Stress and God’s Built-in Neuro-sabbath

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October 9, 2013 Tags: Brain, Mind & Soul, Science as Christian Calling, Worship & Arts

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team and features John Van Sloten. You can read more about what we believe here.

Stress and God’s Built-in Neuro-sabbath
Image credit: Scott Liddell

Stressed much? If not, you probably know someone who is. It’s not an uncommon complaint these days—but luckily, “God has built a stress-regulating mechanism into the very physiology of your brains.” Hearing pastor John Van Sloten of New Hope Church in Calgary preach on the discovery one of his parishioners made regarding a stress-regulating mechanism in the hypothalamus is an inspiring look at how some of the intricacies of our biological makeup speak to a loving creator God who lives in the details as truly as he does in the big picture.

Watch the sermon here.

 


John Van Sloten is the senior pastor of New Hope Church in Calgary, Canada. Previously, he worked as a real estate developer in Toronto (planning and constructing shopping centers, office towers, etc). For the past 10 years, he and others have been building the unique vision and community of New Hope Church.


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Jon Garvey - #82819

October 9th 2013

I found that opioids are made and released by cells to shut down communication lines. If you can imagine that during a stressful event, many brain cells begin to panic and yell at one another, opioids are used by these particular cells to lower the volume or hang up the phone so that neurons don’t become overwhelmed.

The “God who lives in the details” is the God whose providence, in this case, has designed a specific (and hitherto hidden) micro-neurological system into the integrated whole that is a human body. For which all God’s people say “Hallelujah!”

Such a doctrine of providence would also, classically, say that God was responsible for the design of the system in which brain cells begin to “panic and yell at one another” under the stress that, by his Creatorial wisdom, he also factors in to our lives. That, in historical Christianity, is the mystery of providence (“Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face).

Now I’ve been observing here for a couple of years that many TEs say that God does not “micro-manage” nature, and evolution is, in fact, a quasi-autonomous process (“given limited freedom by God”), and that we must distance God’s will  from badly designed or error-ridden details like (specifically cited) the human jaw, the human spine, the human retina, parasitic DNA and many other examples, up to and including the possibility that God did not will mankind specifically, but was pleased that one (any) species became rational and able to experience his love.

So my question is, of the Editorial Team who wrote this piece, is Jon Van Sloten’s conclusion about the detail of God’s wise provision to be taken as paradigmatic of the understanding of theistic evolution in toto, ie that it is a process directed by God towards his detailed aims (such as the hypothalamic stress pathway)?

Or alternatively is such a providential gift as this mechanism seen as, somehow, grafted on to a process operating, in other areas, under Darwininan chance and necessity (aka “creation’s freedom from divine coercion and interference”)? And if the latter, how would one decide what in evolution is ordained by God’s purpose, and what is not?

Or is science to be carefully segregated from devotional matters so these mutually contradictory ideas can somehow be held at the same time?


James Stump - #82835

October 10th 2013

Hi Jon, I hesitate to speak for BioLogos (let alone for all theistic evolutionists).  There are several live options available to Christians for trying to understand God’s action in relation to natural processes.  So in answer to your specific question, no, this is not intended as paradigmatic for how all theistic evolutionists must understand divine action.  I will say for myself, though, that providence and sovereignty need not be understood as determinism.  There are some theological traditions which seem to equate those, and it becomes very difficult to square evolutionary processes with such an understanding.  But a sovereign need not dictate every event; God’s sovereignty over the created order can be understood as his guaranteeing  the end.  His goals for all of creation will be achieved.  Within that process, it seems to me that there are lots of contingent events (did humans really need to have 5 fingers?).  And the scientific description of such events will appeal to natural processes that we come to understand (like micro-neurological systems).  Understanding a natural process without gaps (in which God would have to perform miracles to keep the systems going) does not preclude God’s superintending role over even the smallest details.


hanan-d - #82836

October 10th 2013

>Within that process, it seems to me that there are lots of contingent events (did humans really need to have 5 fingers?). 

Pardon me, but what is the difference between humans having 5 fingers or humans existing at all? The same random- natural selection that brought on 5 fingers at a certain point in history also brought upon the rise of humans. So let’s back up a bit. Did humans really need to exist? And if so, how would God have made sure of that?

 

thank you


Chip - #82823

October 9th 2013

As always, excellent questions Jon. We’ll see if any equally excellent answers are proposed.

Indeed, the picture painted in the referenced piece is one of a God who does indeed manage at the micro level.  The problem is identified (excessive stress); a goal for addressing the problem is proposed (shutting down communication lines so neurons don’t become overwhelmed), and a solution is implemented (opioids are made and released).

Given the data, the “hallelujah” conclusion you propose seems both appropriate and reasonable.


Jon Garvey - #82837

October 10th 2013

James

Thanks for your reply. My problem is the apparently rather arbitrary distinction between stuff-God-does and stuff-God-doesn’t-do, and a rather ill-defined relationship of that with the specific processes of evolution. Hanan-d is right to point out the illogic of a provident stress-mechanism given to a contingently pentadactyl species - which may well itself be just as contingent, according to many TEs.

From the article, the “neuro-sabbath” mechanism is considered to be God’s provision. In providential terms, then, we can regard it as at least a subordinate end of God (subject to his higher ends for mankind or the world). But it’s by no means clear whether it is being regarded in the article as God’s provision via a natural process - in which case that process is subject to his close direction - or whether it is seen as a supernatural add-on, with no clear grounds given for making a distinction.

Conversely, you cite pentadactyly as an example of contingency - which suggests that were I to write an article parallel to the OP on the optimality of five digits for, say, playing the saxophone, or prayer, I’d be attributing to God something that was, in fact, contingent. Yet Lou Jost and I were actually discussing pentadactyly not long ago: despite the ease with which digit numbers can vary genetically, and the frequency of, for example, six-fingered humans, pentadactyly has remained constant since the first vertebrates with limbs appeared in the palaeozoic. Digits have been lost to specialisiation, eg in the ungulates, but even Mr Panda got his extra thumb from a sesamoid, not an extra digit. Five remains the norm throughout the animal kingdom.

This suggests either that there is a selective advantage in five, or that there is some kind of Platonic form (as much as to say God likes that pattern - quite compatible with natural processes) or, at very least, that polydactyly is invariably genetically linked to some other greatly disadvantageous trait. In any case, it must be pretty fundamental to the vertebrate line. So by what criterion do we class the neuro-sabbath as God’s benevolent will, and polydactyly as merely contingent?

You say:

“Understanding a natural process without gaps (in which God would have to perform miracles to keep the systems going) does not preclude God’s superintending role over even the smallest details.”

And I say “Amen” to that - it was at the heart of the classical view of providence as exemplified by Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin. But that follows your previous sentence about contingency, which can only rationally lead to the conclusion that God superintends even the smallest details ... except for what is contingent (and I originally cited several specific examples of what TEs have said would even be blasphemous to ascribe to God’s superintendence - genetic errors, bad design and so on). So once more, who gets to decide what is God’s handiwork, and what is fortuitous?

Looking at it another way, for God to be able to superintend even the smallest details by a natural process without any gaps for miracles, that process must be sufficient to express his will. For God to will the neuro-sabbath mechanism as an end, and to ordain that the evolutionary process achieve it, it is a logical necessity that evolution be a precise enough process to fulfil that end.

It’s no different conceptually from my willing this post to emerge on the BioLogos comment column. I choose to type it on a computer keyboard because that tool is apt to the task: I am being provident in the sense Aquinas defines providence: like a householder who manages his affairs well. If instead I wrote it in shorthand and asked a drunken teenager to Google the BioLogos address and type it up when he gets home, I should be very likely not to achieve my aim. Because the chosen process is too contingent, I am  being improvident in using it to post to BioLogos.

Much of the “freedom of nature” theology espoused by many TEs arises from the fact that, unlike in Darwin’s day, evolution is currently seen as a blunt instrument, producing at best general trends (like Conway Morris’s convergent evolution) or at worst sheer happenstance (as per Gould). Neutral theory and neo-catastrophism, to name but two, have added to the contingency believed to be inherent in evolution. Darwin and the first TEs could see evolution as as a highway towards (God’s) perfection, but modern TEs like Howard Van Till and many others have made a virtue of necessity by glorifying that contingency and denying outright that God would “superintend even the smallest detail”. Even if he could… which is doubtful if he uses such a clunky paintbrush as Neodarwinian evolution.

So what of this neuro-sabbath mechanism? Is it an example of God’s careful supervision of all things (including what we limited humans call contingent, but which classical theology as well as the Bible included within “providence”) towards our good, and towards his ends, as in the classical view? Or is it something else - a miraculous exception to blind, aka “free”, evolution, maybe? Or a pious attribution of a fortuitously beneficial coincidence (like my five fingers and a saxophone) to a divine providence with which we’re not really on board?

I don’t think BioLogos has fully worked through the “theistic” part of theistic evolution. As David L Wilcox wrote (and I reproduce his emphasis):

Theistic evolution by definition means the directed realization of God’s eternal decrees by his absolute control of all natural processes.


James Stump - #82839

October 10th 2013

A few more thoughts:

1.  I’m speaking in the terminology of philosophy when I claim that pentadactyly is a contingent feature of human beings.  That is to say, human beings could exist as human beings with a different number of fingers.  So the point is that God could will for human beings to exist and establish processes that would bring that about, without dictating the number of fingers they would end up.  I’m attracted to Conway Morris’s claims that it is reasonable to conclude from the evidence that intelligent life is an inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes (a sort of anthropic principle in the realm of biology).  But there is more than one way for that to happen.  And perhaps the neuro-Sabbath mechanism is just one way to achieve its ends. 

2.  I would reject Wilcox’s definition about absolute control.  Again, I recognize there are theological traditions for which this point is non-negotiable.  But that’s not my tradition, and I don’t feel saddled with incorporating that into any explanations (and in fact I think it is hugely problematic… but that is a different discussion).

3.  Finally, I’d suggest that we shouldn’t let an inability to articulate a precise epistemology force us to conclude that there is no metaphysical difference between what God does directly and what he does indirectly.  Your point is fair that we don’t always know what to attribute to God and what not to (in the direct sense).  Different people will come to different conclusions.  I hope that the BioLogos position is wide enough for people of different convictions to talk about this.

Thanks for the good conversation.

(edit: changed “ability” to “inability”)


Eddie - #82844

October 11th 2013

James:

I appreciate the modesty and gentle tone of your comments.  

I’d like to pick up on your point about “what God does directly and what he does indirectly.”  

For me, “direct versus indirect” is not the main issue.  The main issue is “planned versus unplanned.”  For example, if God packed all the information needed to evolve homo sapiens into the first cell, in such a way that the emergence of homo sapiens was inevitable, without any further direct intervention on God’s part, that would be “indirect” rather than “direct” creation of man by God, but God’s sovereignty over the outcome would be preserved in a way that would satisfy any traditional Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox theology.  And it’s that sovereignty, that claim that God’s plans are carried out, that seems to me to be the main issue—not whether God poofs things into existence or generates them via the intermediacy of natural causes.

On the other hand, many of the TE leaders seem to be saying either that God hasn’t in fact planned the outcomes, or else that his plans are not always perfectly carried out, and in some cases are very badly carried out.  Jon has mentioned Ayala’s view, but Ayala’s view is found in varying ways in statements of Ken Miller, and of Venema, Falk, etc.  Certainly statements to the effect that God might have been satisfied with a more intelligent octopus or more advanced dinosaur have been put forward by Ken Miller and by a number of TEs as a serious theological consideration:  but such a view implies that God “makes do” with whatever nature spits out once the evolutionary ball gets rolling, which doesn’t sound much like the Biblical or Christian God to me.

Did man have to have a five-fingered hand to be human?  No; but if the five-fingered hand in man is an accident that God did not intend, the Christian theology behind such a claim needs some explaining by the TEs that hold it.  Similarly, if the asteroid that allegedly wiped out the dinosaurs, thus paving the way for the age of mammals—and for us—was not something that God intended, in the strong sense, what does that say about us?  Does “Let us make man” mean “Let us hope that an asteroid will come along at the right time to hit the Yucatan so that man can emerge?”  Or can we take if for granted that God fixed that event—and all its antecedent causes back to the Big Bang?  And if that’s the case for the asteroid strike, is it the case for the chain of mutations which produced vertebrates, then amphibians, then reptiles, then mammals, then primates, then hominids, then man?  Did God do something to make sure that such a chain of mutations occurred?  Or was he merely rolling the genetic dice and singing, “Luck be a Lady Tonight”?

Here’s another angle on this:  there have been many columns on BioLogos celebrating the amazing creative powers of “randomness.”  We’ve had columns with pictures of little magnetized (but of course carefully cut and shaped) pieces being shaken up randomly and forming into spheres, with the assertion that therefore evolution by random mutations would be easy, and that God uses randomness to create men out of microbes.  We’ve had no columns on God’s sovereignty, providence, etc.  No systematic discussions of the views of creation of Calvin, Boethius, Athanasius, Hooker, Luther, Augustine, etc.  It’s more than a little odd that 5-6 years into its mandate, BioLogos is still not tackling the question of how randomness and providence, sovereignty, etc. are to be related, given that the whole point of the organization is to show the compatibility of neo-Darwinism with orthodox Christian creation doctrine.

As I’ve said before to the point of boring readers out of their skulls, BioLogos appears to think that the main reason conservative evangelicals don’t accept evolution is that they don’t understand the scientific arguments; hence, its efforts are almost entirely on the scientific side, with such theological comments as are made being generally pious occasional glosses to the scientific discussions.  But the main reason that conservative evangelicals don’t accept evolution is that the form of evolution presented to them—the neo-Darwinian—gives them no confidence that the Christian biologists advocating it believe that God was actually in control of the outcomes of the process.  They have strong reasons for suspecting that many TE leaders hold to historically unorthodox views of creation, providence, sovereignty, etc.  (Not to mention the Fall!)

So again I say:  BioLogos needs to present more theology—lots more theology—and not in the form of pious glosses, or motherhood statements about theology and science each being true in their sphere.  It needs to present systematic statements by leading TEs about how they conceive of God’s role in the evolutionary process.  As long as that task is avoided, BioLogos will score very, very few converts from the conservative evangelical side, and not very many more even from the moderate evangelical side.  It will remain a project primarily of relatively liberal evangelicals.  And I suspect that there is a “glass ceiling” for such a project, and that this ceiling has very nearly been reached, so that pouring more money and time into cajoling evangelicals into looking at Tiktaalik or human-chimp genome comparisons will have steadily diminishing returns.  A rousing affirmation of Calvin’s or Augustine’s theologies of sovereignty, omnipotence, providence, and creation, coming from important TE leaders, would bring in ten times as many converts to TE.  The question is why such affirmations are few and far between in the TE community.


hanan-d - #82841

October 10th 2013

That quote by Wilcox is great. The problem is, the reality of the situation is, well, problematic. How IS one supposed to reconcile the theistic and the evolution when they are tugging in two different direction and talk about two different things.

The theistic is about a God that directed his creation and specifically wanted mankind for a purpose. It’s about a God that is involved.

The evidence behind evolution through natural selection as we are taught is about randomness and chance. As they say, wind the clock again, and you will get something different. This doesn’t just speak about biological evolution but the overall evolution of the cosmos and our planet? Randomness and chance perfectly explain cancer, tectonic plates, tsunamis and parisitic worms. 

If someone can make a compelling case how these two thins fit, I will hand over my third born son.*

 

*metaphoric of course. 


Jon Garvey - #82842

October 11th 2013

James

Although I’m no philosopher, I think we’re both thinking of contingency in philosophical terms, though I was unsure whether you were using it in relation to God’s will or merely to nature’s arbitrariness. It seems you mean the former -  God could be indifferent to digit-number in his willing human beings to exist… that he created an imprecise evolutionary process, as I discussed in my last comment. And so one must question how he could use it to build-in precisely “engineered” stress mechanisms in the brain.

But of course the same divine indifference might easily be true of the neuro-sabbath mechanism, making the OP no more than folk-piety: evolution was indifferent to our welfare, but it worked out so we asssign it to God.

You yourself seem to suggest, in your endorsement of Stuart Conway Morris, that the very form and evolutionary origin of man is contingent in that sense of divine laissez faire. Did God purpose - and according to Scripture create - “man”, or just “intelligent life”? Who said that intelligence is the core feature of mankind anyway?

Pentadactyly is not essential to humanity, true, in that amputees and polydactyls are still seen as human. The same, though, would be true of someone with deficient hypothalamic stress pathways. Or, theologically, of someone with advanced dementia, still human though no longer an intelligent being.

In fact you seem to have shifted the ground of contingency (speaking specifically of the non-rational creation) from that held by most historical traditions of Christianity. That pentadactyly is contingent to humanness actually implies nothing about God’s not “dictating” the number of digits we should have.

Boethius introduced the term contingency into philosophy in the 6th century, and by Aquinas’ time it was mainly seen as the basis for God’s freedom and sovereignty in creation: hands might have had any number of digits, but God chose to create five, which in the context of the unity of the form they inhabited he then called “man”. In that scholastic tradition, contingency had nothing to do with God’s indifference to outcome, but his freedom as Creator. Once God conceived man as (amongst all his other attributes) pentadactyl, contingency in that regard ceased. What is essential to man is what God created as man. Michaelangelo’s David could have had a moustache - but it didn’t because the sculptor foreclosed the contingency.

The reason for that is simple. As Jacobus Arminius later put it (from a divergent tradition):

“From an inspection of the matter and form, it is evident, First, that creation is the immediate act of God, alone, both because a creature, who is of a finite power is incapable of operating on nothing, and because such a creature cannot shape matter in substantial forms. Secondly. The creation was freely produced, not necessarily, because God was neither bound to nothing, nor destitute of forms.”

In other words, to attribute aspects of creation to any creature is to ascribe divinine creativity to it, and to render the creation, in effect, dualistic and demiurgic. The traditions that affirm that have usually been termed “heretical” or at least “polytheistic”.

You disagree with David Wilcox’s formulation of theistic evolution, though it closely reflects that of the first TEs like Asa Gray, Charles Kingsley and B B Warfield. The traditions which would endorse it would include, as far as I have studied them, the Catholic, the Orthodox, the Anglican, and within Evangelical doctrine the Lutheran (“In a mouse we admire God’s creation and craft work. The same may be said about flies” - Luther), the Reformed, and the Arminian (as above).

It may well be that theistic evolution encompasses other traditions, but the radical divergence of views thereby engendered ought to be put upfront and acknowledged as serious: it ranges from Wilcox’s “absolute control of all natural processes” as definitional for TE, to Francisco Ayala’s quote (writing for BioLogos):

“...the human genome, the human reproductive system, is so poorly designed. Do I want to attribute this egregiously defective design to God, to the omnipotent and benevolent God of the Christian faith? No, I don’t… To me, this attribution would amount to blasphemy.”

So belief, or not, in God’s univocal creation of (as the Bible puts it) “all things that exist” seems to be contingent to theistic evolution as a broad church. But is it contingent to BioLogos, viewed both as the alternative concept put forward by Francis Collis in The Language of God and an affiliation of Evangelical TEs? Are all traditions equally represented - indeed can they be when they differ on such a core issue as this?


hanan-d - #82853

October 11th 2013

Jon,

You are missing the issue just a bit. The reason BL may endorse a quote by Ayala is because for them, the evidence points to that direction. So one must first ask, is Ayala right? Is the human reproductive system and human genome poorly designed? If it is, there is a problem to both sides. The problem in your direction is how WOULD God create such a poorly designed system. And to Ayala, the usual question is the one we know about. What exactly is God doing in the first place other than just tossing the dice hoping something will come out. Lou Joust must be sitting and laughing at all this


Jon Garvey - #82854

October 11th 2013

Hi hanan-d

Interesting issue you raise: a private individual might find himself denying the Christian doctrine of the goodness of creation because of bad experience, or theological doubt, or his interpretation of science - but an organisation set up to show the compatibility of science and Biblical faith? Ayala defends God’s goodness by denying both his role as sole Creator and his testimony that his creation is “very good.”

But to the substantive issue, judging that a design is poor is (a) acknowledging it is designed and (b) placing your judgement over against that of the designer - in this case the God who considers every aspect of things and is subject to no man’s judgement - to the Evangelical, Romans 9.20 ought to be closely relevant.

I can only say that I spent an entire career closely involved with the bodies of my patients, and considered them very well designed indeed - indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made. The more I knew the detail, the more I was in awe. I’m not sure that being a population geneticist gives one any more authority in such a judgement.

To be specific, in the same article Ayala waxes equally vehemently against all the “parasitic Alu sequences” contaminating the human genome. That, of course, was written before ENCODE and the increasing realisation that Alu and other retrotransposons are of vital importance to evolution. He’ll be more entitled to criticise the design of the genome when he fully understands how the bloody thing works.

In the end, the ills present in the created order have been known to every generation first-hand - modern science has gained no new credentials whatsoever for moral judgement on them. Yet Christianity’s surprising doctrine of a good creation made to fulfil the will of a single God of love (the same God who died to redeem the world) swept aside the pessimistic pagan view ... until the Church began to slip into a neo-pagan doctrine that creation was tainted around about 1500. But that’s a story that belongs elsewhere, where I’ve documented it in some detail.


hanan-d - #82855

October 11th 2013

Hasn’t the ENCODE discovery been highly exagerting? That is what I keep getting from those that actually read the papers. That, no function has been found, but potential function (or something like that). Larry Moran seems to have written quite a lot on it and has said that more than anything, the media have made ENCODE into a bigger story than what scientists claimed. 


Eddie - #82856

October 11th 2013

hanan-d:

Have you made a point of reading not only Larry Moran, but those who say that Larry Moran is wrong?  For example, have you read Jonathan Wells’s book on junk DNA?  Unless you balance your reading, you will get only a one-sided perspective.  I assume you are interested in the truth, and therefore will read approximately equally on both sides of the question.  

Bear in mind also that when a scientist blogs, he is writing popular columns, not properly researched science.  I would suggest that, instead of relying on the kind of off-the-cuff remarks you find in his blogs, you try to find peer-reviewed articles by Larry Moran in the technical scientific literature, specifically on evolutionary theory.  I haven’t been able to find even one, but maybe I’m not looking in the right places.


Jon Garvey - #82858

October 11th 2013

Simple reply - the “vital importance to evolution” bit comes from the Wikipedia article on Alu - and Wiki is hardly a source baised towards the ENCODE position (I know, having followed closely the editorial battle on Wiki’s article on “Junk DNA” from the day the ENCODE results came out.)

I haven’t read much of the media hype, but did read the original ENCODE overview, some of the papers, some of the research arising therefrom and comment by biologists other than Larry Moran. The jury is out - and which side you’re on seems to depend on your commitment to traditional Neodarwinian orthodoxy. Kuhn is proven right again.

But that’s hardly the point - retrotransposons have undoubtedly been revealing more and more function, and for any scientist to conclude definitively that they are purely parasitic at the present state of ignorance, and to project from that to God’s non-involvement, is arrogant in the extreme.


Chip - #82848

October 11th 2013

If someone can make a compelling case how these two things fit, I will hand over my third born son.*

That really is the rub.    

James:

Thanks for the response.  At the risk of restating yet another variation of the same question, I’m not aware of anyone who would deny that “a sovereign need not dictate every event.”  On the other hand, what does sovereignty even mean if the sovereign doesn’t dictate any event?  If being 5-fingered is an example of contingency (even though you provide no evidence for this assertion—and while I am curious as to how you know this, let’s just accept it for the sake of argument), what concrete examples of non-contingent, planned or intended characteristics would you be willing to provide? 

Certainly you can understand that “intelligent life is an inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes” is not anywhere near the bar of “Let us create man in our own image.”  If BL truly holds to the latter, then you should be able to provide a fairly long list of characteristics about man that God intended.  If not—if it’s all contingency all the way down—then the BL view really does boil down to a weak variation of deism bolted on to a thoughtless, goalless process that didn’t have us in mind.  And it shouldn’t be too hard to understand why such a view is rejected by large numbers of christian theists, myself among them. 

Thanks. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82849

October 11th 2013

Jon,

I do not know if you were referring to me when say that TEs use the distinction between micromanaging and managing, but I know I have used this distinction in this area.

I should say that you misconstrue this idea.  The concept of managment is that you give people the tools, mental and physical to do a job.  You also monitor their work to make sure it is done well.  Micromanagment is not allowing them to do their work while keeping them responsible, but looking over their shoulder and making decisions for them as some bosses are apt to do.

God the Father gives us marvelous minds and bodies to live a good life.  God also gives Jesus Christ as a Guide and our Savior.  God the Holy Spirit gives Love and Peace.  God gives us all these things plus Providence to help us on our way, but God does not micromanage our lives by compelling us to use that mind and body for Good.  

What still bothers me is that no one has grasps my view that God’s guidance of evolution does not come through genetic variation, which is to a large extent by chance, but by creating a home or environment well and precisely suited for humans. 

The ecology that God has made gives us the tools and abilities we need to live for God.  Again God gives us the abilities and the tools, but does not directly control how we use them.    


Jon Garvey - #82850

October 11th 2013

Roger, You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t have you in mind at all regarding God and micro-management, and your post makes it clear why. Everything you say about it has reference to human affairs, and the freedom inherent in our conscious choices, and above I specifically exclude those and talk about the irrational creation and the blind (or not) processes of evolution.

The difference, as I’m sure you appreciate but those to whom I referred seem not to, is that to manage every detail of a human work or life situation is oppressive, whereas to manage the details of a non-rational creation is not. That is why gene manipulation is called “good science”, garden or farm micromanagement is called “good husbandry”, careful control of finances is called “good stewardship” - but close control of people is called slavery or manipulation.

One might add that Aquinas, ever alert to every objection as a provident philsopher should be, specifically deals with micromanagment in its pejorative sense, showing how it arises in human matters from fear and inadequacy and so cannot be attributed to God, who manages all things from total knowledge, intimate involvement - and of course necessary sustaining power. That is what is meant by his providence.

Now I have indeed disagreed with you before on why God’s intimate involvement in human affairs too is not coercive or oppressive - and there the root is that we differ on my classical theism and your theistic personalism. But that has no relevance to my (and Eddie’s, hanan-d’s and Chip’s points to James).

The point we are all making is that one needs to be clear about whether God really does give us “marvellous minds and bodies to live a good life” - including hypothalamic stress mechanisms, five fingers and toes, hominin form, mammalian ancestry, upright gait, retinae with a blindspot, a specific reproductive tract, a particular jaw structure - or whether these are all, or partly, matters of indifference to God and contingency to evolution.

For the record I agree that the precise tailoring of the environment of earth for mankind (more micro-management) is a key part of God’s creation - though I don’t believe that alone is sufficient to account for mankind. But as John Walton has so clearly shown, what is central to the Genesis creation accounts is God’s assignation of function to the whole cosmos, on behalf on man in covenant relationship to God - in effect the eradication of contingency and its replacement with purpose. Hence it is now “very good”.


Alan Fox - #83054

October 20th 2013

What still bothers me is that no one has grasps my view that God’s guidance of evolution does not come through genetic variation, which is to a large extent by chance, but by creating a home or environment well and precisely suited for humans.

You’re describing evolutionary theory, Roger, and adaptation to the niche, or, as I like to refer to it, environmental design. I wonder if you don’t consider the option that apparent randomn variation available to sective processes might, in fact, be guided, rather like infuencing the roll of a die.


hanan-d - #82851

October 11th 2013

James, 

As you can see, there seems to be this broken record playing over and over again. But’s a broken record that can stop playing as soon as anyone in BL puts as much time and effort in theology as they do with all the minutia of evolution they post. Please explain how the theistic (as opposed to the Deistic) goes together with evolution.


hanan-d - #82852

October 11th 2013

And James, if you think this isn’t an issue, please explain why this page has yet to be updated

http://biologos.org/questions/evolution-and-divine-action.

 

This is at the heart of the question of what THEISTIC evolution is. 


Chip - #82857

October 11th 2013

“...the human genome, the human reproductive system, is so poorly designed. Do I want to attribute this egregiously defective design…”  Francisco Ayala, writing for BioLogos

And here I thought scientists weren’t allowed to make design inferences… 


hanan-d - #82888

October 13th 2013

Chip,

I don’t think he is making design inference. I think he is simply using the same word to show that there really isn’t any design. I think he would simply say that design is simply something infered by the looker but that there is no inherit design to it. 


Chip - #82895

October 14th 2013

No matter what you think about either one, “intelligent design” and “defective design” are really just two sides of the same coin, both of which assume some standard of design that can be evaluated by the observer.  My point—sarcastically expressed—was simply to point out the hypocrissy of design critics (as Ayala undoubtedly is) who claim—typically with loud and strident indignation—that the “heads” side is invalid, while at the same time appealing to the “tails” side to bolster his own argument. 


Eddie - #82898

October 14th 2013

Yes, indeed, Chip.  Or, if Hanan prefers, here’s an alternate formulation:

Behe:  (practicing Catholic layman):  “Nature reveals the design of a stupendously intelligent mind, which I as a Catholic believe to be the mind of God.”

Ayala (former Catholic priest):  “But nature is riddled with evidence of clumsiness and incompetence!  How dare you ID people blaspheme against the God I no longer believe in by implying that he is such a poor designer?”

Ayala’s theological indignation is duly noted.  And valued for exactly what the theological indignation of an apostate is worth.


PNG - #82922

October 15th 2013

I assume these are pseudoquotes. Are you saying Ayala has said he is no longer a Christian, or are you equating no longer a priest with apostasy? Just curious. I’m not very familiar with Ayala’s history, although I have read a few of his technical papers on evolution.


Eddie - #82927

October 16th 2013

Yes, PNG. they are fictional (as I assumed the dramatic format would indicate), but they capture the positions of the individuals named accurately.  The actual phrasing of “Ayala’s” words is of course intended ironically.  (I find there is not nearly enough humor in these debates; the TEs and the New Atheists in particular seem unable to crack a smile over anything.)

And no, Ayala has not said “I am no longer a Christian” but he has said other things that rule out the possibility that he is still Christian.  At one of the courtroom debacles—I think maybe the Georgia textbook sticker trial—he discussed his view of God in testimony, and it’s at best pantheistic. I can’t put my finger on the source at the moment, but I’ve read the actual testimony as he gave it.  Besides, he has absolutely refused to discuss his religious faith in public for over a decade now—something no Christian would ever do, since Christians are commanded to witness.

It used to offend me that in the “Leading Figures” section (now deleted from the BioLogos site) Ayala’s priestly training was mentioned (implicitly as part of his qualifications to speak with authority on “science and theology”) but his departure from the faith was never mentioned.  Also, Ayala’s criticism of ID based on “the problem of evil” shows that, however much theology he learned in Europe all those decades ago, he has forgotten most of it—he now sounds like a sophomore writing a “C” paper in theodicy.  But of course BioLogos appears lately to have tacitly distanced itself from Ayala, as it has distanced itself, in varying degrees, from Giberson, Enns, and Lamoureux.  But on that subject, a word to the wise is sufficient.

Are you still enjoying Homer etc.?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82865

October 11th 2013

Jon,

Micro-management is repressive because it is inflexible.  Good management is flexible and even allows for mistakes.  There is usually more than one way of doing something and God and nature allows for a diversity of life forms, each desighed for its niche and all living in harmony together to create a rich and magnificent universe and Creation.  

Unfortunately husbandry has made mistakes, such as using DDT to kill insects and introducing invasive species.  God allows nature to develop step by step according to its nature and God’s plan.  Thus the dinosaurs were not mistakes, but life forms designed for their time and place in nature.  

Now it is my contention that it is the bad science of Darwinism which is most responsible for this problem, because there is no way to manage genetics except by micro-management.  Ecology based evolution is better scientifically and solves the random/micro-management problem. 


hanan-d - #82868

October 11th 2013

But if man was the goal…what was the point of designing a life form to fit its timeand place in nature? Why not skip all that and get to the goal. What purpose was there for millions upon millions of years of dinosaurs and other life forms. 


GJDS - #82870

October 11th 2013

If I may be a little bold hanan-d, we get lost in the arguments about the physical world (Universe) (and more so in the bio-world) and forget the goal the Chrisitan faith states is the salvation of humanity (and transformation of the Universe) into sons and daughters of God. This goal requires a setting and I cannot think of a more magnificent setting than the world/universe in which we find ouselves. One advantage a scientist has is a deeper appreciation and an awe for the natural world, be it that of atoms and molecules, or stars and galaxies. 


Jon Garvey - #82876

October 12th 2013

hanan-d

The Bible doesn’t say that man was the goal of creation. It says that the bringing of all things together under Christ was. Man has a special role in that, but so does Amphioxus or Paramecium in its place. Even in the Genesis 1-2 account the climax is not man, but the reign of God over the world he has formed.

Why God chose to create a world with history is, in the end, his own business - but even people like us prefer to read a detective novel than a piece of paper with the name of the killer.

But I note it’s still only the questioners doing the theology here, which is a shame.


hanan-d - #82889

October 13th 2013

Nevertheless Jon and GJDS, it doesn make one think of why create all that (i.e. dinosaurs to roam for millions of years) if man is the one that harbors a special status. I would though contend that the bible does in fact imply that man is the goal in his creative process. In fact, given evolution, can one still say God “created” man???


hanan-d - #82891

October 13th 2013

“does”, not doesn’t ...make one think


GJDS - #82892

October 13th 2013

These are good questions hanan-d, and if one accepts Darwin’s views as the underlying explanation of the Universe, the questions may be given some weight theologically. However I strongly affirm that Darwin’s views/thinking is grossly inadequate, so scientifically we should with-hold a judgement on why the creation, or why it matters in any sense at all. Atheists have gone out of their way to put forward such a view. I commence with a view that holds all of science to a gvien degree of certainty, and this has been achieved by a small portion of science, and a very tiny portion of bio-sciences - the rest of one’s reasoning must begin with theology and faith. This is a personal decision, and each person imo puts forward his/her questions and seeks answers from Christian teachings, which are based on the all matters pertaining to the Gospel.

So why ‘create’ an earth? As a scientist I think this planet is needed for life to exist. Did life arise accidentally? I cannot see any scientific basis for such a view. Do I believe God created life? Yes I do. Do I know how He went about it? No, but some day we human beings may find an answer. Should God have created what He did? I will consider myself qualified to give an answer to this when I try to create planets and stars and all manner of things. Until then, I believe God can do things that I cannot, so I am not in a position to deal with such questions. Man as the goal of a creative process is half an answer. Jon and others talk of teleology, but within a theological context, it is God’s will that determines all things, and since He says He has a greater goal, I view the creative process within that greater goal or teleology.

Hope these comments are useful.


Jon Garvey - #82893

October 14th 2013

hanan-d

It’s good that “it makes one think” - that’s doing theology and exercising ones God-given role. What’s less good if if it forecloses thinking and leads to the acceptance of meaninglessness - which is no explanation anyway, as there is really no adequate materialist explanation for why everything exists and has come to the state it is.

There is much that could be said - but since the special status of mankind in Scripture includes the role of exploring God’s creation and offering worship for it, it would be pretty futile to bypass that creation. We are promised eternity to explore God and his works, so even if God had no other reason but us to create, doing an extensive job on it makes sense.

But he does have other reasons, some known only to himself, some to do with being loving towards all he has made - Psalm 145. Dinosaurs have just as special a role as people - that doesn’t preclude a particular, pre-eminent, dignity to mankind. But even in human affairs a simple man can boast, “Obama may be president, but where would he be if I didn’t take out his garbage?” Creation likes being what it is.

One analogy often used for creation is a dance, or a symphony. It has a culmination and a goal, but it is only the masterwork it is because of its development - one character may end up as king, but that is only one aspect of the whole.

Your last question - about how evolution might preclude creation - needs to consider  that biblical creation is more about how-everything-works than what-everything-is - read John Walton on that.

The “Why would God create this and that…?” question is in danger of being a denial that God had a why, and created stuff for no good reason. But with God, according to Christianity, form always follows function - he creates purpose, and the material cosmos exists to serve that purpose. He doesn’t create stuff to see what it will do. That goes back to the difference I have with much modern TE thinking, which echoes the materialist mantra that much of what exists just does, having no relationship to God’s purpose.

As to why we can’t understand God’s purpose in any specific case, GJDS is absolutely right to remind us that Christianity is about faith - which at heart is letting God be God. Why should I expect to understand God when I understand almost nothing about his universe? We’re not, after all, that special.

These questions, however, are the kind of issues that BioLogos itself ought to be thrashing out if it’s to help troubled people resolve science and religion. There’s too much restriction to “Neodarwinism meets Neotheism”, it seems to me.


GJDS - #82866

October 11th 2013

I cannot help but see some irony in these discussions. For example, we can easily substitute, ‘defective understanding of the bio-world’ for the theistic evolutionist’s ‘defective design’, and, ‘a random and constantly modified view of Darwin’s evolution’ for ‘random and chaotic changes leading to unexpected end results’.

I agree with Eddie that the matter has been discussed to the point of mind-boggling boredom, and my favourite comment in this context is to point out the hubris of TE’s who have decided they know what God may and may not do, and how He went about doing/not doing all of this. Perhaps my comments may cause a smile to one or two people ......?


Chip - #82879

October 12th 2013

I agree with Eddie that the matter has been discussed to the point of mind-boggling boredom

Well no, not really (actually, the comments from folks like Eddie and Jon are far and away the most interesting and thought-provoking content on the site). Yes, the questions have been asked and re-asked, phrased, and re-phrased in just about every conceivable way.  No one at BL seems interested in even attempting a coherent answer, which is unfortunate. 


GJDS - #82883

October 12th 2013

Fair comment Chip - however I am of the view that the so called answers put forward on this site within an organisational context on TE are insipid, with Christian theology distorted in almost any way concievable so as to accomodate the inadequacies of their Darwinian thinking. It is this that I find boring and I have assumed that Eddie meant the same thing.


Eddie - #82900

October 14th 2013

GJDS and Chip:  

You’re both catching aspects of what I meant.  I was remarking that I was probably boring some readers with my repetition of the same questions; but the point is that I wouldn’t have to bore people if BioLogos (or even any TE commenter who posts here) would make the effort to digest and respond to the questions.  So if my constant criticism (along with Jon’s, etc.) is “boring,” the cause is that no one on the TE side seems capable of creatively transforming the criticism into a constructive conversation which actually advances our theological understanding of evolution.  The criticism is met with inexplicable evasion—or inexplicable silence.  And while, in a court of law, silence does not establish guilt, in an intellectual setting, i.e., the setting of serious theology-science discourse, silence in the face of criticism does imply a weak and possibly indefensible position.


Jon Garvey - #82901

October 14th 2013

“Please continue to hold - your call is important to us.” (cue music)


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82882

October 12th 2013

Jon,

The goal of Salvation History is the realized Kingdom of God, when heaven and earth merge into the New Jerusalem where God and all of God’s people will live in everlasting peace and joy. 

God’s evolved Creation and evolved people are a part of the God’s Kingdom, but God the Father is the Source of this process, God the Son is the Logos or Meaning, and God the Spirit is the Telos or End.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82897

October 14th 2013

Jon wrote:

Why should I expect to understand God when I understand almost nothing about his universe? We’re not, after all, that special.

But we are!  If humans are created in God’s Image, they are special because God is special.  If Jesus Christ the Logos is human as well as God humans are special.  If Jesus the Second Person of the Trinity was born, lived, died, and arose for humanity, then humanity is very, very special.

God is not selfish.  God shares God’s Image, that is God’s power to create, to make decisions, and to love with humans. 

I think that this is the problem that many people do not understand properly.  Some want to give all the power to nature or humans, while others want to give all the power to God. 

This reflects our dualistic either/or tradition.  Both points of view are partially right, and both are basically wrong.  God shares Godself through God’s Image and Power and just as importantly God made us to share ourselves.  

This is how and why God made humans special.  You are right that humans do not understand God if we do not understand this, but it is not because God has not communicated this to us through Jesus Christ the Logos.     

    


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82902

October 14th 2013

Eddie,

Please.

I give you all the theological discussion you ever want.


Eddie - #82903

October 14th 2013

Hi, Roger.

When I wrote 82900 above, I meant neither to include nor to exclude you; in fact, I wasn’t thinking about you at all.  This is probably because I don’t even know if you consider yourself a TE.

Would you describe yourself as a TE?  And if so, perhaps you could articulate your position.  What exactly does God do in the evolutionary process?  Intervene?  Front-load outcomes at the beginning?  Or just set up natural laws and sit back and watch the random-mutation, natural-selection show?  Be as precise as possible.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82907

October 14th 2013

Eddie,

Hi!

Since I am a Christian theist and since I accept evolution, if not Darwinian evolution, that would make me a Theistic Evolutionist.

I observe that God interacts with God’s Creation through the process of evolution.  God interacts through the process of Variation, but more especially through the process of ecological Natural Selection, which you would know if you read my book, Darwin’s Myth. 


Eddie - #82909

October 15th 2013

OK, Roger.

So we have established that you are a “theistic evolutionist” in the generic sense, but not a typical “BioLogos-TE” because you are critical of aspects of Darwinian evolution. 

Now, a theological question:  In your view, does God determine (not just foreknow, but determine) all the outcomes of evolution?  Or only some of them?  Or does he determine all of them, but only in a rough way, leaving wiggle-room regarding details?  And in connection with this, was man’s appearance a sure thing?  Or did God just roll the cosmic dice and see what, if anything, evolution would spit out that might be capable of holding “the image of God”?  Should Genesis have been written as:  “Let us make some creature or other after our image, if unguided natural processes are up to producing one”?  Or is it just fine the way it is written now?

Special challenge:  see if you can respond to the above set of questions without once using the words “dualism” or “ecology.”


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82912

October 15th 2013

Eddie,

I see that you have regressed to your professerial mode, which as I told you before is not appropriate in this forum.  You do not dictate what is appropriate or inappropriate in expresing my views.  Nonetheless I will try to answer your question.

As Jon has observed I am a personalist.  I agree the Bible that God is a Person.  Indeed God made humans in the divine Image by making them persons too.  I understand that you and Jon do not agree with this point of view which is the source of much of our conflict.

However this point of view determines my response.  The question as I see it is what doe we mean by “determines.”  If I plan to do something I am making a decision to do that thing.  I am determining that that event will take place, however that does not mean that it will take place. 

God determined, or made the decision, that humans would be created in God’s Image.  While human decisions do not always reach fruition, God’s decisions do.  God uses all the tools at God’s disposal including natural processes like evolution and ecology that God created for this purpose. 

God is not a dualist like many humans are.  God does not divide Reality into the natural and supernatural, but uses all of the tools, physical, rational, and spritual, to accomplish God’s purposes, as should we.   

I hope this answers your questions.  Sorry about the extra credit.  


Eddie - #82913

October 15th 2013

Roger:

There was nothing professorial about my post.  I simply asked for some straightforward answers to some questions.

I was not “dictating” what you should say.  I was giving you a friendly elbow in the rib, teasing you about your constant resort to certain terms.  Apparently you missed the intended humor.  Are all Methodists so grave?  :-)

As for the contents of your answer:

1.  Neither Jon nor I has ever expressed the slightest disagreement with the notion that God is personal.  That is standard Christianity.  What Jon especially has taken issue with is a theological view called “personalism” which is something quite different from the mere assertion that God is a person.  If you ask Jon directly what he means by “personalism” I am sure he will give you a clear answer, or direct you to a column on his excellent web site (a site which addresses theological questions relating to evolution far better than they have ever been addressed here).

2.  In theology, when we speak of divine determination, we do not mean merely that God intends or plans to do something, which may or may not work out as planned, depending on how stubborn or cooperative his creatures are.  We mean that he compels it to happen.  Events have no choice but to conform to his will.   So if God intended specifically human beings (not, as some TEs have suggested, any creature with equivalent intellect and sensitivity, e.g., an extra-smart octopus or dolphin), then specifically human beings are what evolution would produce.  Is this your view, that when Genesis has God saying “Let us make man,” the Bible is telling us that God had us (not some intelligent being or other) in mind, and that he ensured that we (and not some other intelligent being) emerged from the process?  If so, then you and Jon and I are in complete agreement (against, it seems, a number of TEs who are not so sure it mattered which sort of intelligent being emerged from evolution, or even whether God could have controlled the neo-Darwinian randomness of the process well enough to guarantee any intelligent being at all).

I did not speak of dualism, or of “natural and supernatural”; by introducing these terms you confuse matters.  All I asked was whether or not God was in control of the evolutionary process, meaning in control of its outcomes, and if so, how much was he in control?  Whether he used natural or supernatural means to ensure the outcomes that he desired is a secondary question.  

You see, Roger, what is heretical about many modern TEs is not that they believe that God created through natural causes; it is that they will not commit to the proposition that God was fully in charge of evolution from start to finish.  They fudge on the issue—precisely because of their neo-Darwinian biology.  Why do you think they have so many columns here on the wondrous creative powers of “randomness”?  Because the mutations are supposedly (in classical NDE) random with respect to outcome.  But if the mutations are truly random, then evolution has no goal, and no outcome can be guaranteed.  On the other hand, if a Person is guaranteeing the outcomes, the process isn’t truly random.  But there isn’t a TE in sight here that is willing to even discuss these questions.  You have to go to Jon’s site, Hump of the Camel, if you want to talk about them.  Here, your questions and concerns fall on empty air.  It appears that none of the columnists or management care one way or the other whether God is in charge of all or only some of the outcomes of evolution, and it appears that they aren’t the slightest bit interested in the difficult task of intellectual synthesis between “randomness” and “providence” “sovereignty” etc.  The main concern seems to be to convince the fundamentalists of common descent.  So the “Bio” is far, far more in evidence on this site than the “Logos.”  I would like to see a rebalancing, from 95% Bio / 5% Logos, to something more like 50% Bio / 50% Logos.

I’m not blaming you for this situation, Roger.  My criticism is aimed at others.  Best wishes.


Chip - #82914

October 15th 2013

Eddie,

While part of me admires your saintly patience, its probably time to just move on…


Jon Garvey - #82915

October 15th 2013

“Please continue to hold - your call is valuable to us…” (Bach cantata changes to “Ride of the Valkyries”)


Chip - #82917

October 15th 2013

Thank you for calling BioLogos.  Please listen carefully, as our menu options have recently changed.  For Dualism, Ecology or other non-responsive replies, please press 1.  For “Evolution Basics,” creative reinterpretations of Genesis, or fluffy testimonials, please press 2.  For actual, thoughtful answers to your inquiries…

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Click. 


Jon Garvey - #82916

October 15th 2013

I’d just add that in Eddie’s reply to Roger, the word “compel” is quite compatible with, say, God’s politely asking an angel to do a job, because he knows well his  love and eagerness to serve. Or to press the switch on some effective mechanism, as it were.

It’s horses for courses - if he determines, say, that man will appear (in Roger’s meaning), then he won’t ask a rebellious angel, or try and get the job done with a sledgehammer. “Purpose fulfilled to the letter” is the key thing distinguishing creation from anything else.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #82918

October 15th 2013

Jon and Eddie,

1.  My concern is still primarily on the scientific level because it is here where most people should be able agree.  Evolution is not random because it is guided by ecology in the form of natural selection. 

2. Dualism is still a serious problem because it cannot reconcile the elements of randomness and determinism which causes the rift between both sides. 

3. God does not rule by fiat, regardless of why you think.  God rules by love.  This is true of how God relates to the human world, the bio world, and the physical world.  We have one God, not three or more.

4.  We know that do not qalways work out the way we want them to, but we don’t give up.  We continue to work with others until things work out.  This is how God works in the Bible and how we expect God to work in every aspect of life.  Is that wrong?  


Eddie - #82920

October 15th 2013

Roger:

Taking your points in order:

1.  I agree with you that evolution is not random, even from a scientific point of view.  But that is not the question I’m asking here.

2.  The term “dualism” is of no use in this context.  The question is how God can be in charge of a process if a process is random. 

And don’t bother protesting; I know you don’t believe evolution is random, but I’m not addressing you.  I’m addressing the BioLogos columnists and management.  The problem is that you keep butting on a fight that is not your own.  Any reply I give to you won’t make sense if read by Venema, Schloss, etc., because they aren’t saying the same thing you are saying.  Similarly, my criticism of them makes no sense to you, because their position isn’t yours.  So if I may make a blunt request:  if I address a statement of yours, or a belief of yours, by all means, reply to it.  But if I am addressing a position of BioLogos, I wish you would hold your tongue and let me fight my own battles.  You think you are helping, but you are only confusing the issues.

The subject is whether or not the BioLogos teaching on God and evolution is compatible with the classical Christian understanding of creation, omnipotence, sovereignty, providence, etc.  Perhaps you have no interest in the defending the classical Christian understanding.  But others do.  So let those who are interested in it debate about it, and leave them to each other.

3.  That God loves I have never denied.  But to make the huge generalization that God “rules by love” and “not by fiat” you need some Biblical exegesis.  Where is it?  Read Genesis (however unfashionable that may be in Methodist circles these days).  “Let there be light—and there was light”.  The Latin is “fiat lux.”  Fiat!  That is where the English phrase “ruling by fiat” came from.  God does sometimes rule by fiat.  And in any case, the fact that God loves does not mean that God has no will, any more than the fact that your parents loved you meant that they had no wills.  God wills things.

I realize that is unfashionable language in post-Enlightenment, liberal, BioLogos-TE Christianity.  “Willing” sounds so harsh to American ears that have had their emotions softened since childhood by Walt Disney and their interpretive rigor undermined by insipid notions of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” (a Jesus who is extremely hard to find in the Gospel stories).  But in fact the will of God is a major Biblical concept—in both Testaments, the New as well as the Old.  God decides things.  He determines things.  So God can boss molecules around any way he wants, and he can make them form any creature that he wants.  And Genesis, and all the other Biblical creation passages, appear to indicate that this is in fact what he did.  He didn’t give atoms a choice whether or not to form proteins.  He didn’t give anteaters a choice whether or not they would exist.  He didn’t (contra Ken Miller and other TE leaders) give some autonomous process called “evolution” any “creative freedom” regarding what it could produce.  He gave it a job to do.

4.  Things don’t always work out the way human beings want them to, because human beings aren’t omnipotent.  God is omnipotent.  Things work out exactly as he wants them to.  He may give free wills some leeway to run and hide and dodge and evade for a time; but he always achieves his results in the end.  Joseph’s brothers wanted to harm him, but God saw that Joseph was not harmed, but in the end elevated above his brothers.

And finally, I disagree with the principle that because God behaves in a certain way at some points, he must behave in that way all the time.  This is the error of “kenotic” theology—reading back the kenosis of Christ into creation itself—without a stitch of Biblical evidence, merely because “self-emptying” sounds so noble and certain Christian theologians think God should be doing that all the time.  But creation is seen in the Bible as an expression of God’s power and wisdom, not of his self-emptying.   Those are the facts.  God is free to show himself in power or glory, or in humility, any time he wants.  I weary of TEs and other Christian liberals telling God how he ought to behave, in order to be worthy of their worship.


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