What role could God have in evolution?
Divine action is defined as God’s interaction with creation. Divine action figured prominently in early discussions of Darwin’s theory in the late nineteenth century. For some theologians, evolution was compatible with theism only if God acted supernaturally at discrete points in the evolutionary process.1 Other theologians saw the uninterrupted process of evolution as being fully compatible with Christian doctrine. They understood evolution to be “the silent and regular working of him who, in the fullness of time, utters his voice in Christ and the cross.”2
We still seek to understand God’s involvement in the world. BioLogos readily affirms that the Creator can act outside the created physical laws. However, we must not say that miraculous events outside the laws of nature are the only instances of God’s involvement—we believe God is actively sustaining all things (Col 1:17, Heb 1:3), even in regular, well-understood processes. For this reason, BioLogos does not require miraculous events in its account of God’s creative process, although they certainly may have occurred.
God’s Sovereignty and Creation’s Freedom
BioLogos affirms that God has endowed nature with a certain degree of freedom. This is not to say that nature has a mind of its own, but only that nature is not restricted to a machine-like, redetermined evolution. On the other hand, BioLogos also affirms that God has a plan and a purpose for creation. The Bible affirms both the freedom of nature (including human freedom) and the sovereignty of God.
BioLogos does not conceive of a God who is involved at certain times and who only observes at other times. BioLogos affirms a God who is at all times involved, yet who still allows a degree of freedom to the creation.
Providence and the Laws of Nature
If the laws of nature can explain an increasing number of natural phenomena, how is God involved? The laws of nature do not exist apart from God. They are a reflection of the activity of God. If God ceased to uphold the laws of nature, there would be no universe.
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col 1:16, 17 NASB)
…in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb 1:2, 3a NASB)
If we were somehow able to fully explain the operation of the physical universe, we would not have explained God out of the picture. Rather, we would have explained the regular and repeatable sustaining activity of God.
Theologians speak of “ordinary providence,” whereby God uses means (such as natural laws), “yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.”3 We can therefore distinguish between the natural and supernatural activity of God. The natural activity of God is simply that which occurs in a regular and highly repeatable fashion. Because of its regularity over eons of time, it can be studied and understood through the scientific process.
What about the supernatural activity of God? In the words of Ard Louis, “Miracles occur when God chooses to sustain the world in a manner that is different than what He normally does.” Supernatural activity is not somehow more God’s activity than natural activity. Both types fully reflect God’s character and accomplish his purposes.
- The Faraday Institute on Science and Religion. “Multimedia: Lectures on Divine Action.”
- Counterbalance Foundation. “Science and Divine Action.” Counterbalance: New Views on Complex Issues.
- Polkinghorne, John. “The Science and Religion Debate,” Faraday Papers.
- Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action Series. Edited by Robert John Russell, et al. 5 vols. Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Foundation, 1997-2002.
- Falk, Darrel. Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds between Faith and Biology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
- Polkinghorne, John. “Creation and Creator.” In Science and Creation: The Search for Understanding, 63-82. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2006. First published 1988 by SPCK.
- Polkinghorne, John. Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2005. First published 1989 by SPCK.