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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.