The satire site, The Babylon Bee, published a fiction piece earlier this year in which Ken Ham claimed that Mike Trout’s amazing baseball abilities are the best evidence we have of intelligent design. The Bee’s clever satire got me thinking about the nature of God’s contingent actions in the world which have traditionally been identified as special providence, miracles and creative acts.
I, and all Christians, would affirm that God made Mike Trout. We could make the same claim about Mike Trout that the Psalmist made about his own origins: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NIV) We could say that Mike Trout, you and I are all the product of intelligent design.
But just how did God make Mike Trout? What does it mean that God knit us together in our mother’s womb? I think it is safe to assume that all Christians agree that the physical body of Mike Trout is not the product of direct de novo creation. He had parents from which he obtained his physical and personality traits. Not only that, we all recognize his parents had parents and we continue going back many, many generations. Moving back in time we can confidently say that you and I and Mike Trout all share a common ancestor at some point in the past.
A more provocative question (than “How did God make Mike Trout?”) might be: If we were to follow Trout’s ancestors all the way back to our shared common ancestor, how would we characterize God’s mode of action through his ancestral lineage to the present day person of Mike Trout?
Mike Trout’s genome is unlike that of any other person on earth, and yet you and I share a common ancestor with him. At a minimum we can all agree that if we were to examine Mike Trout’s genome we would discover that he has alleles (variation of genes) and genomic rearrangements (structure of his chromosomes) that are unique to Mike Trout and his immediate ancestor compared to the variation that exists in any ancestor you or I might share with him. These new alleles and unique structural rearrangements are the result of mutations, broadly defined as any change in the sequence of DNA code or order, and composition of the genome.
We could ask at this point: Should we expect to find a signature of divine intervention—miracles or special creative acts—at a specific moment in time that resulted in Mike Trout’s specific combination of genes and exceptional skill set? Or would we need only appeal to God’s faithful and ongoing special—potentially measurable?—providence to make Mike Trout? Special providence might include God’s bringing about a series of events through the “causes in nature to achieve His desired purpose at a certain time”. (See Jon Garvey on modes of divine action for more) Or might you be content to ascribe Mike Trout solely to general providence—the general unfolding by God of the laws of nature from which Mike Trout is but one possible outcome of many?
The answers to these questions are likely to be closely tied to one’s theological viewpoint on the origins of living things, including ourselves.
In traditional Christian theology, and in light of verses such as Psalm 139:9 above, we would say that God made Mike Trout exactly as he is today as part of His plan from the beginning. If so, God is the author of those mutations but, yet again, I think we would be hard pressed to identify (measure) how God has caused those changes to come about outside the context of describing them via probabilistic statistics. By this, I mean that we can mathematically describe the odds of particular mutations occurring and certain alleles coming together from his parents to form the exact combination that makes the genome of Mike Trout today. Our calculated odds would be very small but we might all agree that his particular set of features could have arisen via millions of small events, each of which we would attribute to normal providence. Are we to take the unlikely event of his exact genetic makeup as proof of God’s hand in making Mike Trout? If so, then we could attribute the same proof of God’s hand in making every single one of us. Furthermore, every single animal and plant has also experienced similar changes over time and thus would be evidence of God’s action.
This is the sense that some Christians have that the world is designed. Nothing is left to chance and yet the vast majority of events appear to be chance. However, I suspect this is not a particularly satisfying to some that feel the need to directly detect God’s action. There is a natural inclination to desire to find physical “proof” that God interacted directly in our—and all living things?—formation. We could say that some Christian wish or even demand to see God’s knitting needles in action before they will believe that God really did it.
Did God predestine Mike Trout to have his exact skill set? If so, He has been in charge of bringing every allele and every mutation together in his genome and then guiding his life to use those gifts such that he has become who God planned him to be. In order to get from Adam to Mike Trout, does that require large-scale supernatural intervention (miracles or creative acts)? Or does it require tweeking (small-scale supernatural intervention)? Did it all occur as pre-planned changes – like the pre-programming that Ken Ham, a young-earth apologist, believes God uploaded into the “kinds” of animals at the beginning of creation, which then have run like computer code over time? If so is this a form of predestination? What of free will actions by man? Did God really know that Mike Trout would exist by planning for that existence from the beginning? Or did He only provide in mankind the capacity to produce a Mike Trout by “chance” uncontrolled events? Maybe Mike Trout is the fortunate one who happened to get the perfect combination of alleles as God let “chance” do the work.
Yeah, these are tough questions especially for one who is coming from a Calvinist tradition. Let’s try the same thought again, but put a different way. If God “knew” of Mike Trout before the formation of the world, does that mean he installed the specific alleles (variation of genes) in Adam and Eve from the beginning, and Mike Trout is merely one of billions of intended consequences of that plan (a deistic mode)? Or does God, potentially, guide every variation in order to individually craft the person He intended? We could call the former a deist approach, while the latter would be a full sovereignty approach. A third alternative, the open theism approach, might posit that God doesn’t know the outcome and Mike Trout is just one possible outcome. I am inclined to eliminate this as an option because it does not comport to the apparent message of scripture that Mike Trout or I have been knit in our mother’s womb among other passages that teach God’s omniscience over His creation and history.
I believe there is common ground among many Christians regarding the origins of us and all living things. God formed Mike Trout via a common ancestor, along with the rest of us at some point in the past. Mike Trout himself was not formed via direct special creation or miracle but through special providence, sometimes called special governance of His creation. But, how God employs this upholding and making of each individual is debated among Christian theologians, scientists, and philosophers.
Another question worth exploring is how we might extend our understanding of how God has formed each of us individually to how God has created other living things. Might we expect God to have worked in a similar fashion or is there something special about He directs our lives versus the creatures? If we understand and agree that God worked through some combination of special and/or general providence, might we extend a similar approach to understanding how He may also have affected the other forms of life that we see, and have seen, over time?
I’m not sure anyone can adequately answer all these questions but all Christians can agree that Mike Trout exists and God created him.
Praise be to God for all He has done, even if we don’t know fully understand how He did it!
Cover image credit: By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA – Mike Trout, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28671129
Editing kindly provided by MC