Book Preview: Creation, Providence, and Evolution

© RM Bancewicz

The Christian doctrine of creation has done much to shape the biological sciences that we study today…John Ray (1627– 1705), [was] a key Christian founder of the discipline of natural history that later came to be called biology…Ray taught some of the materials that later became his book [The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of Creation] not in a lecture hall but in Trinity College chapel because he saw teaching science as an act of worship. John Ray declared that he had published his Ornithology for “the illustration of Gods glory, by exciting men to take notice of, and admire his infinite power and wisdom.”…

In Britain, biology remained incorporated within the tenets of natural theology well into the nineteenth century. The logic and rational structure of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had its roots in the natural theology that Darwin imbibed during his student days at Cambridge (1828–31). This was an era when the teaching of science was carried out by ordained Anglican clergy, and more than 50 percent of the students at that time were destined for the Anglican ministry. Darwin’s exams covered two texts by Archdeacon William Paley, the great proponent of natural theology, and after his final exams were over Darwin proceeded to read for his own enjoyment Paley’s Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802)…The rational structure of natural theology provided a framework within which evolution could readily be incorporated…

Our aim here is to capture some of that robust theism displayed by those early Christian natural philosophers who laid the groundwork for the scientific disciplines we practice today. The proposal is that a traditional Trinitarian creation theology…provides the matrix within which biology can flourish and provide a coherent and providential story of life.

So the emphasis here is not on natural theology per se but on a theology of nature that can help us interrogate topics such as providence in the light of chance and randomness.

The biblical creation narrative is composed of a myriad of different insights, scattered liberally throughout the Old and New Testaments, and the overall discussion between science and faith is pretty much set by the degree to which we allow that range of insights to impact upon our thinking.

A picture emerges of God as creator, the source and ground of all that exists. Everything that exists apart from God only exists because God brought it into existence. So God is the ground of all existence, and in this view “existence” refers to anything that exists, be they material or immaterial—the laws of nature, quantum vacuums, Higgs bosons, trees, rabbits, mathematical principles, and the elements of the periodic table. If it exists and is not God, then it must by definition be part of the created order within this theistic matrix…

Since our great creator God is not encompassed or constrained in any way by the present created order, we as human creatures are in no position to guess how God might wish to create or to tell him how he ought to…Historians of science have often pointed to this sense of the transcendence of God and the consequent radical contingency of the created order as one of the great motivations for empiricism, for the experimental method. For no one could simply guess how the created order might work starting from commonsense or simple human logic. Quantum mechanics, for example, is rather weird, and mental pictorial representations should not be attempted, otherwise one ends up with a headache…

Along with the transcendent otherness of God in the biblical literature comes an insistence on the simultaneous immanence of God in the created order, that moment-by- moment involvement in upholding and sustaining creation. God’s faithfulness is displayed in the nomic regularity, the law-like behavior of energy and matter, which renders the world coherent and makes the scientific enterprise possible. This is a Trinitarian immanence…

In Colossians 1, Paul writes that by the Son of God “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, andin him all things hold together” (vv. 16–17, emphasis added). In other words, the complete created order, in all its breadth and diversity, goes on consisting by the same divine Word, the Lord Jesus, who brought everything into being in the first place…

So what do biologists do in their research? Well, clearly what they do is to describe, as best they can, both the created order that God continually undergirds and sustains and the “secondary causes” whereby God brings about his aims and purposes. And biologists do this not by invoking the actions of God, the Primary Cause, to explain those parts of the process that seem particularly difficult to understand but rather by seeing the authorship of the Creator expressed in the whole biological process from beginning to end.

So when my atheistic biologist colleagues pose the question, “Well, what difference does it make to your biology whether God exists or not?” three points immediately come to mind. The first is that if there were no God, nothing would exist, so we certainly wouldn’t be doing science. Second, without God, nomic regularity would be unexpected and certainly not guaranteed. The faithfulness of God in guaranteeing the reproducibility of the properties of matter is critical for the success of science. And third, the fact of common grace and the fact that all human beings are made in the image of God, irrespective of our belief in God, entails that we as a scientific community can share the same scientific methods and approaches to understanding the biological world. In creating all humankind in his image, God has delegated authority to the whole of humankind to subdue and care for the earth, and science represents one way of fulfilling that responsibility.


cover imageTaken from Denis Alexander, “Creation Providence, and Evolution”, in Knowing Creation: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy, and Scienceby Andrew B. Torrance & Thomas H (2018). McCall, editors Copyright © by Andrew B. Torrance & Thomas H. McCall. Used by permission of Zondervan.

One thought on “Book Preview: Creation, Providence, and Evolution

  1. Mark Strange June 30, 2019 / 5:35 pm

    Does anyone else find it strange that Dennis Alexander, who is extremely quick to accuse his fellow Christians of using ‘God in the gaps’ reasoning does so himself? It is a bit like the term ‘fundamentalist’ (increasingly ‘right-wing fundamentalist’) which is frequently used as a pejorative against anyone with more traditionalist approach to the Bible. The truth is that, according to most theologians at elite institutions, a ‘fundamentalist’ is an individual that refuses to accept that religion, including Christianity, is merely an ethical system; devoid of any propositional content.

    In his reply to “my atheistic biologist colleagues” he makes three statements;

    1)”The first is that if there were no God, nothing would exist, so we certainly wouldn’t be doing science”. I think this would come as a surprise to his colleagues. Members of the ‘National academy of Sciences’ and ‘The Royal Society’ report a hard atheism in over 90% of its members – including in the biological sciences. The more senior a scientist the greater likelihood of strong atheism. In fact there a solid negative correlation between measured IQ and religious belief. The cognitive science of religion has largely reached a consensus that religion is a cognitive mistake. In addition there as been a series of articles and books by leading cosmologists/astrophysicists; Sean Carroll, Lawrence Krauss, Alexander Vilenkin and probably the world’s most famous scientist, the recently deceased, Stephen Hawking, that the universe can create and sustain itself, purely naturalistically. Appeals to God are not only unnecessary but factually false. In other words divine creation/sustainability fails even as a ‘God in the gaps’ argument, as those ‘gaps’ have already been filled.

    2)”Second, without God, nomic regularity would be unexpected and certainly not guaranteed.” Again a classic ‘God in the gaps’ argument despite the vagueness of the statement. All ‘nomic regularity’ means is that the functioning of the natural world will tend to follow common rules or principles. Why does this need or point to God? Perhaps Alexander has confused nomic regularity with necessitarian laws which would be some evidence of some type of ‘law maker’. However this view of laws by the early moderns is pretty much extinct and has been replaced by regularity laws, law statements, capacities, natures etc.

    3)”the fact of common grace and the fact that all human beings are made in the image of God, irrespective of our belief in God, entails that we as a scientific community can share the same scientific methods and approaches to understanding the biological world”. There is no fact on ‘common grace’. The understanding of the biological world is fully explained by our naturally evolved brain and senses. Alexander is, unknowingly, endorsing the philosophical views of Intelligent Design, a group he attacks for engaging in ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning. Perhaps Alexander only objects to ‘God in the gaps’ arguments when others engage in the practice? Or must accept that ID has a point.

    I doubt his ‘atheistic colleagues’ take Alexander’s argument very seriously and probably regard them with contempt.

    Of course Dennis Alexander could be engaging in poetical metaphysical naturalism. Providing the padding to ease the Christian from his false propositional, realist religion to a religious naturalism. This is the only way the above article makes any sense.


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