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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.