If God is the universal author of natural events in the way described in the previous post (following the position of classical thinkers like Aquinas in denying the univocity of God and affirming his concurrent acton in the world) we would expect that, in their own domain, natural processes should give a complete explanation of events. God is evidenced by such explanations, not by their absence. God acts from within nature. And so they are right who say that it is a wrong approach to look for gaps in knowledge to demonstrate God, for that is to limit God’s activity to the miraculous.
This does not mean, however, that the hand of God is invisible in natural events. To recognise the ordering and purposes of God is not a “God of the gaps” argument, any more than recognising the human origin of a book denies that it was produced by physical means.
To give a more specific example, scientific laws can predict generalities, but as they are abstractions they cannot explain the specifics that make up reality. That suffering Job is born because one sperm in millions fertilises one egg in thousands, from two individuals of multitudes, is a full biological explanation. But it does not explain at all why that particular individual is Job, in his special time and testing circumstances for the enlightenment of the world. Or since Job may well be a mainly literary figure, likewise embryology does not explain how the greatest OT prophet was born 6 months before Christ to his cousin, in fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy and God’s word to John’s father Zechariah. Likewise, natural processes may, perhaps, account for changes in species – but not that certain species, including man, will arise, which is from God’s creative ordering of the world.
And so that is how God may guide evolution, but always (assuming it to be a “natural” process) in accordance with the nature of the secondary causes. If evolution produces its outcomes by physical laws, known or unknown, they are designed by God for that purpose and operate as exactly as he intended (which may more flexibly than we commonly assume physical laws to act).
If it involves what we call chance, we need to understand that chance is random only with respect to our understanding, not to God’s government. As I pointed out recently any statistical distribution implies inherent order, and that even includes quantum events with, apparently, no predictable causation in the material world. I quoted philoospher Ed Feser in that recent post:
Chance presupposes a background of causal factors which themselves neither have anything to do with chance nor can plausibly be accounted for without reference to final causality, so that it would be incoherent to suppose that an appeal to chance might somehow eliminate the need to appeal to final causality.
So in the design of the statistical distribution, and in the events occurring under it, God’s guidance is at work to move all things towards the desired ends, thoroughly consistent with their natures.
I hope that you can see that no natural process can even in principle be either independent of, nor count against, God’s intimate and sovereign control. And the theology on which this conclusion is based is exactly that which deals with core issues of Christianity such as grace and election, answered prayer and general providence.
One thing more needs to be covered, and that is the principle of sufficient causation, which is only of relevance once the foundation of divine action is firmly established. It is not enough simply to assert that God can do anything, as a way of shoehorning divine guidance into a process that one claims to be unguided. As I said in the introduction, that is simply a logical contradiction, unless one affirms (as I did) that what is unguided at the level of natural processes is actually thoroughly teleological at the deepest level. It follows that if one has a natural theory, its natural mechanisms must be sufficient to produce the observed outcomes reliably. God’s tools of governance must be suited to the goals he sets. If not, ones theory is either plain wrong, or one is forced re-introduce miracle as the mode of divine action, rather than concurrence.
For example, it has been pointed out that the Lord’s changing of water into wine at Cana used no materials or processes that are not found commonly in nature. But this is a little disingenuous, for it’s equally true that no processes conceivable in nature would ever cause water in household jars to turn into fine wine. To explain it naturally one would need to discover a truly unprecedented theory. In fact one has to accept the miraculous explanation. To say that God could produce the wine from the storage jars naturally, because he is all-powerful, would be as crass as to claim he could make a stone fall upwards by Newton’s law of gravity. That is the level of argument that seems to be used when saying that God can “use unguided evolution” to produce the outcomes he desires (ie he can guide unguided evolution).
But I have presented a standard, orthodox, theology in the last two articles that strips away unwarranted metaphysical claims about “unguidedness” to allow that Darwinian evolution could be guided by God without any denial of its natural mechanisms. Nevertheless one could hold that theology, and yet believe that Neodarwinism’s sufficiency for the job is implausible on evidential grounds. It would be a matter of science, not of theology as such, though one might also doubt on philosophical principles how a system without intrinisic teleology could, in practice, attain so many apparent targets, goals and functions.
In such a case one would have the options of either finding a better natural theory, or perhaps a series of them, or of considering a supernatural element in life’s development. The former is being attempted on a number of fronts nowadays, but seems to require the discovery of wholly new scientific principles in order to suceed. That might prove fruitful in extending science beyond materialism, though in practice it sometimes smacks of a desperate attempt to keep God out of the picture at any price.
The latter ought to be theologically unexceptionable, despite some claims from Analytical Thomists and others to the contrary, since creation itself is still, by definition, a supernatural affair of bringing something from nothing. The question is only whether the succession of species is to be understood as creation, or like reproduction, as a feature of already-created nature.
I’m not sure any Christian has the authority to pronounce confidently on that yet.