iSoul In the beginning is reality

Category Archives: Creation

Creation as the result of the Creator’s work and the act of creating

Variationism vs. progressivism

Broadly speaking, there are two different paradigms concerning the history of the material world. One paradigm is that the material world has always been roughly the same as it is now. An ancient version of this said everything would eventually return to the same state. This cyclic version is rare now. What became more common is the idea that things change within limits. Call this variationism, because it says that everything is a variation of what came before.

The other paradigm is that the material world was very different from what it is now; whether that is seen as better before or better now. The idea of a former golden age was common in ancient times but has almost disappeared. The more common idea is that the world was once primitive and has become complex, which is seen as better. Call this progressivism, because it says that everything progressed from something different to what it is now.

There are metaphysical and theological implications of these two paradigms. Aristotle said that the world is eternal since an origin couldn’t be determined. That is compatible with variationism since an eternal world must always be a variation on what it was in the past. Many today would say there are eternal laws of nature that have operated on the natural world over time to generate the world of today. That is compatible with progressivism since it says everything is always progressing to something different.

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Wasmann on biology and evolution

From Modern Biology and the Theory of Evolution by Erich Wasmann, S.J.

Translated from the Third German Edition by A. M. Buchanan, M.A. London, 1910

Excerpts from Chapter IX, Thoughts on Evolution (with most footnotes omitted)

Note: creatio e nihilo means ‘creation from nothing,’ a slight variation on creatio ex nihilo, ‘creation out of nothing’.

p.256

2. THE VARIOUS MEANINGS OF THE WORD ‘DARWINISM’

For over forty years a conflict has been raging in the intellectual world, which both sides have maintained with great vehemence and energy. The war-cry on one side is ‘Evolution of Species,’ on the other ‘Permanence of Species.’ No one could fail to be reminded of that other great intellectual warfare regarding the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems, which began about three hundred and fifty years ago, and raged with varying success for over a century, until finally the latter prevailed. Perhaps the present conflict between the theories of evolution and permanence only marks a fresh stage in that great strife, and, if so, how will it finally be decided?

The contest that we have to consider was stirred up by Charles Darwin, when he published his book on the ‘Origin of Species’ about the middle of last century. The theories advanced by Lamarck and Geoffroy St. Hilaire at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries may be regarded as causing preliminary skirmishes, but Cuvier’s powerful attacks soon succeeded in overthrowing the new ideas of evolution (see p. 28). It was not until the year 1859 that the great battle began, which has received its name from the commander-in-chief of the attacking army, Charles Darwin. The warfare with which we are now concerned centres round Darwinism, so-called.

I say, so-called Darwinism. A few words of explanation are absolutely necessary. The thick smoke of the powder, which hid the battlefield from our gaze, is gradually dispersing,

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Biblical theism vs. classical theism

Biblical theism and classical theism have much in common, particularly the position that God is different in kind from all of creation. But there is an implicit principle of classical theism that I would put this way: “God only does what only God can do.” For example, because only God is transcendent, it is consistent with this principle that God creates from nothing.

“An architect of the universe would have to be a very clever being, but he would not have to be God…” Maurice Holloway, S. J., An Introduction to Natural Theology, pp. 146-47 (quoted here). However, there’s more than the existence of God at issue; there’s also the existence of mankind as a created kind, rather than a taxon only different in degree from other taxa.

Classical theists assert that there is only one causal act in God by which he causes ex nihilo whatever exists apart from himself. That is, God does not take something already existing and make it into something else. Why not? Because that would be doing something that a creature could possibly do.

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Essentials of Christian Thought, part 3

This post continues from part 2, which is here. The following are more excerpts from Roger E. Olson’s The Essentials of Christian Thought.

For [Emil] Brunner, and for me, natural theology means only (1) that the biblical-Christian worldview better answers life’s ultimate questions than its competitors and alternatives, and (2) that eyes of faith for whom the Bible “absorbs the world” see the natural world as God’s good creation—”charged with the grandeur of God”—even if eyes of unbelief cannot see it as such. p.75

For biblical-Christian thought, in contrast with Greek philosophy, souls are created by God, they are not emanations, offshoots, of God’s own substance. p.81

Nearly all extra-biblical philosophies struggle with the [biblical] idea of a personal, related, vulnerable ultimate reality capable of being influences by what creatures do. p.84

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Terms for science controversies

Controversies are more difficult than they need be. I have written about this before here and here. One challenge for dealing with controversies is that terminology is misleading, inaccurate, or loaded. Here are some examples from the creation-evolution controversy.

The term ‘evolution’ originally meant an unrolling, and was applied by Charles Lyell and Herbert Spencer to the idea that there was a natural progression over time from lower to higher organisms. Charles Darwin did not originally call his theory ‘evolution’ but others prevailed on him to use the term. Ever since people have confused the idea of progress with Darwin’s theory of unguided evolution.

Historically, Darwin’s theory is one of several theories of transmutation, which is any natural sequence of changes over time from lower to higher organisms. Darwin’s particular theory was that the natural variability of generations over a long time might result in some populations of lower species transmutating into higher species. In other words, varieties could become new species, which could become new genera, and so on.

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The original creation story

The fact that many creation stories from around the world have been preserved (see here) shows that there is something behind them all. It shows us that something happened at the very dawn of time that human beings were aware of and considered important and tried to pass on.

Now imagine trying to preserve a story for thousands of years. How would you do it? If you wrote it on paper, the paper would disintegrate over time. If you inscribed it on stone, the stones could be buried over time. If you taught it to your children, how would you know if they passed it on correctly? All this and language changes so that the story might be misunderstood.

That is to say it’s not surprising that there are many variations of the creation story. It’s impossible now to combine them into one account because they are so different. For example, the role of water in the various stories makes some of them creation stories and some more like flood stories. How can we ever sort this out?

When you read of the creation and flood in Genesis, you can start to see how the other creation stories are all related to it. Both creation and flood are covered but in separate narratives. Instead of rivalries between purported gods, there is the orderly creation by the divine creator of a universe that we know is very ordered.

There are unique aspects to the Genesis account, too. This author notes several: Study Bible Shorts: The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story – The Identity of God, No Rival Gods, Creation out of nothing, The Value of Humanity, and The Sabbath.

What about creation stories that are older than the Bible? Writing was not invented in the early days of humanity so stories were passed on orally. It’s of little significance which story was written down first. What counts is the reliability of the source, whether oral or written. The Bible has been zealously preserved for thousands of years. Other written accounts languished in caves and underground, forgotten and rejected.

To preserve a story for thousands of years you’ll need a group of people dedicated to preserve it intact. The Hebrew people have a well-deserved reputation for preserving their oral and written traditions. They (and later the Christians) have been fanatic about preserving the Bible over thousands of years. The Bible contains the original story.

Where does that leave ancient mythologies? They are a combination of corruptions of Genesis and legends about people such as Adam and Noah that sometimes made them into gods or superhuman beings. They indirectly reflect what actually happened, of which the key events are preserved in Genesis.

Christianity and science

A good summary of the myth of a long-running conflict between Christianity and science is in Timothy Larsen’s “War is Over, If You Want It” (September 2008). This warfare myth was invented in the 19th century by people such as TH Huxley who either should have known better or were purposely stirring up animosity. It is composed of individual myths that “support” it, such as the myth that Christians thought the earth was flat in the Middle Ages or the myth that Christians opposed the use of anesthesia during childbirth in the 19th century.

Larsen references Frank M. Turner’s “Contesting Cultural Authority” (Cambridge, 1993), as someone who “persuasively argued that the notion of a conflict between theology and science was generated as part of a campaign of professionalization by would-be scientists.” (p.150) It’s almost forgotten today, but the profession of a scientist didn’t exist until the late 19th century. Before that, science was developed by amateurs (including clerics) who had the leisure and interest. TH Huxley and others fought against such people because they stood in the way of a new class of professional scientists.

Although the warfare meme is vastly exaggerated, there are enough misunderstandings that the opposite idea of integration isn’t realistic. For example, it is said that many Christians quickly accepted Darwin’s theory of evolution in the 19th century and later. But what is overlooked is the fact that Christians misunderstood Darwin and substituted their own ideas of evolution by law or miracle.  Theistic evolution is common among Christians who either insert a law-bound version for Darwin’s undirected version or else invent undetectable miracles that make it God-directed.

Many have noted that modern science developed in a Christian matrix. If science jettisons its Christian roots, it loses a reason to expect an ordered universe that can be understood by human beings. It may either adopt a multiverse that just happens to have order in one universe or drift toward non-causal explanations in a chaotic universe.

Some scientists want to deepen the Christian roots of science rather than cut them off. They are mostly creationists or intelligent design proponents. Those who follow TH Huxley will have nothing of it. But some are willing to entertain new proposals. As the modern era comes to a close, we can expect that modern science will change into something else.

Is All Truth God’s Truth?

“All truth is God’s truth” is a common paraphrase of Augustine of Hippo’s writings, such as On Christian Doctrine, (II.18):

“A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God or give thanks but became enfeebled in their own thoughts and plunged their senseless minds into darkness. Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for the image of corruptible mortals and animals and reptiles’ [Rom. 1:21-3].”

But that is different from the meaning today that “Christians should recognize that whatever people say is true, must be true for God, too.”

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Darwin’s theory and Huxley’s science

It is common to read statements like this: “For the vast majority of biologists, the debate over whether evolution occurs took place in the 19th century and has long been settled — evolution won.” (1) The problem with this statement is that it was not a scientific position that won but a philosophical and political agenda that won.

Charles Darwin in his 1859 Origin of Species presented his “theory of descent with modification through natural selection” (later called evolution) in which he argued that universal common descent by natural selection was possible. He contrasted his theory with an alternative he called “the theory of independent acts of creation”. He was careful not to press his case too far, and basically argued that a theory of evolution was an alternative to one version of a theory of creation. Since he avoided controversy, he left it to others to defend his theory in public.

Thomas Henry Huxley is universally acknowledged as the leading defender of Darwin’s theory in the years after the publication of the Origin of Species. But he did much more. His main defense consisted in asserting that Darwin’s theory of evolution was science and the alternative theory of creation was not. He even claimed that evolution was the only possible scientific theory that explained the diversity of life.

Huxley framed his defense of the theory of evolution and put-down of any theory of creation in terms that avoided the appearance of redefining science, but that was what he was doing. He argued that science must be agnostic about non-empirical forms of knowledge, especially claims for God and the supernatural. This was an argument for what today is known as naturalism. Such a philosophy was already on the rise, with positivism, materialism, and secularism.

Not only were the alternatives to naturalism deprecated, they were considered pseudo-science. But if any theory of creation was not science, then Carl Linnaeus was not doing science when he developed his taxonomy, in which he endeavored to discover all of the created kinds of organisms. Somehow mathematics would still be available to Huxley’s science despite it being a non-empirical form of knowledge.

Another aspect of the controversy was the change in the status of the clergy. One of Huxley’s goals was to remove the clergy from influence over education. As the sciences became professionalized, Huxley was successful in keeping the clergy out. The result was that a thoroughly naturalistic science became ascendant in the universities.

Thus began the strategy of promoting naturalism under the guise of science. It was so successful that people to this day don’t know science was ever otherwise. Such is the historical ignorance of our time that such ideas reign virtually unchallenged.

Methodological creationism and naturalism

Methodological naturalism is considered a strategy for conducting natural science, in which naturalism is temporarily assumed but not affirmed as a metaphysical reality. But for those who reject metaphysical naturalism, it is unacceptable to assume a falsehood for any purpose, except to prove that it leads to absurdity. For example, it would be nonsense for a mathematician to assume “1 = 2”, prove a theorem, and then return to “1 ≠ 2” because that way one could prove any and every statement.

What is reasonable is the bypass, which works like this: transform the problem, solve the problem, then reverse transform the solution. See Bypasses: A Simple Approach to Complexity by Z. A. Melzak (Wiley, 1983). Symbolically, this is S-1TS where S and S-1 represent the transform and its inverse and T represents the operation in the transformed domain. This is also how an analogy works.

A simple example is the technique of completing the square to solve a quadratic equation: start with equation ax² + bx + c = 0, transform it into a square (x + b/2a)² = –c + b²/4a, solve this by taking square roots, then transform the solution back.

The bypass works for a one-to-one transform because it is invertible, but it does not work with a one-to-many or many-to-one transform because they are not invertible. Since the transform “1 = 2” maps 1 and 2 to the same number, it is not invertible and so won’t work as a bypass.

Something similar is at work with the attempt to use methodological naturalism as a bypass: reality is mapped to “nature” by either excluding anything non-natural (supernatural) or by mapping anything non-natural to something in nature. The former transform is clearly not invertible but the latter is not either because it means that something in nature has two sources or explanations, one natural and one non-natural, which is a many-to-one mapping.

There is an alternative method available, which could be called methodological creationism. It transforms everything natural into its corresponding creation and every supernatural into an act of the man Jesus of Nazareth. This transformation can be inverted since it is a one-to-one mapping. For example, organisms can be mapped to creatures, which can be reversed mapped at the end. Non-natural acts of creation can be mapped to acts of the man Jesus of Nazareth, which can be reverse mapped at the end.

An advantage of methodological creationism is that creative acts are no longer in a separate domain from everyday reality because they are mapped to the acts of a particular human being, whom people can know or read about. One need not speculate about the actions of a mysterious spirit being but may reference the actions of a particular man, and so have reasonable expectations about what this man would or would not do. This allows a systematic science to be built up by the usual scientific methods of data collection, inference, hypothesis, and testing.