The first part of Darrel Falk’s reply to William Dembski on BioLogos actually does clarify (a little) the issue I’ve alluded to a lot on The Hump of the Camel, that is the idea of God’s having give creation “freedom”, especially in the realm of evolution. To remind you, Darrel’s last summary of this to me included the words:
Gods design, however, is intelligent and God, through that intelligence wills freedom for his creation, including the constrained freedom of allowing creation to make itself.
I’ve previously gone into how this ties in with the Open Theism/Process Theology agenda so prevalent amongst Christian natural scientists from Polkinghorne to Van Till, and especially in the biological sciences. My main aim hitherto has been to show that it is heterodox to historical Christianity, whilst suggesting its incoherence. But Falk’s latest piece, though not mentioning this idea, clarifies his overall worldview and shows that this hypothesis of a free creation is … well, all over the place. Indeed, it’s a dog’s breakfast of a theology.
A brief reminder that Falk divides God’s activity into the natural, by which he implies the predictable laws of nature sustained by God, and the supernatural, by which he means miracles. Evolution comes, he states clearly, into the “natural” category. As an aside it’s not completely clear in which category he puts the creation of humankind, but what he actually says about it is:
I will begin by summarizing my view of the nature of Gods activity in creation. I think that God created all living organisms, including humans, through the evolutionary process.
On the face of it, that would seem to put quite a limit on human exceptionalism, but I allow that he might have been simplifying for the sake of brevity. Given that the evolution of mankind is one of the biggest sticking points between evolution and Christianity, that abbreviation is surprising.
Nevertheless, let’s explore “a creation given freedom to make itself” in the light of the statement that evolution is a “natural” work of God. What that means, in Falk’s description, is:
The laws of nature, then, are simply a description of the ongoing activity of God whichbecause it is so consistent, dependable, and pervasivepoints to the trustworthiness of God.
So consistent is that activity that it can be described mathematically through scientific analysis.
Evolution, then, is consistent, dependable … even mathematically describable. In other words, it is deterministic. And if so, if it is governed by natural law, it cannot at the same time be free and self-making, can it?
Perhaps, though, Falk is referring to something greater than the parts of God’s consistent natural law – something like emergent self-organisation. Emergence theories have had very little airing on BioLogos, and certainly not by Darrel Falk. But supposing that were what he believed, would it make a difference? Emergence theories exist (as opposed to emergent self-organisation, for which there is little evidence) in order to account for complex phenomena within natural law. Stick the right complicated things together and – hey presto! They will start reproducing, evolving, thinking and so on. In other words, they are every bit as deterministic as the natural laws that drive them. So emergence theories cannot in any way support a creation independent of God’s controlling direction.
BioLogos not infrequently speaks of nature’s self-creation as “autonomy”, which, being interpreted, means “a law unto itself,”, or more generally, “self-determination.” That last term (indeed, all three of them) presupposes two things: a “self”, and a “determining will”.
So, given that Darrell seems to attribute the development of human free will and consciousness to evolution operating under deterministic natural law, perhaps he’s actually espousing some kind of vitalism – that nature literally has conscious free will to evolve as it wishes (and if not, it should drop the word “autonomy” forthwith!). There are one or two (!!) objections to this.
The first is that vitalism has never raised its head above the parapet on BioLogos, and not surprisingly for it is far off the beaten track both for science and for Christianity. Secondly, even the pinnacle of evolved consciousness and will, Homo sapiens, has no power to determine its own evolutionary course (recent technological developments possibly excepted). The “will” in nature would have to reside not in the organisms themselves, but somewhere else … and where might that be? A last, rather serious, theological objection to this line of thought is that, since we, as humans, did not create ourselves, and the self-creating freedom lies somewhere else within nature generally, then we actually have two Creators. The first is the distant Sky-God whose connection to us is via the setting up of deterministic natural laws, and his ongoing sustaining of them. The second is Nature, the first self-determining being to emerge from those natural laws, whose will has actually caused us to evolve as we did. We call that pantheism, I believe.
OK, we have one more possibility, and that is that nature’s “limited freedom to make itself” doesn’t properly refer to “self-determination”, but analogically to” randomness”. Here we immediately have a problem in that Darrel Falk’s analysis makes no mention of whether “chance” belongs to the orderly, mathematically predictable realm of God’s “natural” activity, or to the miraculous realm of the “supernatural”. In fact, chance is not mentioned at all – which is rather major given the important role attributed to chance in evolution. Perhaps it occupies a third, unmentioned, category.
Be that as it may we must be decide, if nature’s freedom consists in random events, whether those events are random
(a) with reference to God or
(b) with reference to nature.
If (a) is the case, then one problem is solved: God did not plan these random events. If he tosses a dice to make decisions, then God is not governing the path of nature and it is undirected by God. That would please the materialist supporters of Darwinian evolution, and would seem to leave some room for nature to direct itself, as per Falk’s idea.
But hold on – if (a) means God does not direct random events, then (b) means nature does not direct random events. In fact, they must be undirected, not self-directed. Nobody at all is at the helm – nature does not have freedom to self-create, but has been cast adrift in a ship with no rudder. In addition to which, of course, there is a third God called Chance actually directing events, and to him we would be advised to direct our worship.
If you can make a rational scheme out of all these possibilities, you’re a better man than I am.
One more thing. Darrel describes God’s supernatural activity – his direct activity – as very different from the natural:
On the other hand, the God we know through Scripture and personal experience also works in ways that are not mathematically predictable. We call this aspect of Gods action supernatural, and we seem to think of this facet of Gods workthis law-defying activityas being more God-like.
That’s one reason BioLogos believes evolution is natural – because it is lawlike, rather than law-defying. It looks undesigned, or one can persuade oneself that it does. So design would indeed be detectable were God to create directly, rather than by natural law, just as it would were it designed by human beings. But, Darrel tells us, God has made nature so that it is free to create itself. Why then, can we not detect that fact?
Perhaps, as one or two people on Biologos have suggested to me, I’m giving insufficient room for the place of mystery in faith.