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According to Theistic Evolution, Is Design in Nature Detectable?

Theistic evolution proponents who do not openly deny that God guided the development of life typically insist that His guidance is unobservable in biology. Francis Collins proposes this view in The Language of God, suggesting that from God’s perspective the outcome of evolution could “be entirely specified… while from our perspective” evolution “would appear a random and undirected process.” [The Language of God  (2006), p. 205]

Thus, in Collins’ view, design in biology is undetectable. Yet for thousands of years, Jewish and Christian thinkers maintained that God’s design could be clearly seen throughout nature. From the psalmist who claimed that the “heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19) to the Apostle Paul who argued in Romans 1:20 that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” the idea that we can see design in the regularities and functionality of nature was clearly accepted. In fact, Jesus himself pointed to the feeding of birds and the exquisite design of the lillies of the field as observable evidence of God’s active care towards the world and its inhabitants. (Matthew 6:26-30).

The observability of design was a key theme in the writings of the early church fathers as well. Responding to the Epicureans’ denial of any sort of creator, early Christians repeatedly affirmed that nature provided evidence that it was the product of purposeful design. In the words of Theophilus (115-188 AD), Bishop of Antioch in the 2nd century: “God cannot indeed be seen by human eyes, but is beheld and perceived through His providence and works… as any person, when he sees a ship on the sea rigged and in sail, and making for the harbor, will no doubt infer that there is a pilot in her who is steering her; so we must perceive that God is the governor [pilot] of the whole universe.” What were these “works” through which we could see the intelligent activity of God? Theophilus went on to list the regularities of nature from astronomy, the plant world, the diverse species of animals, and the ecosystem. Similar arguments about how nature displays clear evidence of design were made by Dionysius (200-265 AD), Bishop of Alexandria and John Chrysostom (347?-407 AD), Archbishop of Constantinople.

For further information about the observability of God’s design in nature in Jewish and Christian thought, see the free sourcebook available here.

Design-in-the-Bible-and-Church-Fathers

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Associate Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Associate Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.