Evolutionary Creation
 Is theistic evolution theologically acceptable? 

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

So you can quickly get
a "big picture" overview,
I suggest that you first read
the condensed version of this page.

      Criticism and Defense

      I'm a critic of theistic evolution, and a defender:  Because I don't think "totally natural evolution" is the way it happened, I'm a critic.  But I'm also a defender because I think this view should be carefully considered, and 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 is to provide a framework that will promote careful thinking and accurate communicating, and will stimulate lively discussions about interesting questions.
      I want to defend evolutionary creation (EC) — also called theistic evolution — against some common criticisms.  Some unjustifiable criticisms are based on the mistaken ideas that "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it" or that ECs claim "no miracles have ever occurred and no miracles can occur."  Other unjustified criticisms are based on overgeneralization, due to thinking that "because a scientific theory of evolution can be interpreted atheistically, it must be interpreted this way" or that "because EC can be theologically weak, it must be weak."  You'll see these themes throughout the page.
      But I also criticize some versions of EC in three ways:  • by asking "what makes theistic evolution theistic rather than deistic?", and  • by explaining why the scientific support for "evolution" (it's in quotes to ask "what does it mean?") is weaker than is usually implied by proponents of theistic evolution, and  • why the phrase "God of the gaps" (which is used by some ECs) should be eliminated from our vocabulary because it has too many meanings, so 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 meaning) and irritation (by those who are being wrongfully stereotyped and having their views misrepresented, which nobody enjoys).
The sections in this overview-page are:
Theistic Action, Natural Process, Three Design-Actions, Theistic Evolution,
Two Stages of History (formative and salvation), Theistic Action in History,
Which universe is more impressive?  Naturalistic Theories and Interpretations,
Could unguided evolution achieve the goals of God?  What makes evolution theistic?
Questions about Theistic Action, Why isn't God more obvious?  Religious Implications,
Humility and Respect, Scientific Support? God of the Gaps, Methodological Naturalism.

Theistic Action (What does God do?)
      When we examine origins, our worldviews (our theories about reality; our theories of the world, used for living in the world) play a crucial role.  In my monotheistic Christian worldview, I find it useful to think about God's theistic action (TA) as if there are two aspects: foundational and active.
      foundational theistic action:  God designed and created the universe using initial theistic action, and "keeps it going" through sustaining theistic action.
      active theistic action changes "what would have happened without the active TA" into what actually happens.  In miraculous-appearing theistic action an event differs from our expectations for how things usually happen.  But with normal-appearing guiding theistic action everything appears normal and natural because God's guidance blends smoothly with the usual workings of nature.  { Can "guided natural process" be detected?  no and yes }

Theistic Action in more detail

      Natural Process (Does it happen without God?)
      A normal-appearing natural event can be interpreted theistically (as "produced by God"), atheistically (natural = without God), or in other ways: deistic, pantheistic, animistic,... or agnostic.
      For a theist, natural does not mean "without God" because God designed and created nature, and constantly sustains nature.  And natural does not mean "without control" because God can guide nature so one natural result occurs instead of another natural result.
      A theist believes that a supernatural God is involved in natural process, that the natural depends on the supernatural.  Although thinking about natural as being not-supernatural is sometimes useful, to avoid wrong implications we usually should contrast natural-appearing (normal-appearing) with miraculous-appearing.  A Christian who believes the Bible will believe that God uses both modes of divine action, natural and miraculous.
      terminology:  To avoid giving the word "natural" (which a theist thinks is good) an atheistic or pantheistic implication (which a theist thinks is bad), and for other reasons, we should call a claim that "only nature exists" naturism, not naturalism.  { Since there are two meanings — "only nature exists" and "only natural process" — we should use two terms;  and we should discuss the confusion caused by using one term with two meanings, NATURALISM (naturism) and naturalism, as explained in another page. }  It's also important to remember the two differences between philosophical naturism and methodological naturalism.

      Design-Actions, Questions, and Praise
      In principle, God could have used three types of design-action:  1A) design-directed action at the beginning of history (in a design and creation of the universe) that eventually (as God continues to sustain the universe) results in production of a feature by undirected natural process,  1B) natural-appearing guidance of natural process in design-directed action that occurs during history but is not empirically detectable,  2) miraculous-appearing design-directed action that occurs during history and is empirically detectable.
      In reality, did God use 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?
      Either way, we can praise God for his design-action.  When we discover, through scientific study, God's clever design of nature — for example, how a balance of forces has allowed stars (like our sun) to operate for billions of years, and how this operation eventually produced the heavy atoms (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen,...) 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.  Whether a particular feature of the universe (stars or stardust, first life or complex life) was created by natural process or by miracle, we can praise God for his intelligence, power, and wisdom, for what he created and how he created it.

      Theistic Evolution is a Creationist Theory
      A theory of theistic evolution (TE) — also called evolutionary creation * — proposes that God's method of creation was to cleverly design a universe in which everything would naturally evolve.  Usually the "evolution" in "theistic evolution" means Total Evolution — astronomical evolution (to form galaxies, 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) — but it can refer only to biological evolution.
      * The term "theistic evolution" describes the theistic actions of God (as designer, sustainer, and guider) in evolution, while "evolutionary creation" describes evolution as God's method of creation.  I use these terms interchangeably, and for me they have the same meaning.  But some who hold this view prefer "evolutionary creation" because it places the emphasis on creation, with evolution describing the type of creation, while "theistic evolution" places the emphasis on evolution, with theistic describing the type of evolution.

      A Bad Argument against Theistic Evolution
      The main difference between theistic evolution and atheistic evolution is their nonscientific interpretation of scientific theories about evolution.  A nonscientific atheistic interpretation views a process of evolution as being not designed by God, not guided by God, using matter not created by God.  { an example: NABT and "unsupervised evolution" in 1997 }  But a nonscientific theistic interpretation can disagree with these atheistic claims by proposing that an evolutionary process was designed by God (and perhaps also guided by God) and used matter created by God.
      The bad theological argument occurs in two stages:  First, an atheistic interpretation of evolution — claiming that it occurs without God — is accepted. (examples)  Second, there is a claim that "since evolution is atheistic, theistic evolution is illogical."  Actually, it's this argument that is theologically illogical, because it is based on the atheistic claim that "natural" means "without God," because it rejects the Bible-based claim that God created and controls natural process, as explained above when I ask "Does natural process happen without God?"
      This argument is also discussed later, in Naturalistic Theories and Interpretations and an only-in-the-gaps theology which implies that "God is not active in natural process... so if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it."

      Two Stages of History
      We should distinguish between two contexts for theistic 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.

      Theistic Action in History
      In contrast with deism — which proposes that God created the universe but then "let it run by itself" without further theistic action — a basic theism requires only that God is active, in ways that appear natural or miraculous, in human history;  it does not require theistic action in formative history.  A Judeo-Christian theism, based on the Bible, claims that God has been (and is) active in the salvation history of humans, in ways that are usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing.
      If the two stages of history are analogous, then God's actions were also "usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing" in formative history.  Should we expect this theological analogy between salvation history and formative history?  Maybe.  But not necessarily, since there are similarities between the two stages of history 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, miracles also serve as symbolic "signs" that are immediately observed by humans.  Denis Lamoureux thinks this difference is important: "These conservative Christians [evolutionary creationists] believe that the Lord reserves miraculous signs and wonders for personal relationships with men and women. (source)"
      According to a theory of fully gifted creation proposed by Howard Van Till, a "nature without gaps" was designed by God to be fully gifted, to have functional integrity with a robust formational economy (*) capable of naturally forming complex physical and biological structures (like stars and life) so in formative history a natural Total Evolution could occur without a need for miraculous-appearing theistic action.  Van Till claims that God could (because he is creative) and would (because he is generous) give his creation everything it needed to fully evolve.  /  * I don't think this term is accurate, because the formative capabilities of nature would be extremely "robust" even if nature was designed to be mostly (but not totally) self-assembling by natural process.
      George Murphy offers a theological defense of functional integrity by claiming analogy between the life of Jesus (who self-limited his divine power when he lived among us and died on the cross) and the creation by Jesus (of a universe that was fully gifted to evolve, so God could self-limit his power and let formative history occur naturally without miracles).  /   but there is a strong counter-argument:  During his incarnation as a human, Jesus did many miracles, and his natural crucifixion was followed by miraculous resurrection.  Therefore, two modes of divine action (natural and miraculous) is the appropriate model if we want to propose analogy between the human life of Jesus and the formative history of nature.
      Lamoureux, Van Till, and Murphy claim that their view — with miracles during salvation history but not formative history — is compatible with the Bible, and I agree.  The Bible is very clear when stating that God used miracles in creating the universe and in salvation history, but is less clear about miracles in formative history, so both views (with or without formative miracles) seem compatible with what the Bible clearly teaches.  Even if God designed the universe so there would be no need for miracles in formative history, in salvation history God could choose to use miracles for humans.  Miracles are an important part of God's plan for humans, to produce benefits that are primarily spiritual (but are also physical, emotional, and intellectual) and to serve as signs, and teach us spiritual lessons.  For example, the miraculous resurrection of Jesus shows us that He has conquered death so He can offer us eternal life.
      The next section asks a question:  If we believe that miracles occur in salvation history, should we be open to the possibility that miracles also occurred in formative history?

      Which universe is more impressive? (humility about personal preferences)
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 it 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?  Why? ) ( Walter Bradley asks whether a car designed to change its own spark plugs would be a good design, or if this unnecessary requirement would hinder the car's effectiveness in other, more important ways. )
      Is it 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.  Or, in a musical analogy we can ask whether God designed nature so during formative history it would be like a normal piano (requiring input by a performer) or a player piano without a keyboard (so it can only play automatic music) or an electronic keyboard (with automatic music available but also letting a performer play).
      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, while others prefer miracles during assembly.
      At one extreme there is a feeling (not based on the Bible) that a God who is worthy will never do miracles because he will "play by the rules he established" and will not "interfere with the nature he designed."  At the other extreme is an "only in the gaps" view (also not Biblical) which claims that "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it" so God does not get credit for designing a universe that is fine-tuned to allow a natural production of many wonderful phenomena (sunshine,...) without a need for miracles.  Between these extremes is a range of views that seem consistent with Bible-based Christian theism.

      Two theological arguments are outlined above:  A) two modes of action (usually natural and occasionally miraculous) were used in salvation history and also, by analogy, in formative history;  B) since God is creative and generous, he could and would give us a universe that was "fully gifted" to naturally evolve.
      Both arguments are worthy of careful consideration.  But neither seems sufficiently compelling to negate what we learn by a scientific study of nature, using evidence evaluated by logic, in our efforts to determine if the universe actually is capable of total self-assembly by natural process.  And if we believe that miracles occur in salvation history, then we should be open to the possibility that miracles also occurred in formative history.  Instead of thinking it is necessary to assume a naturalistic formative history, scientists who are Judeo-Christian theists should feel free to follow the evidence-and-logic wherever it leads, in a liberating open-minded approach to searching for truth.  { Two ways to be open-minded are examined later: Is methodological naturalism theologically acceptable? }  If we want to know how many teeth are in the mouth of a horse, instead of arguing about philosophies and appealing to authorities — as in the scholasticism of the Middle Ages before the rise of modern science — we should find a horse and count the teeth.

      During formative history, did God use both modes of action or only natural process?
      The evidence and logic of science can help us in our efforts to determine which phenomena were produced by each mode of action, to learn whether everything could be produced by divinely designed natural process (as claimed in theistic evolution) or whether (as claimed in old-earth creation) occasional miraculous-appearing divine action was also used.  Currently "the jury is still out on that question," say Loren Haarsma & Terry Gray in their chapter in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.  But either way, whether God created with or without miracles, the process and results of creation are awesomely impressive and glorifying for God.
      With our current state of knowledge it seems impossible to know with certainty, so instead of criticizing either way 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 decide that either way — whether it happened with two modes of action or one — God's plan for design-and-creation was wonderful and is worthy of our praise.
      Therefore, 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
      We should be appropriately humble about God's methods of creation, saying in public — and believing in private, in our hearts and minds — that "IF God created using another method (differing from the way I think He created), God is worthy of our praise."  But this "if... then..." humility 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 our "if" is more plausible than the "if" proposed by other views.
      For example, Haarsma and Gray acknowledge that "the jury is still out," but the main goal of their chapter, and of the preceding chapter by Gray, is to explain the scientific support for a natural production of self-organization and increasing complexity.  And they close their chapter by claiming that "it seems most promising — both scientifically and theologically — to study biological complexity expecting to find more evidence that God designed into it the ability to self-organize."  Similarly, proponents of other views can explain the scientific and theological support for their views.
      We should respect each other, but respect does not require agreement.  You 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, and this requires a balance between two desirable qualities — confidence (which if overdeveloped can become rude arrogance) and humility (which can become timid relativism) — 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 will usually have a beneficial effect.  {more about appropriate humility}

      Naturalistic Theories and Interpretations
      In most fields of science — ranging from physiology (re: the chemistry and physics of life) to embryology (re: development from egg to adult) and meteorology (re: development of wind and weather, rain and snow) — there are no theological criticisms of scientists who accept naturalistic theories.  Theistic evolution just extends this general acceptance into other areas.
      Scientific evidence for a design of the universe favors all theistic theories, including theistic evolution, over similar nontheistic theories.  When scientists discover that natural properties are "just right" for important natural processes — such as the production of sunshine (due to the size of nuclear and gravitational forces, mass-energy conversions,...) and the chemistry of DNA and proteins — a theist proposes that God is responsible for this clever design of nature.  A theory of theistic evolution proposes that God designed nature so it would naturally produce not just stars (in astronomical evolution) but also life (in chemical evolution) and complex life (in biological evolution).
      Scientifically, theistic biological evolution agrees with conventional neo-Darwinism;  theologically, it is a theory of divine creation.  As explained earlier (in criticizing a bad argument) a nontheistic interpretation of neo-Darwinism assumes that biological evolution was driven by only chance and selection, which were not guided by God.  But theistic evolution can disagree with this extra-scientific claim (which is the conventional assumption of mainstream biology) by proposing a designing of natural process by God, and also a guiding of natural process by God.

      Could unguided evolution achieve the goals of God?
      A theory of evolutionary creation proposes that God designed a universe which would naturally produce complex physical and biological structures (like stars and life) so total evolution (astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological) would occur by natural process.
      But does it claim that natural process was materially sufficient (to produce physical and biological complexity) or theologically sufficient (to achieve the goals of God)?
      When thinking about this question, we need to ask:  1) How precisely defined were the goals for creation?  Did God want to produce exactly what occurred in nature's history, or would something slightly different, or very different, have been satisfactory?  2) How reproducible is unguided evolutionary history?  If the history of natural evolution was allowed to "run freely with unguided natural process" a hundred times, would the outcomes be divergent (producing different results) or convergent (with similar results)?
      Even if evolutionary history was more convergent than most scientists think, it seems that some guidance would be necessary to achieve the goals of God, unless these goals were extremely flexible.  This guidance, which would produce a desired natural result instead of another natural result, would seem especially useful in creating humans with the characteristics (physical, mental, emotional, ethical, spiritual) and environment (planetary, ecological,...) desired by God.  {the origin of humans}

      Theistic Evolution: What makes it theistic?
      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")?  Were the creative actions of God restricted to an initial designing (and continual sustaining) of the universe, or was there also theistic guidance during formative history?  Would some guidance be necessary to achieve the goals of God?  What types and amounts of guidance are proposed, by various scientists, in their theories of theistic evolution?
      Some concepts of theistic action (TA) — especially the difference between foundational TA and active TA — can help us think about TE and guidance:  foundational TA (the initial-TA that determined the characteristics of nature, and sustaining-TA that lets nature continue) allows history, but active TA (either guidingTA or miraculousTA) makes a difference in history.  Some advocates of theistic evolution try to avoid deism by saying "God actively sustains the universe," which is true but is not sufficiently theistic because (since sustaining-TA does not guide history) it does not help us understand how God could achieve his "goals for the creation" unless, as described above, these goals were very imprecise and flexible.
      On the other hand, some evolutionary creationists are more explicit about guidance.  The following statements are from an excellent book, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.  The editor, Keith Miller, says: "The Bible describes a God who is sovereign over all natural events, even those we attribute to chance such as the casting of lots or tomorrow's weather...[so] chance events certainly pose no theological barrier to God's action in and through the evolutionary process.  Some theologians see God's action exercised through determining the indeterminacies of natural processes... both at the quantum level and at the level of large chaotic systems."  In another chapter, Terry Gray, who "comes from a fairly conservative Calvinistic theological perspective," says "I believe that... all of the events envisioned by an evolutionist are under God's oversight. ...  God is as much in control of the outcome of the process as he is if he had zapped things into existence without any process.  Obviously, this is not the random, undirected evolution of atheistic naturalists." {details about guidance}

      Theological Questions about Theistic Action
      Claims for theistic action lead to important theological questions:  Can God (or does God) control anything?  ... control everything? (i.e., Do unguided events ever occur?)  If God does exert total control (or can but does not), why do bad things happen — due to nature (as in a hurricane) or the actions of humans — in a universe operated by a God who is all-powerful and loving?  How does human freedom and responsibility fit into the picture?

      Why isn't God more obvious?
      God sometimes does spectacular miracles in salvation history, so in formative history why is there any evidence — like a general increase of biocomplexity and biodiversity, with features that give an appearance of common descent, and long delays (e.g., 3 billion years from the first life to the Cambrian Explosion) between major biostructural innovations — 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 recognized if scientific theories were not being constructed in a community biased by its methodological assumption that everything has occurred by natural process.
      Or maybe a "veiling of miracles" during the creation process 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 logically rigorous 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.  { Is there proof of God? }

Religious Implications
      Advocates of theistic evolution span a wide range of theology, from generic deism to theistic Christianity.
      If a person's aesthetic preference (that an "elegant God" would not interfere with nature) becomes theological belief (that God never interferes with nature), it will be easier for this person to let their worldview drift from theism into deism, with a passive God who is not theistically active (who never performs miracles and doesn't even guide the flow of natural events) in formative history, in biblical salvation history, or in our everyday lives.  This isn't a necessary result of theistic evolution, especially when its proponents emphasize the actions of God (both natural and miraculous) in salvation history, but sometimes these actions are not emphasized.
      Having faith in natural-appearing theistic action is especially important for everyday living .  When our prayers include a "request for action" we are usually asking 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.

      Theistic evolution can be associated with theology that, in other ways, is either strong or weak.  In this page, I'm defending only "theistic evolution theology" that in other ways — such as believing that God does miracles during salvation history — is theologically strong.
      A person with weak theistic beliefs will probably adopt theistic evolution, but this is not logically equivalent to a claim that a person who adopts theistic evolution has weak theistic beliefs.  Similarly, an atheist must believe in naturalistic evolution, so "if atheism then evolution" is true, but a reversed claim ("if evolution then atheism") is not true because some evolutionists are not atheists.  { To clearly understand this important principle of logic, think about why the true statement "all dogs are animals" cannot be reversed into a claim that "all animals are dogs" which is false because some animals are not dogs. }  Therefore, guilt by association — implying that since atheists are evolutionists, evolutionists must be atheists — is not logical and is not true.

      Theological Questions:  Is evolutionary creation a theologically acceptable position?  Does the Bible provide evidence against an all-natural formative history, or should we say "the Bible says God created, but does not explicitly specify a method of creation"?  /  Is death (of animals) before sin (by humans) compatible with Genesis 1-3?  Is a long process of old-earth evolution (or old-earth creation) too inefficient and cruel to be the creation method used by God?  { Yes, there are Bible-based answers for questions about "inefficiency" and animal death before human sin. }

      Social Implications
      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?  When we ask "if evolutionary beliefs, then ___", how should we fill in the blank?  { This complex topic is very important, but it will not be discussed here. }

      Humility and Love
      When we ask "HOW did God create?" we cannot know for certain what the truth is, so humility is justified.  Even if Christians disagree about some aspects of theistic evolution, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can join together in joyously proclaiming, "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)"   {more about truth and respect, when we look at young-earth claims about theology and science}

humility-and-love is a major theme of this page and is the proper way to end it,
but there are three more "bonus sections" — about  • the scientific support for evolutions, • a phrase that is not humble and should be avoided, • whether methodological naturalism is theologically acceptable — plus an appendix.

      What is the scientific support for evolutions?
      I think the scientific evidence for an old earth (and old universe) is overwhelmingly strong.  Proponents of theistic evolution claim that evidence for evolution (E) is also very strong.  Is their claim justified?
      What is the scientific support for evolution?  This is a sloppy question that cannot be properly answered, because it is imprecise.  Instead, we should ask about four (or more) natural evolutions: astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological.  Regarding these questions, here are my current general conclusions: 
      I think the scientific support is very strong for astronomical E and geological E, but very weak for chemical E.  For biological evolution, the support varies for each of four sub-questions, about micro-E (very strong), fossil-E (very strong), descent-E (strong), and Total Macro-E (questionable).  Some reasons for my conclusions are in pages about astronomical evolution (evidence for a design of nature, and simple reactions producing complexity), geological evolution (carefully examining the details of flood geology and asking "How old is the earth?"), chemical evolution (in the context of questions about methodological naturalism and intelligent design), and biological evolution (the principles that should be used in a logical evaluation of evolution and creation).

      What does "God of the gaps" mean?  (excerpts)
      When current naturalistic scientific theories (claiming to explain some feature in the formative history of nature) 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 imply a criticism of four different views, and the intended meaning is rarely clarified.  Of the four implied criticisms, two are justified, but two are not.
      What are the justified criticisms?  First,...  Second,...
      What are the unjustified criticisms?  First,...  Second,...   { You can read the full section in God of the Gaps: What does it mean? Should we say it? }

      Those who use a "God of the gaps" label usually don't clarify which of the four views they are criticizing, so usually they are implicitly criticizing a "gaps are possible" view and proposing a "gaps are impossible" view.  .....
      In my opinion, "God of the gaps" should be eliminated from our vocabulary because it is imprecise. ...  Does it refer to a "gaps are possible" view (this is theologically acceptable for a Christian theist) or a specific theory claiming "a gap did occur" (this should be evaluated using evidence and logic), or an "always in the gaps" habit (that is scientifically naive) or an "only in the gaps" view (that is theologically unacceptable and should be criticized)?
      Instead, to improve clarity in communication a critic could say that someone is implicitly endorsing a "God only in the gaps" view, or naively thinking "a science-gap is always a nature-gap," or not agreeing that "a nature-gap is theologically impossible."
      But simply saying "God of the gaps" is imprecise... and it only attaches a label instead of clearly expressing a logical concern. ...  As explained in the page-introduction, this term "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 criticizes a theory by calling it a "God of the gaps" theory, ask "What exactly do you mean by this?"
      • If they are criticizing a claim that "gaps are possible so we should consider this possibility," ask "What is the alternative? Are you claiming that gaps are impossible, or do you know with certainty that a totally natural Total Evolution Of The Universe is certainly true and did occur?"
      • If they mean "only in the gaps," agree with the criticism, but check to see whether this 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.
      • And if they're questioning a specific historical claim that "in this situation a nature-gap did occur," you can have a respectful discussion about the scientific and/or theological merits of this claim.  Similarly, a historical claim that "in this situation a nature-gap did not occur" or "a nature-gap has never occurred" (*) should be evaluated based on its scientific and theological merits.
      * A "never in the gaps" claim could be based on a theological argument that a nature-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 did not do it.

      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?  I think the answer is "yes" because Christians — who believe that non-natural miracles occur, and who therefore should view a naturalistic science as only one aspect of a broader "search for truth" that considers all possibilities, including the non-natural — can accept methodological naturalism while rejecting atheistic philosophical naturism.
      According to a nontheistic (atheistic, pantheistic,...) religious philosophy of naturism, nature is all that exists, with no God and no divine action, so everything that happens is caused by matter/energy in natural operation.  This philosophical naturism differs from methodological naturalism in two ways.  First, methodological is not philosophical;  a theist can adopt a methodology (for the purpose of doing science) without accepting it as a philosophy (about the way the world really is) that is used as a basis for living.  Second, naturalism is not naturism, as explained below.  .....  { This explanation is not "below" but is in a page about Methodological Naturalism. }

      Two Options for Christians
      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 the theological and scientific evidence, 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 rational, theologically acceptable ways for Christians to view methodological naturalism (MN).  Among scientists (and other scholars) who are Christians, some support one view and some think the other is better.

      • In one view, a Christian accepts MN but considers MN-science to be only one aspect of a broader "open search for truth" that considers all possibilities, including miracles.  In this open search, 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 (in terms of only natural causes) will be incomplete 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 to be an assumption, a theory to be tested rather than a conclusion that must be accepted.  Alvin Plantinga explains the rationality of this view: "a Christian academic and scientific community ought to pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians."  If we think miracles are possible, why should we assume (while doing science) that miracles are impossible?
      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 lead to a conclusion of atheistic naturism.

      An open search is theologically acceptable and intellectually rational for a Christian, but only when it is truly open, when a person is willing to "consider all possibilities."  This will not occur if methodological naturalism (which says "no miracles inside science") is combined with a typical God-of-the-gaps criticism (which implies "no formative miracles outside science") because miracles are considered to be impossible and unworthy of serious consideration, an "open search for truth" has become a closed search.
      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.


What are my views?
      Was nature created with the ability to naturally assemble itself into complex life?  Scientifically, I think there are reasons (regarding chemical evolution and biological evolution) to question a totally natural self-assembly, and my scientific conclusion is "probably not."  Theologically, I think miracles during the process of creation are "probable but not necessary."  How did God do it?  Based on science and theology, my theory is a guided natural astronomical evolution of earth (in the context of our solar system, galaxy,...), then a miraculous creation of the first life, followed by old-earth creation (with evolution that is natural-appearing yet guided, supplemented by occasional miraculous-appearing genetic modifications) to produce complex life.  {details about my views: scientific, theological, relational, and educational}
      Some of the most important yet difficult scientific and theological questions are about human origins, about Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3, the origins and relationships of death (for animals and humans) and sin, and our interpretations of scientific evidence (fossils, genetics,...) for hominids.  I think the origin of humans involved more than just undirected natural process;  there was some design-directed divine action that was miraculous-appearing and/or was natural-appearing but guided, with the overall result that Adam and Eve were created the way God wanted them to be at the beginning of our salvation history.

Can we observe a guiding of natural process?  (no and yes)
      If we define "natural" as "normal appearing" then, by definition, the guiding of a natural-appearing event cannot be detected.  But...
      Sometimes a series of undetectable events can become detectable, as in this example:  If you pick the winning number for a roulette wheel once, it looks natural.  But what if the wheel is guided by God so you win 20 times in a row?  Each event appears natural, but the overall process (with 20 events) does not appear to be undirected natural process, and most observers will think "the wheel was rigged."
      Peter Rüst (1992, 2001) and Gordon Mills (1995-1999) propose that God created some biological complexity by combining many individually undetectable "guided natural events" to produce a desired-and-designed overall result that can be scientifically detected when we observe an increase of genetic information (and biological complexity) that could not be produced, with a reasonable probability, by undirected natural process.   { These ideas are explored in more depth in another page. }
      Sometimes an agent wants design-action to be undetectable, as with an illusionist (entertainment magician), criminal, plastic surgeon, or "special effects" movie-maker, or when God guides natural process.  Rüst says, "For theological reasons, I believe that God 'hides his footsteps' in creation to protect the personal freedom he has chosen to give us so that we can make a faith decision for or against him.  His footsteps in creation are plain, but only to those who choose to believe; to others, their evidence is ambiguous."  { This answer is similar to mine but stronger, when we ask Why isn't God more obvious? }

Does a theory of evolution have to be atheistic?
      Young-earth creationist Werner Gitt (on the AIG website) says YES when he defines
      atheistic evolution as "matter + evolutionary factors (chance and necessity + mutation + selection + isolation + death) + very long time periods", and
      theistic evolution as "matter + evolutionary factors (chance and necessity + mutation + selection + isolation + death) + very long time periods + God".
      And Phillip Johnson, leading pioneer of the intelligent design movement, claims that --- [I'll look for an example]
      By contrast, --- [I'll summarize ideas from Naturalistic Theories and Interpretations and will link to it]

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:
This page is a condensed version of a longer page about theistic evolution (49 k + 24 k, compared with 38 k and 5 k in this page) which explores some ideas in more depth (but ignores other ideas that I've developed more recently), and poses theological questions that are examined in other pages:  Is evolutionary creation — a creation theory proposing that God's method of creation was to cleverly design a universe in which life would naturally evolve — a theologically acceptable position?  Does the Bible, in Genesis 1-2 or elsewhere, provide evidence against (or for) an all-natural formative history?  Is it justifiable to claim that "the Bible says God created, but does not specify a method of creation"?  Is death (of animals) before sin (by humans) compatible with Genesis 1-3?  Is a long process of evolution (or old-earth creation) too inefficient and cruel to be the creation method used by God?

This page is

Copyright © 1998 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved