An increased role for general providence?
should be remembered that the Christian conception of divine providence must be
found to be coherent in two cases.
The first, as has been discussed, is where special divine action seems
necessary. The second case is less often discussed, and is in some ways equally
challenging. Divine providence must also be coherent when special acts of God
are absent. The vast majority of the
experiences of Christian believers do not involve miracles. Instead, they
include the ordinary functioning of the natural world. It is for this second
problem that evolution does indeed do the work of a friend for the Christian
reflection upon evolution has shown that it is inappropriate to characterise
the story of terrestrial biology as simply the outworking of chance and
necessity. These are indeed the two underlying elements, but it misses out much
that needs to be said about the two in combination. This insight also applies
to the theology of providence. It is inadequate to describe Gods providential
action as just general or special. Interaction with the evolutionary sciences
has helped reveal how general providence, when coupled with chance, can do much
of the work normally attributed to special providence.
general providence to science is far less problematic than special providence
because it is generally accepted that science allows for fixed laws. Science
offers no explanation for the origin of the laws and constants - by definition
- and so the door is open for religious believers to attribute these permanent
properties and potentialities to Gods general providence.
example, we can affirm that it is Gods will that there should be gravitation.
We know of no place where gravity is absent. We can also claim that it is Gods
will that there should be electrons and protons; they too are found throughout
creation. Note, however, there were no protons in the very early universe. A
period of evolution was needed before they condensed from quarks. As far as we
know, their eventual appearance was not contingent, but an inevitable outcome
of the laws and constants in our universe. As we turn to the chemical elements
we reach a crucial phase. The evolution of some chemical elements was
inevitable, but not all of them. As we turn to the existence of liquid water
oceans, we must pause. The properties of liquid water are unambiguously caused
by the laws of nature, and so attributable to general providence, but it is
quite possible that an unlucky version of our universe would have no rocky
planets with liquid water. Water
exists because of contingent general
providence. The point of this diversion into physics has been to show how the
effects of general providence are not fully captured when it taken to mean
we can say it is Gods will that there should be protons, we can we say it is
Gods will that there should be liquid water. Importantly, there is no sharp
dividing line between the (less than 100%) probability of water existing, and
the formation of amino acids, and (if accounts of strong convergence or
universal biology hold up) the arrival of intelligent beings.
at first glance it appears as though there are just two options for relating
providence and evolution, this discussion has shown the need for a third.
| Feedback | Contributed by: Adrian Wyard