“Le bon Dieu est dans le détail”

On the American Scientific Association’s (ASA) Email Discussion Group, Jon Tandy posted the following illustration of how God need not direct the process of evolution, much as He need not direct the process of photosynthesis, gravitational attraction, etc. As Christians, we acknowledge that God sustains the universe by His power; however, to claim that God directs the actions of every particle in the universe is to ascribe a role to God that He (according to the Bible) never ascribes to Himself. Moreover, could there be instances in which God, through His foreknowledge, chooses more often that not to infuse an historical event with theological meaning rather that physically manipulate the course of that event?

Another favorite illustration is the weather. While it may not be purely random (certain known processes are involved, such as temperature, pressure, humidity, etc.), actual weather events can be seen to encompass a good deal of randomness when we look at the detail level, even with modern instruments and observations. Chaos theory is now invoked to describe these random processes.

Is God involved in the weather? Does God jiggle every particle of dust through the atmosphere to create a rain drop to be flung to the ground at His will, or does move every electron in a spark of lightning? Common sense tells me no, these are natural processes that God doesn’t need to directly manipulate. Yet, does God occasionally bring hail storms as judgment against sin? Does he bring famine and drought, as predicted by the prophets, to humble his people and bring them to repentance? Is he able to bring the rain again after the people repent, due to the ministry of an Elijah?

I suspect if questioned, [some] would respond that these specific examples of God “directing” the otherwise natural and random processes of weather, are evidence of the NON-randomness of those particular events. But this is an ad hoc distinction. Looking from a neutral, scientific perspective, the events in question, though perhaps unlikely, would be part of the random distribution of possible weather patterns and indistinguishable from “non-directed” events. It is only by looking at those events with a theological perspective, knowing that in some cases there is a revealed “purpose” and intention behind them, that one can say they are non-random or directed. (And even then there is the question in many cases, did God cause the event, or did he simply infuse it with meaning through the message of the prophets or by the action of His Spirit working on human hearts, bringing them to repent of their ways?) In so doing, there has been introduced a completely different level of observation, and I suspect even a different definition of randomness when viewing the event from the perspective of “theological purpose” versus “physical process.”

So from this, I guess the biologist could look at the scientific evidence of evolution and observe many features resembling randomness, but the theologian looking at the same process could claim directedness and purposefulness in God’s action from a Theistic Evolutionary perspective. Is this a case, somewhat like in Special Relativity, where two different observers can both be correct from their own frame of reference, even though their observations differ from one another?

This is a valid question for Theistic Evolutionists—for those who defend “undirected” evolution as the mechanism of evolution, do you also hold the idea of purposefulness at a higher level? Is there any Theistic Evolutionist who doesn’t confess directedness and purposefulness behind evolution, when viewing it above the level of scientific and biological fact? Isn’t this the very meaning of the term “Theistic” Evolution? Evolution is the mechanism of the biological level, theism is the mechanism of a higher order.

I also like the illustration that has been given before, of the words “God is love” written on a blackboard. At one level, they are simply solid bits of chalk adhering to the board. At a lower level, they are not solid at all, but are mostly empty space consisting of random motions of electrons, protons and neutrons. At a higher level, it can be seen that there is a non-random design and intentionality in the pattern of chalk, provided one recognizes the language of English in which they are written. And at a yet higher level of cognitive and emotional awareness, the words “God is love” mean something more than the pattern of the letters reveals, and on the highest level is God’s love itself which incapable of being fully understood. Which one of these levels of perception is the “true” one—the random motion of electrons, the designed pattern of bits of chalk created by human hand, or the divine reality of God’s love that transcends mortal ability to comprehend? They are all true from different frames of reference.

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4 Responses to “Le bon Dieu est dans le détail”

  1. …do you also hold the idea of purposefulness at a higher level? Is there any Theistic Evolutionist who doesn’t confess directedness and purposefulness behind evolution, when viewing it above the level of scientific and biological fact? Isn’t this the very meaning of the term “Theistic” Evolution?

    I often talk in terms of creation being brought about on the level of God’s intentionality. Out of an infinite number of possible universes with different choices made in every one, God chose one in which our current situation would occur by processes He ordained.

    Good stuff. I really appreciate the ASA and hope they get more visibility and recognition.

  2. Dan

    Mike,

    Good post and quote.

    To complement what has been said, God made something OTHER than himself. As a God of love, does he not often allow that OTHERness to do its own thing, including us humans. This leads not to Deism but a God of Love, for loving involves letting the object of that love be who she is.

    At the same time, this God of love responds to the prayers of his people, and interacts with the physical order in order to heal the creation of its brokeness and sin. He also interacts with us because he is a person who desires a relationship with his people. Why would God have needed to have interacted directly (i.e. miraculously) with the world before sin, prayer, and relationship had yet occurred.

    And does God, as the quote points out, often allow us to view natural events, which had no miraculous intervention, with its larger purpose. How does he do this? He, through his Spirit allows us to see those events from his divine point of view. God’s point of view is obviously trustworthy.

    Dan

  3. And does God, as the quote points out, often allow us to view natural events, which had no miraculous intervention, with its larger purpose. How does he do this? He, through his Spirit allows us to see those events from his divine point of view.

    This reminds me of John 15:15: “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

  4. Dan,

    Well said! However, you did say something that made me stop and think: “this God of love … interacts with the physical order in order to heal the creation of its brokeness and sin.”

    Is “creation” really broken? Or is it merely mankind’s spirit that is broken?

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