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Theistic Cosmology and Theistic Evolution — Understanding the Difference

Photo: Jellyfish galaxy JO206, by ESA/Hubble & NASA, M. Gullieuszik and the GASP team.

Astronomers have convincingly shown that the laws of nature are sufficient to account for the formation of stars and planetary systems throughout the universe. Given the initial conditions of our universe, as determined from big bang cosmology, and given the values of the fundamental physical parameters and the strengths of the four fundamental forces of nature, scientists can make predictions of the subsequent state of the cosmos that match the essential macroscopic structure found in our universe today. This predictive ability based on nature’s laws lends credence to the validity of our understanding of those laws and the initial conditions that manifested in the beginning. This achievement attests to the remarkable comprehensibility of the universe — how the discoverability of its laws and properties is commensurate with our mental ability to comprehend them.1

Many scientists have written about the remarkable fine-tuning of the laws and initial conditions of our universe that must exist within narrowly defined limits to allow life‘s existence.2,3 Additional research into the particular properties of our galaxy, star, solar system, Earth, and its moon have revealed a comprehensive suite of specific conditions that must have come together for Earth to be able to support life in its various forms over the long course of its history.4

In my book Canceled Science, after discussing many of the finely tuned conditions for life, I ask whether the culmination of fine-tuning that resulted in the existence of Earth could have come about naturally, or would some behind-the-scenes purposeful intervention be necessary? I suggest that the skill and foresight necessary to orchestrate the cosmic beginning so that the Earth eventually formed as part of our solar system seems “compatible with the traditional understanding of God’s attributes of great wisdom and power. Beyond that, we cannot say.”5

Far from Common

The uniqueness of planet Earth is becoming more apparent (see here) as the inventory of extrasolar planets continues to grow without revealing any other planets that could substitute for our home. Estimates of the low probability of obtaining all the features of the Earth-moon-Sun system required for maintaining livable conditions over the years do not necessarily point to any violations of the laws of physics in its formation, but all we are learning suggests that our congenial environment is far from common. 

The concept of theistic cosmology does not seem necessary to explain Earth and its solar environment, since the outcome in view is not physically impossible, albeit unlikely. How is this different from the concept of theistic evolution? The difference is that the outcome needed to be explained by evolution — life with all its millions of species culminating in humans — is not known to be compatible with the established laws of physics.6

One argument in support of this contention deals with predictability. Starting with the initial conditions of our universe and the specific values of the forces of nature, the laws of physics would not lead to a prediction of the origin of life as we know it.7 This argument grows even stronger when we consider that our uniform and repeated experience with the laws of nature demands that on the whole, entropy will increase and specified complexity will decrease with the passage of time. Neither of these universal principles of nature is consistent with a natural origin of life.

Theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism8 maintains that evolution is a done deal but that God’s behind the scenes influence was necessary to bring about the full panoply of life, including humans, that we have today.  If, however, God’s guiding hand worked throughout history in the development of every species of life, as scientific observers, we would perceive not the hand of God, but a law of nature at work. The concept of the evolution of all life from a common ancestor, if attributed either to a law of nature or a natural process guided by God, is at odds with our most fundamental understanding of how nature works.9 In our study of science, we have found that the laws of nature do not contradict one another. We don’t have laws of nature that only apply piecemeal. 

Deep Levels of Design

What alternative view could explain the deep levels of design that appear in all life on Earth? If God didn’t redirect a law of nature to act contrary to nature, how should we explain the historically increasing complexity and diversity of life on Earth? My respect as a physicist for the laws of nature doesn’t preclude my acceptance of intelligent beings like us manipulating matter and energy to bring about outcomes that would never occur naturally. In like manner, extrapolating this everyday experience, neither science nor theology precludes us from accepting that God manipulated nature as often as desired to introduce various species of life and to maintain Earth’s habitability.

Neither does the frequency of intervention disparage the source of the agency. We admire an architectural and construction firm that designs and builds a beautiful home for us to live in. Would it be reasonable for someone to criticize the firm because the house didn’t also prepare dinner for its occupants every night? I suppose a house could be built that did so, but would it be desirable? Choosing a menu, selecting ingredients, and working to prepare dinner is something my wife and I enjoy doing together (although sometimes, when we’re tired after a long day of work, a “home-cooked” meal might be nice!). 

Perhaps in a similar manner, the laws of physics that limit what outcomes can occur naturally in our universe provide us with the pleasure and discipline of creative work. As I mentioned in an earlier article, “Is Life an Information Ratchet?,” gravity may cause a landslide to build up a pile of rocks at the bottom of a hill, but it will never make a castle.  The laws that limit natural outcomes not only provide opportunities for us to manipulate material for our purposes, but their limitations also required God’s interventions to produce life by manipulating atoms into living organisms (however exactly that may have been accomplished).

Science and Experience

A reason for advocating this view is that it fully comports with our science and experience. It’s a juggler’s nightmare to assert that a law of nature is only valid except when it’s not valid. Rearrangements of physical matter into forms that would never occur naturally (such as the arrangement of the atoms that form my car) don’t constitute a violation of any law of nature if we acknowledge the immaterial intelligence and will of the human agent. The same principle applies when acknowledging God as the intelligent, non-contingent being who intervenes in nature to bring about the unnatural outcome of life in all its myriad forms.


  1. Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).
  2. Stephen C. Meyer, Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (New York: HarperCollins, 2021).
  3. Geraint F. Lewis and Luke A. Barnes, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
  4. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity’s Home (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).
  5. Eric Hedin, Canceled Science: What Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2021), 139.
  6. The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos, William A. Dembski, Casey Luskin, Joseph M. Holden, Editors (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2021).
  7. Gerald L. Schroeder, The Hidden Face of God: Science Reveals the Ultimate Truth (New York: Touchstone, 2001), 58.
  8. .
  9. Jay Richards, “Is Theistic Evolution a Viable Option for Christians?”, Ch. 39 in The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos, William A. Dembski, Casey Luskin, Joseph M. Holden, Editors (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2021).