Sovereignty and Science
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Prov 16:33)
A few months ago I had a friend argue that if I believe in evolution, then I believe in something that was unguided, and that this would contradict my faith. In this post I would like to address that claim, and describe my position on God’s actions in nature. I am particularly interested in feedback on this post, as I try to develop my thoughts in this area.
First of all, saying evolution is unguided is in fact unscientific. While it is true that scientists sometimes make comments like that, eg. this statement, science cannot actually make such statements. In giving explanations of nature in terms of natural processes, it cannot comment on whether those processes may be caused by a supernatural entity. Sometimes scientists slip up and speak beyond what science can say, and sometimes they speak of their religious convictions (eg. Richard Dawkins), at which point they are not speaking scientifically.
As my friend pointed out, believing in uncaused mutations would contradict my Christian faith. I do believe that God is sovereign over everything at all times, that he works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph 1:11), and in particular he does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth (Ps 136:6). The issue is whether we can detect those actions in nature.
The position I take is that it appears to me that within the general course of nature now and in the past, we cannot detect God actions, for to the extent that we can examine them, they can be described by natural processes. In saying this I am in particular opposition to the claim of Intelligent Design, such as expressed by the Discovery Institute who defiine it as, ‘The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection’.
While a distinction is often made between natural and supernatural, this is a less useful distinction for those who believe that God causes all things so that nothing is truly natural. Instead I use the phrase pseudo-natural to describe things that appear to occur naturally, though God causes them, as opposed to God’s overtly supernatural actions. For example Prov 16:33 says, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. The casting of a lot is a pseudo-natural event, in that it apears to follow natural processes of gravity, friction etc, but God chooses the outcome. This is analogous to the evolution of species through mutations that God chooses. On the other hand Christ’s resurrection was an overtly supernatural event, God ordinarily runs the world in a way such that the laws of nature are such that when people die they stay dead. When people like Michael Behe claim that certain Biological features are best explained by an intelligent cause, they likely believe that they have detected actions that are not pseudo-natural. (I do not mean to go into whether the intelligent cause of ID must be itself supernatural, but most ID proponents are theists, such as the Catholic Behe, and presumably believe it is God.)
I certainly don’t rule out that God has always acted in nature via pseudo-natural processes. I don’t believe we can detect a breakdown in evolution’s ability to explain biological diversity, but I also cannot see how it can be reconciled with Genesis. So while I don’t think we can detect that God used overtly supernatural processes, biblically it appears that he did. Science cannot fully prove anything; with God anything is possible, whatever the phyiscal evidence appears to show. We cannot even prove that the world existed last Thursday. It could have been created by God with an appearance of age, and with people having false memories. While it may seem strange that God would make it appear that things occured differently from how they actually occured, what he did and why are mysteries that I do not think we can know, or need to know.
In taking this position I am avoiding two positions. On the one hand there are those who take the bible seriously, but
misrepresent science and claim that evolution is a weak theory. I
respect such a high view of scripture, but I cannot deny what I see as
powerful scientific evidence, I must at least say that it really looks
like evolution is true. On the other hand there are those who accept
what science has to say, and claim no contradiction with scripture, but it is a fairly low view of scripture. There is a tension in my
position between what I accept science appears to show, and what I
believe the bible teaches, but I accept that. I must put my faith
first, while also being faithful to what I believe science says. I see some room for less literal biblical interpretation that is more consistent with science, but I am cautious about letting science lead my interpretation, and also I’m not particularly interested in what happened as long as I get the theological implications from the text, such as human death being a result of the fall. my position also disputes the claim that religion and science do not overlap, and so cannot contradict each other. While the bible does not intend to teach us about scientific matters, it does still make many statements about nature that science addresses.
I also see clear examples in the bible of miracles that overtly supernatural events, such as the fall of Jerrico and the resurrection. Some miracles may have plausible natural explanations, such as some of the 10 plaugues or Jesus calming the storm, but this does not diminish God’s sovereignty in causing them, while it also points to the difficulty in defining what constitutes a miracle.
The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Ps 19:1) When I look at the world around me I see God’s actions, when I learn about scientific discoveries I learn about God’s actions, and because of these things, I praise God. Just because I know about the refraction of light does not negate the fact that a rainbow reminds me of God’s promise to Noah and his glorious faithfulness, nor does a knowledge of astronomy or cloud formation prevent me from recognising what he has made by those processes. In fact I find it more amazing that God could use an ingenious process like evolution to create the amazing complexity of the biological world, than simply making things from nothing. It is enough that God created the heavens, that he made the sky, for the existence of them to declare his glory. ‘[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). It is not because people have not been persuaded of the failure of science to explain certain things that they do not give glory to God for his creation, it is because they are spiritually blind to his existence. For people to recognise God’s actions and give him glory it takes a spiritual change, one that is outside the realm of science to explain.