No, the phrase “evolutionary creationism” purposely does not allow for detectable divine intervention. Let me explain why.

For any discussion of evolution or creation to have even a chance of being constructive, one first must define those terms, plus any other words or phrases whose meaning is not completely transparent. Otherwise, as can be seen on many a website, much more anger and frustration are generated than enlightenment. Unfortunately, many terms are moving targets. Sometimes a combination of words in a phrase is given a different sense than the individual words would convey. Furthermore, terms are sometimes introduced by thinkers in one intellectual camp to clarify or to make subtle distinctions, but then the distinctions are all too quickly obliterated when other folks—sympathetic or antagonistic, in bad faith or good—use the terms differently. So, let me begin by precisely defining several words and terms as I will use them here:

creation: the bringing into existence of something by God ex nihilo

evolution: the change over time of physical systems (including living ones) due to the outplaying of natural laws

creationism: the idea that some parts of nature were brought into existence by God ex nihilo separately—after the bulk of nature—whether long ago or comparatively recently

Evolutionary Creationism (I capitalize the phrase because its meaning is different than the sum of the individual words): the idea that God created all the matter, energy, and laws of the universe ex nihilo in a single event, in the beginning, in the knowledge that they would develop over time into the world He intended by the outplaying of natural laws

divine intervention: the occurrence due to ex nihilo creation by God of some physical event in the world that would not otherwise have resulted from the outplaying of natural laws following their ex nihilo creation after the beginning of the bulk of nature

Working from those definitions, then, my answer to the symposium question has to be a clear no, because the very definition of the term “Evolutionary Creationism” (EC) precludes divine intervention. I hasten to add that’s not a criticism, because it seems to me that the phrase was intentionally coined to describe a situation in which divine intervention not only can’t be detected, but indeed has not occurred; rather, the outplaying of natural laws is thought to be a sufficient explanation. It is a positive good to have clear terms for definite scenarios to allow productive discussion, whether or not one thinks the scenarios are in fact correct. One possible confusion, however, would be if a person advocated for a limited Evolutionary Creationism, whereby intervention was not needed for some impressive events in the history of nature (such as, say, the radiation of mammals) but was needed for others (such as, say, the origin of life). However, a limited form of EC would be virtually indistinguishable from simple creationism (as defined above), and so would serve little purpose. Thus I take EC as the view that God created nature in a single event and everything we now perceive is the result of the outplaying of natural laws.

Detecting Intervention, Or Intelligence

By definition Evolutionary Creationism does not allow for it, but a critical question to ask is: how would we detect “detectable divine intervention” if it did indeed exist? Or, more generally, how would we detect the results of actions that had been purposely directed by any intelligent agent, by any rational mind? In my experience that question is the heart of the matter. Much confusion arises in discussions of evolution, creation, evolutionary creationism, and related topics, due to the confounding of three separate epistemological questions:There are excellent reasons to think that we finite humans cannot conclude from sense observations and logic alone that a specific supernatural event has occurred. 1) what can properly be concluded from empirical observations of raw nature by us humans? 2) what requires supernatural revelation for us to know? and 3) what can be discerned from the fact that we are intelligent beings and can often recognize the work of another intelligence? In the next three paragraphs I will briefly consider each of those questions in turn.

We can achieve a degree of understanding of the way unassisted nature itself behaves by empirical study using reason and our senses (which can be extended by instrumentation), as science has done over the centuries. That allows us both to appreciate the way that nature works and to master it in ways that can help alleviate human suffering and increase prosperity.

In the sense defined at the start of this essay, creation is a supernatural act. There are excellent reasons to think that we finite humans cannot conclude from sense observations and logic alone that a specific supernatural event has occurred. (I agree, however, with those who argue that philosophical considerations allow us to deduce that the material realm in general required supernatural creation.)Edward Feser, Five Proofs of the Existence of God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017). As the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously observed, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, (New York: Popular Library, 1973). Conversely, any apparent miracle might be due to sufficiently advanced technology, including the “advanced technology” of nature itself. If an automobile materialized out of thin air right in front of us, well, Star Trek fans would have no problem with that. If a pilgrim to Lourdes were healed of cancer, it would be easy to say that the body has amazing recuperative powers of which science does not yet know.The fact of supernatural creation can be known only through supernatural revelation. Thus the attribution of any particular event—including such things as the relatively sudden appearance of many species in the fossil record—to direct ex nihilo creation is extremely problematic. The fact of supernatural creation can be known only through supernatural revelation.

So far, so good. I think many (certainly not all) people would agree with the previous two paragraphs. In my experience the big stumbling block is that many writers overlook the fact that our universe contains not only matter—it also contains mind. I know by introspection that I myself have a mind. I’m betting that the reader knows the same about him- or herself (if not, discussion is pointless). However, since we humans have to use our senses to discover pretty much anything about the external world, we also must use our senses to discover whether or not any other mind exists besides our own. How do we do that? Here’s the key: because a mind can choose to order whatever is within its power to manipulate, intelligence is detected by perceiving a purposeful arrangement of parts. That is the way, the only way, we can know that another mind besides our own exists and has acted. As I explain at much greater length in my recent book Darwin Devolves, the “parts” that are “arranged” can be pretty much anything (such as spoken or written words, components of machinery, events, and so on), but absent  a purposeful arrangement we cannot conclude that another mind has acted.Michael J. Behe, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA that Challenges Evolution (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2019).

Biology is chock-full of parts purposefully arranged. From empirical investigation of nature we know of no unintelligent phenomenon that can account for such a stunningly purposeful arrangement (Darwinian pretensions notwithstanding).Ibid. And since we have much experience in recognizing the work of a mind, we can firmly conclude—based on empirical, physical evidence and our ordinary inductive reasoning—that much of life was purposely designed. We may not be able to easily determine from empirical evidence the answer to many other interesting related questions, such as the method of design or identity of the designer (for example, whether an automobile we see when we open a garage door was made by factory workers in Detroit or beamed down by Star Trek’s Scotty). But we can definitely conclude the underlying fact of design. That conclusion often prods people to seek for further information beyond the limited domain of science.

 


Divine Intervention after Darwin: An Introduction
Hans Madueme | Covenant College
Defining the Relationship between Evolution and Divine Intervention
Jim Stump | BioLogos
This Question Is a Moving Target
Michael Behe | Lehigh University
Perspectives on Evolution and the Potential of Paleoanthropology
Niamh Middleton | Dublin City University
Preserving the Particularity of Divine Intervention
Denis Alexander | The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion
The Theological Interpretation of Evolutionary Biology
Robert Russell | Graduate Theological Union
Divine Intervention after Darwin: A Redirect
Hans Madueme | Covenant College
Theology, Science, and the Kingdom of God
Jim Stump | BioLogos
Unintended Randomness and Detecting Design
Michael Behe | Lehigh University
Bodies, Souls, and Complementary Accounts of the Human
Niamh Middleton | Dublin City University
What Do We Understand by Special Providence?
Denis Alexander | The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion
Resurrecting Divine Action
Robert Russell | Graduate Theological Union