Sunday, October 7, 2012

Evolution: God cannot create instant adults or species

There is continuing debate concerning whether God needs progressive stages in history to bring adults into life, or whether God has complete absolute omnipotence to create things immediately. This is sometimes taken as the dispute between evolution and creationism, but in reality the situation is more complicated (and interesting).

It is certainly true that traditional theism has emphasized the absolute omnipotence of God -- his unfettered sovereignty. And, not surprisingly, the atheists then have the same idea about that God which does not exist. One such as Jerry Coyne, for example, criticizes theistic support for slow evolution:
But if you didn’t know about evolution, and knew only about the Bible and the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t you have guessed a priori that if God brought all life into being, he’d do so via an instant miracle rather than by a 3.5-billion-year process of evolution on one planet out of billions in a single universe out of billions of universes?
A closer study of the basis of theism, however, shows that God is life itself, and that we must be conformed in suitable ways in order to receive that life. Furthermore, that life is only useful to us -- and good to receive -- if it appears to us as if it were our own. Otherwise it would appear to be imposed on us 'from outside', and we would not enjoy it, and maybe even reject it. These facts are simple features of the life that we have from God.

From this, we have to conclude that God can only create by progressive modifications. Something like evolution (or growth or development) is needed for humans, for species, for cultures, etc. Of course, this is not Darwinian evolution, since it is not changing merely by natural selection. Something we might call theistic selection is also involved, since fitness now depends not only on bodily activities, but on an internal conformity to the reception of life from God (who is life itself, as mentioned above).

I have discussed some of these issues in more detail in previous posts:
The point now is that we cannot defend theism from external critques, if we do understand properly the foundation and consequences of theism itself. That is why I advocate a Theistic Science as the name of developing this understanding. I write this blog, the book Starting Science from God, and for many years have maintained the website

Sometimes the correct ideas are presented (imo). The Biologos group, for example, has recently posted some observations on the theology of God with respect to the universe, under the heading "Why Should Christians Consider Evolutionary Creation?". Given this group's previous advocacy of natural selection is the 'source' of all biology, it is interesting to read:
Here are three examples of biblical attributes of God emphasized by studying evolutionary science:
  • God is extravagant. God did not create just one type of flower, but uses the system of evolution to create a huge variety of flowers, of every size, shape, color, and scent. As opposed to being “wasteful,” a biblical view of evolution helps us appreciate it as a pointer to the extravagance of God’s loving gift of life to the whole earth. God’s creation does not reflect a cold efficiency, but the transformation of such “waste” into worship, just as Jesus honored the woman who poured expensive perfume on his feet (Mark 14:3-9, John 12:3-8).
  • God is patient, and most often works gradually rather than instantaneously. In the natural world, we see God creating life over billions of years, not instantly, and grand geological processes playing out slowly over time, as well. Similarly, in the Bible we read of the centuries that passed between God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with David and the centuries more before Jesus appeared “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). In individual lives, God often works by planting his Word deep in us and letting it grow slowly over time. God seems pleased with the slow but extraordinary unfolding of his universe, just as he is patiently unfolding his plan of redemption.
  • God is the provider. He provides for his creatures in each moment, giving them what they need to survive, adapt and thrive in communities of life. The Bible speaks of God feeding and caring for animals (Jonah 4:11, Psalm 104), and modern evolutionary science is shedding light on how God has arranged complex ecosystems that support many different kinds of creatures together. But God provides for his creatures even at the genetic level, giving species a measure of biological “creativity” to help them respond to new challenges. As biologist Richard Colling says, “Evolution is not about the imposition of death and destruction and survival of the fittest. Those things are a part of it, but not the main core of what evolution is. . . [The] evolutionary process of creating duplicate genes that give rise to new possibilities [is] redemption, it’s possibility, and it’s hope.”

These are also some of the consequences that come within theistic science. However, until more detailed reasons are given for these conclusions, and connections with other aspects of theism, they will not be convincing to everyone, let alone those who oppose theism

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