Re: History and Goals (for TE)

Loren Haarsma (
Mon, 22 Jun 1998 16:29:49 -0400 (EDT)

Regarding functional integrity, theistic evolution and "theistic
action," Craig Rusbult wrote:

> My main concern is that we should make a clear distinction between a TE
> that involves only th-uMIO (with no naTA) and a TE that does include naTA
> for guidance. { It is not necessary to specify the DETAILS of when and
> where naTA occurs, especially because such a claim seems beyond "our
> ability to know based on observations," anyway. }

You distinguish between "th-uMIO" ("unguided" Matter-In-Operation in a
theistic context -- that is, designed, created, and sustained by God and
operating within his will) and "naTA" (normal-appearing Theistic Action
-- which can crudely be thought of as material events guided by God,
within the normal laws of operation of the universe, to some particular
outcome). (You also point out that science cannot distinguish between
th-uMIO and naTA.) I'll use those terms here.

You ask about (1) the development of complexity, and (2) God's goals.

On the issue of complexity, it seems to me that theistic evolution
postulates that th-uMIO is sufficient to develop biological complexity.
For if naTA is *required* to produce biological complexity, then the
fact that complexity *did* develop ceases to be a "normal appearing"
event and becomes "miraculous appearing." If th-uMIO is sufficient to
produce complexity of some sort, this leaves open the question of
whether th-uMIO or naTA produced the particular sorts of complexity we
actually see. This brings us to the question of Goals.

> Therefore, in evaluating the plausibility of unguided-FI or guided-FI, we
> need to ask: 1) How precisely defined were the goals for creation: Did God
> want to produce exactly what has 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 was
> allowed to "run freely with uMIO" numerous times, would the outcomes be
> widely divergent or strikingly similar?
> [...]
> Unless one of
> these two conditions (imprecise goals or tightly constrained history) is
> true, scientific reasoning seems to indicate that some guiding naTA would
> be needed to achieve a "goal for nature" even if, consistent with FI, no
> miraTA was needed.

Some theistic evolutionists believe that there is no such thing as th-
uMIO. If an event is "normal appearing," then it is naTA. This gives a
simple answer to the question about goals. This version of TE says that
God's goals in biological history were specific, and that naTA was
sufficient to achieve them. The "reproducibility of unguided
evolutionary history" becomes an interesting scientific question, but
theologically moot.

Other TEs would say that th-uMIO is a legitimate category, that the
Creator has given creation some degree of freedom, within the
constraints of the creaturely capacities and the Creator's will. If th-
uMIO is a legitimate category, open to a variety of historically
contingent outcomes, then the question of "goals" has several possible
answers. If something is proposed as one of "God's goals" for
biological history (e.g. the creation of birds), there are at least
three possible responses within TE: [1] that particular outcome was
accomplished by naTA (e.g. God used some naTA to ensure the development
of birds); [2] that particular outcome was historically constrained by
the laws of nature (e.g. the development of flying creatures was,
evolutionarily, a virtual certainty); [3] that particular outcome was
very flexible from the standpoint of God's "goals" (e.g. God did not
"require" the development of flying creatures).

As you point out, we have to be humble about claims of knowing "God's
goals." Even if we can be reasonably confident about something being
one of God's goals --- for example, the development of intelligent,
personal creatures "in God's image" --- we must be humble about claims
about how God achieved that goal. What have theistic evolutionists
generally said about this particular "goal"? I haven't read any TE
advocating all-#2 (that the development of homo-sapiens-like creatures
was evolutionarily inevitable; that hypothesis seems scientifically
unlikely). Nor have I read any TE advocating all-#3 (that God's goals
did not necessarily include the development of intelligent, personal
creatures). From TEs who accept th-uMIO as a possibility, I almost
always read (or more typically, read-between-the-lines) hybrid positions
of this sort: The *eventual* development of intelligent, personal
creatures "in God's image" was evolutionarily very likely; God was
(probably) flexible about the timing, and to a certain extent God was
(probably) flexible about the particular form of such creatures; God
could have used naTA (and perhaps miraTA) at any time, especially to
prepare the increasingly intelligent creatures for personal
relationships with their Creator (and possibly to determine other
factors in their psychology). Most TEs are reluctant to explicitly
claim even this much, however. Even stating this much (or this little)
makes stronger claims than we probably should about the flexibility, or
lack thereof, in God's goals. (This leads to the question of "theistic
action in human psychology" -- a subject for another thread.)

I doubt if any TE would commit to saying, "There was only th-uMIO (with
no naTA) in evolutionary history until God's first personal revelation
to humans." There might be some TEs who would say they think it
*possible.* (I would interpret the writings of a few TEs that way.)
But I sympathize with any TEs who would, out of genuine humility, shrug
off the question of "how much th-uMIO versus naTA?"

Loren Haarsma