Book Preview: Creation, Providence, and Evolution

Dr Denis Alexander is the Founding Director [Emeritus] of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund's College, University of Cambridge, where he is Emeritus Fellow. He is a past chair of the Molecular Immunology Programme and Head of the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Signalling and Development at The Babraham Institute, Cambridge. Last year, he visited Australia to deliver the New College Lectures, and during this visit New College kindly collaborated with ISCAST to facilitate a tour of lectures which Dr Alexander delivered in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide.
 

The excerpt bellow is taken from Denis Alexander, “Creation Providence, and Evolution”, in Knowing Creation: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy, and Science by Andrew B. Torrance and Thomas H. McCall, Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 2018.

The Christian doctrine of creation has done much to shape the biological sciences that we study today … John Ray (1627– 1705), [was] a key Christian founder of the discipline of natural history that later came to be called biology … Ray taught some of the materials that later became his book [The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of Creation] not in a lecture hall but in Trinity College chapel because he saw teaching science as an act of worship. John Ray declared that he had published his Ornithology for “the illustration of Gods glory, by exciting men to take notice of, and admire his infinite power and wisdom …

In Britain, biology remained incorporated within the tenets of natural theology well into the nineteenth century. The logic and rational structure of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had its roots in the natural theology that Darwin imbibed during his student days at Cambridge (1828–31). This was an era when the teaching of science was carried out by ordained Anglican clergy, and more than 50 percent of the students at that time were destined for the Anglican ministry. Darwin’s exams covered two texts by Archdeacon William Paley, the great proponent of natural theology, and after his final exams were over Darwin proceeded to read for his own enjoyment Paley’s Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802)…The rational structure of natural theology provided a framework within which evolution could readily be incorporated …

Our aim here is to capture some of that robust theism displayed by those early Christian natural philosophers who laid the groundwork for the scientific disciplines we practice today. The proposal is that a traditional Trinitarian creation theology …provides the matrix within which biology can flourish and provide a coherent and providential story of life.

So the emphasis here is not on natural theology per se but on a theology of nature that can help us interrogate topics such as providence in the light of chance and randomness.

The biblical creation narrative is composed of a myriad of different insights, scattered liberally throughout the Old and New Testaments, and the overall discussion between science and faith is pretty much set by the degree to which we allow that range of insights to impact upon our thinking.

A picture emerges of God as creator, the source and ground of all that exists. Everything that exists apart from God only exists because God brought it into existence. So God is the ground of all existence, and in this view “existence” refers to anything that exists, be they material or immaterial—the laws of nature, quantum vacuums, Higgs bosons, trees, rabbits, mathematical principles, and the elements of the periodic table. If it exists and is not God, then it must by definition be part of the created order within this theistic matrix …

Since our great creator God is not encompassed or constrained in any way by the present created order, we as human creatures are in no position to guess how God might wish to create or to tell him how he ought to…Historians of science have often pointed to this sense of the transcendence of God and the consequent radical contingency of the created order as one of the great motivations for empiricism, for the experimental method. For no one could simply guess how the created order might work starting from commonsense or simple human logic. Quantum mechanics, for example, is rather weird, and mental pictorial representations should not be attempted, otherwise one ends up with a headache …

Along with the transcendent otherness of God in the biblical literature comes an insistence on the simultaneous immanence of God in the created order, that moment-by- moment involvement in upholding and sustaining creation. God’s faithfulness is displayed in the nomic regularity, the law-like behavior of energy and matter, which renders the world coherent and makes the scientific enterprise possible. This is a Trinitarian immanence …

In Colossians 1, Paul writes that by the Son of God “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, andin him all things hold together” (vv. 16–17, emphasis added). In other words, the complete created order, in all its breadth and diversity, goes on consisting by the same divine Word, the Lord Jesus, who brought everything into being in the first place …

So what do biologists do in their research? Well, clearly what they do is to describe, as best they can, both the created order that God continually undergirds and sustains and the “secondary causes” whereby God brings about his aims and purposes. And biologists do this not by invoking the actions of God, the Primary Cause, to explain those parts of the process that seem particularly difficult to understand but rather by seeing the authorship of the Creator expressed in the whole biological process from beginning to end.

So when my atheistic biologist colleagues pose the question, “Well, what difference does it make to your biology whether God exists or not?” three points immediately come to mind. The first is that if there were no God, nothing would exist, so we certainly wouldn’t be doing science. Second, without God, nomic regularity would be unexpected and certainly not guaranteed. The faithfulness of God in guaranteeing the reproducibility of the properties of matter is critical for the success of science. And third, the fact of common grace and the fact that all human beings are made in the image of God, irrespective of our belief in God, entails that we as a scientific community can share the same scientific methods and approaches to understanding the biological world. In creating all humankind in his image, God has delegated authority to the whole of humankind to subdue and care for the earth, and science represents one way of fulfilling that responsibility.

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