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Wisdom in the Scriptures speaks explicitly about God’s day-to-day involvement in the governance of His creation. Harry Cook and John R. Wood explore how participants in the religion-science debate have developed theories about the seeming independence of nature and its laws and God’s relationship with nature. The role of chance, the meaning of suffering in nature, and the rise of the Intelligent Design theory all pose distinct challenges to the traditional view of the mystery and providence of God. The authors evaluate and comment upon these challenges and explore recent theological discussions that deal with the apparent “hiddenness” of God. They present their own view of God’s governance that seeks to recognize the mystery of God’s presence in nature. Harry Cook is Professor of Biology, emeritus, and John Wood is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at The King’s University College in Edmonton, Canada.

Debates about science and religion focus often on how God creates and interacts with nature. Yet, important aspects of God’s relationship with nature seem to be overlooked in this discussion. The complex and often controversial relationship between scientific and religious belief has come to the forefront with best-selling books such as God Is Not Great, The God Delusion and Darwin’s Black Box.1 When comparing the thoughts of Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins to Old Testament Wisdom literature, one encounters opposing views about God’s relationship to the natural world. Biblical wisdom suggests that nothing is outside God’s superintending care while, at the same time, entities in nature have the freedom to be themselves.

What one assumes about God’s agency is central to shaping one’s position in the current religion-science discussions, specifically in regards to the role of chance and indeterminacy in nature, regularity, and evidence of design. We discuss God’s acting in the natural world as it relates to His apparent “hiddenness” and to suffering in nature. We attempt to give an overview of the pertinent literature.

Charles Darwin and Old Testament Wisdom

We know more about Charles Darwin than we do about any other nineteenth-century scientist. We have his notebooks, his correspondence, his library, and photographs of him and his family. And there is no end to the biographies, old and new, about Darwin’s life.2 In Darwin’s time, natural theology was a widely held scientific belief. Its most influential proponent, William Paley, suggests that all of creation speaks of the wisdom and kindness of God.3 In Paley’s view, nature is seen as unchanging and benevolent, a large and happy garden without undue cruelty or extinction. In his youth, Darwin made Paley’s beliefs his own. But after his voyage on the Beagle, as he worked on a big book on descent with modification, Darwin no longer perceived nature as kind and gentle. He had begun to question Paley’s views and natural theology.

Darwin’s life work has two important themes, Ernst Mayr suggests. The first, the theory of natural selection, is his central contribution to biological knowledge. A second strand of Darwin’s thinking is the rejection of special creationism and miracles, and the supremacy of natural processes.4 In reaching these viewpoints, Darwin made a remarkable, complex, and somewhat ambiguous journey. After his voyage, his traditional beliefs5 were replaced by natural explanations6 which did not include a belief in an all-superintending providence and a special creation of the living world;7 instead, Darwin adopted a deist view of God’s role in nature.8 In his autobiography and some of his letters, he described this gradual loss of faith. Even his belief in divinity as a first cause was gradually relinquished.9

Several key life experiences contributed to Darwin’s waning belief in an all powerful, providential God. The cruelty of nature is a stark reality, and it made a huge impression on the sensitive Darwin. In a letter to his American friend, Asa Gray, he wrote, “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.” Nevertheless, in this letter he also stated that he did not wish to consider himself an atheist.10 The topic of cruelty and suffering came home to Darwin most personally when his 10-year-old daughter Annie died.11 If Charles had a favorite child, it was Annie. “A dear and good child,” is the inscription on Annie’s tombstone. Undoubtedly, these two factors affected Darwin personally and changed his theoretical thinking. Thus, in his autobiography he describes his faith ebbing away.12

During the last part of his life, Darwin expressed his preference for “agnostic” as a description of his beliefs.13 But Darwin often seems to adjust his views to those of the person he addressed, or to avoid public outcry. David Kohn has discussed the ambiguities one encounters when attempting to describe Darwin’s religious beliefs.14 In Darwin we meet a profound thinker who built his theory upon meticulous observation and on bold theorizing, and who has shaped scientific paradigms and contemporary science-religious debates. His religious views, however, are complex, and difficult to categorize.

Ambiguity is not a word one would use to describe Richard Dawkins’ views about religion and science. Basing his ideas on the theoretical work of Darwin and “doctrinaire positivism,”15 he has written several influential books. One of his most well-known lines from The Blind Watchmaker is that “Charles Darwin makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” In the same book he claims, “biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose,” adding that “natural selection is the blind watch maker.”16 In The God Delusion, Dawkins works out these provocative ideas, suggesting that religious belief is incompatible with science in general, and the idea of natural selection in particular.17 For Dawkins there is no place for a God outside of what we can know by science. Contrary to Dawkins’ exclusionary view, other authors, both non-Christian18 and Christian,19 have suggested that evolution theory is actually compatible with the Christian faith.

The Wisdom literature in Scriptures presents a very different and personified view of nature and faith from that of Darwin and Dawkins. The psalms of David and the pre-exilic Psalm 104 profess that God acts both in aspects of nature that we understand and those that we do not. Looking at creation prompts him to say that God is great, wise, and glorious. This view is worked out in three long sections of Psalm 104. The psalmist begins with nature at the cosmic scale and ranges to the life of individual animals, and even how a human laborer goes to work. Whatever he describes is caused by the agency of God. When the author speaks of the foundations of the earth, something he knows little about, he describes it as an act of God. And when he describes something that he does understand—darkness because the sun goes down—this too is God’s doing (vs. 19, 20). The lions roar and hunt for food (vs. 21), yet, at the same time he says it is God who gives them their food at the proper time (verse 27).20

Christian theology, also, has asserted that divine providential care includes God’s continuous action in upholding all things. However, this position raises profound questions, as Darwin realized, and as those who have witnessed or even experienced a devastating tsunami or earthquake can tell us. Yet it is also a belief most Christians live by. When they are ill, they go to the hospital to be looked after by medical staff. Then when they are better, they say, “God has healed me.” Thus, in the mind of many Christians, natural explanations and God’s actions are not opposites. In fact, many Scripture passages speak of God’s acting in and through natural processes.

What does wisdom tell us as we deal with the topic of God’s role in creation? Scriptures are quite explicit in this regard. All of our days, as all other events in this world, are under God’s upholding care. There is nothing that falls outside His domain. To acknowledge this truth is evidence of a heart of wisdom. Old Testament scholar John Stek puts it this way:

One thing set “the wise” apart . . . : they saw the whole world and whatever happens in it under the all-encompassing rule of the Lord. So they would say such things as “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33) [and] “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” (Prov. 21:31).21

The New Testament echoes this Old Testament wisdom when it claims that Christ is sustaining or holding together all things by his powerful word (Col. 1:17,Heb. 1:3a).

Intelligent Design and Its Critics

Contrary to the wisdom expressed by Scripture, some Christians divide nature into phenomena which can be explained, where God is absent, and other phenomena which cannot be explained, where God plays a role. That has been the practical position of many in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. The ID movement is an influential paradigm, but it leaves some major scientific and theoretical questions unanswered. “Design” can be perceived as a central theme in Scriptures, although, interestingly, it is not mentioned by that name.22

Phillip Johnson, a retired law professor, speaks of design in his earliest book, Darwin on Trial.23 In all his books, he argues for opposing naturalism in society and education. For Johnson, naturalism includes the theory of evolution. He sees no observable tendency of single-celled organisms becoming more complex life forms such as plants or animals. But it is fair to say that Johnson has not delved deeplyinto the discipline of biology. We support Johnson’s stand against philosophical naturalism. However, in Johnson’s world, where everyone is either an evolutionary naturalist or a supporter of ID, regrettably, many other theistic theories of origins are simply ignored. These include our own view, that what are commonly called “natural processes” can accomplish the purposes of God’s design in creation.

A second proponent of ID, Michael J. Behe, in his book Darwin’s Black Box, has given rise to much discussion.24 Although Behe agrees with large parts of evolutionary theory, he argues that there are a number of molecular and cellular systems, the components of which must have been present simultaneously for them to perform the functions that they do; thus these systems could not have developed from one or more preliminary phases with fewer components. Behe uses the analogy of a mousetrap, where all the parts of which must have been present simultaneously from the beginning in order for it to function. Because it is difficult to explain how some biological molecules could have arisen via useful precursors, Behe has designated such molecules as irreducibly complex. Interestingly, Behe is willing to accept macroevolution from the cellular level on. The ID tent is large indeed!

Critics have dismissed Behe’s book as just another example of the “God-of-the-gaps” approach, and while the book is a valiant attempt to show there is design and irreducible complexity in cellular structures and molecules, these critics have wasted no time trying to fill in the evolutionary gaps that are the foundation of Behe’s hypothesis. Kenneth Miller, in his book Finding Darwin’s God, describes intermediate stages leading up to the complex structure of cilia. Thus, according to Miller, the complexity of cilia is anything but irreducible.25 Other scientists have shown that there are biologically active intermediates leading up to some of the molecules and structures that Behe claims are irreducibly complex.26 The debate continues: William A. Dembski has recently presented a spirited defense of the irreducible complexity of the flagellar apparatus of bacterial and other cells,27 which Michael Ruse has contested in the same volume. In a second book, Behe examines the statistical unlikelihood of evolution occurring by means of random mutation and natural selection. But criticism of this book too, has been rapid, incisive and convincing.28

Dembski, the most influential proponent of ID,29 asks a simple yet profound question: Can we distinguish structures and phenomena that are designed from those that are not? He wants to develop criteria for answering this question. Dembski suggests a phenomenon is of one of three types: (1) a regular occurrence, explainable by natural causes; (2) an unlikely occurrence that happened by chance and (3) an occurrence that is by design, that is, it is caused by an intelligent agent. Not surprisingly, events of the third type are of special interest to Dembski. He hopes to detect such occurrences using an “explanatory filter” which will distinguish between each of the three types of phenomena. Since the first two are assumed to be natural occurrences, Dembski’s filter has the effect of dividing biological phenomena into two categories: those that can be explained by natural processes, and those that are due to the supernatural action of an intelligent entity. We suggest that the negative aspects of this dualism undercut his defense of the ID position. This way of seeing God’s agency is not new in the history of natural philosophy, as shown by Jacob Klapwijk.30 It is noteworthy that Dembski spends very little time on biological phenomena; his theory is based largely on logic. Dembski’s recent defense of his thought has not dealt with this criticism.31

In discussions of ID, particularly by Johnson and by J. P. Moreland, the concept of naturalism has been critiqued.32 The fear of methodological naturalism is that it seems inevitably to lead scientists to reject theism. While naturalism has become the dominant method of contemporary science, Ronald Numbers has shown in a concise historical survey that it has not been a slippery slope to unbelief.33 True, philosophical naturalism is incompatible with Christian belief, yet opinions on methodological naturalism vary.34 Increasingly, naturalistic trends did eventually lead some scientists to deistic or atheistic positions. But many other scientists did not see a conflict between theism and methodological naturalism.35 Numbers’ important point is that throughout the history of modern science, many scientists continued to see the hand of God in the processes they studied. Loren Wilkinson calls for a different approach when he rejects the dichotomy between methodological naturalism and God’s agency. Instead, he stresses that all events and processes obey God’s will and purpose;36 this is also the position that we have taken as the basis of this essay. It is by faith that we know that God created, not by some empirical test. There is majesty indeed, in this view of life. We agree with Loren Haarsma who suggests that the term “scientific method” reflects the investigative activity of scientists more accurately than does “methodological naturalism.”37

In spite of these questions, there is much support for the ID movement in the North American evangelical world. This community has long been influenced by a modernist way of reading Scriptures, as in its tendency to interpret Scriptures using principles based on science. This has led, at times, to a literalistic interpretation of biblical passages, including the creation accounts.38 We should not be surprised that some members of this community experience a clash between modern biology and a literal reading of Scriptures.

There are numerous evaluations of the ID movement and the effort to establish design as a scientific theory. But only a few, including the recent exchange by Denis Lamaroux and Robert Larmer, examine particular aspects of God’s governance of the natural world.39 An incisive critique of the dualism attributed to ID by Oliver Barclay suggests that ID is a meager substitute for biblical notions of creation, providence and divine wisdom.40

Design can be the product of natural, law-governed processes, Del Ratzsch, philosopher of science, suggests in Nature, Design, and Science.41 While he does not discuss the ID movement—his book is, after all, a philosophical examination of design, its possible origin and characteristics—Ratzsch does discuss Dembski’s book, The Design Inference, in an appendix. He is correct, we feel, when he states that if one would accept Dembski’s definitions, then anything produced by nature, qua nature, is not designed. Ratzsch also states that with the eliminative method that Dembski employs, design can only be shown in cases where regular and chance processes are not the guiding forces. Although Ratzsch shows a great deal of appreciation for Dembski’s work, he concludes that “some aspects of the limited task Dembski set for himself still remain to be tamed.”42

Alvin Plantinga, well-known philosopher of religion, has considered the implications of Darwin’s theories and of naturalism as they relate to providence. In publications early in the rise of ID he states his preference for special creationism,43 and also later for design. However, Plantinga abandons Dembski and the ID school at a crucial point by carefully not dividing natural phenomena into those that are designed and those that are not. Speaking of the creation of human beings, animals and plants, for instance, he notes: “Perhaps in these cases [God’s] action with respect to what he has created was different from the ways in which he ordinarily treats them.” In other words, God acts in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

One cannot spend much time on the voluminous ID literature without encountering the claim that ID is nothing more than a reincarnation of the God-of-the-gaps argument, a claim that ID proponents deny vigorously. Deborah and Loren Haarsma suggest that if one assumes that God called forth His creatures in a series of creative acts rather than acting through natural processes, then the postulation of gaps is not a God-of-the-gaps argument, but a legitimate component of the ID paradigm.44 Jack Collins notes that the God-of-the-gaps problem can be avoided by proper definition of terms. J. P. Moreland and David Snoke also defend the God-of-the-gaps position.45 Since we support the view that natural processes could give rise to the diversity of living creatures, we, along with others, have been critical of the God-of-the-gaps position. There are gaps in knowledge, of course, but that is not where scientists start. Gaps can occasionally be verified as useful data, but they are rarely so. It is a misunderstanding of the task of researchers when gaps in our understanding are accepted prima facie as data. Thus we disagree with Ratzsch’s position when he states that gaps should be recognized as empirical observations.46 As we saw in Kenneth Miller ’s work, disproving the irreducibility of cilia as postulated by Behe, scientists will seek explanations for the appearance of the unexplained, and will attempt to find answers to the questions that gaps pose. We suggest that the focus on gaps, irreducible complexity, and overt evidence of design has led ID proponents into the place where God’s actions seem reduced to our areas of ignorance. As Donald M. MacKay said over three decades ago, the mistake is thinking, “if God had anything to do with the events of the natural world, then there must be something scientifically odd about them.”47

In a recent article, Ratzsch provides a service in the ID discussion. He suggests that ID has not lived up to its full potential yet, but may bring to science “a deeper cognitive richness, broader conceptual resources, and more substantive anchors than a purely (methodological) naturalistic science can achieve.”48 However, he does not distinguish between the varieties of “design,” “intelligent design” and “Intelligent Design.” By discussing the detection of design in this way, he continues the dualism between designed and not-designed. Furthermore, he also discusses design incorporated through natural processes (“gapless design”) which makes for a confusing hierarchy.

Basing his analysis on the work of the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, Uko Zylstra has constructively addressed a number of penetrating questions to the ID movement. Dooyeweerd’s ideas of creational laws, set by God for various levels of being, lead Zylstra to reject naturalism and reductionism and to affirm design. He is critical of ID however, stating:

A fundamental weakness among ID theorists is that they have failed to provide an adequate coherent view of God’s interaction with the world. If they continue to theorize within a nature/supranature paradigm, they will have difficulty incorporating intelligent design within scientific theorizing, because the latter is focused on nature rather than supranature. [Thus, we] need to recapture or rethink the meaning of law as the relation between God—the Creator—and the creation and all things in the creation.49

So while ID has been received favorably in some circles, it has not proven to be convincing to many Christians in the sciences who accept biological evolution and work within this framework.

Chance and God’s Governance of Nature

In discussions of ID, chance is a topic that plays a prominent role. Chance processes can include several kinds of phenomena. Uncertainty aspects of quantum physics are often said to be governed by chance. Chaotic systems – that is, processes so complex that their outcomes cannot be predicted – are also often included in this category. These processes are of particular interest to our topic since mutations, the genetic changes said to fuel the evolutionary process, and meiosis, the reduction process that includes a “random” reassortment of parental chromosomes and that governs sex determination, are biological examples of such complexity. All of these random processes in nature are included in God’s governance of the cosmos.51 The question suggests that the admired phenomenon could not possibly exist apart from the creative acts of God. In other words, the question is usually intended to mean, “How could this possibly be an unguided process, independent of God’s intentions and care?” Loren Haarsma answers this question as follows:

This apparent conflict between Chance and God is illusory and unnecessary. The role playedby chance in biological evolution—microevolution or macroevolution—is no different thanthe role played by chance in any other scientific theory (e.g. quantum mechanics, statisticalmechanics, thermodynamics, meteorology, pathology)….Theism has always maintained thatGod can and does determine the outcome of “random” events.

Thus, Haarsma concludes, “random” events in nature are one way in which God could exert His providential care.52

Laws and regularities govern science. But do these laws give God opportunity to act, or do they necessarily exclude divine agency? Kenneth Miller states that in the time of classical physics, determinism reigned supreme and there was little for God to do. Miller sees the province of God’s action in the unpredictability of nature as described by quantum physics.53 Other Christians, too, take comfort in aspects of modern-day physics and chemistry, where uncertainty governs chance events and is now an important part of theory. Yes, they say, God can act in that area of uncertainty, but of course, uncertain events being what they are, we cannot perceive what He does. Ian Barbour mentions some authors who suggest “that atomic indeterminacies are the domain in which God providentially controls the world” and he gives his evaluation.54 In a similar physicalistic approach, Robert Russell suggests that God, in a non-interventionist way, acts through quantum events which, in turn, cause genetic mutations.55 A colleague countered that idea well for us when he said, “The existence of law structures for creation indicates, in itself, a way in which God interacts with this world. We do not need to give Him a corner of physics.”56 Instead, we stress that God is involved in all phenomena and processes of nature.

Theological Considerations: Divine Action and Divine Hiddenness

The view that God is intimately involved in the day-to-day events of creation, and that He upholds and participates in the operation of the universe at all times, is, of course, not new to the religion-science dialogue.57 But as helpful as this view is, it raises difficulties. The ones we will specifically address are the seeming independence of nature and the problem of suffering in nature, which are indubitably part of this position.

First, although many state that God participates in the processes of nature from moment to moment, science describes a nature that obeys seemingly unbreakable and independent laws. Why, if God is present, does science seem so complete? Is there any need to invoke God when natural laws can explain and predict what occurs in nature? In answer to this question, authors in the theistic tradition have suggested that laws of nature reflect God’s faithfulness or his usual way of doing things. These laws are given by God, not as part of the way nature “is” in substance, but as separate entities.58 Michael Goheen writes that our scientific formulations of the laws of nature “can never be identified with the Law-word of God, however. They are human approximations of the order that results from the faithfulness of God in ruling the creation by his word.”59

A holistic view of creation will recognize the existence of laws that govern the various levels of being that are present in nature’s complexity.60 Zylstra and Walter Thorson both suggest that the affirmation of biological laws and biological order is a more adequate recognition of biological complexity than is the theory of Intelligent Design.61 We would suggest that the existence of these creational laws also counters the idea that God only acts in some parts of creation while the remainder is governed by natural processes. Rather, we affirm that creational laws are part of God’s governance, and that the entities that obey these laws are also part of his design.

Alister McGrath is one of several British theologians who suggest that there is a creation order, of which laws of nature are a part, which allows us to investigate nature with confidence. This order, and the uniformity of nature that goes with it, is not simply imposed by the human mind but has a divine origin. It reflects God’s faithfulness to what He has made. Our formulations about nature reflect things that are really present, fallible though these formulations may be.62

The independence of nature has been discussed with emphasis on freedom within bounds of creatureliness from other points of view as well. Polkinghorne stresses the freedom that nature has to be itself.63 In an excellent discussion of nature’s freedom, Colin Gunton works with the thought of Irenaeus, who suggested that God’s Son and the Holy Spirit are the two arms of God in nature; he goes on to say that the Son structures and the Spirit guides creation. Gunton states that this view and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo make independent actions within nature an acceptable reality. Thus he views providence “not in its meaning as seeing in advance but as providing for.” He states: “There is nothing outside God’s ordering activity. But that divine determining is not deterministic, because the action of the Spirit defines the kind of order that there is, or can be. The spirit’s action [enables] things to be themselves” and allows them to reach their ultimate goal or purpose.64 This view gives great freedom to the creation and to the creatures who describe it – humble scientists.

Another important response to the independence of nature entails the mystery of God’s being. George Murphy suggests that God’s actions are hidden, just as his majesty was hidden on the cross. Based on Ian Barbour ’s work,65 Murphy’s “hiddenness” makes use of the concept of “kenosis,” in which Jesus in his incarnation emptied himself of his majesty to become a servant (Phil. 2:7). This hiddenness is deliberate. God does not intend to, and will not, submit himself to our understanding of creation. Murphy’s theology of the cross provides a perspective from which the regularity of nature becomes understandable. “If God’s activity in nature is to bear the mark of the cross,” he says, “it too will be hidden.” God will not be captured by any scientific test, but can readily be seen by the eye of faith.66 Thorson suggests similarly that God’s actions are not subject to human rational scrutiny, and are thus, in a sense, hidden.67

Christopher Southgate has developed a detailed classification of views that are held with respect to God’s governance of nature. In a comprehensive volume, he describes how various schools of thought have addressed the question of the hiddenness of God. His concept of a “causal joint,” that is, how God, “as a transcendent, immaterial cause interacts … [with] the material world,”68 is useful for comparing the variety of ideas on God’s agency.

We agree that our inability to see God’s actions in nature is due to our creaturely limitations. God is hidden because of His faithfulness in upholding the laws of nature and the processes that these laws govern. These actions by God are a mystery that is not open to our examination and critique. With eyes of faith we can see God in the beauty and intricacy of creation and in our task in taking care of this creation. Theories about God’s hiddenness have been helpful in explaining the governance of God to some extent, but ultimately our answers remain incomplete.

Suffering in Nature

One outstanding question posed by our view of God’s governance is suffering. Why, if God is omnipotent, is there suffering and death in the natural world? This question, which already puzzled Darwin, does not yield easy answers. It points to an eternal mystery, a mystery that goes beyond the religion-science debate. We cannot review all of the extensive literature on this topic here, but several authors have made helpful comments relating to agency and governance.

Polkinghorne seeks to explain the existence of suffering, and of evil in general, in the freedom that nature and human beings have to be themselves. He suggests that God shares in this suffering, although this stance itself raises questions, which he recognizes.69 Gunton, on the other hand, calls the presence of evil an “inexplicable mystery,” but points out that evil was overcome and will be overcome by Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. In his view, God’s providence keeps evil within bounds at the present time.70 Although suffering is difficult to justify, Murphy states that God shares in the suffering of creation. Thus, Murphy, like Polkinghorne, sees natural selection as part of the creative work of God.71 In his review of the positions on suffering in nature and theodicy, Southgate proposes that the “theology of providence can only ever be explored alongside the problem of suffering and evil.” He adds, “the more special divine action is proposed, the sharper the problems posed by situations in which God seems not to have acted.”72 It takes us beyond the limits of this paper to discuss the problem of evil in general. However, when it comes to suffering by animals, discussed by Southgate in another place,73 we suggest that anthropomorphism often makes it difficult to draw conclusions about providence and theodicy.74


When we say that Scriptures speak about relationships, it is clear that God’s relationship to the natural world is of great importance. And the resurgence in Trinitarian thought by Polkinghorne75 and Gunton,76 among others, has emphasized the relational nature of the biblical account, including the mutual relationships between the three persons of the Godhead, between God and his creatures, between human beings, and between human beings and the rest of creation. These Trinitarian perspectives are not only relevant to the topic of governance, but also show how governance informs the task Christians have in taking care of God’s world.77

Over the last 200 years, a wide variety of opinions on God’s relationship to his creation has been presented in the context of contemporary scientific discovery. The theory of evolution has had a profound influence upon this debate in general, and upon the views about God’s governance of this world in particular. After his epic voyage, almost all of Darwin’s work was aimed at supporting his theory of “descent with modification.”78 This theory was based on his concept of natural selection and a naturalistic view of processes and phenomena of nature. Naturalism for Darwin simply meant the exclusion of miracles and supernatural divine interventions. Eventually he rejected natural theology and accepted a secular view of nature’s processes. Today, Richard Dawkins is even more explicit in his rejectionof a divine role in nature.

Although the Scriptural descriptions of God’s work in creation are of a different genre than the works of natural scientists like Darwin and Dawkins, the view of nature presented in each can be compared in certain ways. Both ways present an understanding of nature in a specific cultural context. And they both express contrasting opinions about God’s governance of the world. In Scripture’s view, all that happens in creation praises the Lord, and is dependent on His constant care. This view recognizes God’s involvement in His creation from moment to moment. This involvement also extends to processes that are usually considered to be random or chaotic.

While the ID movement has raised questions that Christian theoreticians of biology need to address, this way of seeing God’s activity in the world falls short in some important aspects. The bimodal world of Johnson, Behe’s irreducible complexity, and Dembski’s dualistic and logic-based distinctions are open to valid criticism. We are supportive of the notion of design, even though it is a concept not explicitly found in Scripture. However, a more fruitful way to do science and draw conclusions from the Bible would stress God’s unlimited power and presence in creation as we find it in the wisdom of Scriptures.

Theological reflection about God’s governance of creation has been abundant and varied. It has focused on two major topics. First is the regularity and seeming independence of nature. We would describe the laws of nature as a sign of God’s faithfulness in upholding His creation. But this regularity and independence raises the second vexing problem of God’s hiddenness in events of the biological world and the world in general. This hiddenness is a sign of our creatureliness, and it provides us with a firm foundation upon which to do scientific work. But the apparent silence of God in the scientific details presents us with an apologetic dilemma.79 The presence of suffering in this world is a mystery we cannot fathom. We share this suffering with the rest of creation. And although we may not be able to explain it, we are called to alleviate suffering to the best of our ability.

We acknowledge God’s purposes in nature, in spite of the regularities and the suffering. And we suggest that this is a better way than searching for elusive and incontrovertible scientific evidence of the designer’s hand. Christ’s incarnation and suffering gives us hope and demonstrates that we are not alone. This too is the wisdom of God. By faith we know that God manifests his power most directly inthe crucifixion and, ultimately, in the resurrection. These events announce a victory over suffering and evil that includes all of creation.

The ascendancy of Intelligent Design in the discussion about how God relates to creation has brought new urgency to the choice between Scripture’s way or Darwin’s and Dawkins’ way of looking at the world. We need to recapture a sense of wonder and to again see the world sustained by God who acts and governs.80


Cite this article
Harry Cook and John Wood, “Looking at Nature Through Other Eyes: God’s Governance of Nature in the Religion-Science Debate”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 39:3 , 275-290


  1. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Toronto: McClellandand Stewart, 2007); Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Com-pany, 2006); Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (Cam-bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  2. Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (New York: Knopff, 1995) and Charles Darwin: ThePower of Place (Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press, 2002). Adrian J. Desmond and James R.Moore, in Darwin: Portrait of a Tormented Evolutionist (London: Michael Joseph, 1991), stressthat social factors shape science. See also David N. Livingstone, “A Commentary on Dar-win,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 46 (1994): 123-127; Sara Miles, “Darwin: AMan of His Times—A Theory of Its Time?” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 45 (1993):191-195; Michael Ruse, “Will the Real Charles Darwin Please Stand Up?” Quarterly Review ofBiology 68 (1993): 225-231.
  3. William Paley, Natural Theology, 1802 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
  4. Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought(Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1991), 99-100, 107. Mayr also suggests that Darwin’stheory of evolution consists of five separate theories: evolution as such, common descent,multiplication of species, gradualism and natural selection (36-37). On the supremacy ofnatural processes, see Charles R. Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (New York:Harcourt Brace, 1958), 89.
  5. Darwin, Autobiography, 57.
  6. Ibid., 87; letter to Miss Julia Wedgewood, in Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of CharlesDarwin, 1888, Vol. II (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1969), 314.
  7. Discussion by F. Darwin, The Life and Letters, 304-313.
  8. Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844, Transcribed and edited by Paul H.Barrett et al, Notebook M (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 553: “[A scientist errsif he] says the innate knowledge of creator has been implanted in us . . . by a separate act ofGod, & not as a necessary integrant part of his most magnificent laws . . . which we profanein thinking not capable to produce every effect, of every kind which surrounds us.”
  9. Darwin, Autobiography, 92-93.
  10. Discussion by F. Darwin, The Life and Letters, 312.
  11. Michael Roberts suggests that Darwin was anguished by suffering in nature: “Darwin’sDoubts About Design—The Darwin-Gray Correspondence of 1860,” Science and ChristianBelief 9 (1997): 113-127. James R. Moore suggests that Darwin lost the remnants of his beliefupon the death of his daughter Annie: “Of Love and Death: Why Darwin Gave Up Chris-tianity,” in History, Humanity, and Evolution ed. James R. Moore (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 1979), 195-229. Also: Darwin, Autobiography, 85-96.
  12. Darwin, Autobiography, 87.
  13. Ibid., 94. See also Browne, Power of Place, 431-434.
  14. David Kohn, “Darwin’s Ambiguity: The Secularization of Biological Meaning,” British Journalof the History of Science 22 (1989): 215-239; William E. Phipps, Darwin’s Religious Odyssey (Har-risburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002).
  15. Alister McGrath and Joanne Collicutt McGrath, in The Dawkins Delusion (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 39, use this phrase.
  16. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (Essex: Longman Scientific and Technical, 1986), 1, 6, 21.
  17. Dawkins, The God Delusion. For a critique, see Terry Eagleton, “Lunging, Flailing,Mispunching,” London Review of Books 28 (October 19, 2006): 32-34.
  18. Michael Ruse, Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? The Relationship Between Science and Religion(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
  19. Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design,and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2007).
  20. Loren D. Haarsma comes to similar conclusions in “Christianity, Science and Methodologi-cal Naturalism” (, 2002). Accessed July 4,2003.

  21. John H. Stek, “Words to the Wise,” The Banner 140 (April 2005): 32-33.
  22. One has to be careful in importing anachronistic terms into the Scripture message.
  23. Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downer ’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991).
  24. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box.
  25. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 59-73; Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Searchfor Common Ground Between God and Evolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 140-143.
  26. Charlotte P. Mangum and Peter W. Hochachka, “New Directions in Comparative Physiol-ogy and Biochemistry: Mechanisms, Adaptations, and Evolution,” Physiological Zoology 71(1998): 471-484; Bruce H. Weber, “Irreducible Complexity and the Problem of BiochemicalEmergence,” Biology and Philosophy 14 (1999): 593-605.
  27. William A. Dembski, “Intelligent Design: A Dialogue,” in Intelligent Design: William A.Dembski and Michael Ruse in Dialogue, Robert B. Stewart, ed., (Minneapolis: Fortress Press,2007), Ch.1.
  28. Michael J. Behe, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (New York: FreePress, 2007); Kenneth R. Miller, “Falling Over the Edge,” Nature 447 (2007): 1055-1056; RicMuchuga, “No Chance,” Books & Culture, 13.4 (2007): 38-39.
  29. William A. Dembski, The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance Through Small Probabilities(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 36-42; The Design Revolution: Answering theToughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), Ch.11; Del Ratzsch, Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science (Albany:State University of New York Press, 2001), 153-168.
  30. Jacob Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? Creation and Emergent Evolution (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2008), Ch. 2.
  31. William A. Dembski, “Intelligent Design: A Dialogue.”
  32. Johnson, Darwin on Trial; J. P. Moreland, “Theistic Science & Methodological Naturalism,”in The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer, J. P. Moreland, ed.(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 41-66. Two sorts of naturalism are usuallydistinguished: methodological naturalism and ontological (or philosophical) naturalism. Fordiscussions, see Alvin Plantinga, “Methodological Naturalism,” Perspectives on Science andChristian Faith 49 (1997): 143-154; M. Ruse, “Methodological Naturalism Under Attack,” SouthAfrican Journal of Philosophy 24 (2005): 44-60.
  33. Ronald L. Numbers, “Science Without God: Natural laws and Christian Beliefs,” in WhenScience and Christianity Meet, eds. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Chicago: Uni-versity of Chicago Press, 2003), Ch. 10.
  34. Robert C. O’Connor, “Science on Trial: Exploring the Rationality of Methodological Natu-ralism, Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 30 (1997): 15-30.
  35. See for example, Walter R. Thorson, “A Response to Douglas Groothuis,” Perspectives onScienceand the Christian Faith 60 (2008): 240-247.
  36. Loren Wilkinson, “Does Methodological Naturalism Lead to Metaphysical Naturalism?”in Phillip E. Johnson, Denis O. Lamoureux, et al, Darwinism Defeated (Vancouver: RegentCollege Publishing, 1999), 167-174.
  37. Haarsma, “Christianity, Science and Methodological Naturalism.”
  38. Mark Noll designates this approach as “Baconian” in “Who Sets the Stage for Understanding Scriptures?” Christianity Today 24 (May 23, 1980): 14-18; and in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1994), 197. See also George M. Marsden, “The Evangelical Love Affair With Enlightenment Science,” in Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), Ch. 5.
  39. Denis O. Lamoureux, “Robert A. Larmer on Intelligent Design: An Evolutionary Creation-ist Critique,” Christian Scholar’s Review 37.1 (2007): 77-90; see responses by Larmer andLamoureux in same issue. The question of who or what the agent might be is necessarilyexcluded by ID theorists, yet it hovers in the background. And as Lamoureux points out (p.82), the result is that “[n]o consensus exists with regard to [the] sites of God’s activity…”among ID theorists.
  40. Oliver R. Barclay, “Design in Nature,” Science & Christian Belief 18 (2006): 49-61.
  41. Ratzsch, Nature, Design, and Science, Ch. 11.
  42. Ibid., 168.
  43. Alvin Plantinga, “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible,” Christian Scholar’sReview 21 (1991): 8-32.
  44. Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design,and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2007), 190.
  45. Jack Collins, “Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps,” Perspectives on Scienceand Christian Faith, 55 (2003): 22-29; J. P. Moreland, “Complementarity, Agency Theory, andthe God-of-the-Gaps,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 49 (1997): 2-14; David Snoke,“In Favor of God-of-the-Gaps Reasoning,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 53 (2001):152-158.
  46. Ratzsch, Nature, Design, and Science, 143.
  47. Donald M. Mackay, The Clockwork Image (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 56.
  48. Ratzsch, “Design: What Difference Could It Make?” Perspectives on Science and ChristianFaith 56 (2004): 14-25.
  49. Uko Zylstra, “Intelligent-Design Theory: An Argument for Biotic Laws,” Zygon 39 (2004):175-191.
  50. The literature on theism and chance is extensive. See Elizabeth A. Johnson, “Does God PlayDice? Divine Providence and Chance,” Theological Studies 56 (1996): 3-18; Donald M. MacKay,The Open Mind and Other Essays (Downers Grove, IL:InterVarsity Press, 1988); John C.Polkinghorne, Science and Providence: God’s Interaction With the World (Boston: ShambhalaPublications, 1989).[/efn_noote] Is a choice then between design and chance a fair one? The wisdom tradition of the Old Testament recognizes God’s guidance, even of chance processes. So here, too, we have to reject a false dichotomy. Chance, the lot (dice),random processes – these too are all under the governance of the Lord.

    A question often asked in discussions about design and God’s governance of creation is, “Could this be due to chance?” It usually follows a description of a particularly beautiful or complex aspect of creation. One would wish, however, that it would be asked less often rhetorically, and more often as an important aspect of the discussion. As a rhetorical question it has also been designated as “an argument by incredulity.”50Pat Shipman, “Being Stalked by Intelligent Design,” American Scientist 93 (2005): 500-502.

  51. Loren Haarsma, “Chance from a Theistic Perspective,” <> Accessed September 11, 2005.
  52. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, Ch. 7.
  53. Ian Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco:HarperCollins, 1997), 186-188.
  54. Robert J. Russell, “Special Providence and Genetic Mutation: A New Defense of TheisticEvolution,” in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Keith B. Miller, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 2003), 335-338.
  55. Brian Martin, personal communication.
  56. See for example, Keith B. Miller, “Design and Purpose Within an Evolving Creation,” inJohnson and Lamoureux, Darwinism Defeated? 109-120.
  57. Tim Morris and Don Petcher, in Science & Grace: God’s Reign in the Natural Sciences (Wheaton:Crossway Books, 2006), 143, describe laws of nature as being based on God’s covenant faith-fulness; see also 117.
  58. Michael Goheen, “Scriptural Revelation, Creational Revelation and Natural Science: TheIssue,” in Facets of Faith and Science, Vol. 4,Jitse van der Meer, ed. (Lanham, MD: UniversityPress of America, 1996), 337. For a description of how laws of nature have been regarded, seeChristopher B. Kaiser, “The Laws of Nature and the Nature of God,” in Facets of Faith andScience, Vol. 4,van der Meer, ed., 185-197.
  59. Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of ReligiousBelief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1991), 204-218.
  60. Zylstra, “Intelligent-Design Theory,” 175-191; Walter R. Thorson, “Fingerprinting God?Divine Agency and ‘Intelligent Design,’” Crux 36.2 (2000): 2-9. See also Michael Polanyi,“Life’s Irreducible Structure,” Science 160 (1968): 1308-1312.
  61. Alister McGrath, The Foundations of Dialogue in Science and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998),36-73.
  62. Polkinghorne, Science and Providence, 2.
  63. Colin E. Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 1998), 54, 183, 191-192.
  64. Ian G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: Harper, 1990), 251-252; Murphy,Cosmos, 778-779, 84-85. See also George L. Murphy, “Christology, Evolution, and the Cross,”in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Miller, ed., 370-392.
  65. Murphy, Cosmos in the Light of the Cross, 79.
  66. Thorson, “Fingerprinting God?” 4.
  67. Christopher Southgate, “A Test Case: Divine Action,” in God, Humanity and the Cosmos, C.Southgate, ed. (London: T & T Clark, 2nd Edition, 2005), 260-299.
  68. Polkinghorne, Science and Providence, 59-68.
  69. Gunton, Triune Creator, 171-174.
  70. Murphy, “‘Chiasmic Cosmology’ and ‘The Same Old Story’: Two Lutheran Approaches toNatural Theology,” in Facets of Faith, Vol. 4,van der Meer, ed., 137.
  71. Southgate, “Divine Action.”
  72. Southgate, “God and Evolutionary Evil: Theodicy in the Light of Darwinism,” Zygon 37(2002): 803-824.
  73. Jesús Rivas and Gordon M. Burghardt, “Crotalomorphism: A Metaphor for UnderstandingAnthropomorphism by Omission,” in The Cognitive Animal, eds. Marc Bekoff, Colin Allen,and Gordon M. Burghardt (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 9-17.
  74. James Polkinghorne, Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Reality (New Ha-ven: Yale University Press, 2004).
  75. Gunton, The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 144.
  76. J. Wood, “Biophilia and the Gospel: Loving Nature of Worshipping God?” in Living in theLambLight: Christianity and Contemporary Challenges to the Gospel, Boersma, H., ed.(Vancouver:Regent College Publishing, 2001), Ch. 8.
  77. Ernst Mayr, One Long Argument; Rebecca Stott, Darwin and the Barnacle (London: Faber andFaber, 2003).
  78. Lamoureux, “Robert Larmer,” 81.
  79. We thank Jacob Klapwijk, Adrian Helleman, Natalie Cook and Christian Scholar’s Reviewreviewers for constructive suggestions, and our colleagues, Roy Berkenbosch, Hank Bestman,Doug Harink, David Mahan, Brian Martin, Stephen Martin and Margaret Van Ginhoven forhelpful discussions. Any errors that remain are ours.

Harry Cook

The King's University (Edmonton)
Harry Cook is Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at The King’s University in Edmonton, Canada.

John Wood

The King's University (Edmonton)
John Wood is Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at The King’s University College in Edmonton, Canada.