometimes guides it to accomplish His purpose. Science provides other knowledge of the Universe that can invite some interesting speculation. For example, the science of astronomy affords us knowledge of size of the Universe that is mind boggling, and the discovery of hundreds of earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars in our galaxy forces us to consider the likelihood that humans are not the only conscious life forms resulting from God’s creative power. Are they, like us, His image bearers? Collins cites evidence that our predecessors, the Neanderthals, were not human, even though they had larger brains on the average than we do, and they sometimes acted human-like, such as burying their dead. (On the other hand, they sometimes they seem to act as cannibals.) The world expert in this field, Ian Tattersall, states in his book, “Masters of the Planet” (p. 175) “(In the absence of grave goods, Neanderthal burials) imply some sort of empathetic feeling….but it is far less probable that they imply belief in an afterlife.” So did Neandethals reach the level that enabled them to have even the barest form of a relationship with their Creator? We may never know. (There is a common belief that the increase in brain size of hominids during the pleistocene was essential in enabling our species, the Homo sapiens, to reach the level of true humanity. However, one must take into account the case of a modern Frenchman whose brain had gradually shrunk (due of a condition known as hydrocephalus) to the point that he was operating as a member in modern society with half the brain size possessed by Lucy, the famous Austropithicus afarensis.)

As stated above, outside of Christian belief, any attempt to assess God’s purpose is, to a large extent, speculation. So why not take an admittedly anthropomorphic approach? Rather than being “all knowng”(which should prove eternally boring) perhaps God enjoys a surprise, now and then, and that is why He allowed so much freedom to his creation. He may occasionally GUIDE, but not force, evolution to fulfill His purpose. If we feel that we need “to be set free from the bondage of decay”, it is up to us to do something about it. Perhaps both agony and ecstasy are intrinsic to creativity. Many people, like Darwin himself, have been bothered by the evidence that the mechanism of evolution often involves predation and the experience of pain. Collin’s statement that ‘all of God’s creation is God’s redemptive plan’ seems the most reasonable way to reconcile unavoidable pain with God’s innate goodness.
Al Leo

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@TedDavis I’m very attracted to Professor Collins’ ideas as presented here. However, I see two issues arising. First, as even Collins admits, his idea of Theistically Guided evolution allows that it might be detectable, and thus it cannot exclude the possibility that ID proponents have been correct all along. As an ID proponent myself, I see nothing wrong with this possibility, but can the leaders of BioLogos ever really bring themselves to countenance it? That seems unimaginable to me, but who knows? Miracles occasionally happen.

Second, given that Collins finds C.S.Lewis’s ideas worthy of serious thought, we should note that Lewis saw animal pain as a theological problem for those who believe in an old earth. His solution was that somehow Satanic influence had been introduced into natural history. I’m willing to accept that view, but are Collins and the leaders here at BioLogos willing to accept it, also? If not, what would Collins and others offer in its place?

Nothing wrong with that I think. As an ID opponent (It isn’t real science. I see it instead as a weak attempt to get creationism to replace real science in schools), I see nothing wrong with this possibility. If real evidence could actually show that some form of intelligence tinkered with genomes then that would be an amazing find.

Why does something need to be offered in it’s place. What’s wrong with Christians shrugging their shoulders and saying “we don’t know”?

What seems to be implicit in this challenge is a fallacy. It’s called the “Appeal to consequences” fallacy. It goes something like this:

  • If the idea that Satan tinkered with natural history is true, then we have a neat and tidy apologetic to explain animal suffering.

  • It is desirable that we have a neat and tidy apologetic to explain animal suffering

  • Therefore, Satan must have tinkered with natural history.

We can’t base our scientific conclusions on preferences (e.g. I really want there to be a decent explanation for animal suffering). That would be an obvious bias. We have to base scientific conclusions on the weight of the evidence alone and put our preferences to one side.

Here is a little more information on this fallacy


My primary theological motivation for postulating that God guides the evolutionary process is that it puts God into a deeper interrelationship with creation, while still leaving room for creation to act on its own. Accordingly, it fits better with the image of a relational God, as suggested by the doctrine of the Trinity. Further, it paints a picture of a God who is a nurturing but not overbearing parent with respect to creation, which I believe conforms better to the Biblical witness. The other view, in which life is left to develop by means of unguided chance plus natural selection, tends to portray God as a great engineer who after the act of creation abandons the world to its own devices.

There is much to agree with in this post, but it also reveals the serious misunderstanding that both science and theology has with evolution. Evolution is guided, not by God through Variation, but by God through Natural Selection, which was created by God for that very purpose.

Let me present a real example. According to a scientific research we understand that there was a time when humans were faced with drought conditions, a roadblock so to speak. Interesting enough our ancestors divided into two streams, one stream developed bigger and stronger jaws to make better use of food difficult to chew, and the other stream continued the development of bigger and better brains to make better use of tools to adapt this challenge.

Both streams adapted, but the stream which adapted using a short term solution of a stronger jaw disappeared after the crisis was over. Those who adapted by developing better brains continued to flourish and used these better brains to address other issues.

One could argue that while the Neanderthals were better adapted physically for the Ice Age, modern humans were better adapted for the Ice Age and beyond, so they emerged from this challenge stronger, while the Neanderthals emerged relatively weaker. This is how God used the natural history of the earth to guide evolution to the emergence of modern humanity, who are not only a physical creatures, but rational and spiritual beings.

Just as an automobile is powered by gasoline, evolution is powered by Variation. However just as gasoline does not guide the car, neither does Variation does not guide evolution. Evolution is guided by Natural Selection, just as the automobile is guided by the steering wheel. Natural Selection approved the bigger jaw of hominids as a short term adaption, but this was a dead end. Natural Selection guided most humans toward a better brain and spirituality as the best way to adapt to the challenges our complex and diverse universe.

To do this of course humans need to share the driver’s seat with God, Who is in charge, but has created us in God’s Image so we can share God’s Power, Wisdom, and Love.

It is good science as well as good theology to say that Natural Selection guides Variation and Natural Selection is based on Ecology. As I and others have said Variation is random [in the limited sense of randomness which means that God created nature has set limits on the ability of creatures to adapt. Nothing is infinite, even the universe, although those who claim the multiverse, are making the claim that it is infinite. This is the scientific weakness of multiverse theory.]

Natural Selection on the other hand is not random, but rational, so it is teleological, It determines the direction and purpose of life. If God is going to guide God’s Creation then God must be doing it through Natural Selection, the ecology, and the Holy Spirit. This is exactly what God is doing, not because I say so, but because this is God’s plan to guide the universe through God’s Salvation History as revealed through God’s Book and the Logos.

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Orthodox Christianity states, “Truly our God is a God who hides Himself, yet He is also a God who acts — the God of history, intervening directly in concrete situations.” The notion of distinguishing between God’s essence and His energies is articulated, and yet when we discuss scientific theories, experimental data, and generalisations from the Sciences, we may be left with many questions that imo stem from the nature of the scientific enterprise. The simple way to state this ‘questioning’ would be that all science relies on measuring and examining its object. Statements about God must, at the very least, be grounded in some theology, and the particular aspects of such a theology (and not faith based understanding of God) that can be examined by anyone interested in the subject. This is not compartmentalisation, but an obvious observation. I will use ID as an example, since it is a topic that is debated on this and similar sites, as an attempt to clarify my remarks.

One straightforward way of stating ID within a theological context is:

  1. A theists commences with the proposition that God is the Creator of all.
  2. God is the supreme intelligence.
  3. ID is a valid conclusion.
  4. Therefore we understand Nature through a doctrine of ID.

A counter to this is as follows:

  1. As theists, we commence with the proposition that God is the Creator of all.
  2. As Christians, we understand God’s ways are inscrutable, and we are unable to make scientifically verifiable statements about what and how God acts.
  3. ID cannot be a valid conclusion of science nor theology.
  4. Therefore we cannot understand Nature through a doctrine of ID.

Orthodox teaching include, “No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature or nearness to it”.

I may argue in a slightly different way regarding the theistic evolution (TE) portrayed in this interesting article – the arguments would again deal mainly with why we see a need to include ‘theistic’ in the phrase. If it is not a doctrine (as I have portrayed ID), then what is it?

Finally, both ID and TE, when discussed within a scientific context, suffer from the same devastating weakness, in that science cannot measure an intelligence of any sort, and it cannot measure a theistic thing in any way.

God’s purpose does involve and include all of the creation – this is a given for a Christian. Understanding God’s purpose, in a theologically relevant way, requires far greater insight, scholarship and understanding than provided by the Physical Sciences. This is one reason why I can accept evolution as the current paradigm of the bio-sciences, and can also consider the data and theories of both theists and atheists who practice this science, without becoming concerned with any theological implications such speculation may bring up from time to time. I am beginning to appreciate perhaps, the complexity inherent in the narrative that seeks to incorporate Darwinian thinking with theology – no wonder poor old Darwin had such a hard time of it :heart_eyes: .


While I would agree that things are not true just because we want them to be true, I would disagree with the way your fallacy website posited the issue about morality.

If morality is objective, that is part of reality, then there must be real consequences for immoral and moral behavior. If these consequences do not take place before death, which they is often the case, then they logically must take place after death.

The real question concerning heaven and hell IMHO is responsibility. If people are responsible for who they are and their actions, then they must accept the consequences for who we are and what we do. As far as I am concerned this is an important part of what it means to be a mature, honest person.

I am sure that many non-believers do not trust God to be a fair judge of the kind of person they are. Christians believe that people can trust God to be more than fair. That is what faith is all about. If God, Who knows all, is not a fair Judge, then Who is? If I am not responsible for who I am and what I have done, then who is?

The argument is not based on what we want, but the logical connection between morality and consequences. Those who disagree with this statement can disagree with the premise that morality is objective and the premise that morality has real consequences, which I am sure that many do. However the statement as it stands is not based on a fallacy.

It’s been a while since I read The Problem of Pain, but I don’t know if Satanic influence could be called Lewis’ solution. He indicates the idea has been around and he suggests it as possible, but in the absence of any authoritative statement, it’s just a speculation. I have wondered about it myself, but I’ve tentatively concluded that God wouldn’t allow such a fundamental invasion of His creative process. Genesis does after all say He declared it good (it serves His purposes,) which doesn’t seem right if it was fundamentally subverted. I also doubt that any creature has that kind of power.

As far as ID being science, I don’t think it can be. The reason is that when you do an experiment, you have to be able to do the controls. To determine if X (intelligent engineer/manufacturer - design is not enough - you have to implement the design somehow) causes Y (some creative/evolutionary result,) you have to measure the results with and without X. Only if Y happens with X, but not without it, it can you conclude that X caused Y. But you can’t remove God (or the intelligent designer) from your control experiment and see what happens. What you would need is, for HIm to keep the system in existence and keep ordinary natural law working, but not do anything miraculous, even in microscopic events. You can’t know that He will do this this for you. I don’t think that He will submit to being a variable in an experiment. The same is true for any “natural experiment” you might observe. It’s His universe and He won’t limit His action in a particular time and place to satisfy our curiosity.

ID remains a philosophical intuition - personally I think it’s a good intuition, although some of the “corollaries” that its advocates “deduce” from it are ridiculous. The belief that 100% of a genome must be functional is one of those.

One caveat on detail: The popular report of Neanderthal burial is based on association of pollen with a skeleton. This was suggested to be burial with flowers but probably merely represents pollen from rodent burrows. Neanderthals did often bury the dead, but with no definite evidence of further ritual it’s not certain whether this was merely to contain the smell and avoid attracting predators, or whether there was ritual significance.

This is a question for anyone to answer. I have been looking at the hominoid and apelike fossils and am leaning towards the reality of certain types of hominids. I appreciate the genetic evidence that points to homo erectis as genetically different from homo sapiens. What has perplexed me is that it seems scientists reconstruct a lot of detail from mere bone fragments and there seems to be assumptions that the fossil record shows our ancestors as the apes ( I am speaking in painfully simplistic language). As in everything it matters on how you interpret the evidence. My question is what if the fossil record is showing different types of apes and not ancestors of homo sapiens? Since scientists hold defacto assumptions of evolution they are going to interpret some of these bone fragments as hominids. Is there articles with pictures or illustrations from honest scientist that explain these skulls from a humble position and state some of the controversies amongst scientists and offer a realistic view of where we are at with the paleontogical evidence. On a further note would there be something similiar with the whole fossil record? The record definitely shows gaps but then some scientists say because of soft body tissue not surviving then that explains the gaps-and in my opinion that this is possibly but also is too easy. I am open to certain forms of evolution but macro evolution still seems to be lacking in substantive ways. I am willing to be lead to where properly interpreted evidence seems to lead but I see a lack in humbleness in most scientific discussions. I hope this makes since but this is an area I struggle with and it is important to me. Thanks.

That is the position Ian Tattersall takes: Without grave goods, it is difficult to impute the reason ancient peoples had for human burial. On the other hand, when you spend thousands of hours fashioning a beaded necklace for the deceased, you must believe he or she will enjoy it in some afterlife. It is not just accidental that the advent of reverent burials coincides with the appearance of other human attributes.

Vance, have you looked at James Kidder’s articles here in the Resources? He is a Christian paleoanthropologist who is well informed on fossil hominins, and he has done a series here on that subject. They often don’t have much to work with, but a surprising amount can be determined from teeth, which are most likely to endure, as hard as they are.

I’m not a fossil guy at all, but I gather there are characteristics of the hominin fossils that are quite distinct from apes. The foramen magnum (opening in the skull where the spinal cord enters) changes from the back to the bottom of the skull, indicating an upright posture. Differences in teeth (and other analyses) indicate a change in diet from fruit to a mixed diet including meat. But you should get this stuff from a fossil guy and not a biochemist/geneticist like me.

I’m not sure what genetic evidence concerning Homo erectus you are referring to. I’m not aware that anyone has been able to sequence ancient DNA that old. The population geneticists can determine quite a lot from contemporary and Neanderthal DNA though.

One final point, expertise has a tendency to look like lack of humility to a laymen. No doubt there are scientists who are arrogant, but mostly they just know a lot about their field, and the good ones know what is well supported and what are still matters of dispute and more research.


Your second question (about Satan and Lewis) isn’t one I can answer on behalf of Robin Collins, but let me note simply that Collins and I both take Lewis very seriously, on almost any topic he wrote about. For my part, I agree with the general view (among Christians at least) that he was the top Christian writer of the last century. This hardly means that I always agree with him, obviously, just as Collins disagrees with Lewis’ particular view of Adam & Eve.Lewis was right, that animal suffering and theodicy generally presesnt a theological problem for those who accept an old earth. I wrote a little about that some time ago: http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-concordism-part-two and http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-3 and http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-4. In the last of these links, please note that I quoted from the epigram at the front of Lewis’ Problem of Pain.

I don’t suggest that the ideas presented there constitute a perfect solution to this old, hard problem. They don’t. But, I don’t think anyone gets a pass on this–including both YECs and the New Atheists. For the YEC view, it might perhaps make sense (I say perhaps to reflect serious hesitation) to say that all humans inherited the consequences of the sin of our first parents, but even if that is true it fails entirely IMO to account for animal suffering. Why should they, who surely have done no sin themselves, suffer for what the first humans did? Why should parasites exist simply b/c Adam & Eve ate forbidden fruit? For me, that makes no sense. The types of ideas presented in my columns don’t make perfect sense, but IMO they make better sense than the YEC notion.

As for the Atheists, for many of them (at least), there are no such categories as “good” and “evil.” So, for them, there is still a huge problem of evil–contrary to what they seem to think. If the category “evil” really has no objective meaning, then where is our obligation to work to bring about “good” instead of “evil”? I just don’t see such an obligation anywhere, in that frame of mind. And that, IMO, is an even bigger problem than the one that confronts Christians.

My two cents.

Ted, Jon Garvey has an article on the way in PSCF on the history of the theology on this subject, but you probably knew that, didn’t you?


As for your first question, Bilbo, I agree with Robin Collins: there is no intrinsic reason why divine action in “theistically guided evolution” must remain undetectable scientifically. If it turns out that someone can produce a convincing account of detecting it, I would simply see that as confirmation of my previously held belief that God acts in the world, not only to direct evolution but also to govern other things. I don’t necessarily qualify as a “leader of BioLogos,” but those in authority over me usually like my ideas or I wouldn’t have this role.

I am not committed to any one point of view on how God guides evolution. There have been several different ideas about that, ever since Darwin, including Asa Gray’s idea that variations were led along certain beneficial lines. Gray hoped that we might some day discover how genetic variation works, and that it would turn out to be governed in a clearly discernible fashion. It didn’t turn out that way, as we now know. It turns out that at least many mutations (not all) result from radiation, and radiation is not (according to the quantum picture) predictable. It’s not lawlike in the classical sense. It results from quantum events and, as Heisenberg said, in quantum world classical determinism is dead. IMO, this is pretty interesting theologically, for it is consistent with (it does not imply, but is consistent with) the belief that God controls evolution. God might be controlling certain quantum events, to produce certain mutations, etc. Physicist William Pollard suggested that after World War Two, and several others have followed up on that suggestion recently, including Robert John Russell: http://biologos.org/blog/series/the-god-who-acts-robert-russell-on-divine-intervention-and-divine-action. I like this view better than most of the others, but (again) I have no reason to think it’s the last word on this subject. It’s worth noting that this possibility is one that Collins likes also. So does Michael Behe. So does Kenneth Miller. And philosopher Elliot Sober (an atheist but not an anti-theist), a leading person in philosophy of biology, thinks it makes a certain amount of sense (though of course he does not hold the view himself)–for which he’s been roundly criticized by haters of Christianity.

Form your point of view as an ID proponent, however, this view has a serious drawback: God simply cannot be “seen” manipulating the genes, and so there is no “scientific” evidence of “design” in this scenario. That isn’t a drawback for me, as you’ve probably gathered, but I understand why it might be a drawback for others.

If you’ve been following my various series, Bilbo, then you’ve seen that I am not very interested in bashing ID or its proponents, even if in some instances strong replies might be warranted. (It’s possible that I will say more about this at some point, but not here.) I don’t hesitate to say what makes the most sense to me, and I expect proponents of ID to say what makes the most sense to them. Often there are many areas of common agreement. For example, I fully embrace arguments supporting theism based on aspects of cosmology, such as these: http://biologos.org/blog/belief-in-god-in-an-age-of-science-john-polkinghorne-part-one. I fully agree that God created the universe with intelligence, though I don’t like to refer to God merely as an “intelligent designer”; I’d much rather use the 3-letter word I’ve always used in that context.

My main disagreements with ID are laid out in my series here: http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-intelligent-design-part-1, with sequels. Perhaps the most fundamental difference I have is about tone. I don’t seek to oppose “Darwinism” at every opportunity. And, I believe the evidence for common ancestry between humans and other primates is very, very strong–as Michal Behe also believes, but most others in the ID movement disagree with him about this. Most ID thinkers, as far as I can tell, are heavily invested in opposing common ancestry, b/c in their view acceptance of human evolution is an infection leading to many social and moral ills, and that a strong does of ID will help cure the patient. I simply think the science is very good, and that a different prescription for the patient is in order.

That’s how I see it. If this constitutes (in your view) a major change in course for BL, I would be interested to hear what you think, and why. It’s not a major change of course for me personally.

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Thank you Preston,
You actually answered a few of my questions. I was under the impression that genetically it is said that the Neanderthals were not human or not directly in line like previously thought? I have always been a Humanities guy and even trying to talk scientifically is challenging for me. My personal areas of study have been in Theology. At this point I am convinced that Paul’s theology as well as what Jesus stated was based on the idea of a real Adam and that somehow through Adam we are in a quandary as somehow Adams sin infected all humanity in relation to God and that Jesus is the greater Adam. I will look at James Kidders articles. I appreciate your time.

It has been argued that modern humans interbred with Neandertals in Asia since a small percentage of our haplotypes (patterns of variants in a short stretch of DNA) match what is seen in Neandertal genomes. Other people think those bits are left over from our common ancestor with Neandertals in Africa. I’m not enough of a population geneticist to have an opinion on it. If modern humans did breed with Neandertals, it wasn’t much and was probably not very successful in terms of viable offspring per mating. I’m curious what will be seen if they get a Neandertal genome that is old enough to precede any encounter with modern humans. It would allow the determination of whether later Neandertal genomes have bits of modern human DNA which the older ones would lack.

The biological species criterion is whether two populations can produce offspring together, and with what efficiency. With fossils of course you can’t use that criterion so they resort to other means, but it all seems pretty subjective to me. You can count up shared or not shared skeletal traits, but who knows what this means for interfertility? Dogs can look quite different and still breed successfully with each other.

Ted, I agree with your and Robin’s comment that “tinkering” by a god could in principle be detected, if it were common enough. I’ve often mentioned several natural predictions of the theory that a god tinkered with evolution to produce humans. If humans were the goal, then lineages leading to humans should have higher rates of evolution (due to the tinkering) than other lineages. That means lineages branching off from the human human lineage at earlier dates should, on the average, have shorter branch lengths (as measures by number of base changes) in the phylogenetic tree than lineages on the direct route to man. This prediction is not confirmed, though you guys can always say that the effect is just undetectably small. A similar prediction is that the genetic differences between humans, chimps, and their common ancestor might be too large to be accounted for by random mutations and plausible selection strengths. This prediction is also not confirmed, though again Robin can say that the effect is there but not detectable.

This brings up an important point. It is generally the case that ID predictions, when they differ from predictions based on ordinary theory, are not confirmed. So if these effects were real, they must be very weak. But this shows that those effects are not necessary to explain observed patterns of evolution. This falsifies the main premise of Robin’s thesis, that “The view of theistically guided evolution that I am advocating also seems to be the best explanation of the scientific evidence”. This is a remarkable statement that very few biologists would agree with. There is no positive evidence for guided evolution, and much evidence for the accidental and opportunistic origin of many adaptations in animals, plants, and humans. Such evidence can never completely disprove Robin’s theory, because the “guidance” can always be claimed to be too rare to detect, but this shows that the theory is not necessary.

This post is an interesting counterpoint to your previous post on the god of the gaps. Robin’s arguments in the present case seem very much “god-of-the-gap” arguments, in the pejorative sense, rather than on positive evidence in its favor.

In that last post, you said in the comments

“In their [secularists’] view, informed by an overbearing scientism, any effort to relate God to the universe is a “god of the gaps,” simply b/c (in their view, which I obviously don’t share) God can’t be demonstrated from scientific observations”

I should have criticized this comment but didn’t have time. You seem to misunderstand or mischaracterized the secular argument, or else I misunderstand yours. As I’ve just pointed out above, and as you yourself agreed, interventions by a god are scientifically detectable in principle, and if there were strong positive evidence for such mind-directed interventions, this would not be a “god of the gaps” argument but rather positive evidence; if it survived testing, most scientists would tentatively accept it (though with great reluctance and intense scrutiny, because it contradicts everything else we know about nature).

Contrast this with Robin’s reasoning here. We don’t have an explanation for the evolution of consciousness, and so god did it. We can’t explain the evolution of rationality (according to him, though I strongly disagree) so god did it. These are classic god-of-the-gaps arguments, exactly like those made by creationists in pre-Darwinian times who did not see how adaptation could evolve without a designer, so “god did it”.

Thanks Preston,
Interbreeding with Neanderthals seems to have a bit of the “yuk” factor to it thus the reason why it probably was not too successful, coming from a modern Homo Sapien point of view, that is. :slight_smile:

Preston, I think it is possible in theory to detect some of the predictions of ID, especially the kind that involves “tinkering”. If the tinkering were frequent enough, natural experiments could reveal it. I give some examples in a longer comment below. I’d be interested in knowing whether you would agree with them.