View by:  Subject  Theme  Question  Term  Person  Event

[5] Concluding remarks

I have argued that when seen in context, the evolutionary sciences do not present substantial challenges for theology. The principle related challenge is the need to provide an account of special divine action that is coherent with the natural sciences. Evolution today appears to provide no help with this problem. However, due to the statistical nature of the field, it is possible for believers to see the divine hand in the particular pathways that evolution has followed. If further research confirms that Conway Morris is correct when he says that the “emergence of something like ourselves [is] a near inevitability,”Conway Morris, Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe 328. this will add substantial credibility to this position.

It is true that the strength of the argument from design in the early nineteenth century provided a temporary apologetic boost to theism in general and claims of special divine action in particular. It is understandable that some scholars lament the passing of ‘classic’ natural theology and hope that it can be resurrected. However, I would argue that once Darwin and others had neutralised this argument, the apologetic options returned to approximately their previous form.Although it should be noted that the argument from design is still held to be valid by some, notably advocates of ‘Intelligent Design.’ See William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge...Convincing arguments for many Christian beliefs remain intact. Nevertheless, it should be admitted that special providence remains central to mainstream theology, and presently finds little support from the natural sciences.Nicholas Saunders offers the following bleak appraisal: "Would it be correct to argue on the basis of the forgoing critique that the prospects for supporting anything like the ‘traditional understanding’...

While the evolutionary sciences are not likely to provide evidence of particular divine acts in natural history, theological reflection upon the creative capacity of natural selection in history can be extremely valuable. As Peacocke has observed “Christian theology has been at its most creative and most vital when it has faced the challenges of engagement with new systems of thought encountered in new cultural contexts.”A. R. Peacocke, "Biology and a Theology of Evolution," Zygon 34, no. 4 (1999) 697.

It is sometimes claimed that an evolutionary account of creation means that any perception of beauty or design in nature is mistaken, and any inclination we may have to praise God for what we see is naïve; in reality we are looking at the results of a process ruled by chance. A deeper understanding of the evolutionary sciences reveals that this extreme view is false. Everywhere we look we can see the particular (contingent) effects of general providence. As Aubrey Moore went on to conclude, an understanding of evolution reveals that “either God is everywhere present in nature, or He is nowhere.”Moore in Gore, ed., Lux Mundi: Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation99.

This essay has tackled a very small part of the puzzle. A more complete analysis should consider the following: the relation of evolution to the problem of evil and suffering, the ongoing work on quantum indeterminacy and special divine action, the proposal that God can use ‘information’ to effect changes in nature,This can be found in the writings of Peacocke, Ward, Rolston, Haught and the Intelligent Design movement.as well as a more thorough investigation of the related metaphysical positions, notably materialism and determinism.


 Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Adrian Wyard

Go to Evolution Topic Index

[5] Concluding remarks

[1] Does Evolution ‘do the work of a friend’ for the Christian Religion?
Setting the scene - why focus on providence?
[2] Supposed challenges from the evolutionary sciences to theology
Intellectually fulfilled atheists?
A challenge to human uniqueness and status?
A challenge to purpose in creation?
A threat to the veracity of scripture?
Evolution ‘explains away’ theology?
A challenge to Christian morality?
The challenges in wider context - Darwin as a scapegoat?
[3] The current state of the evolutionary sciences
Different ways of conceptualising Darwinian evolution
Evolution as chance and necessity
Evolution as an algorithm
Evolution as movement within a ‘fitness landscape’
Ongoing debates: contingency versus convergence
Ongoing debates: what are the key causal factors in biological history?
Ongoing debates: the environment as the principle cause?
Ongoing debates: convergence as the principle cause?
Ongoing debates: ‘Universal biology’ as the principle cause?
The importance of moving from evolution as abstraction to particular history
Ongoing debates: directionality and progress
Ongoing debates: the origin of life
Different levels and kinds of selection?
[4] Responses from theology
Evolution, probabilities and providence
Responses from contemporary theologians
Holmes Rolston III
Keith Ward
John Haught
Arthur Peacocke
An increased role for general providence?
Theology of Creation in the light of evolution: three scenarios


Adrian Wyard
Adrian M Wyard MSt

See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Purpose and Design
The Argument From Design
The Anthropic Principle
Charles Darwin
DNA Double-Helix