Reasons to Believe

Hypernaturalism: The Improbable Reveals God’s Handiwork

In an earlier article we defined the concept of hypernaturalism and justified it through the biblical text. We strove to provide scriptural evidence that God has acted hypernaturally—that is, He sometimes performed miracles by manipulating natural law, rather than by supernaturally overriding it.

Now we will discuss evidence that suggests that God’s hypernatural activity is a more plausible explanation for the origin of the universe and of life than spontaneous, random, undirected natural processes.

Overcoming Vanishingly Small Probabilities

Our earlier article suggested that any highly improbable event that occurs to serve God’s purpose might be considered the result of His hypernatural activity. It seems improbable that our universe would be governed by immutable natural laws if it had evolved in a random fashion. As Albert Einstein said, “The harmony of natural law reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.”1 An orderly universe has traditionally been seen as “proof” of a creator-God who ordained natural law.

This is in contrast to naturalistic theories of origins that are based on undirected, random activities. Our thesis is based on the fact that random activities are governed by the natural law of probability. We are suggesting that low-probability natural events might be the result of hypernatural activity by God, manipulating natural law to overcome their improbability. The lower the probability, the more likely God was involved; and if the probability is vanishingly small—to the point of being virtually impossible—God’s hypernatural activity seems especially likely.

For example, after the big bang, the overwhelming probability was that the nascent universe-to-be would collapse.2 Yet it overcame the odds to evolve into the universe we see today. We could argue that this reflects God’s hypernatural activity. Genesis 1:2 says, “The Spirit of God was hovering [râchaph] over the waters.” The Hebrew râchaph is used in Deuteronomy 32:11 to describe an eagle nurturing her young.

The exquisite fine-tuning of the universe to allow for life as we know it seems to demonstrate a similar tender care. If any of the approximately 100 cosmology or nuclear parameters were changed even slightly we could not exist.3 It is extraordinarily improbable that all this came together through undirected, random, natural processes—it may, however, reflect hypernatural manipulation by a creator-God. Physicist Paul Davies has observed, “The universe does look as if it has been designed by an intelligent creator expressly for the purpose of spawning sentient beings” (emphasis original).4

The Evolution of Life

Let’s consider, then, naturalistic theories of life’s origin in the context of the natural law of probability. The fundamental question is: Are such theories statistically plausible? In Darwin’s day, the cell was barely visible under a primitive microscope. Scientists thought of it as only a blob of protoplasm. In the 1940s, when neo-Darwinism originated, it was accepted that the universe is eternal. This offered infinite time for infinite evolution and made probability considerations irrelevant.

But since the mid-twentieth century, science has adhered to the big bang theory, which states that the universe had a beginning. Hence there was only a finite time for evolution. Modern science estimates the universe is about 13.8 billion years old, Earth about 4.5 billion years old, and life about 3.6 billion years old. These time limitations make probability considerations crucial.

It is statistically improbable that life could spontaneously emerge from a primordial soup in a billion years. We may eventually be able to “create” life, but only with extensive intervention. This will not prove abiogenesis; it will show how God might have done it hypernaturally.

Once life is created, the standard theory predicts a gradual evolutionary process in which simpler life-forms would be expected to appear first, followed by the more complex. Instead, the fossil record suggests punctuated equilibrium, long periods of stasis followed by short bursts of change. For example, the Cambrian explosion began about 500 million years ago; and within 50 million years, “all of the main phyla and divisions of organisms that exist today—except for the land plants” appeared.5 Then stasis returned. The Cambrian pattern “creates the impression that [animal] evolution has by and large proceeded from the ‘top down’”6 rather than from the bottom up.

Yet God’s hypernatural activity could overcome the vanishingly small probability of abiogenesis. Divine hypernatural involvement during the periods of change via gene manipulation (including regulatory gene triggering) is a plausible explanation for the “punctuated equilibrium” in the fossil record. This has been suggested by evolutionary biologist Kenneth Miller:

A clever and subtle God [might] influence events in ways that...could include the appearance of mutations....Enormous changes in physical systems can be brought about by unimaginably small changes in initial conditions [which] could serve as an undetectable amplifier of divine action.7

A Plausible Hypothesis

A scientific explanation of the origins of our universe and of life must be based in natural law. Current naturalistic theories have serious shortcomings under natural laws—especially probability. Such shortcomings must be addressed; this is how science advances. If nothing else, a different naturalistic model is needed.

The multiverse model is a popular naturalistic alternative, but it is just as improvable as a God-based model. All it does is replace infinite time with an infinite number of universes, one of which is “just so.” We cannot propose hypernatural activity by an unseen, extra-dimensional God as a valid scientific model. It cannot be proven, and the doctrine of deus absconditus suggests God may not want to make Himself always evident—but we can discuss is the plausibility of hypernaturalism.

Written 2,500–3,500 years ago, Scripture asserts creation ex nihilo (“from nothing”). This accurately predicted the big bang concept. Creation ex nihilo is unique among ancient creation accounts; others such as Enuma Elish claimed creation from existing materials. Moreover, Genesis 1 qualitatively follows the fossil record. Other Bible passages (Psalms 104 and 148) suggest an extradimensional God who exercises hypernatural control over nature.

This is still not proof, but it represents a plausible hypothesis supported by the preponderance of the evidence. Hypernaturalism in the case of creation is more plausible than either naturalism or supernaturalism—but we will let each individual decide for themselves, using their God-given intellect.

Nevertheless, it is useful to note that the above arguments—fine tuning, probability, and cell complexity—were all instrumental in converting Antony Flew, the self-proclaimed “world’s most notorious atheist,” to a theist.8

Daniel J. Dyke, MDiv, MTh

Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1981 and currently serves as a professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.

Dr. Hugh Henry, PhD

Dr. Hugh Henry received his PhD in physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.

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  1. Albert Einstein, quoted in Christopher B. Kaiser, Creational Theology and the History of Physical Science (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 394.
  2. Hugh Ross, “Big Bang Model Refined by Fire,” in Mere Creation, ed. William Dembski (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 380–81.
  3. Martin Rees, Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 2–3; Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 154–57, 188–93.
  4. Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 3.
  5. Sandra Alters and Brian Alters, Biology: Understanding Life (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006), 289.
  6. James Valentine et al., “The Biological Explosion at the Precambrian-Cambrian Boundary,” Evolutionary Biology 25 (April 1991): 279–356.
  7. Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 239.
  8. Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).