God cannot go against natural law
but then we don't understand all of natural law

Vince Exley provided this post to the Discussion Board on 15 August 2005, at 10.56am, on Fr Denis Edward's idea of God being self-limiting.

If Christians are to accept the worldview offered by contemporary science, that the universe unfolded over the last fifteen billion years from a primeval Big Bang, and that life evolved on Earth over the last three and a half billion years by means of genetic mutation and natural Selection, then they come face to face with the question; How do these insights relate to the Christian concept of God?

In his recent book "The God of Evolution" Fr. Denis Edwards, Priest, theologian and prolific writer of the Adelaide diocese, writes of a Self-limiting God. I suppose we are all used to a God who has given us freewill, because we cannot love unless we are free to either love or not love. In this sense we are therefore used to a God who cannot interfere with our free will. However Denis Edwards goes on to say that God is committed not just to respect human freedom but also to respect the integrity of the created universe along with its laws and processes. All of this means that God may not be free to overrule natural process. A God who creates through physical process may well be committed to the integrity of the process. If this is the case God is not free or able to simply abolish all suffering. God, in creating, accepts the limits of physical processes and of human freedom.

Such a God will be understood as a God who freely accepts the limits of the process of emergence, a God who creates through the losses and gains of evolutionary history. It suggests a God engaged with creation, a God who respects the process, and a God who suffers with and delights in the unfolding of creation.

Random chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process. It appears that a good deal of evolutionary change occurs at the molecular level through random drift. And the genetic mutations that are a source of novelty in natural selection arise at random. Some of these mutations are beneficial, but many are harmful. Without these random mutations, evolution through natural selection could not occur, because there would be no variation that could be passed onto another generation. But although evolution is entirely dependent on random mutation, evolution itself is not random. Evolution can be wonderfully creative because there is process, natural selection, which tends to preserve what is useful for adaptation to an environment and to eliminate what is not useful.

It is mutation and natural selection working together that produce something as beautiful as a blue wren, and something as complex as the human brain. It is chance and lawfulness, randomness and order, interlocked in collaboration, that have brought forth the exuberant diversity of life on earth. It is chance operating within the framework of natural laws that accounts for the inherent creativity of nature. Random mutation and natural selection enable an exploration of the potential that is present in the laws and constraints of nature.

The Darwinian view of evolution springing from variation and natural selection is not necessarily opposed to the idea of a God as a purposeful creator. It is certainly opposed to simplistic views of God creating through a series of divine interventions. But it is not in conflict with a view of God creating in and through natural processes, including chance and natural laws. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) long ago clarified that God's way of acting in the world is not opposed to the whole network of cause and effect in nature. God's work is achieved in and through creaturely cause and effect. It is not in competition with it. Aquinas never knew Darwin's theory of evolution, but he would have had no difficulty in understanding it as the way God creates.

A number of eminent biologists insist that they find no evidence of purpose at work in evolution. Supposing they are right about the state of biological evidence, this does not rule out a theological principle of purpose. It is quite possible to think theologically of God as working purposefully in the universe through processes such as random mutation and natural selection, which when investigated empirically do not reveal purpose at all.

However, it is relevant to note that sciences such as physics and cosmology suggest that there is some direction in the emergence of the known universe. These sciences tell us that the universe unfolded over the last ten to twenty billion years from the Big Bang. They describe the emergence of hydrogen and helium in the early universe, the formation of galaxies, the cooking of fundamental elements in the process of nucleosynthesis in stars, the formation of more complex elements and the `seeding' of the universe with these elements in supernova explosions, the emergence of our solar system around a second or third generation star, and the cooling of our own planet to a condition in which life could emerge.

Cosmologists point out that remarkably small changes in the fundamental characteristics of matter would have the result that life and conscious human beings could never have existed. The universe has to be remarkably `fine-tuned' to be the kind of universe in which human beings could emerge. Alongside all the forms of life that did not move towards increased complexity, there is also a story of development, which runs from the single-cell bacteria to the human mind and culture. And this story is part of a larger story of the em emergence of a universe which in fact is fine-tuned in such a way that life and eventually human beings can emerge within it.

God creates a universe with initial conditions and physical constants which are fine-tuned so that life and consciousness might emerge. Long before life made its first appearance, the universe was already set on a course in which life and consciousness could evolve. The Creator is understood as influencing the process not only through its laws and initial conditions, but also through engagement with the process at every point in the relationship. It is this continual creation which enables the universe to exist and to unfold. It is this ongoing creative activity of God that enables life to emerge and to evolve through the process of natural selection.

God is now pictured as involved creatively in an open-ended process that involves both randomness and lawfulness. It may well be that this kind of process is the best way to create a universe. It is certainly the way to create the kind of universe we have an open-ended process and randomness are intrinsic to the universe we inhabit. Godí s creative action must be understood as universal in time and space, as a constantly influencing factor, which does not interfere with the proper powers of finite causes but cooperates with them. God is to be seen as absolutely all-powerful, but rather as a relational God who is self-limited by love and respect for finite creatures