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Evolution: Is God Just Playing Dice?

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October 11, 2011 Tags: Divine Action & Purpose
Evolution: Is God Just Playing Dice?

Today's entry was written by Matt J. Rossano. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This article first appeared on The Huffington Post.

"Reply the tape a million times ... and I doubt that anything like Homo sapiens would ever evolve again" (Stephen Jay Gould from "Wonderful Life", 1989 p. 289, Harvard University Press.).

With his standard panache, the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen J. Gould argued strenuously that evolution had no inherent directionality. It was a cosmic crapshoot - in no way destined to produce anything complex, self-conscious or human. We are mere accidents; a "tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb on a fortunate tree" ("Wonderful Life" p. 291). Highly fortunate indeed! Eons ago, a dinosaur-dominated earth held little promise for mammalian ascendancy (let alone primates or humans). Our distant ancestors might have remained little more than scurrying nuisances nipping at the feet of giants if not for a most unlikely calamity - a massive meteor strike which swept away the dinos and forever altered the earth's bio-saga. Who would have guessed?

Evolution's capricious nature seemed to represent a severe stumbling block for the Abrahamaic religious traditions. In their narrative, humans represented the culmination of God's creative work - the very purpose for creation itself. But evolution is an awfully shoddy way of enacting a divine plan. Gould delighted in annoying the faithful by emphasizing this very point:

"Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution - paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce" ("The Panda's Thumb", 1980, pp. 20-1).

Theologians, however, were quick to point out that the chance element in evolution was neither new nor necessarily contrary to the Judeo-Christian view of God. Human history was replete with chance; evolution only extended the theme. Moreover, chance allowed for freedom - a virtue high on God's agenda. However theologically sound these retorts may have been, their force was often lost on the average believer. The accidental nature of human existence provided just another reason to reject evolution altogether in order to preserve God's special concern for humanity.

Gould was a talented science writer, but he overplayed evolution's whimsy. Increasingly, science is showing that the evolutionary process has many built in constraints which limit its possibilities and bias its pathways. Take, for example, the ubiquitous phenomenon of convergence - the tendency for highly diverse species to independently evolve similar adaptive (analogous, not homologous) traits. Most of us are familiar with the saber-toothed tiger, the scourge of our hominin ancestors. Less familiar are a group of South American marsupials called the thylacosmilids who independently evolved similar protruding saber-teeth. Convergence can also be seen in a number of specifically human traits. For example, we share a mode of locomotion, bipedalism, with birds, kangaroos, and some dinos. The lateralized and convoluted structure of our brains can also be found in octopi, this despite the fact that vertebrates and cephalopods diverged from one another over 450 million years ago.

In his book "Life's Solution" (2003, Cambridge Press) Cambridge Palaeobiologist Simon Conway Morris documents scores of examples of convergent evolution from insect body designs to the social systems of dolphins and chimpanzees (both fission-fusion). The important lesson is that there are only a limited number of ways that evolution can solve the adaptive problems posed by the earth's ecosystems. Time and again, evolution stumbles upon the same general design features from which to fashion adaptive traits.

Now add to this the Baldwin effect - an idea originally proposed in 1896 wherein organisms are posited to actively shape their own selective forces. For example, suppose some fairly intelligent primates begin fashioning tools, giving them access to new resources and a competitive advantage over non-tool users. Any genetic predisposition facilitating tool use would also be positively selected.

A severe limitation on Baldwin effects has always been the unpredictability of genetic mutation. For any heritable genetic changes to occur (so the thinking has always been) our tool wielding primate would just have to wait around and hope for a lucky "tool use" mutation to pop up. But maybe not. Two recent books, Jablonka and Lamb's "Evolution in Four Dimensions" (2005 MIT press) and Kirschner and Gerhart's "The Plausibility of Life" (2005, Yale University Press) discuss connections between recent work in genetics and Baldwinian processes. What if the primate's tool use actually raised the probability that a tool-relevant genetic change would take place which could then be passed along to offspring?

Recent genetic research (in a field called epigenetics) shows that experiences occurring over one's lifetime can produce heritable genetic changes. For example, mice exposed to two weeks of environmental enrichment (more social interaction, activity, novel objects to explore) show evidence of enhanced memory function (not surprising). More surprising is that their offspring also show evidence of enhanced memory even though they were never exposed to environmental enrichment (Journal of Neuroscience, 29, p. 1496). Thus, the increased environmental stimulation created a genetic change in the parents that was then transmitted to offspring. This change appears to involved altered patterns of gene regulation (how genes are turned on and off during development). Similar effects have been noted in humans (see European Journal of Human Genetics, 14, p. 159).

Convergence, epigenetic inheritance, and Baldwin effects are only a few of the mechanisms serving as directional constraints on evolution's pathways. In his review of the various factors affecting the evolutionary process, anthropologist Melvin Konner concludes:

"There are no intrinsic driving factors in evolution, but there are intrinsic constraints and canalized paths along which either evolution or development may more easily proceed" ("The Evolution of Childhood," Harvard Press, 2010, p. 59, emphasis in original).

Of course, none of these constraining factors guarantee our arrival on the evolutionary stage. They do, however, raise the odds that in time a complex, rational, self-aware creature capable of entertaining both scientific and religious ideas might emerge.

The more we understand evolution, the less it seems like neither the bogeyman that creationists fear nor the universal God-dissolving acid some atheists crave.

Matt J. Rossano is Professor of Psychology at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved.

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penman - #65594

October 19th 2011


I agree that “essence” and “energies” are not part of the theological terminology of the biblical text. But that’s no reason to dismiss them. After all, “essence” is OUSIA in Greek, & the Nicene Creed’s most fundamental claim is that the Son is HOMOOUSIOUS with the Father - “of the same essence”. So unless we’re going to dismiss the Creed itself, we can’t just write off this language as “unbiblical”.

Lots of theological terminology is not found per se in the biblical text. Trinity, incarnation, atonement, sacrament…. It’s just shorthand to sum up biblical teaching, isn’t it?

Your suggestion, as I read it, is to define God’s essence as “three persons united in love”. I suppose my question about that would be that if we define God’s essence thus, then each person of the Trinity would only be one-third of God rather than wholly God.

Meanwhile, the noble concept of CHANCE seems to have receded a little…. But it was worth it: these matters of discussion are important!

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65600

October 19th 2011


I am disappointed in you.  You certtainly know that the Trinity is a mystery in that we cannot expain how God is both One and Three using human logic, but only know that God is both One and Three based on the experience of God’s salvation history found in the Bible and our lives.

If God is basically simple, then according to all human reason and logic our universe and history is determined by God’s simple will and there is not possibility for chance and human freedom in this world.  This is the connection.

The problem is in part God’s essence, however I accepted the concept that God is Love, which is Biblical and you have rejected.  The problem is with the Persons of the Trinity, which it appears that you have characterized as powers and energies, which I do not think is appropriate.

The Latin formulation of the Trinity used in the West is One Divine Nature and Three Divine Persons.  God is both One and Three.  How this can be is a paradox and a mystery, but there is no way we can say the Nature of God is simple and the Persons of God are complex.  There is no way we can say that the Nature of God is unknown, while the Persons of God are known and understandable. There is no radical difference between Who God is and What God does.            

penman - #65601

October 19th 2011


Was #65600 addressed to Jon Garvey or to me? (It looks suspiciously like a reply to me, but I apologize if my egocentricity is seeing Replies To Penman everywhere….)

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65605

October 19th 2011

Sorry, Penman.

Mea culpa.

It is to you of course. 


penman - #65618

October 20th 2011


I’m relieved it wasn’t my egocentricity, then.

“The problem is in part God’s essence, however I accepted the concept that God is Love, which is Biblical and you have rejected.”

Well, I hope I haven’t denied that God is love. But it doesn’t seem to me to follow that affirming “God is love” defines the “essence” of God, in the metaphysical sense in which patristic theology uses “essence”.

For example, we could say “God is Father”, but would it follow that Fatherhood is the essence of God? Fatherhood is a distinguishing property of one of the divine persons, not a common property of the essence.

In John’s First Letter, I think “God is love” refers to God’s activity of loving toward humanity, made concrete in providing a Savior.

If we were to make love into the metaphysical essence (the being-ness) of God, I don’t see why we should stop there. We’d also have to “import” all other moral attributes into God’s essence - wisdom, justice, truth, faithfulness, etc. And then we run smack into the problem highlighted by Basil of Caesarea: each attribute becomes identical with all the others, because all are identical with the essence. Basil rejected that as counter-intuitive.

Basil’s Letter 234 is the relevant writing. I’ll just quote the opening, & hope the formatting doesn’t go weird:

font size=“3”>They ask, “Do you worship what you know or what you do not know?” If I say, “I worship what I know,” they immediately reply, “What is the essence of the object of your worship?” Then, if I confess that I am ignorant of the essence, they turn on me again and say, “So you worship you know not what.”

font face=“Times New Roman” size=“3”> 

font size=“3”>I answer that the verb “to know” has many meanings. We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justice of His judgment - but not His very essence.

font face=“Times New Roman” size=“3”> 

font size=“3”>Their question is, therefore, only put for the sake of dispute. For he who denies that he knows the essence of God does not thereby confess himself to be ignorant of God. Our idea of God is gathered from all the attributes which I have enumerated.

[And so Basil continues….]

penman - #65619

October 20th 2011

I’ll try that Basil quote again - if it goes weird again, I give up:

They ask, “Do you worship what you know or what you do not
know?” If I say, “I worship what I know,” they immediately reply, “What is the
essence of the object of your worship?” Then, if I confess that I am ignorant
of the essence, they turn on me again and say, “So you worship you know not

I answer that the verb “to know” has many meanings. We say
that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His
providence over us, and the justice of His judgment - but not His very essence.

Their question is, therefore, only put for the sake of
dispute. For he who denies that he knows the essence of God does not thereby confess
himself to be ignorant of God. Our idea of God is gathered from all the
attributes which I have enumerated.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #65627

October 20th 2011


Your quote from St. Basil cites a technical problem for not saying we do not know the essence of God.  Now as I have pointed out this is the same technical problem we have with the Trinity which presumably has been solved because you have not said we cannot know the Persons of the Trinity.

Now the problem which I have with saying that we cannot know the essence of the God is because if I remember correctly and please corredct me if I am wrong said that the Essence of God is simple.  You have not made this statement here, nor has St. Basil.  All you have said that Who God is different in some way than Who God is.

God identified Godself as I AM WHO I AM.  There is no difference between Who YHWH is from what YHWH does.  YHWH is Love, because all that God does flows from this simple or not so simple fact.  All the power and wisdom of God would be in vain if YHWH were not loving.  “YHWH’s faithful caring is superior to all YHWH’s works.” 

YHWH is Who YHWH chooses to be, so God’s Character- Love is Who YHWH is.  If you define God’s essence as Who God is, as Basil does, then God is Love.  If you say that God’s essence must be simple, which I expect Basil did, then he and you are mistaken according to the Biblical revelation of the Trinity.  God is not essentially simple.  God is in all aspects Three and One.  

Again I think that Augustine is right, rather than the Cappadocians, if I need to cite an ancient authority.  

James R - #65641

October 20th 2011


Interesting post at 65547. 

Regarding your remarks near the end, what would you make of Calvin’s Institutes, 1.5.1-2?

Also, I like your point about “a sensible God wouldn’t do it that way” sorts of arguments.  But note that not only Gould, but a number of theistic evolutionists have used such arguments, including Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Francisco Ayala.  Would it be fair to say that it is just as wrong for TEs to use these arguments as it is for Gould to do so?

Thanks in advance for any replies.

James R - #65642

October 20th 2011


Good point about NOMA at 65551.

I have a question:  are you saying that creationists (whoever that includes in your mind) regard God as nothing more than an engineer?  I wonder if that is true of very many creationists.

As I’m new to this system of nested replies, perhaps someone here could give me instructions how to make my replies appear under the comment I’m addressing, rather than at the end of the thread.  When I click on “Reply to this comment” I would expect a new window to pop up, right under the comment I want to reply to, but nothing happens.  Am I doing things out of sequence?

beaglelady - #65648

October 21st 2011

When I click on “Reply to this comment” I would expect a new window to
pop up, right under the comment I want to reply to, but nothing
happens.  Am I doing things out of sequence?

You are doing it correctly—simply press “reply to this comment.”  Could be a bug if it’s not working for you.  This system seems to have a lot of glitches.

Merv - #65659

October 21st 2011

Hi, James.  I’m pretty open-ended with the word “creationist” and extend it to anybody who believes the entire universe was created by one God, and that our existence is not a meaningless accident.  It’s my rebellious jab at the popular cultural idea that all creationists are anti-evolution or believe that nothing of our physical world existed yet a million years ago.  I think the label needs to be expanded.

I think that most creationists (as I used the word above) when cornered and pressed with the question:  “Is God *only* an engineer” would of course answer “no”.  But that conception of God inevitably slips back into our way of thinking as we begin to ask ... so how would/should God have accomplished this or that?  We accept (as Christians) that we are special creations of God, and so we think that *we* then are a goal of the creative process whatever all that involved.  Once we’ve defined a goal we want to know how it could *efficiently* be accomplished (and of course, *we* get to choose the parameters that *we* think should be minimized:  time taken, effort made, energy expended, species expended, etc. etc.  as if it was a cost benefit analysis for the production of a widget rolling off an assembly line.  Notice that by this point we’re judging God’s methods by our own engineering choices as if His priorities just have to line up with how we would have done it. 

That’s my long way of saying we see the problem with saying God is only an engineer, but then we often proceed to think of God’s work as if we thought he was (and a very human one at that.)  Hope I didn’t muddy the waters too much.

Regard posting issue: when I click ‘reply to this comment’ it seems to be functioning as it should for me—at least in terms opening a new window underneath your comment that I’m replying to.  I’m using the latest update of Mozilla Firefox.  Sometimes an interface does funny things in one browser but does fine in another.

Merv - #65661

October 21st 2011

I should hasten to clarify on my “creationist” commentary above, that I’m not so open-ended that I would think of any Monotheistic proposal as being creationist.  I am thinking of the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Judaism, Christianity)—anybody who takes the Genesis account seriously and treats it as holy Scripture—all of those folks are “creationist” pretty much by definition (mine anyway) whether or not they are theistic evolutionists or literalists.  If someone wanted to advocate for Spaghetti monster as the only true God (which no one really does) as the sole creator, I suppose they could be called monotheist, but I wouldn’t think of them as a creationist.


penman - #65647

October 21st 2011


You keep telling me that God is love, & that this defines God’s essence. You don’t bring into the equation the point mentioned by Jon & myself, that it’s equally biblical to “define” God in terms of wisdom, power, holiness, justice, truth, faithfulness, etc. That follows from your axiom that what God does defines His essence. I don’t grasp why you exclusively privilege love in your definition & exclude all other attributes/activities (energies) abundantly testified in scripture. C.S.Lewis once warned against misapprehending “God is love” to mean “Love is God”....

I think I’ll “turn my back & bravely flee” when it comes to a technical discussion of God’s simplicity. I suspect it would explode my brain & take the forum into dizzy regions it wasn’t designed for….

However, the Christian philosopher Paul Helm recommends a recent book, “God without Parts: Simplicity and the Metaphysics of Divine Absoluteness” by James Dolezal as a brilliant treatment of the subject, defending divine simplicity. See the blog Helm’s Deep for a review of the book.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65649

October 21st 2011


Thank you for your reference,

It seems to me that you routinely refer to God without indicating that the Christian definition of God is the Trinity.  God may be without parts, but God is Three Persons and not a multitude of energies.  God the Creator is best characterized by Power, God the Logos is best characterized by Rational Order, and God the Spirit is the Love that unites and characterizes all Three. 

Clearly my understanding of Who God is is different from yours.  I do not claim it is the only possible Christian understanding, but to me it seems the best in that it avoids the necessity to conclude that humans cannot know Who God is, which for me is not true.    


beaglelady - #65650

October 21st 2011

Now you are trying to suggest that Penman is not a Trinitarian! 

penman - #65651

October 21st 2011

I should like to reassure people that I am a Trinitarian.

The only reason why I’m not habitually & explicitly referring to the Trinitarian structure of God’s being is that we were discussing the essence/energies distinction.

Incidentally, I do think we can know “who” God is (Father, Son, and Spirit) but I don’t identify this with “what” God is (the divine essence), & nor has orthodox Trinitarian theology ever made such an identification. God is three “who’s” but one “what” - three persons in one essence.

beaglelady - #65654

October 21st 2011

I know you are an orthodox Trinitarian, Penman. 

penman - #65667

October 22nd 2011

I assumed you knew it, Beaglelady, but I was just reassuring anyone who wasn’t so sure….

I’m also assuming Roger is an orthodox Trinitarian & that our disagreement, if more than verbal, is over the right way to express the dialectic between God’s comprehensibility & incomprehensibility. I still favor the essence-energies distinction as the best way of doing that. Roger thinks it destroys the possibility of knowing who God is. (I don’t think so, because “who” God is falls into the category of person, not essence, in my view….)

beaglelady - #65669

October 22nd 2011

Roger apparently has the beatific vision. The rest of us will have to wait.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65690

October 23rd 2011

Penman and Beagle Lady,

How can what a person is be radically different from who a person is? 

How can Who God is be separated from What God is, unless God is not a Person, which may be what you are arguing. 

If God is not a Person, then it is true that God is essentially simple, which I do not think is true.  Thus I need no beatific vision, just the 66 books of the Bible to know Who God is. 

penman - #65699

October 24th 2011


Can a child not know “who” its father is (a personal knowledge) without knowing “what” its father is (the child has no intellectual understanding of human nature, could not define it, etc)?

I think we’re in an analogous position with God. We can have experiential knowledge of Him by participating in His energies (knowing “who” He is), but we cannot philosophically define “what” He is (His metaphysical essence).

I know you probably won’t agree, but the view I’m taking isn’t incoherent nonsense.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65707

October 24th 2011


You are overintellectualizing. 

A child knows who his or her father is, which particular person is her or his father, assuming an “intact” family.

The child also knows what kind of person his or her father is, maybe not perfectly and the child will grow in this knowledge and understanding, but the child knows what kind of person her or his father is.   

penman - #65721

October 25th 2011


I was trying to distinguish between a personal, experiential way of knowing (knowing who your father is), & an intellectual way of knowing (being able to understand what kind of being your father is - i.e. human, which involves being able to give some account of human nature).

Jonathan Edwards uses this analogy: a person who has tasted the sweetness of honey (experiential knowledge) vs a person who has not but can define it chemically (intellectual knowledge).

I think that in THIS life we’re in the position of the young child having experiential knowledge of our father (in heaven). Only in the life to come will we “grow up” in your sense of the phrase, & “know as we are known” (1 Cor.13).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65728

October 25th 2011

Penman wrote,

I think that in THIS life we’re in the position of the young child having experiential knowledge of our father (in heaven). Only in the life to come will we “grow up” in your sense of the phrase, & “know as we are known” (1 Cor.13).

Penman, please look at the context of Paul’s statement.  Paul is arguing against knowledge of God as the sine que non of the Christian faith and exhalts love as the only true basis for faith. 

Paul in a very real sense agrees with John’s argument.  God is Love and the only way humans can know God is through loving God and other people.  The defining aspect of God, which I would define as God’s essence, is God the Father’s Love for human beings and the Creation which we know through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.   

There is nothing wrong with intellectual knowledge.  Knowledge about Jesus Christ and the Bible is in part intellectual knowldge.  My problem again is that you have posited some undefined and undefinable essense of God which cannot by definition be comprehended and is a barrier to understanding.

If science cannot determine the meaning of life and theology does not know the meaning or essence of God, then what hope is there?  

penman - #65744

October 26th 2011


This is an epic thread & it’s getting thinner & thinner….! Thanks for the opportunity to explore these issues in discussion.

It doesn’t bother me that I don’t know the essence of God. It hasn’t bothered anyone who has accepted the essence-energies distinction. I share in the very energies that eternally flow from God’s essence: love, wisdom, glory, immortality. What more could a created being desire? Hatred, folly, darkness, & death will never flow from God’s essence. To bathe in His uncreated energies, & be deified by them, is a destiny so awesome that it robs me of mental breath.

In your own perspective, may I ask where you would locate God’s incomprehensibility? Or is this not a divine attribute, as you see things?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65753

October 26th 2011


This does sound like the mysticism of the Eastern Church, which I do not accept.

The power of God is to break the power of sin, which the Father does through the Son and the Spirit, the Persons of the Trinity.  The fruit of the Spirit come with salvation though the Spirit and not from a fourth aspect of God, unless you take Love or the Spirit as the essence or character of God, which for some reason you cannot.

I am not concerned about divine attributes, which in any case flow from the Persons.  I do not think that God is incomprehensible, any more than other persons are incomprehensible.

In any case you and Paul are right, in the end we will know God as clearly as God knows us, so God must not be incomprehensible by nature.  

penman - #65779

October 27th 2011


“The fruit of the Spirit come with salvation though the Spirit and not
from a fourth aspect of God, unless you take Love or the Spirit as
the essence or character of God, which for some reason you cannot.”

I wouldn’t equate God’s essence with His character. I’d see His character as shorthand for His moral attributes (love, faithfulness, justice, et al). But in my understanding, God’s moral attributes (character) are just another way of describing His energies.

It seems in your own “scheme” there’s no room for God’s incomprehensibility. That’s the real abyss, I think, dividing our understandings.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65787

October 27th 2011


God (YHWH) said, I AM WHO I AM.

My character is Who I AM.

My character is My Essence. 

Jesus, “A tree is known by its fruit.”

James R - #65663

October 21st 2011

Merv (65659):

I see.  I thought you were using the word “creationist” in the sense that it usually has on sites like this, i.e., people who take Genesis literally or near-literally and who oppose “creation” to “evolution.”  And what I was asking you was whether you were saying that “creationists” of that sort thought of God as merely an engineer, whereas theistic evolutionists have somehow a deeper or better conception of God because they don’t see him as an engineer at all.

My sense is that even the narrowest creationist sees God as more than an engineer.

I wonder if we should distinguish between a result and a process.  When we look at, say, the cardiovascular system, we see a tremendously complex and integrated bodily system.  It is like a work of human engineering, only much superior in many technical respects.  Now I don’t think that a theistic evolutionist, any more than a creationist, would deny that the cardiovascular system was “created” in the sense of “made by God.”  Where they would differ is over the process, the one seeing the creation as accomplished by evolutionary means, the other by more direct means.  But either way, the result is an engineered result.  Either way, God wanted us to have the cardiovascular system that we have.  So I don’t see the difficulty with engineering language. 

Of course, if one wants to deny that the cardiovascular system was planned by God; if one wants to argue that God just set in motion a process of evolution and said:  “What the heck, let’s spin some molecules and see what emerges”—then engineering language would be inappopriate.  But I don’t know of any Christian who thinks that there was no intelligent plan for human bodies, that we just got lucky that a cardiovascular system emerged out of the chaos.  So when we speak of God as being something like an engineer, we are really speaking of the intelligence displayed in the result, not about the process of creation itself.  We are saying:  “there is intelligence in this arrangement.”  I don’t understand why a theistic evolutionist would have any different opinion than a creationist on that point. 

Yet more than once I have heard creationists sneered at by theistic evolutionists for believing in a God who is just an engineer.  And when I hear that, I ask myself:  “Do theistic evolutionists deny that God has intelligence, or that the physical arrangements of living things reflect his intelligence?”  If so, theistic evolution must represent a very odd form of Christian belief.

beaglelady - #65672

October 22nd 2011

But I don’t know of any Christian who thinks that there was no
intelligent plan for human bodies, that we just got lucky that a
cardiovascular system emerged out of the chaos.

Well, I don’t believe there was an intelligent plan for human bodies, because if there was one we probably wouldn’t have wisdom teeth, a broken gene to make vitamin C, a broken gene for egg yolk production, and so on.  (Read some of the posts on this blog for more information.)  But I also wouldn’t say that “a
cardiovascular system emerged out of the chaos.” 


James R - #65673

October 22nd 2011


Thanks for your reply.

So if I understand you correctly:

(1) God did not intend for us to have exactly the bodies that we have, with exactly the systems that it has;

(2) You disagree with Larry Gilman above, in that you think “God wouldn’t do it that way” arguments are legitimate?

Could you expand on these two points?

Merv - #65674

October 22nd 2011

I am not attempting to speak for beaglelady—I know she will speak for herself, and I am interested in her response.  Meanwhile, here is my response you your questions/assertions above (65663) as well as the one addressed to beaglelady.

If any theistic evolutionists said they didn’t believe in an intelligent God, then I would be very curious as to what it was they thought they did believe in.  By any reasonable definition of our Christian concept of “God”, He would have to be the very fount of intelligence itself.  An unintelligent God would be a contradiction of terms would it not?  I’m totally with you, James, that we should marvel at systems like our cardiovascular system and praise God for its working intricacies.  And Beaglelady’s response then highlights our need to be able to step back from our demand that all those intricacies need to make sense to us on human engineering terms.  I.e.—no apparent inefficiencies or “wastes” anywhere in it. But what if our creator didn’t intend for our universe (or us) to be efficient in these terms?  Isn’t He entitled to his own goals and purposes?  We may think an efficient water delivery system would have no leaks and deliver 100% of the needed water from a storage tower to your faucet.  The creator delights to lavish rain everywhere on both the righteous and unrighteous—seeds get scattered everywhere, both on good soil and barren ground; many species lived and died adapting over eons of time prolific with life (and death, and then new life): :  what “inefficiencies”!  And yet at the same time, what an awesome God!  If, from our engineering standpoint, God seems to earn low marks, its because we are trying to pretend that he was “only a 21st century human engineer”—even if in our very next breath we try to deny that. 


Merv - #65676

October 22nd 2011

...continued thought…

And if creationists (in the more narrow sense you refer to) want to delight in the great engineering that *is* manifested in a cardiovascular system, they are certainly right to do so; but the problems set in when they are then forced to deny or try to explain away such things as beaglelady brings up that would not appear to us as great features.  So even the creationist who is eager to award God high engineering marks may fall into the trap of then not being able to reckon rightly, then, with what God’s creation reveals to persevering eyes and minds.  Then they have to “turn a blind eye” to preserve God’s high praises, and all that because they too have unconsciously accepted what they deny when asked:  that we can evaluate God’s work entirely as we do our own engineering.


beaglelady - #65680

October 22nd 2011

Let me clarify one thing: I never said that God was not intelligent.

But what if our creator didn’t intend for our universe (or us) to be
efficient in these terms?  Isn’t He entitled to his own goals and

Things could have been designed to look as if they evolved. We could be feeder mice for human hookworms.  Or our lives could even be one big illusion.  But I don’t think so.

The thing is, there are so many things like hernias, hiccups, and the recurrent laryngeal nerve that are beautifully explained by evolution and difficult to impossible to explain as design.  Read through the essays on this site and you’ll see where that view is coming from.

beaglelady - #65675

October 22nd 2011

What I’m saying is that all the evidence points to evolution.  Where is Larry Gilman’s comment? 

James R - #65677

October 22nd 2011


Larry Gilman’s comment is at 65547 above (page 2 of this thread).  I replied to him at 65641 above, on this page.

I don’t understand how “all the evidence points to evolution” answers my first question.  In your view, did God intend for us to have the bodies that we have, with all the systems that these bodies possess?


beaglelady - #65679

October 22nd 2011

My answer is no—there are any number of configurations that would satisfy God’s requirements for creatures who can have fellowship with Him. But God is okay with the bodies we did end up with via evolution.  I don’t think God actually designed our broken gene to make vitamin C;  meaning that I don’t think God actually broke it, or was trying to make it work but failed.   Breaking it would be pretty mean, know all along about the sailors who would suffer and even die from scurvy.  

James R - #65678

October 22nd 2011


The nested reply system worked for me momentarily, and now it has failed again, so I am replying to your 65674 and 65676 in a new start.

We seem to agree on most things, and yet I am not sure that we yet understand each other. 

I agree with you that what God does may not always be comprehensible to human engineers.  God can see the whole picture, and human engineers only part of it.  But I don’t know any creationist—even the most narrow-minded—who doesn’t agree with you that God’s wisdom is far beyond our wisdom and that we cannot judge God by our limited understanding.  Indeed, I have found that creationists (and again, bear in mind the sense in which I am using the word) much more than theistic evolutionists stress the limits of human reasoning.

So, with regard to alleged “flaws” in the engineering of human bodies, creationists would argue:  Even from a strict engineering point of view, how do you know it’s a flaw?  Maybe it serves some important function that our scientists have not yet figured out.  Or, from a broader point of view, maybe it is necessary for humans to have certain weaknesses for the good of the world overall, and we just can’t see the overall plan because our minds aren’t capacious enough, or because we are too selfishly preoccupied with merely human interest.   It is that overall plan which makes God much more than a mere engineer.

Thus, I don’t understand how a creationist needs to fall into the trap you are speaking of, noticing God’s good designs but turning a blind eye to his bad ones.  The creationist notices the “bad” designs, but has a different explanation for them from the theistic evolutionist.  The creationist (a) does not assume that they are bad just because at this stage of our science we can’t see any good in them; and (b) assumes that God has ends other than human pleasure and comfort in mind.

As far as I can tell, the theistic evolutionist seems to argue:  these designs are bad, therefore God wouldn’t have designed them, and therefore evolution did it.  This kind of argument has been used by Mr. Ayala, Mr. Miller, and others.  But this is just as much an example of the engineering mentality as the attitude that you are criticizing.  For what these gentlemen are really arguing (implicitly) is that God is wise and that anything he engineered would be flawless, and therefore, if we see these flaws in the human body, not divine engineering but random mutations and natural selection are what caused them.  So they are still arguing from the engineering mentality that you deplore—albeit in a negative way.  

Or, to put it another way, they are not arguing, as you and I agree, that God is more than an engineer; they are arguing that, at least in creation, he is even less than an engineer, because he leaves the outcome to unconscious natural processes which don’t know what they are doing.  So even if the creationists (in my sense of the word) insult God by making him a mere human engineer, many theistic evolutionists insult him even more, by making him more careless than, and hence less than, any human engineer.

Am I making more sense to you now?

And by the way, to avoid any misunderstanding, let me say that I am not a creationist in the sense that I have defined the term.  I’m merely trying to apply the same logic to the positions of the creationist and the theistic evolutionist, so that there is a level theological playing field between them.

Merv - #65681

October 22nd 2011

I think you’re making sense, and you do raise the excellent point that even from our human engineering point of view, we should never be so arrogant as to presume we know every last function something may serve or have served.  Just for clarification I don’t really “deplore” the engineering mentality, though I understand why you might think so from my vehement persistence above.  I’m not a professional engineer, but I did earn an engineering degree for what that’s worth.  I’ll refer to “creationists” as you have been (in the narrower sense) so that we don’t have to keep clarifying.

I agree that the creationist has the “out” of assuming that there is good design that is beyond our present understanding.  But while this assumption is born out as wisdom on some points (e.g.  “vestigial” organs that were falsely declared as useless in the past), it is stretched beyond credibility on so many other points—some of which are on the creationist’s chosen turf, no less!    E.g. physical death is almost indisputably part of the fabric of creation from far before 6000 years ago.  And by their own criteria this is a serious curse (not a specimen of fine engineering!).  While creationists may chalk it up to repercussions of Adam’s sin 6000 years ago, science has pretty convincingly shown a longer history for physical death.  This requires creationists to turn a blind eye towards any science that indicates for ancient timescales (which is a whole lot of science!) because such an ancient world looks to them like bad engineering.

I do think you misunderstand theistic evolutionists when you state:  “As far as I can tell, the theistic evolutionist seems to argue:  these
designs are bad, therefore God wouldn’t have designed them, and
therefore evolution did it.”

Most of them—certainly on this site (and I include myself here) will insist that there is no either/or here.  They would say God used evolution (messy, long, and “inefficient” as it appears to us) to accomplish His purposes—which are glorious purposes, nonetheless..  I think the “this design is bad, therefore…” argument may often be a TEs reactionary argument to show the shortcomings of the 6000 yr. old engineered universe. Maybe some TEs really do think of God as a bad designer; I can’t speak for all, of course.  But I suspect it’s really more of a rhetorical device to challenge their YEC kin about YEC assumptions.  And granted, atheists taunt creationists with the same “God, the bad designer” provocation—only for the creationist’s benefit, of course.  And TEs will agree with the atheist about evolution, but part company with him as he tries to use it to force out theology.  So the poor YEC gets it from both sides, but the TE (if a serious Christian) had better be reasoning with him as a brother, not taunting him.

You spoke of having a level theological paying field between creationists and TEs.  I probably haven’t followed where you were going with that unless some of my rambling above happened to hit on it.  Feel free to clarify more as you have time or inclination.


James R - #65682

October 22nd 2011

Thank you, Merv.

I think death is a special case, in that creationists attribute it to the Fall, and I didn’t want to get into that tangle.  By “bad design” I was thinking of designs that would date to creation itself, prior to the Fall.  For example, claims such as that the retina is inefficiently wired backward or the human spine is very weak or humans can’t make their own Vitamin C or the like.  My point was that in many cases these charges of “inefficient” engineering can be challenged as new information emerges (for example, I’ve seen an argument that the wiring of the retina is just right when you take into account all that needs be taken into account), and in other cases there might be other things on God’s mind (e.g., maybe a certain spinal weakness is naturally attendant upon bipedalism, due to engineering constraints, but bipedalism is necessary in order for man to achieve his highest spiritual ends).

Regarding theistic evolutionists, of course there is a diversity of opinion among them, but certainly Ayala and Miller have tried to use “bad design” as an argument to keep God one step away from evil.  If you read their writings you will find the suggestion that if God designed harmful things directly, he would be responsible for evil, and surely God wouldn’t be responsible for evil (another “God wouldn’t have done it that way” argument, which was what I asked Larry Gilman about), so an arms-length process such as evolution gets the job done while keeping God’s hands clean, so to speak.  I can’t quote you passages offhand, but they have both argued it in several places, and I’m not sure that Collins hasn’t argued it as well.

You can see that in this argument, the emphasis is quite different from the emphasis you are indicating.  You are indicating that God uses evolution to accomplish his purposes, and therefore, since the user of a tool is morally responsible for what he does with it, you willingly make God responsible for the products of evolution, including the harmful ones.  Ayala and Miller are trying to get God off the hook for the harmful ones by saying that God didn’t supervise evolution and therefore isn’t to blame for what it produces.   I think your argument is more intellectually coherent than theirs.   But of course, your argument makes God responsible for physical evil —at least, for all aspects of physical evil that predate the Fall.  I have no problem with that, but some theistic evolutionists do.

But back to engineering.  If one says that God engineered the cardiovascular system through a process of evolution, one is not denying that it is engineered.  One is not denying the design of the system.  It is only if one says that God left nature to its own devices, and that it just happened to produce a cardiovascular system, that one is denying that the system is designed.

I think part of the objection to “engineering” language is that people confuse engineering with manufacture.  Engineering is a mental activity, not a physical one.  Engineering is about design, not execution.  No one is saying that if God designed a living system, that he himself also had to directly construct it.  One can imagine biological goals that are planned out by God, and hence fully intended by him, but are executed by a process of evolution.  I have no problem with such a conception of creation.  The problem is that theistic evolutionists vary widely on how willing they are to speak of God as intending any results.

We see, for example, that beaglelady, in her recent reply to me,  denies that God intended the existence of man, of the cardiovascular system, etc.  Why some TEs have this horror of affirming that God intended anything is beyond me.  I would expect such a retreat from divine intentionality from Dawkins and Hitchens, but not from Christians.  And if one affirms intentionality, then the language of design should not be offensive, either.  Thus, God can be the great engineer and designer of life, without any derogation to his power or depth, or any implication that his essence is exhausted in engineering.

I don’t know that I can make myself any clearer, so I will probably leave it at that.  Thanks for a very polite and constructive discussion.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65864

October 29th 2011


Forgive me form butting in here after you have completed your argument, but it seems to me that one obvious thing is overlooked here and I think that you with your engineering degree should comment on.

It seems to be that engineers and artists and other must take into account the materials available to them in designing and making a creation.  Now God does have an advantage because God designed and created the basic physical substance of the universe as well as gave it form and structure.

Now once God the Father through the Logos determined that the universe was to be composed of matter/energy, then God was limeted so to speak by the advantages and disadvantages of matter/energy.  We know that a universe composed of matter/energy cannot be perfect, because only God is perfect and thus immortal. 

The only way God could have made a perfect universe would have been to recreate God’s perfection, which does not make any sense and leaves humanity out completely.  Therefore the only way there could be a universe and human beings would be for God to create a universe which is Good, which is like God, but which is mortal and physical as God is not. 

I understand that engineering is dealing with variables to find the best available solution, rather than the best possible solution.  I dare say that God did this in the Creation.  

Now some people make the point that if God created each species de novo as others seem to claim there would not be some strange constructions in the body, but God did choose to create through a process called evolution and the mastery of God’s design is reflected in God’s ability to do this.    

James R - #65683

October 22nd 2011


Thank you for reply 65679.

I would argue that your position—I don’t mean your position that evolution has occurred, but your position that God did not intend us or any other result of evolution —is incompatible with even a very loose and non-literal reading of Genesis 1, and also with the Christian doctrine of creation generally.  However, I won’t argue that here.  For more on the general issue of intentionality, see my latest reply to Merv.  I’ll probably exit this thread now, but I thank you for all your polite replies. 

beaglelady - #65684

October 23rd 2011


You are completely misunderstanding me, and I don’t think you even want to. I thought we were talking about God designing the human body exactly the way it is.

And I never said that “God did not intend us or any other result of evolution.”  Do you have a reading comprehension problem?

 Do you and Merv really think God has some mysterious plan and reason for specifically designing/engineering male nipples? 
Merv - #65685

October 23rd 2011

And thank you, James as well.  I presume you speak of Kenneth Miller (Darwin’s God)—which is the only work of his I’ve read, and that a long time ago so I’m not remembering much; I’ve never read Ayala. 

You are right that I’m less squeemish about attributing everything to God—even all the calamities of the world (following old testament tradition in doing so)—and yes, Beaglelady, even male nipples!  If he numbers the hairs of my head (there are some left) or watches a sparrow alight, I don’t think a nipple inventory is beyond him.  I resonate with James in that we aren’t in a place to judge the big picture, though we may fancy we can judge small bits of it.  So, James, I also disagree with TEs who labor to “keep God’s hands clean” by separating him from his work.  (As if He needs our defense.)


James R - #65686

October 23rd 2011

beaglelady (65684):

Your sudden change in tone is jarring.  You were polite before, and so was I.  I thought we were having a calm, civilized exchange.  But now you suddenly seem sharp.  I don’t understand  why.  Here was our exchange:

JR:  “In your view, did God intend for us to have the bodies that we have, with all the systems that these bodies possess?”

BL:  “My answer is no—there are any number of configurations that would satisfy God’s requirements for creatures who can have fellowship with Him. But God is okay with the bodies we did end up with via evolution.”

So, you answered, no, God did not intend for us to have the bodies that we have.  But if we did not have the bodies that we have, e.g., if we did not have a cardiovascular system (an example I had previously used), we would not be human beings; we would be something else.  And indeed, we might be any number of other things; according to your answer:  “there are any number of configurations that would satisfy God’s requirements for creatures who can have fellowship with Him.”  Notice that you said “creatures who can have fellowship with Him”—not “human beings”.  So you did not appear to be talking about minor variations on human beings, but about other kinds of creatures.  Your words conjured up images of intelligent carnivores, intelligent cetaceans, intelligent octopuses, etc.

You also said that God was “okay” with the bodies we ended up with in evolution.  Only “okay”?  In normal English usage, to say that someone is “okay” with something means that someone will accept, tolerate or go along with that thing.  It does not mean that the person intended that thing.  In fact, it usually implies that the person did not intend that thing, but is being presented with a plan or product that someone else has generated, and is being asked to sign off on it.  So the simplest way of understanding your “okay” is that God after the fact approved of,  but didn’t specifically intend, the various biological components of human beings.  He didn’t intend for us to have lungs rather than gills, for example, or feet and hands rather than fins.  But when he saw the lungs, feet and hands, he said “OK, that will do.”

When you add all of this up, the plain sense of your words was that God did not intend the existence of human beings specifically, but only of some sort of creature that could have fellowship with Him, and as long as evolution produced that, he would be content.  In other words, God did not say “Let us make man,” as 2,000 years of Christian tradition has understood Genesis to mean.  So I think that I was perfectly justified in my inference of what you meant, based on your reply.   If you meant something different, I don’t think you should blame my reading comprehension for lack of clarity in your exposition of your position.

If you respond again, I will read any clarification that you make, but I add that I will not reply to any future response that displays the “edge” of the one above.  Best wishes.

beaglelady - #65704

October 24th 2011

You are confused about the meaning of “okay.”  It signifies agreement/consent.  God creates the possibilities by creating this universe. He can see the future and knows what he will end up with.

If God says “Let us make man in our own image” surely he doesn’t mean His physical image, for God doesn’t have a body (for Mormons, however, he does!).   Genesis also says that God created male and female.   So if we are being literal that means that those unfortunate children born as intersexuals are not quite human, right?  And if God designed us to have the exact configuration we have, it means that  children born without the right organs or the right number of digits are somehow less then human.

It follows that if God designed us exactly the way we are today, he must have supervised or controlled the love-making of all the critters we are descended from. ( Note how He added some Neanderthal and Denisova DNA into the brew.)  Alternatively, He might have monkeyed with germ cells—  genetic engineering!     In these scenarios God becomes our breeder.  (Note how all this would make the Virgin Birth a little less special.)

Furthermore what would we be if humans underwent a speciation event?  Would species of the future cease to be human?

At the end of the day, the Bible speaks of God as our Father, not as our Designer, and  a father doesn’t design his children.

James R - #65708

October 24th 2011


Thank you for adjusting your tone.

Let’s come back to the question.  I asked you if God “intended” us.  You at first said, bluntly, no.  Now you seem to be saying that he keeps his hands off the evolutionary process, but sees the future and knows what evolution will spit out, and that he is “okay” with what he sees.  So either this is your way of saying that God intended us, while avoiding the word “intention” (though why you would want to avoid the word “intention” I can’t imagine), or you are still denying that God intended us, because you mean that something something more passive than “intent” describes God’s relationship to the outcome.  Which is it?

The word “Father” is used of God in the Bible—almost exclusively the New Testament—to express metaphorically the caring or other personal aspects of God, and never, or only very rarely, is it used in the Bible in connection with creation doctrine.  Certainly it is not so used in the classic creation passages—in Genesis, in Job, etc.  In fact, “father” is a bad word to use in connection with creation, as it suggests genetic continuity, a pagan idea which the doctrine of creation denies. 

You cannot in argumentative fairness take “designer” with mechanical literalness, and then rule it out, while using “father” in a non-literal sense, and ruling it in.  Neither word can be used with perfect literalness to describe the creative activity of God.  But “designer” is closer than “father” to capturing an essential aspect of creation doctrine, i.e., the distance or separation of the creator from the creation.  That distance or separation is essential to the monotheistic tradition. 

The plain sense of “let us make man” is that God conceives of human beings in advance of bringing them into being, and wills, i.e., intends, that exactly such creatures should exist.  It does not require that the detailed features of every human individual (dark hair, musical talent, etc.) are planned out in advance, but it does mean that God intended man, and not some variant on the octopus or the porpoise, to bear his image and likeness.  You appeared to be denying that God intended man, as opposed to some other quite different intelligent creature which evolution might have spewed out.  That is why I said what I said.  And given your above clarification, I am still not sure that I misunderstood you.

beaglelady - #65714

October 24th 2011

You have hardly addressed any of my questions.   Just what constitutes your human that God intended, and what does it exclude?

James R - #65715

October 24th 2011


I’m at a loss how to answer your question.  If I ask you what a dog is, you would know.  If I ask you what a bacterium is, you would know.  If I ask you what a willow tree is, you would know.  So when I refer to “human beings” I take it that you know what I mean, and that no explanation is required.  Can you not tell a human being apart from other living creatures?  Or from hypothetical intelligent insects, intelligent mollusks, intelligent bear-like animals, intelligent lizard-like animals, etc.?

Now when I pick up at random any great theologian in the history of the Christian tradition, of whatever denominational stripe, and read what the theologian has to say about creation, I am told that human beings were intended by God, that God willed or ordained or planned that human beings should come into existence, etc.  I do not find this language hard to understand.  It seems to me to be the plain, unforced sense of Genesis, even on a very free, non-literalist, non-fundamentalist account, and it seems to me to be the plain sense of all the other passages in the Bible which allude to man’s creation.  I do not know why you find this language hard to understand (or, if you understand it, hard to accept) since, if I understand comments you have made to others, you are a regular churchgoer. 

It is really not a hard question that I have asked you:  did God intend the existence of human beings?  So far, your answer seems to be either (1) “No, evolution produced them without anyone’s intention”;  or (2) “He didn’t actually intend them, but only approved them after the fact, when evolution spit them out (instead of intelligent dolphins or brainy lizards, which he would have equally approved), but to me that is a theologically acceptable substitute for intention.” 

I didn’t address all your hypotheticals (“if ...”) because I didn’t see how they dealt with my original question.

I don’t think I can make my question any clearer, so if this doesn’t help you, I’ll have to give up the attempt to understand your position.

beaglelady - #65724

October 25th 2011

My position is that physical appearance isn’t the most important thing God was looking for. Rather, God was looking for certain mental abilities e.g.  great intelligence and abstract thinking.  Such things are critical for a spiritual life.     I don’t think God is so particular about other physical attributes—number of fingers, presence of wisdom teeth,  reduced canines, skin colors.  

 I hope you realize that insects, lizards, and the like can’t be intelligent. 

And I believe that God intended all that evolved or might have evolved since it’s all part of creation.  It’s a creation of possibilities, even if not all possibilities are realized.


penman - #65697

October 24th 2011

James R—

“I think death is a special case, in that creationists attribute it to the Fall, and I didn’t want to get into that tangle.”

I would suggest we’re getting a little too flat & two-dimensional in categorizing the different perspectives here. It’s beginning to look like a stark creation vs evolution scenario, which doesn’t do justice to the wider spectrum of possible outlooks.

I’m an evolutionary creationist (theistic evolutionist), but I do attribute human death to the fall. I think that at some point in the history of anatomically modern humanity, God bestowed the divine image on the race - a quantum leap into God-consciousness - and along with this, the possibility of immortality if humanity obeyed its Creator. So at that point, as Augustine comments somewhere, humanity was neither immortal nor doomed-to-die, but suspended between the two potential destinies.

Humanity disobeyed, & so lost the prize of immortality, & was given over into the other condition of being doomed-to-die. Ergo, in that sense, human death - the inevitability of dying - was the fruit of the fall.

All of this is compatible with an EC/TE view of humanity’s biological origins. One doesn’t have to be a young earth creationist to think that human mortality is the consequence of a historic race-fall.

penman - #65698

October 24th 2011

A different but related point….

I don’t see why evolution & design should be set up as mutually exclusive alternatives, unless each is defined so as to exclude the other.

I’m happy to hold that all the natural processes of the universes were intended by God. And if so, He presumably intended their outcomes - including the emergence of anatomically modern humanity.

If we think any aspect of the universe has been poorly designed, I would point out that it isn’t a new thought produced by evolutionary biology; the Gnostics of long ago rejected God’s Creatorhood for this very reason, without knowing about evolution, & attributed the universe to a half-witted “Demiurge”. My own view is that “poor design” perspectives are probably a result of the finitude of the human mind, coupled with the preliminary nature of the present universe - it serves a particular purpose, but the new creation is to be God’s final word.

James R - #65709

October 24th 2011


Thank you for your comments.  I realize that others beside YECs attribute death to the Fall.  I am sorry if my comment misled you.  I was merely trying to bracket out the Fall for the purposes of certain points that Merv and I were discussing.  But if want my fuller view on the matter, it is that the Fall changed only the very specific things that are itemized in Genesis 3, and that there was no “general fall of nature” caused by the deed of Adam and Eve.  In other words, creation remained mostly the same as described in Genesis 1.  This means that “natural evils” (predation, pain, hunger, parasitism, animal death) were intended by God, not things that intruded upon creation as a result of the Fall.  I can defend that view at length, both with extensive Biblical and intertestamental passages, and with reference to later tradition, but here is not the place to do it.  I’m merely indicating to you why I think that one can discuss “dysteleology” in nature without reference to the Garden story. 

I agree with you that there is no reason to separate evolution and design.  A design, as I think I said somewhere above, might be executed through a process of evolution.  If I understand Merv correctly, he is not necessarily opposed to the combination of the two; if I understand beaglelady correctly, she thinks that evolution has disproved design or is incompatible with it.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65702

October 24th 2011


The argument against design is based on the perceived contrast between God’s perfection and the imperfection of the universe, or the conflict between the Platonic ideals and the physical.  These are basically based on Greek philosophical thought, not Hebrew historical thinking. 

Then to there is no evidence that God designed every genus de novo which was the original understanding from Genesis.     

BioLogos is caught between Science which does not want concede that God has anything to do with the design of evolution, Intelligent Design which does not believe that God can design through natural processes, and Creationists who insist that if the ancient Near Eastern world view was good enough for Moses it is goo enough for them.  

James R - #65711

October 24th 2011


Later tradition may have inferred that God designed every genus, but in fact, the language of Genesis is very general, speaking only of broad groupings—birds, sea creatures, beasts, creeping things, domestic animals and the like.  Thus, as long as one is not hemmed in by literalism about the time frame, one can imagine that the filling out of the general animal ideas in terms of genera and species was accomplished through an evolutionary process.  I am not saying that the author of Genesis taught a theory of evolution, or even imagined a theory of evolution, but only that the mode of production of species is not nailed down, as if the author was hesitant to specify how God accomplished such marvelous things.  That leaves a door open for saying that the divine intent was realized through an evolutionary process.

Regarding some comments in your last paragraph:  I think it is true that some of the columnists  and commenters here are very reticent to allow any language of design into discussions of origins, and I find this reticence theologically puzzling; and as for intelligent design proponents, I have not heard any of them deny that God can use natural processes to achieve a design.  What I’ve heard them deny is that God must have used only natural processes to create everything that we see.  I think that is an important distinction, which too often gets lost in these discussions.  Too often people incautiously stipulate or infer what God must have done, when they should be tentatively suggesting what God might have done.

My own view is that God might have used exclusively natural processes, but that he might not have; thus, we should discuss origins questions with an open mind, rather than dogmatically.  I find that often the “creationists” are dogmatic in one direction (it had to be all direct supernatural interventions), and often the “theistic evolutionists” are dogmatic in the other (it had to be all natural causes).  I don’t understand why so many Christians, when it comes to origins questions, are so confident in telling God how he has to operate.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65726

October 25th 2011

James W,

I think that the biggest problem is the dualist assumption behind these ideas.  You use the word “naturalistic.”  Both theists and atheists generally divide “natural” from God.  Nature or the physical is mechanistic and without purpose, while God is the opposite, therefore God and nature are incompatible.  Again this does go back to certain Greek ways of thinking.  

As you say humans cannot tell God what God can or can’t do.  God can govern the universe using natural laws or directly, but it is hard to see how God can use both.  The Bible indicates that God uses natural laws which God creates to govern the universe, which very few exceptions which are called miracles.

Again the question is not if God created, but how God created.  When believers define nature and natural processes as Godless, then they forget that God created nature and governs it.  It is my understanding that evolution as it is commonly understood is not compatible with the Christian understanding of God and Creation, but by careful use of the ideas that ecology brings to the scientific table about the nature of life and by a renewed understanding of our Biblical theology based on relational theology, people of good will can reconcile theology and science and renew our commitment to life.       

James R - #65737

October 25th 2011

Hi, Roger. 

You have my initial wrong, but what’s a slip between friends?

I have appreciated many of your posts in the past.

I don’t understand quite what you are driving at in some of your points here.  In particular, much of the last paragraph loses me.  But I will make a couple of comments on the first two paragraphs.

There is nothing “Greek” about dividing nature from God.  The division between the creature and the Creator is as Biblical as you can get.  From the Biblical perspective, what we call nature is utterly “other” than God.  It reveals the divine power and wisdom which is behind it, but it is not in itself divine.  The whole point of the religion of Abraham and Moses was to wean the Israelites away from a view which mixed God up with nature. 

I have not seen any mention of natural laws in the Bible.  The Bible refers to regularities of various kinds in nature, but does not attribute those regularities to “laws” such as 17th-century science introduced.  Your language of laws, and miracles as exceptions to laws, comes to us from thinkers like David Hume, not from the Bible.  So you seem to be concerned to avoid “Greek” thinking, yet you let Enlightenment thinking govern your interpretation of the Bible.  Talk about driving out one devil and letting many more in!

You seem to have misunderstood how I and others use the word “naturalistic.”  No one is saying that nature is a dirty word or that natural causes in themselves are bad things, or that God cannot express his will through natural regularities such as gravitation, evaporation, condensation, etc.  The problem is not nature but a certain rigid approach to origins.

In a naturalistic account of origins, the direct or special action of God is denied; everything must emerge from purely natural processes.  So in a naturalistic account of the origin of life, God does nothing special; chemicals just slosh around until they hit the right combination.  And in a naturalistic account of evolution, something like the Cambrian Explosion does not involve any new special creative activity of God; it’s just a speeded-up section of a wholly natural process.  And in a naturalistic account of human evolution, there is no special act by which God endows any hominid with his image or with a human soul; all the peculiarly human traits are simply continuations of earlier primate traits, or at best “emergent properties” which despite their novelty are the product of wholly natural causes.

Thus, the criticism of naturalism is not that it has God make use of nature, but that it forbids God from using anything but nature.  But how can anyone know that God used only natural processes in the creation of the earth, life, plants, animals, and man?  Certainly there is no Biblical warrant for saying so.  Anyone who sure that only natural causes are involved is getting his certainty from some other source.

My view, as I said elsewhere, is that God might or might not have used exclusively natural processes in creation.  And I find both creationists and theistic evolutionists doctrinaire on this question, because they both take stands which involve knowing what they cannot possibly know about God’s motives, preferences, and subtle actions.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65751

October 26th 2011

James R,

Thank you for the correction and the complement.

I do not think that you can say God is “utterly (completely) other” from the Bible.  First of all (Gen 1:31 NIV)  “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.”  It is axiomatic that God is Good and if God’s Creation is good, then God is not completely different the Creation.

Second, God created humans in God’s own image.  This is part of the creation, so humans, who are part of the Creation, are not “utterly other” or completely different from God. 

Thus God’s Creation is separate and different from God, but no wholly other which indicates complete separation and difference.  It is sin which creates a barrier between humans and God, not some existennial otherness. 

God gave the Hebrews a Covenantal relationship to overcome this barrier of sin.  The remarkable thing about the Jews is that they were totally concerned about ethics and the right way to live, while we today seem to be mainly concerned about science and knowledge about our universe, even while the world is destroying itself through greed, hatred, and pollution.

The Jews were concerned about God’s moral law and not God’s natural law, however they recognized miracles as extraordinary signs from God.  The scientific world took the idea of God’s rule over humanity through laws and applied it to nature to produce the concept of natural laws.   

You are right in saying that naturalism does not leave any place for God working through evolution and that is wrong.  However your statement that God is completely other from Creation would seem to agree with that position.  God the Father “designed” the universe through the Logos, Jesus Christ, God the Father sustains it and guides it through the Logos and the Spirit.     

You are right that both Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists are caught up in dualistic thinking, but you have not offered an alternative position which is what I am trying to do.  Agnosticism is not an alternative.    



James R - #65767

October 26th 2011

Hello, Roger.

Yes, it’s true that man is akin to God, in that he is in God’s “image and likeness”.  But note two things. 

First, an image or likeness is still markedly different from the thing itself, and markedly inferior.  In a photograph you see only two dimensions, not three.  In the mirror you see things reversed.  And the image in all cases has no independence; your statue cannot move, as you can; the image of you on the video camera will not move if you don’t.  So there is a huge chasm in “being” between something and its image.  So it is with man and God.  Man is the most like God of all created things, and therefore above all other created things, but he is still far below God in being and status.

Second, note that man is the only being said to be in the image and likeness of God.  No other created thing is.  And of course this is deeply connected with the prohibition on image-making, with its connection to idolatry.  So you cannot generalize and say that nature is close to God because man is close to God.  Man is a unique part of nature in that respect.  The gulf between God and nature remains.

If you want God and nature more closely integrated, so that nature (trees, mountains, rivers, animals, forests, etc.) takes on some divine attributes, and God takes on some natural attributes, you have to go in for pagan religion.  Some people have chosen that route, in part because they think that monotheistic religion has denigrated and abused nature.  But that’s not an option for the followers of the Abrahamic religions.

Thus, it is not merely sin which separates human beings from God; it is also “existential otherness” as you put it.  Even if we had never sinned, there would still be a huge distance between the divine nature and our created nature (albeit one with a spiritually important communications channel between the two).  I highly recommend Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, on this subject. 

You wrote:  “You are right in saying that naturalism does not leave any place for God working through evolution.”  But that misstates my point.  My point was that naturalism allows God to work only through evolution, where evolution is conceived of as a wholly mechanistic process which involves no divine guidance and is never punctuated by fresh acts of creation.  I’m saying that theistic evolution—at least, as expressed by the majority of its famous and vocal proponents in books and on the lecture circuit and on the internet—adopts this form of naturalism.  I don’t think this restriction of divine activity has any basis in the Bible or the tradition.

That God is completely other does not in the least restrict him from performing miracles or intervening in the evolutionary process to guide it.  He has the power to do with nature what he chooses.  Indeed, it is because he is completely beyond nature in power and intellect that he can alter it at will.

I like your linking of the Logos to the idea of design.  That in fact is a very old tradition.  In some medieval artwork, the Second Person of the Trinity is shown as doing the detailed work of creation; God the Father (the First Person) provides the raw existence of things, but the Logos provides the intelligent craftsmanship.  But this link between Trinitarian theology and design, which you and I see, is never discussed by theistic evolutionists.  They appear to want to get design not only out of science, but out of their theology of creation.   For them, God creates through non-design, through processes which spit out a facsimile of design.  I think this is incompatible with either the Old or New Testament conception of creation.

On your last paragraph, I didn’t accuse anyone of dualistic thinking.  I accused the theistic evolutionists of naturalism and I accused both camps of dogmatism.  But you are right; I am not trying to promote any alternative here.  I see my function as analytical and critical.  I leave it to greater minds to propose a better theology of creation.  But I’ve already indicated my view that some combination of evolution and design seems to me to be compatible both with science and with theological orthodoxy.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65785

October 27th 2011

James R,

Thank you for your reasoned response.

Where I clearly disagree with you and the other theologically minded people on this blog is concerning the gap between humanity and God.  In my opinion which I think that I can base on the Biblical record, the gap is caused by sin, while you and others say that it is the result of the different natures of God and humanity.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

I understand how ypou have come to this conclusion, based on a long philosophical and religious tradition, but please hear me out when I say that the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ, proves this wrong.  Jesus is God with us and the the Holy Spirit is God in us.  Jesus broke down the barrier of sin that alone separate us from God and gave us eternal life which is fellowship (sharing, communion) with God right now.

Forget that we will never be as powerful as God individually. God’s power is important but not the key to Who God is.  Also collectively and individually as the Body of Christ we do have great power. 

Forget that we will never be as knowldegable as God individually.  God’s knowedge is important, but as Paul tells the Corinthians it is not the key to who God is.  Also collectively and individually through science we do have great knowledge.     

As Paul and 1 John say Love is the key to Who and What God is and we receive love and the ability to love through the Holy Spirit.  “Be perfect as God the Father is perfect” by loving everyone, even the unjust, as Jesus loves you.

Gen 1 says humans are made in God’s image.  An image is not a picture or statue.  It is a form.  Col 1:15 NIV states, “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God.”  Jesus was God because He is God perfect image.  (Heb 1:3 NIV)  “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” Humans are not an exact image of God until they are perfected by God’s Spirit.

If God and humans are utterly different, then Jesus could not be both God and human.  If should be noted that Jesus was not both God and human, semi-God and semi-human as Atlas was, Jesus is fully, completely, wholly, and perfectly God and fully, completely, wholly, and perfectly human. 

This what the Bible says.  This is what the Church believes.  This is the message of salvation that gives meaning to Life and Reality that the lost world needs to hear.

For more information google my website.       




James R - #65791

October 27th 2011


We are talking at cross purposes.  You think I am denying something that I am not denying.

I was originally speaking about the gap between God and nature.  By nature I meant what people normally mean by nature—rocks, trees, rivers, sand, stars, planets, dandelions, mushrooms, mountains, elephants, etc.  Nothing tricky. 

There is a colossal gap between God and all these things. 

This is not some modern heresy of mine.  It’s plain all throughout the Bible, from Genesis through revelation.  It’s stated by every Christian theologian, Protestant and Catholic.  God is distinct from that which he creates.  God could exist without the world, but the world could not exist without God.  And God is far beyond any of his creatures in power, wisdom, excellence, etc. 

Now for some reason unknown to me, you are calling this view “dualism,” and connecting it with Greek thought.  But it isn’t “dualism” in the normal sense in which that word is used in the study of religion.  In the study of religion, “dualism” usually refers to (1) The positing of two ultimate Gods, locked in eternal conflict, one good, one evil; (2) The dualism of body and soul, whereby soul is conceived of as entirely different in nature from body—intangible, invisible, immortal, etc.; (3) The dualism of a non-omnipotent Demiurge and a recalcitrant matter.

The first type of dualism is found in Zorastrianism.  The second and third types of dualism are often said to be characteristic of Greek thought, and I presume that this is where you are coming from when you call dualism “Greek.”  But the distinction between Creator and creature is not the same as either (2) or (3).  It is not Greek in origin, and it is rarely, if ever, characterized as “dualism.”

Roger, do you acknowledge that God is distinct from the world which he created?  Another way of putting it is this:  are you a theist?  If you distinguish God from the world, you are a theist.  If you blur God into the world, then you are a pantheist, a polytheist, etc.  I assume that since you are a Christian you are a theist.  Then you must distinguish God from the world, as Creator from creature.

Your current reply is all about the Incarnation.  I didn’t deny the meeting of God and man in the Incarnation.  But that has nothing to do with the status of “nature” overall.  The Incarnation is special, unique event, in which God overlaps with human nature only—not plant nature, not animal nature, not mineral nature.  God was not incarnated as a rutabaga or an armadillo or a lump of iron ore.

I’ve already granted that human beings are special, in that only they are created in the image of God.  That ranks them far above all other created things.  Only they are given dominion over other creatures.  So if you think that I am downgrading human nature, you are misunderstanding me.  But no human ranks equally with God, unless you count Jesus, but Jesus is a special case because his divine part, the Logos, was uncreated.  No purely created being has ever achieved that status.  So the distinction between Creator and creature remains; there are no exceptions.  The gap between Creator and creature is good, solid, Hebraic thought, not “Greek” at all, and not “dualistic” at all. 

I don’t understand why we are not communicating here.  Is it a question of vocabulary?  Are you using “dualism” and “nature” differently from the way I am using these terms?  If so, then we may have a difference of words, rather than a difference of substance.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65833

October 28th 2011

James R

Thank you for pointing out where we differ so I can try to address these issues.  First please do not think that I am criticizing you.  I am criticizing the way that people in the West have understood philosophy and the world for a long time.

In terms of dualism, dualism is a world view that divides the world into two opposing categories.  It is said to have originated in Persian with the Zooroastrian faith, which still survives in India.  Augustine was attracted to dualism as a young student.

When you divide Reality into the Creator and the Creation, you have a dualistic world view.  That is the Old Testament world view as opposed to the pantheistic pagan monistic world view where the Gods and the universe were one. 

The problem with the OT dualistic world view is that humans need a mediator between us and God.  In some sense we had that through the Covenant and the Bible which is the Book of the Covenant.  However God saw that something else was needed to the Father sent the Son to act as a mediator to reconcile us and the universe to God through the Holy Spirit. 

Thus in the NT, under the new Covenant of Jesus Christ we do not have a dualism between God the Creator and the “World,” but a tripartite structure, God the Creator, The Creation and the Mediators, God the Logos and the Spirit.

The other problem is the incompatibility of the human nature which is physical and the divine nature which is spiritual.  You certainly point out the difference between rocks and God.  Traditional philosphy conforms this.  From my point of view we need to see if nature and God have anything in common, and I have found that are both complex/one relational entities. 

God is a complex/one in that God is the Trinity, and here is where I differ from those who say that God has an essence which is simple.  Matter is complex/simple because it is composed of atoms made up of three basic particles with three different charges. 

Humans are different from God is substance, but we and the rest of creation share the same basic relational image of God, so we are not utterly or completely other.  Relational theology saves Christianity from OT dualism, while pointing out that Christians share our covenantal undersatnding of faith with our Jewish brothers and sisters. 

You should be aware that you described the Creation as “utterly other” from God.  This brought to mind the concept of Paul Tillich, who was a fine theologian, that God is Wholly Other.  While I admire much of the work of Tillich, I sharply disagree on this important point. 


James R - #65846

October 28th 2011


Thank you.  You have confirmed what I suspected, i.e., that we have been using the word “dualism” in a different sense. 

In the scholarly usage, dualism is not just any old division of reality into two different types of things, but the reduction of reality to two different ultimate principles.  The division you are speaking of—God and nature—is not, for either a Christian or Jew, a division into two different ultimate principles, since for the Christian and the Jew there is only one ultimate principle, God, and all else derives from Him.  Nature has no being or status independent of God.  There is no difference at all between the Old Testament and the New Testament on this point.  Nor does this basic monotheistic doctrine have anything to do with “Greek” ideas.

You can of course use words in any way that you wish, but if you use them in a non-standard way, you will be misunderstood, especially in the case of technical terms like “dualism,” where readers familiar with the field will assume that if you are using a technical term you are intending the technical meaning.

It is not profitable to quarrel over mere words.  I agree with you that there is a distinction or division or dichotomy between God and the world of nature which he created.  I just think it is confusing to refer to that distinction as dualism.  So I will leave this subject at that.

By the way, I did not get my notion of “wholly other” from Tillich.  The phrase may have come from him (I don’t know), but the idea can be found in many theologians.  I got it, most likely, from Rudolf Otto.  No general endorsement of the theology of Tillich is intended or should be inferred.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65862

October 29th 2011

James R,

There is an ancient philosophical conundrum called the One and the Many, which we are discussing here.  You like many others think you know the answer to this problem, but you do not.

I will not try to explain the answer in this format, but I will tell you where you can find it.  You can find it in any one of my three books.  

James R - #65900

October 29th 2011

Hi, Roger.

I did not claim to have solved the problem of the One and the Many, and I have no idea why anything I said would cause you to think so.

If you have solved the problem of the One and the Many, you can write your own ticket in the world of academic philosophy.  Harvard, Oxford, Paris, Marburg —any philosophy department would hire you instantly.  So I would encourage you to submit your work through proper academic channels, where it can be evaluated for its soundness, and can receive the reward due to it. 

And now I shall make my exit.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65910

October 30th 2011

James R,

Why do you think that you are not qualified to evaluate a solution to the problem of the One and the Many?

Since I am not an academician, please advise me how to submit my work.  

James R - #65916

October 30th 2011


I have many demands on my time now and cannot undertake to read your books.  In any case, while I may well be intellectually qualified to evaluate your work, I have no direct connection with the academic world of philosophy professors, and therefore have no ability to certify your work.  My opinion might be useful to you intellectually, but will be of no use to you politically.

What you need is some champions inside philosophy departments to shepherd your writing through in the form of either an article in a peer-reviewed philosophy journal, or a book with a good academic publisher.  So if you are convinced that you have solved the problem of the one and the many, you need to start writing letters to potentially friendly philosophy faculty members.

If there is a university near where you live, you might arrange an appointment with one of the professors of Greek philosophy there, where you could present something you have written and leave it with him/her to read.  If interest is shown, you are on your way.  If not, you will have to try other professors or other schools. 

Alternately, you could go to the nearest university library, and ask the librarian to see copies of the ten most circulated philosophy journals, and get the publication requirements (length of articles, format, etc.) from the front end pages, and then try to turn a chapter of one of your books into an article, and submit it. 

The latter course is harder, as journal editors may be disinclined to even read an article submitted by someone who does not hold a position or is not enrolled in a Ph.D. program in philosophy.  This is why it would be wise to get some advice from someone on the inside first, who could tell you the journals that would be your best bet, and also give you advice on what parts of your writing would be of the most interest to academic students of philosophy.

If you were trained in a seminary, perhaps one of the professors of Christian thought there has training in philosophy and could advise you on how to crack into the world of academic philosophy, or at least could recommend a Christian-friendly philosopher for you to write to. 

Best wishes.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #65921

October 31st 2011

James R,

Thank you for taking the time in your busy schedule to give me your advice.  I have in my own way been trying to interest professors of theology in my concept of relational theology and thinking, but have only received tentative acceptance.

My quest reminds me of the novel, Not by Bread Alone, which was the story of a young Soviet inventor who had discovered a new machine based on new technology.  He needed a patent, but was frustrated at every hand because his ideas were always submitted to the same “expert” who was also working on a machine that used less efficient technology.  The book was used as proof that the Soviet system did not work, but we also have similar problems.

The issue seems to be that one must go beyond historical philosophical and theological ideas to meet today’s intellectual crisis, which very few people seem willing to do.  I thought that may be you might be one of them, but it seems that you are not. 

I agree, the solution of the one and the many problem is very important to the intellectual life of humanity.  I wish more people were willing to look at new ways to solving it, rather than stay on the treadmill of monism or dualism.       

beaglelady - #65705

October 24th 2011

You are right that I’m less squeemish about attributing everything to
God—even all the calamities of the world (following old testament
tradition in doing so)

That’s the angry God who wants to fry us all, the caricature that atheists love to exploit.

So God causes all the calamities of the world (instead of just permitting them),  but poor people are disproportionally affected by disasters.  Bad karma?

Merv - #65712

October 24th 2011

Well, I try not to let atheists drive my theology; all I can do is hope that when my turn comes, I hope to be able to say along with Job:  “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” 

We have free will, followed closely by evil.  We can blame natural disasters on God, but we can also ask the question:  why are the poor so disproportionately affected?  Come judgment day, I don’t think you or I are going to like the answer when God turns the question back on us.

If I point a loaded gun at somebody and pull the trigger, we can come up for all sorts of reasons why the person died.  Was it the bullet?  Or was it the gunpowder?  Or was it the gun?  Or was it me?  If one believes in freewill and responsibility  (I do)—the answer is “me” which does not mean the others things aren’t true.  So in a sense one can even blame God; because his faithful laws were part of the chain of events leading a bullet to do what it does.  But as a believer in freewill, I know that I’m the one who would be answering for it.  In the end, when God gets through with me, I’m not so sure who really would have the worst Karma:  me or the recipient of the bullet.  God is sovereign over it all, but I’m more worried about the “hook” I’m on rather than trying to get God “off the hook”.  (Just to be clear—all talk of guns above is fictional—may it stay that way!)


James R - #65716

October 24th 2011

This is an excellent answer, Merv.  If all theistic evolutionists affirmed the sovereignty of God as concretely and clearly as you do—i.e., not merely as a motherhood phrase that shows its lack of sincerity when it backs away the moment the facts of suffering and evil in the world are presented—the tension between intelligent design and theistic evolution camps would be greatly reduced.  And that would be wonderful, because they should be going after Dawkins etc. together, not after each other. 

beaglelady - #65723

October 25th 2011

You are the one who said that God is responsible for all the calamities of the world.  You think therefore that he is responsible for earthquakes, famine, and the like.

penman - #65718

October 25th 2011

James R #65709

“if want my fuller view on the matter, it is that the Fall changed only
the very specific things that are itemized in Genesis 3, and that there
was no “general fall of nature” caused by the deed of Adam and Eve.  In
other words, creation remained mostly the same as described in Genesis
1.  This means that “natural evils” (predation, pain, hunger,
parasitism, animal death) were intended by God, not things that intruded
upon creation as a result of the Fall.  I can defend that view at
length, both with extensive Biblical and intertestamental passages, and
with reference to later tradition”

We’re singing from the same hymn-sheet, then. Thanks for clarifying! Passages from “later tradition” would be fascinating (I’ve collected a few) - do you have a website where you’ve noted them? Jon Garvey has a useful series on his website on “the myth of a fallen creation”, with some references to Augustine.

James R - #65733

October 25th 2011

beaglelady (65724):

Sometimes the nested replies work for me; other times they don’t.  This time, no window would pop up, so I have to answer by starting a new sequence.

I am not saying that your view of God and evolution is in itself incoherent or wrong.  What I am saying is that I don’t see any basis for it in either the Bible or the Christian tradition.

Your answers seem to indicate a great confidence that you know what God would do, what his aims are, etc.  But your assertions about God, whether right or wrong, do not seem to me to be coming from Genesis, or from Augustine, or from Calvin, or Luther, or Hooker, or Cranmer, or from the catechism of the Catholic Church, or from commentaries on Genesis approved by various church authorities.  They seem to be your own free construct, a fusion of your ideas about God with what you think that science teaches regarding evolution.  And I don’t begrudge you your right to construct your own view.  The question is whether you can successfully ground your opinions in the tradition of orthodox Christian thought.

I don’t think that God cares about skin color or wisdom teeth, either.  But whether someone is black or white, with wisdom teeth or without, I can tell that he or she is a human being and not a goat or a cactus or a gorilla.  You are focusing on tiny defects or variations in the execution of the human form, and missing the obvious point that Genesis is teaching that God intended, not some vague evolutionary possibility, but human beings.

I put the word “hypothetical” in front of my intelligent animals.  I do not think it likely that the insect body model could ever produce intelligence.  But note that cetaceans and octopodes are known to be very intelligent; and I can easily extend, in my imagination, their evolutionary development so that it reaches an intelligent form.  The same might be true of some doglike or other carnivorous mammal.  Your words all along, including in your latest post, leave open this possibility, i.e., that God might have been content with a clearly non-human creature, as long as it was intelligent in the sense that you mean.  And my point was that this is not what the Bible and the tradition have taught.

How can God “intend” both what did evolve and what didn’t (“might have” implies “didn’t”) evolve?  He is omnipotent and therefore anything he intends will occur.  Clearly, not every possibility occurred; therefore, he did not intend those possibilities that did not occur.  You are using the word “intend” in a very strange way.

It appears to me that you wish to have it both ways.  You seem to want the openness and indeterminateness of evolution that we find in, say, Gould; but you also seem to want to be able to say that God intended something.  But there is no reason—on your account of evolution (or Gould’s) —that evolution had to produce any particular thing.  Not only did it not have to produce man; it didn’t have to produce any equivalent of man in intelligence or spiritual possibility.  It might well have settled in (depending on environmental conditions) at much simpler levels of organic existence.  So how did God ensure that evolution would produce the intelligent, spiritual being of which you speak?  How could he have insured it, if, as you imply, he kept his hands off the process from the moment of the first life (and, if your naturalism is consistent, from the moment of the Big Bang)?

beaglelady - #65807

October 27th 2011

Do you see humans as a single species, and for all time?  Is God primarily focused on an inventory of body parts, and not mental qualities?

James R - #65814

October 27th 2011


I’m not going answer theological questions based on ad hoc speculations of my own.  Neither the Bible nor the tradition tells us what God is “focused on,” and I don’t pretend to be able to read the divine Mind.  I’m arguing empirically, not speculatively.  I’m looking at what the texts say.

The writings that became the book of Genesis were composed somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000-500 years before Christ.  The notion of “man” in those writings was based on the empirical experience of those writers with human beings as they knew them.  The human beings that they knew were both physically and mentally the same as the human beings that we know today.  Thus, when they wrote that God created man, they meant that God created beings like us today.  There is no need to catalogue all the various physical and mental characteristics which make up man in order to understand what they meant.  They meant that we were intended by God.  God willed that we should exist.  Not that any old intelligent being should exist, with perhaps a radically different physiology, but that we specifically should exist.  That’s what the texts say, and that’s what the tradition says.

You don’t have to accept the texts or the tradition; you can adopt a non-orthodox understanding of them, or you can be a non-Christian entirely, as you please.  I would never take away anyone’s right to be a heretic or infidel.  All I’m asking is that you do not represent some private view of your own as what the Bible and the tradition have taught.

I don’t see much engagement with my careful and detailed argumentation in your short and mostly interrogative replies.  I don’t hear any even partial concessions such as “That’s a good point; however ...”  I have the impression, based on your replies not only to me but also to others, that concessions of any kind are not your conversational style.  And I have no wish for this discussion to turn into a perpetual repetition of one person saying black and the other reflexively saying white.  So I think I will break things off at this point.  I thank you for your many replies and hope that one or more of my comments will be of intellectual use to you somewhere down the road.

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