Does God Guide Evolution?

Does God Guide Evolution?

Loren Haarsma is a frequent speaker and writer for BioLogos.  He is the husband of Deborah Haarsma, the current president of BioLogos.  Last year he wrote an article entitled “Three Misunderstandings About God-Guided Evolution”. Loren said:

When I talk about evolutionary creation I am sometimes asked, “Why not just say, ‘God-guided evolution’?” I hesitate to use that phrase because I know, from experience, that if I did say “God guides evolution” many in my audience would misunderstand me.

The three misunderstandings he chronicles are:

  1. Evolution is not limited to small-scale changes- by which he means that some people believe evolution can make small-scale changes or micro-evolution but for major changes or macro-evolution, God has to intervene.
  2. God is never absent in the evolutionary process. This is the misunderstanding that God “lets things run on their own” until God needs to intervene to push evolution in a certain direction.
  3. God didn’t need to micromanage evolution to get what God wanted. Some people would interpret the sentence “God-guided evolution” to mean something like the following. “Evolution isn’t limited to making small-scale changes. And of course God is in charge all the time so evolution never happens “on its own.” But evolution had the potential to go down many possible paths. So God acted from time to time to select, or to nudge evolution down particular paths to produce particular species and ecosystems.”

Over at the BioLogos Forum there is a discussion of Dr. Haarsma’s article where he notes the following:

When I’m asked this question in an in-person conversation, I find that I can give a better answer if I first find out more about what the person asking the question thinks about divine action in other parts of the natural world. So I might ask questions like these: What do you think God is doing when robins hunt for worms to feed their young? What do you think God is doing to make the sun shine? What is God doing to make the rain fall where it falls? Do you think God controls where every single molecule goes on every snowflake, and if so, how? What is God doing when a child grows from a single fertilized cell to a newborn infant? People could give a variety of answers to those questions, and based on their answers, I can better answer them regarding what I think God is doing in biological evolution.

When I’m answering that question in writing (rather than an in-person conversation), I might write someting like the following list:

“God designed the fundamental laws and conditions of creation. God gave existence to creation. God sustains and concurs with the natural laws he created – natural laws which include both deterministic and random processes. God might have selected the outcomes of particular random events to guide natural history down particular paths. God can do miracles, and might have performed miracles at various points in natural history, although it is unwise to look at every gap in current scientific explanations as evidence of supernatural miracles. At some point in human history, God began to give special revelation to human beings in various ways.”

Each one of those sentences is worth paragraphs of clarification, but for that clarification, I’d ask you to check out some things I’ve already written. I also highly recommend Robert Bishop’s essay at BioLogos on “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation”.

I think Haarsma is trying to organize a coherent picture of God’s Providence and I applaud his attempt.  The problem, as I see it, is walking the paradoxical line between deism (or “episodic deism as he puts it) and a tinkerer God who needs to “tweak” the creation from time to time to get what he wants.  Neither of those pictures of God are acceptable to my way of thinking.  It’s not just evolution that this conundrum comes up, because the same questions are raised when discussing “natural” disasters like severe storms, earthquakes, and, of course, pandemics.

Jim Stump, the vice-president of BioLogos, described the conundrum succinctly when he commented:

 I’m one of those people who don’t like saying “God used evolution to create humans.” My motivations, which are probably different from others, stem from my suspicion of too much realism in scientific theories. I don’t think Darwin “discovered” the theory of evolution as much as he “developed” it. Scientific theories are our making. Too be sure they have to explain some independently existing reality, but I don’t think it is quite right to say evolution itself is some independently existing tool that God had sitting on a shelf and said, “Hmm… I think I’ll use this tool to create humans.” Instead, I think it is more accurate to say, “Evolution is the best scientific description we have for how H. Sapiens came to be.” Then, of course, I also want to say, “God intentionally created human beings in his image” but I don’t take that to be a scientific statement.

Storm on the Sea of Galilee – Rembrandt

The Old Testament is full of descriptions of God using what we now call “natural” phenomenon as tools of judgement; Noah’s flood, plagues of Egypt, leprosy, and so on.  But many Christians see a subtle shift when it comes to Jesus and the New Testament.  In the pericope of the “man born blind” of John Chapter 9, Jesus answers the disciple’s question of “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” with: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  In Mark Chapter 4:35f the storm on the Sea of Galilee that Jesus stilled is said to have just “come up”.  In the Acts 27 account of Paul being shipwrecked on the isle of Malta, the storm is portrayed as something that happens at that time of year.

It seems to me the best explanation or resolution of the conundrum is the Incarnation itself.  John Chapter One says, “1.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2.  He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  And Colossians 1:16, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”  This means to me that God is neither tinkerer or absent landlord, but intimate relating “Father”.  John 3:16, God so loved the cosmos…  He loved the cosmos, the universe, everything made in it… from single-celled algae to trilobites to tyrannosaurs… to quasars and gamma-ray bursts and black holes… all of it loved with agape’ love… self-giving love.

30 thoughts on “Does God Guide Evolution?

  1. So does that mean our existence is only provided to us for us to repent?

    Which begs the question “How do you Repent(TM)? How much Repentance(TM) is enough?”

    All too often, it’s “Whatever *I* do That You Don’t”, another weapon in the never-ending game of Christianese One-Upmanship.

    Wartburg Watch had a commenter about a month ago who “commented” long sermons of how COVID-19 is God’s Wrath Sending Pestilence and We Needed to Repent. He would not answer the above question, only denounce us as “Scoffers”.

    Like

  2. I would agree God nudges *us*, but because we interact with him. What I object to is the idea that there is a distinction between evolution operating as it should and moments where God sticks his fingers on the scale unilaterally so as to give jellyfish the right number of legs, or make sure the correct kind of monkey develops intelligence. Part of evolution is the creatures within it becoming aware of and responding to God. A sense of God and religion evolves with everything else.
    You are right I am perhaps overstating my case. God vs sin is different – when it comes to dealing with sin, God is as interventionist as heck, the biggest intervention of all being his inserting himself in his own creation in the form of Jesus.
    P.S. I love argumentative- what’s the point of discussion if no-one disagrees with you?

    Like

  3. “How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”
    — Firesign Theater

    Like

  4. A lyric to a new song I’m writing : “absent time and distance…we meet”. Part of what I had in mind which will never come through in the tune is that physicists are presently trying to tackle how one thing can be in two places at the same time.

    Like

  5. As far as time/space being a creature, I would think time/space is instead a quality of God’s being, eternally generated by the internal relations of the Trinity.

    Like

  6. I think Fr Andrew’s answer, as you give it, is wrong. Time does not primarily exist so that we can repent. It exists because time and space are not two separate dimensions, but come as a pair, as modern physics tells us. In order for something to exist outside God, it needs time and space, time/space, to exist in. The same goes for angels, devils, and the deceased; they need time/space to exist in, though it may be a different time/space, akin to the subtle body ideas in Hindu religious philosophy: bodies that exist in time/space, but not our time/space.

    Like

  7. Better to say our ‘mode’ of existence, being time-bound, is given to us in this manner in order to repent, and, yes, be grateful. i never said the whole point of our existence was to repent, just that the mode of it made it possible.

    We cannot imagine anything outside of a timebound existence, or at least I cannot. Maybe Science Mike or Klasie could run the math. I don’t know why I bother to post here. RobertF always tries to find a way to sullenly and resentfully blame God so it would make sense for me to pay attention to Father Andrew rather than him.

    Like

  8. So does that mean our existence is only provided to us for us to repent?

    But that wouldn’t square with what Dana says about Eastern Orthodoxy, that it affirms that we are born without a sin nature, or inherited guilt; and that creation and human existence, including the Incarnation, is not first primarily a drama of fall and redemption, but only secondarily so. At least, that’s what I understand her to be saying about EO, and what Burro is saying doesn’t sound like that.

    Like

  9. –> “…our passage through time from Planck instance to Planck instance is a great mercy which allows us to repent…”

    So does that mean our existence is only provided to us for us to repent?

    (Which I guess would suggest the best reason to “make it to heaven” is to finally have an existence outside of the need to repent…?)

    Like

  10. Since devils exist in Eternity, all their moments are the one and the same moment, and if they decide to fall, they fall in all possible moments simultaneously.

    So they can decide to fall — a decision that doesn’t take place in time, since Fr Andrew says they don’t exist in time — but then they can’t decide to repent in whatever timeless reality they exist in? Not very sporting of God to arrange things so unfairly; sounds like Calvinism.

    Thus, our passage through time from Planck instance to Planck instance is a great mercy which allows us to repent, and worth the uncertainty and challenges of unfolding multiple Hitlers and Tamurlanes, childhood cancers, Katrinas, and coronaviruses (coronavirii?)

    Is it also a great mercy that we get to sin between those instances, before the matter of repentance even arises? Once again, I smell something Calvin-like in it.

    Like

  11. I don’t think God comes to a moment in time and ‘decides’ to do one thing rather than another. That isn’t a very helpful paradigm for thinking about God, as it leads to awful thoughts about the Coronavirus and Aunt Lucy.

    It helped me a lot when Father Andrew explained to me that time was a created thing as equally as space, and that God existed outside of either. Angels, and the deceased, live outside of it as well, apparently, because he used that to explain why devils can’t repent, and neither can the deceased. Since devils exist in Eternity, all their moments are the one and the same moment, and if they decide to fall, they fall in all possible moments simultaneously. Thus, our passage through time from Planck instance to Planck instance is a great mercy which allows us to repent, and worth the uncertainty and challenges of unfolding multiple Hitlers and Tamurlanes, childhood cancers, Katrinas, and coronaviruses (coronavirii?)

    Like

  12. John 3:16, God so loved the cosmos… He loved the cosmos, the universe, everything made in it… from single-celled algae to trilobites to tyrannosaurs… to quasars and gamma-ray bursts and black holes… all of it loved with agape’ love… self-giving love.

    So he must love the novel coronavirus too. Question is, does he love it as much as me, or my wife, or you, or iMonkers, or humanity as a whole. Or do we get a special kind of love, because of our likeness to Jesus Christ? But then what is it evolution that made, and continues to make us, in the likeness of Jesus, or that made Jesus i one place and not any other? And if he put something in the evolutionary process to result in me, or my wife, or you, or iMonkers, or humanity as a whole, or the Incarnation of Jesus Christ himself, how could that not be tinkering in bid way?

    But maybe our use of the word tinkering betrays us, because underlying it is the assumption that the creation is like a big machine or tool, when it really isn’t.

    Like

  13. Has anyone thought in terms of God booting up a super version of SimEarth and letting it run to see what comes up?

    And when something COOL comes up, go one step further and start interacting with it?

    Like

  14. Lol. “Generally” and “often” are good, loose qualifiers in this instance.

    Labels (tribes) are fine. It’s when they turn into tribalism (my tribe is superior to yours) that they aren’t.

    Like

  15. If God intended you to be EXACTLY who you are, do you realize the number of EXACT pairings of sexual consummation God had to being about to create His “exactly perfect” Robert F??

    This is why I believe in a tinkerer evolutionary kinda God. He is extremely patient, He’s willing to take His time to create, He finds joy in creating. Why would He stop at any point and say, “Well, that’s good enough”?

    Like

  16. I like to think of Creation as ‘unfolding’, so the ‘process’ of evolution over ages of the ages seems to me to be a work of God in which He ‘unfolds’ what He is also, at the same time, ‘holding all together in being’. . . . . .

    one of the loveliest ways I have ever heard this expressed was through the writings of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, this:
    “. . . It seems to me that the Earth may be borrowed, but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers, and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time…”

    ‘THE COSMIC SECRECY OF SEED’ 🙂

    there are many poets and writers who express ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’ and also speak of ‘nature’ and the God of the natural world, but Ms. Rawlings’ words make me smile as something that resonates in me with things my father taught me about ‘the garden’ and how things grew when I was a child . . . gardens are sacred places

    Evolution seems to me to be more of an AFFIRMATION of God than something that defies Him. And then there is this to think about:
    “16 For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . . . . All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
    ( from Colossians, chapter 1)

    Like

  17. I can’t say with certainty but I would think that the Lord’s approach to us in spirituality and consciousness would be similar to his approach to any physical processes in this world he has given us to inhabit. With that in mind I would speculate that there is a large swath of freedom and an indeterminate nature to what goes on. He may see the end with us but micromanaging doesn’t appear in the cards to me. He’s still leaving it up to us to create in the image of our creator. If we are to be co-creators then we are certainly not being micromanaged but rather, in some strange communal way, managing.

    Like

  18. Avoiding labels is generally a good idea since they are often used to delineate the included from the excluded.

    Like

  19. And Iain, I hope that didnt come across as too argumentative. More like a counterpoint for discussion. I actually find I agree with most of what you write and say than anyone else who frequents this site.

    Like

  20. –> “God has no need to *guide* evolution – he created it. If evolution required God’s constant nudging to work the way it is supposed to, it would be a very imperfect creation indeed.”

    See, this to me makes little sense. I feel like God is constantly nudging, if not creation itself, at least those He has created. And since we know His creation is nowhere near what He intended (it is very imperfect indeed), then He is in a semi-constant battle to bring about His intended result despite forces that run counter to it.

    I hope and pray He is nudging Covid-19 toward something less imperfect, either via His own hand or via the minds of those He created.

    Like

  21. Thanks, I hadn’t seen the word before. That is probably the closest to where I am at, but I increasingly try to avoid labels. The simplest way I have found to describe it is to map John 1:1 (“The Word”) to the breath of creation in Genesis 1:3. Through Christ being the breath of creation, Christ is in all. I put more emphasis on the breath in Genesis 1:3 than the “God Created” in Genesis 1:1.

    Like

  22. I tried avoid any modern thought showing God as a force creating or guiding something outside himself. On the other hand, I try to avoid full pantheism. I believe nature is not outside God as a creation, but I also don’t believe God is nature in the pantheist since. Where does that lead? I do not know.

    Like

  23. What is God doing to make the rain fall where it falls?

    What did God do to make Robert F Robert F?

    I routinely heard from my religious instructors as a child that God personally created me, and intended for me to exist from the beginning of time, that he chose for me to come into being at the moment of my coming into being as well as from eternity. I am his special creation, and God has a special purpose for me as a person and a human being. That was part of my Catholic religious instruction. Is equally true for each rainfall, or raindrop, for each snowflake, and every other natural phenomenon? If not, if God does not tinker in that way with every natural phenomenon, but lets the natural world unfold in its own way, if it has freedom from his micromanaging, then at what point along the continuum does God go from not micromanaging natural processes, to micromanaging certain results, like the coming into being of Robert F? And if he doesn’t, which is a possibility, how can I say that he created me as a special creation of his, having special value and purpose, or how can we say that humanity came into being by his special creation, and with a special destiny apart from that of snowflakes, raindrops, and corona viruses?

    Like

  24. God has no need to *guide* evolution – he created it. If evolution required God’s constant nudging to work the way it is supposed to, it would be a very imperfect creation indeed.
    God is spirit, and it’s the normal, historic Christian understanding that we are made in God’s image because we have consciousness, conscience and soul, and can think, love and in our own way create, not our particular physical and biological make up, God having neither physical form nor biology. That God’s image was ultimately manifest in upright-walking hairless apes is a matter of historical happenstance, and how or why God would “nudge” things so as to make this so I would say is a misconceived question. I would also say that the very process of evolution in producing more and more complex life, together with God’s presence in the world as spirit and driving energy which is and has always been there for living things sufficiently able to discover and interact with, by design made the eventual creation of creatures in God’s image an inevitability, and indeed is the purpose of the process.

    Like

  25. Personally, I kinda like what Dr. Haarsma says. It kinda lines up with the way I view the subject. Additionally, I don’t see a problem with viewing God as a “tinkerer” AND as “intimate relating Father.” Those two just don’t strike me as mutually exclusive. And as a creator-type (writer), “tinkerer” certainly lines up with my experience in the creative process. I think God probably tinkers around a lot, and probably finds great joy in that process, just as I do.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: