Theistic Evolution

and Christian Theology

(proposing evolutionary creation)

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.



        During many lively "Monday and Tuesday" debates, I've heard good arguments by proponents and opponents of theistic evolution explaining why it is and isn't theologically acceptable.  My views, held with humility, are that probably God miraculously created the first life, and occasionally used miraculous-appearing modifications of existing genetic material during a long evolutionary history that included full common descent.  But if God created by a process that was totally natural, of course this would be fine with me, and we should praise God for his wonderfully clever design of nature that allowed this to occur.  Basically, I'm an old-earth progressive creationist who is a questioner and a defender of evolutionary creation:

        I think scientific questions about evolution are interesting and are justified because for some aspects of a 100% natural Complete Formative Evolution the scientific support is weaker than is usually claimed.  And for some proponents of theistic evolution — and I say "some" because this view is defined in various ways by its proponents — we should ask "what makes your view theistic rather than deistic?" and "why do you use the phrase ‘God of the gaps’ even though it has multiple meanings and is therefore a cause of confusion?"

        But I want to defend theistic evolution against unjustified criticism based on misconceptions or overgeneralizations:
        • a misconception that natural process cannot be (and never is) guided by God, so "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it,"
        • or that evolutionary creationists claim "no miracles have occurred or can occur,"
        • or an overgeneralization that "because theistic evolution can be theologically weak, it must be weak,"
        • or that "because a theory of evolution can be interpreted atheistically, it must be interpreted this way."

        In my opinion, theistic evolution is rational (theologically and scientifically) so it should be carefully considered.  This page asks a question, and explains why I think theistic evolution is theologically acceptable, and why Christians who are evolutionary creationists — who think natural evolution was God's method of creation — should be treated with respect as fellow Christians.

        The goal of this page — which is a condensed version of the original full-length page but is less condensed than in a mini-sized introductory FAQ (that I recommend for a quick overview) and medium-sized overview-FAQ (that is a good balance between brief and thorough) — is to provide a framework that will promote careful thinking and accurate communicating, that will stimulate lively discussions about interesting questions.

        What is Theistic Evolution (Evolutionary Creation)? — Part 1
        A theory of theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creation) proposes that God's method of creation was to intelligently design nature so — after the initial miraculous creation event — physical structures and biological organisms would naturally evolve.
        In theistic evolution, the "evolution" can mean a Complete Formative Evolution of all physical and biological features during the entire formative history of nature — with astronomical evolution (to form galaxies and solar systems) and geological evolution (to form the earth's geology) plus chemical evolution (to form the first life) and biological evolution (for the development of life) — or it can refer to only part of the process, with different claims about each of the four aspects of evolution.   What is and isn't included in theistic evolution?

        A Theology of Natural Process
        A normal-appearing "natural event" can be interpreted theistically (as being produced by God), atheistically (happening without God), or in other ways: deistic, pantheistic, animistic,... or agnostic.
        For a theist (a Christian, Jew, or Moslem), natural does not mean "without God" because we believe that God initially designed nature, then created nature and now constantly sustains nature, and can guide nature (in a natural-appearing way that blends smoothly with the normal operation of nature) so one natural result occurs instead of another natural result.   {more about Theistic Action}
        As explained later, we should humbly acknowledge that God's plan for design-and-creation was wonderful and is worthy of our praise, whether He did it with one mode of action [only natural] or two modes [natural plus miracles]."  In other words, we should avoid two either-or extremes.

        Divine Intelligent Design
        In principle, intelligent design by God could have been actualized by three types of design-directed action:  • initial-NATURAL with design-action at the beginning of history (in a design and creation of the universe at the initial time) that eventually resulted in production of a feature by undirected natural process• supernatural-NORMAL with natural-appearing supernatural guiding of natural process in design-action that occurs during history but is not empirically detectable• supernatural-UNUSUAL with miraculous-appearing design-action that occurs during history and (in principle) is empirically detectable.   { More generally, intelligent design might be actualized by the design-action of a natural agent or a supernatural agent, so intelligent design-action is not necessarily supernatural design-action. }
        In reality, has God used all three types of design-directed action?  Was all design-action at the beginning of history in the initial design and creation?  Or, during history was normal-appearing natural process guided by God, and was it supplemented by occasional miracles?
        Formative History and Salvation History
  We should distinguish between two contexts for divine action:  the formative history of nature — in which different types of evolution (astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological) may have occurred — and the salvation history of humans that is recorded in the Bible.

        How to define Theistic Evolution (Evolutionary Creation) — Part 2
        Building on the general definition in Part 1, we can define more carefully, with increased precision and detail, by looking at proposals for divine evolution in the context of three theologies: deism, minimal theism, and Judeo-Christian theism.
        In the view of deistic evolution, God designed and created the universe so a Complete Formative Evolution — astronomical, geological, chemical, biological — would occur by natural process;  but during all of history (both formative and salvation) there has been no divine action, either natural-appearing or miraculous-appearing, because God has simply "let it run" after the initial creation.
        A minimal theist could propose two limitations, by claiming that God is active only in ways that appear natural (with no miracles) and only during human history (not in formative history).  A strong Judeo-Christian theism, based on the Bible, claims that God has been theistically active during salvation history (in both natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing ways) and during formative history (in natural-appearing ways, and maybe miraculous-appearing ways);  an essential part of Christian theism is belief in the miraculous physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, but Christianity does not require any miracles during formative history.
        In theistic evolution based on Christian theism, God designed the universe — and then initially created it and constantly sustains it — so natural process would produce everything in formative history (*) and there would be no need for miracles;  in formative history God used only natural-appearing theistic action, but in salvation history God uses theistic action that is usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing, as in the healings done by Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus.   * Part 1 explains that theistic evolution "can mean a Complete Formative Evolution of all physical and biological features during the entire formative history of nature,... or it can refer to only part of the process."
        Therefore, an evolutionary creationist who is a Christian does not claim "there are no miracles" but simply claims "there were no miracles in formative history," and may believe that God sometimes (or always) guides natural process.  This view, which I think is solidly based on Christian theism, is the view of all evolutionary creationists I've met in ASA.  The sub-title of this page asks, "Is theistic evolution theologically acceptable?", and my personal answer is YES.

        Theistic Evolution versus Evolutionary Creation — Adjectives & Nouns
        In my thinking, theistic evolution and evolutionary creation have the same meaning, and I use these two terms interchangeably.  But some proponents of this view — especially those whose theology is more conservative — prefer evolutionary creation because creation is the noun that is the main focus, and evolutionary merely describes the type of creationist view.  By contrast, in theistic evolution the noun-focus is on evolution, and theistic is just an adjective describing the type of evolutionary view.
In most of this website, I use evolutionary creation because this makes it easier to compare three major types of creationist views — young earth, progressive, evolutionary — and because it more clearly emphasizes that the focus of evolutionary creation is creation by God.

        Theistic Interpretations of Scientific Theories
        In most fields of science — ranging from the chemistry of life to the physics of rain — there are no theological criticisms of scientists who accept naturalistic theories.  Theistic evolution just extends this general acceptance into another area.
        Scientifically, theistic biological evolution agrees with conventional neo-Darwinism;  theologically, it is a theory of divine creation.  A nontheistic interpretation of neo-Darwinism views the process of evolution as being not designed by God, using matter not created by God, driven by only chance and selection that were not guided by God.  { an example: NABT claims "unsupervised evolution" in 1997 }   But these philosophical claims are extra-scientific, and a theistic interpretation can disagree by viewing the evolutionary process as being designed by God, using matter created by God, and perhaps guided by God.
        Therefore, Judeo-Christian theists should accept a theistic theology about nature, and should reject the atheistic theology (and sloppy logic!) that can produce two bad arguments against theistic evolution.

        Could unguided evolution achieve the goals of God?
  According to a theory of evolutionary creation, God designed a universe that would naturally produce complex physical and biological structures, like stars and life.  But even if natural process was materially sufficient (to produce physical and biological complexity), would it be theologically sufficient (to achieve the goals of God)?
        When thinking about this question, we need to ask:  1) How precisely defined were the goals of God? { i.e., did God want the history of nature to occur exactly the way it has, or would something slightly different, or very different, have been satisfactory? }   2) If evolutionary history was allowed to occur a thousand times with results determined only by unguided chance, what would be the variability in results?
        Scientists debate the second question.  But even if unguided evolutionary history would be less variable than most scientists think, theologically it seems that some guidance (and maybe lots of guidance) would be necessary to achieve the goals of God, unless these goals were very flexible and imprecise.  This divine guidance, which would produce a desired natural-appearing result instead of another natural-appearing result, would seem especially useful for creating humans with the characteristics (physical, mental, emotional, ethical, spiritual) and environment (planetary, ecological,...) desired by God.

        What is "theistic" about theistic evolution?

        In what ways does theistic evolution (with God actively involved) differ from deistic evolution (with God setting nature in motion and then just letting it run)?  What types and amounts of guidance are proposed by various proponents of theistic evolution?   {Divine Guiding of Natural Process in Evolutionary Creation & Progressive Creation}
        Claims for theistic guidance lead to important theological questions:  can God (or does God) control anything?  ... control everything? (i.e., do any unguided events ever occur outside God's control?)   if God is guiding, is He responsible for harmful random events (genetic defects,...) and evolved organisms (deadly viruses,...) that happen in history and in the present, and why does He allow bad things to happen?

        Why isn't God more obvious?
        In salvation history, why doesn't God do spectacular miracles more often?  Why didn't the risen Jesus immediately go to downtown Jerusalem and show everyone that He was alive, and why doesn't God give everyone a persuasive "Damascus Road experience" like He did with Paul in Acts 9?
        In formative history, why is there evidence — like a general increase of biocomplexity and biodiversity, with features giving an appearance of common descent, and long delays between major biological innovations (such as 3 billion years from the first life to the Cambrian Explosion) — that might lead some rational people to propose "atheistic evolution" as an explanation?
        Perhaps the universe was designed so all creation would occur by natural process.
        Or maybe "miracles in formative history" would be accepted by scientists if their theories were not being constructed in a community biased by its assumption that everything has occurred by natural process.
        Or maybe a "veiling of miracles" during creation (*) is one aspect of a state of uncertainty intended by God, who seems to prefer a balance of evidence, with enough logical reasons to either believe or disbelieve, so a person's heart and will can make the decision.  Each person can use evidence (historical, personal, and scientific) to estimate the plausibility of various worldviews, but there is no logical proof for any worldview.  Therefore, we have freedom to choose what we really want, and an opportunity to develop the "living by faith" character that is highly valued by God, with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all thoughts and actions in daily living.  
        * Maybe creation-miracles during formative history were "veiled" so they're not easy to perceive, as proposed in creation by modification.
        Is there proof for the existence and activity of God?
        Can design (or anything else) be "proved" in science?

        For a Christian, personal faith in natural-appearing theistic action is especially important for everyday living.  When our prayers include a request for theistic action, we usually ask for action that is natural-appearing.  God also works through miracles, but does this much less often.  The letters of Paul (in Romans 12:2, Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 1:9-11,...) describe how God, through a natural-appearing spiritual connection with believers, supplies us with what we need (faith, hope, love, joy, courage, strength, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, humility, wisdom,...) for a full life.


        Evaluating Theistic Evolution — Science and Theology

        Scientific Support  (based on our interpretations of nature)
        Proponents of theistic evolution claim that evidence for evolution is very strong.  Is their claim justified?
        What is the scientific support for evolution?  This question cannot be properly answered, because it is imprecise.  Instead, we should ask about four (or more) natural evolutions — astronomical, geological, chemical, biological — and here are my current conclusions: 
        I think the scientific support is very strong for astronomical evolution (in an old universe) and geological evolution (on an old earth), but is very weak for chemical evolution;  most scientists agree with these scientific evaluations, although some think the support for chemical evolution will improve in the future.  For biological evolution (E), I think the support varies when we ask four sub-questions, about micro-E (very strong), fossil-E (very strong), descent-E (strong), and Total Macro-E (there are reasons for scientific questions).  These evaluations, especially about biological evolution, are examined in The Process of Logically Evaluating Evolution.
        Some reasons for my conclusions are in pages about astronomical evolution (attractive forces cause simple reactions that produce complexity), geological evolution (a wide range of evidence supports conventional old-earth geology but falsifies young-earth flood geology), chemical evolution ("what is required for life" seems much greater than "what is available by natural process"), and biological evolution (we should use precise definitions and logical comparisons in our scientific evaluation of evolution).

        Theological Support  (based on our interpretations of scripture)
  Does the Bible, in Genesis 1-2 or elsewhere, provide theological evidence either for or against an all-natural evolutionary formative history?  This question won't be examined here, but (eventually) it will be in Methods of Creation.
        During the salvation history of humans recorded in the Bible, God's actions are usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing.  By analogy, should we expect God to also both modes of action during the formative history of nature?  Maybe, but not necessarily, since the histories have similarities and also differences.  A similarity is that during both histories a miracle would "make something happen" that God wanted to occur, but would not occur by natural process.  A difference is that, during salvation history, in addition to its practical value a miracle also serves as a symbolic "sign" that is immediately observed by humans.
        Or perhaps, as explained above, to preserve a "balance of evidence" God avoided any obvious "proof" for miraculous creation.  But my experience is that people who don't want to believe can always find a way to rationalize, to explain away evidence for divine creation (whether natural or miraculous), to avoid any conclusion they want to avoid.  Therefore, God could provide a large amount of evidence for miraculous-appearing creation without "forcing belief" and restricting our freedom to choose.
        According to a theory of fully gifted creation, God could (because he is clever) and would (because he is generous) give his creation everything it needed to evolve, by creating a "nature without gaps"so a natural Complete Formative Evolution could occur without a need for miracles in formative history.

        Which universe is more impressive?
        If the universe was designed to assemble itself by natural process, this would be impressive (and glorifying for God) since it requires a very clever design.  But miracles are also impressive (and glorifying) and they eliminate the need for total self-assembly.
        Is self-assembly possible?  Maybe not.  There might be an essential tension between operation and assembly, and perhaps a universe with optimal operation cannot also be self-assembling.   ( Should engineers try to design a self-assembling car?  If not, why not? )   To illustrate the potential for tension, Walter Bradley asks if a car designed to change its own spark plugs would be a good design, or if this unnecessary feature would hinder the car in other ways that are more important.
        Is self-assembly preferable?  Maybe God enjoys interacting with his creation, like a gardener caring for a garden by preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering, pulling weeds, and harvesting.
        In our search for truth, when we ask "Is the universe self-assembling?" we are influenced by differences in personal preference, which occur for reasons that are scientific, theological, philosophical, emotional, and aesthetic.  Some people want the universe to be self-assembling because they feel that God would not "interfere with the laws of nature he designed," while others prefer a process that includes miracles.  Both preferences seem compatible with what is taught in the Bible.

        Two Bad Arguments (using atheistic theology and sloppy logic)
        • an unfortunately common argument, based on atheistic theology, occurs in two steps:   First, evolution is defined as atheistic by accepting an atheistic interpretation of nature which claims that natural process (including natural evolution) occurs without God.  Second, this bad theology is used to justify a claim that "since evolution is atheistic, theistic evolution is illogical."  Actually, it's this argument that is theologically illogical, because it accepts the atheistic theology that God is not active in natural process, that "natural" means "without God" so "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it."
        • here is another bad argument, using atheistic theology (plus incorrect logic) in a similar way:   An atheist (or a deist, or a semi-theist who is drifting toward deism) will almost always accept evolution.  This fact is the basis for an implication that is just guilt by association, using the logic that "if atheism (or deism) then evolution" implies "if evolution then atheism (or deism)."  But this logic is illogical because a claim that "atheists are evolutionists, so evolutionists are atheists" is false, for the same reason that "all dogs are animals, so all animals are dogs" is false.  A person who accepts scientific theories of evolution can have theology that is either strong or weak, that ranges from devout Christianity through minimal theism to deism to atheism, as explained in Defining Theistic Evolution, Part 2 and summarized in a table.

        Humility (by us) and Praise (for God)
        The Bible clearly states that God used miracles in creating the universe and in salvation history, but is less clear about miracles in formative history, so each view — proposing a formative history with or without miracles, with two modes of action or only one — seems compatible with what the Bible clearly teaches.  Most of the arguments above (all except those based on atheistic theology) are rational, but none seems strong enough to negate what we learn by a scientific study of nature, in our efforts to determine if the universe actually IS capable of total self-assembly by natural process.
        By using the evidence and logic of science, we can try to determine whether everything could be produced by divinely designed natural process (as claimed in theistic evolution) or if (as claimed in old-earth creation) God also used occasional miraculous-appearing divine action.  But with our current state of knowledge it seems impossible to know with certainty.
        Therefore, instead of criticizing either view as being "less worthy" it seems wise to adopt a humble attitude.  Each of us should admit, like Job, that "surely I speak of things I do not understand, things too wonderful for me to know," and we should decide that God's plan for design-and-creation was wonderful and is worthy of our praise, whether he did it with two modes of action or one.
        When science helps us discover any aspect of God's clever design for self-assembly in nature — for example, how a balance of forces lets stars (like our sun) operate for billions of years, and how this operation eventually produced the atoms that form our bodies and our planet (yes, we and our home are made from stardust) — we should praise God.  We should also praise God for miracles, in salvation history or formative history.  Whether a feature of the universe (stars or stardust, first life or complex life) was created by natural process and/or by miracle, we can praise God for his intelligence, power, and wisdom, for what he created and how he created it.

        applications:  A proponent of old-earth creation (or young-earth creation) should be willing to praise God for designing a universe that was totally self-assembling by natural process, with no formative miracles, in case this is how He did it.  Similarly, a proponent of evolutionary creation should be willing to praise God for using both modes of creative action, for cleverly designing nature to produce most phenomena without miracles, and for powerfully doing miracles when natural process was not sufficient, since this might be the way He did it.

        Appropriate Humility
        In theology and science, our humility should be appropriate — not too little, and not too much.  We can make some claims, but not others, with confidence.
        For the WHEN of creation, scientific confidence is justified, while theological humility (regarding our interpretations of what Genesis teaches about timing) is justified.
        For the HOW of creation, scientific humility and theological humility are both justifiable, so Christians should be humble about God's methods of creation.  You and I should say in public — and believe in private, in our hearts and minds — that "IF God created using another method (differing from the way I think He created), then God is worthy of our praise."
        But this humility (if... then...) is compatible with also explaining why we think a particular view is most likely to be true.  We can be humble while we explain — using arguments based on theology and science, based on our interpretations of scripture and nature — why we think one view is more plausible than other views.
        We should respect each other, but respect does not require agreement.  We can respect someone and their views, while vigorously criticizing their views.  If we are searching for truth, we should avoid the intellectual laziness of postmodern relativism, because for most questions about origins a skillful use of evidence and logic can be a valuable source of knowledge, leading to improved understanding.
        For dedicated Christians who care for both people and ideas, the goal is an appropriate humility that requires a balance between two desirable qualities — confidence (which if overdeveloped can become rude arrogance) and humility (which can become timid relativism or aggressive postmodernism) — that are in tension.  But most of us tend to err in the direction of overconfidence in our own theories, so trying to develop the virtue of modest humility usually has a beneficial effect.  {more about appropriate humility when interpreting the two books of God}

        Humility and Love
        When we ask "HOW did God create?" we cannot know for certain what the truth is, so humility is justified.  But even when Christians disagree about the details of creation, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can join together in our praise of the creator, joyously proclaiming that "you are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)"
        How does God want us to treat each other?  Jesus said, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34-35)"

humility-and-love is a major theme of this page and is the proper way to end it,
but there are two "bonus sections" about a phrase that is not humble, and a question about methodology and theology, plus an appendix

      What does "God of the gaps" mean?

        When current naturalistic scientific theories (claiming to explain some aspect of formative history) seem implausible, is this science gap due to the inadequacy of current science, or does it indicate a nature gap (a break in the continuous cause-effect chain of natural process) that was bridged by miraculous-appearing theistic action?
        Sometimes a theory proposing a nature gap is ridiculed by calling it a "God of the gaps" theory.  This is confusing because "God of the gaps" can have many meanings, and the intended meaning is rarely clarified.  Due to this imprecision, I think "God of the gaps" should be eliminated from our vocabulary, because it simply attaches a derogatory label instead of clearly expressing a logical concern.  It can cause confusion (when a reader wonders "what is the intended meaning?") and miscommunication (when a writer intends one meaning and a reader receives another) and irritation (by those who are being wrongfully stereotyped and having their views misrepresented).

        When someone says "God of the gaps" you should ask "What exactly do you mean by this?"
        • If they are criticizing a claim that "a nature-gap is possible so we should consider this possibility," ask "What is the alternative? Are you claiming that a (nature) gap is impossible?"
        • If they mean "God acts only in gaps," agree with the criticism, but check to see if this really is being proposed (it rarely is) and don't allow an either-or choice between "only in the gaps" and "never in the gaps (because it's impossible?)" as if these were the only two choices.   /    Most of this page is defense of theistic evolution, defending it against unwarranted theological criticisms.  But sometimes evolutionary creationists launch an equally unwarranted counter-attack by implying that any proposal for "miracles in formative history" is a denial of God's action in natural process, as if — in order to avoid "only in the gaps" theology — a Christian must make an either-or choice between natural-appearing divine action and miraculous-appearing divine action.  Instead, a Christian should affirm that God can use both modes of action, and accepting one does not require rejecting the other.
        • If they're questioning a specific historical claim that "in this situation a gap did occur," you can have a respectful discussion about the theological and scientific merits of this claim.  Similarly, a claim that "in this situation a gap did not occur" or "a gap has never occurred" (*) should be evaluated based on its theological and scientific merits.   /   * A "never in the gaps" claim could be based on a theological argument that a gap is impossible (an atheist will claim that a non-existent God could not do it, while a theist can claim that God would not do it) or a scientific argument, based on evidence-and-logic, that God has never done it.   {details about God of the gaps}
        • And if they say "maybe God did miracles during formative history, but a theory proposing miracles should not be a part of science," they are proposing methodological naturalism, which is discussed below.

        When someone says "God of the gaps," ask "What do you mean?"  But to improve the precision in our thinking and communicating, I think we should eliminate this term (which has many meanings) and replace it with a series of terms (each having one meaning that is specific and clear).

not either-or, and not either-or:  
        We should avoid two false dichotomies.  First, we should avoid implying that "natural" means "without God," that if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it, that if something happens by natural process this is not divine action so it "counts against God" in our worldview-thinking about the actions of God.  Second, it isn't logical to think that if someone claims God can (or did or does) work through miracles, this implies they are denying God's activities in natural-appearing situations, to think that God's actions must be either always-natural or never-natural.
        Both of these extremes — demanding that a choice is necessary because God either MUST have created using some miraculous-appearing divine action, or MUST have created using only natural-appearing divine action — are false dichotomies, because the Bible clearly declares that God can work in either way, and in both ways.

        Is methodological naturalism theologically acceptable?
        Currently, most scientists adopt methodological naturalism in science by including only natural causes in their scientific theories.  But according to the Bible, history has included both natural and non-natural events.  Is a naturalistic science compatible with Christianity?  Yes, because Christians can accept methodological naturalism while rejecting an atheistic philosophical naturism which claims "nature is all that exists."
        The Bible clearly states that God sometimes does miracles, so all Christians should be open to the possibility of miracles during formative history.  But a devout Christian who believes "miracles occurred in salvation history" could, after a careful evaluation of science and theology, conclude that "formative history was all-natural."  But should this naturalistic conclusion be the only possibility that is considered during scientific evaluation, as required by methodological naturalism?
        In my opinion, there are two theologically acceptable ways for Christians to view methodological naturalism (MN):

        • In one view, a Christian accepts MN but considers closed science (restricted by MN) to be only one aspect of a broader "open search for truth" that considers all possibilities, including miracles.  In this open search, closed MN-science is respected as an expert witness, but is not allowed to be the judge and jury when we're defining rationality and searching for truth.  { Everyone who accepts MN should also adopt MN-Humility by recognizing the possibility of unavoidable error in MN-Science because if an event really did involve a non-natural cause, any explanation of this event by MN-Science will be incomplete and/or incorrect. }
        • In another view, proponents of open science propose replacing rigid-MN with a testable-MN in which scientific investigations always begin by assuming "it happened by natural process" but consider this an assumption, a theory to be tested rather than a conclusion that must be accepted.  If we think miracles are possible, is it logical for us to assume (while doing science) that miracles are impossible?

        Some Christians support one view, and some think the other is better.  In both approaches, a Christian believes that natural process was designed by God, is sustained by God, and can be guided by God, so "natural" does not mean "without God", and a naturalistic explanation does not imply atheistic naturism.
        Although accepting MN can be rational and theologically acceptable for a Christian, I don't think MN is the most effective method in a scientific search for truth about nature, as explained in Methodological Naturalism.


Shorter versions of
most pages below

are in an FAQ for
Creation, Evolution,
and Intelligent Design
and many ideas in this
page are condensed in 
an FAQ that asks, 
What can a Christian
believe about evolution?

full-length pages are:

Theistic Guidance
in Theistic Evolution

Death before Sin?
Theology for Humans

Is old-earth creation
logically inconsistent?

Public Schools: Critical
Thinking and Evolution

Logical Principles for
Evaluating Evolutions

Entropy and Evolution:
Second Law of Thermo


Young-Earth Views:
Theology & Science

Historical Science &
Young-Earth Skeptics

False Apparent Age:
Starlight & Theology


Two Books of God:
Scripture & Nature

Science and Religion
in Conflict?  Warfare?

Mutual Interactions of
Science & Worldviews

Anthropic Principle:
Design & Multiverse?


Methods of Creation:
Other Authors' Views

Homepage for Origins




What is accepted and rejected by evolutionary creationists?
      Earlier, I described what is accepted in theistic evolution, in terms of the formative evolutions (astronomical, geological, chemical, biological) that may occur due to natural process.  But what is rejected?
      There is no official definition of theistic evolution, but here is a general summary:  scientifically, all proponents think that some (or all) of the natural formative evolutions were sufficient to produce the formative history of nature we observe, so formative miracles were not necessary;  theologically, all accept a divine intelligent design of nature, creation of nature, and (if it's theistic not deistic) control of nature, so they reject non-theistic interpretations of nature and worldviews;   but views vary about scientific and theological sub-questions:  was natural process, without miracles, sufficient for all of the four evolutions (in a complete formative evolution) or only some of them?  what was the amount (the frequency and strength) of divine guidance during formative history, and the amounts of natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing divine action during salvation history, and the role of evolution (guided or unguided) in shaping human characteristics (physical, mental, emotional, ethical, spiritual)?
      And because a broad definition of evolution is just "change" (of any type) some common uses of evolution (as in the evolution of culture, or of automobile designs) are in a totally different category, so they're independent of questions about formative history and they don't belong in this discussion.

Social Implications of Evolution
      In society, what are the effects (psychological, sociological, ethical, spiritual,...) of a widespread belief in evolution?  In what ways does it affect the ideas and actions of individuals and societies?   { This complex topic is important, but it will not be discussed here. }

Is an old-earth process inefficient and cruel?
      In a section asking "Which universe is more impressive?", I say that "In our search for truth, when we ask 'Is the universe self-assembling?' we are influenced by differences in personal preference, which occur for reasons that are scientific, theological, philosophical, emotional, and aesthetic."
      Similarly, advocates of young-universe views are strongly influenced by personal preference (more than by scriptural evidence) when they claim that any old-universe creation, with or without miracles, is inefficient and cruel, and is theologically deficient.  Here are two young-earth arguments, with responses:
      • Why should God use billions of years, instead of 144 hours?   /   But worries about waste are unwarranted because God has plenty of resources, including time.  And the evidence strongly indicates that God — like a master potter carefully molding clay — really did take a long time to shape the creation.
      • In a process of old-earth creation, either with or without miracles, many animals would live and die, so God would not use this cruel method.   /   Initially this argument seems impressive, but when we look at the Bible more closely we see that eternal life is promised only to humans, not animals.  Whether the universe is young or old, the everlasting life we lost by sin is available from God as a gift of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, as explained in Animal Death before Human Sin — Biblical Theology is for Humans, not Animals. )

A Veiling of Miracles with Creation by Modification
      The first paragraph describes my theory that God "occasionally used miraculous-appearing modifications of existing genetic material" with common descent, instead of creating new species independently so a new species would not necessarily have any relationships with previously existing species.
      A process of old-earth creation by modification would include both continual natural-appearing evolution and occasional miraculous-appearing macromutations, and would be consistent with most evidence for evolution.  Could we distinguish between this creation process and a totally natural evolution?  Maybe.  With detailed data — such as lab reports (for physiology, structure, genome-DNA,...) for all organisms during a period of change — it would be easy.  But with the data we actually have, distinguishing is more difficult.
      Theologically, creation by modification would "veil" the design-directed action so it would not be obvious.
      Scientifically, is this theory unsatisfactory because it's too similar to neo-Darwinian evolution?  No.  In science an acceptable theory is not required to have a sharp contrast with other theories.  For example, in most situations the predictions of Newton's classical mechanics and Einstein's special relativity are almost identical.  But we don't demand that Einstein's theory must be modified to make it differ more from Newton's theory, in order to let us more easily distinguish between these theories using data that is easy to collect and analyze.  Instead, we should focus on plausibility by asking, "Based on empirical evidence and logical evaluation, does a theory seem to match the way the world really is?"   { Why do evolutionists prefer to argue against independent creation rather than creation by modification? }

Is evolution atheistic?  As explained in two bad arguments using atheistic theology, a claim that "atheists are evolutionists, so evolutionists are atheists" is false.  This is also shown below, because even though natural evolution {in the bottom row} can be adopted by people whose theology ranges from strong theism through minimal theism and deism to atheism, three creation views (young earth, old-earth progressive, and old-earth evolutionary) can be adopted {in the white column} by strong theists who believe in miracles.  A combination of "natural evolution" and "strong theism with miracles" is evolutionary creation.

method of
divine creation
strong theism
with miracles
minimal theism
(with no miracles)
(with no theism)
(with no God)
 young-earth creation 
progressive creation
natural evolution

Intelligent Design of Nature: 
Sunshine warms our bodies, grows our food, and lets us see.  But why do we have sunshine?  It occurs because natural processes — which depend on the mass of particles, conversion of mass to energy (e = mc2), rate of nuclear reactions, and relative sizes of nuclear and gravitational forces — produce a balance between opposing forces.  The cosmic tug-of-war inside our sun has lasted billions of years, with some forces constantly pulling the sun's fiery atmosphere inward, while other forces are pushing it outward.  When we learn that natural process is "just right" for producing sunshine, instead of feeling sad (as if sunshine occurs "without God" because it is natural) Christians should rejoice and praise God for the wonderful way He created nature!   Three Explanations for a "just right" Universe



This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.
Here are other related pages:

( you can see views by other authors )

What can a Christian believe about evolution?
( it's a condensed version of ideas in this page )

Naturalism and NATURALISM

Four Types of Intelligent Design

Similarities and Differences between
Evolutionary Creation & Progressive Creation

Can we prove the existence and activity of God?

Theistic Evolution (a longer version of this page)

this page is

Copyright © 2002 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved