iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Creation

divine creation in general and the natural world as a creation of God

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.

They aver that if God designs creation, then he is doing something that others can do in some measure, which would be beneath God, as if God were merely a demiurge. Thus this view of God deprecates any divine association with design.

It’s like saying, “A human is different in kind from an ant, so since ants can crawl around, humans would never crawl around because that would be different in degree, not in kind.”

Wrong. To be different in kind does not entail being different in every respect.

God could take something already existing and make it into something else. Whether or not he has done so is another matter. The biblical theist insists that God has done so because that is what the Bible reveals.

God not only creates something from nothing but he also designs something from something previously existing. Genesis chapter 1 not only states, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (verse 3). It also states, “And God separated the light from the darkness.” (verse 4)

Genesis chapter 2 states, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (verse 7) And then, “the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (verse 8) And further, “the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.” (verse 22).

An unprejudiced reading of these chapters shows God creating from no prior existing thing (e.g., light) as well as from some prior existing thing (e.g., by reforming a part of Adam).

At this point the classical theist may well bring up primary and secondary causality. God could have caused things to exist from nothing (primary), and then those things could cause existing things to change (secondary). That no doubt happens, but is not necessarily the only thing that happens.

The classical theist needs to show that God only creates from nothing and in no case from something. Or show that God’s primary causality is only final causality, and all other causes are secondary causes.

But both final and formal causes are primary causes. Secondary causes are the efficient and material causes. God causes both the end and the form of creation. Since formal causation is an act of design, God is a designer as well as a creator.

Teleological causation is from nothing. Formal causation is from something – whether it is an end (a telos) or a beginning (a material).

Genesis shows God causing kinds of creatures to exist, not mere taxa that differ in degree only. That entails design, a forming of something from something already existing. God does that in the act of creation.

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.

The process Darwin theorized is not an unrolling as the term evolution would imply, and even transmutation gives it a direction which is not part of the undirected process. A better term would be “variationism” because it posits that every species starts as a variety, or variation of an existing species. It’s like a chemist who asserts that isotopes can become new elements.

A naturalist refers to person who studies nature. But it can also refer to one who promotes naturalism, the teaching that nature is all there is. It would be better to call the first kind of naturalist a ‘naturist’ since it is nature, not ‘the natural’ that they study.

Naturalism is the foundation of transmutationism, including the variationism known as evolution. Some would call a change “from molecules to man” evolution but evolutionists don’t like to address the origin of life. And cosmic evolution refers to the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is naturalism that leads people to support stellar evolution, and other ideas in which ‘nature’ explains the whole history and condition of the universe.

Naturalism is opposed by creationism, though creationism is often paired against evolution. Creationism originally meant that God created the universe, without addressing what has happened since the creation. This is not a bad usage but what about the character of the original creation? It is not part of a natural progression, and is more than mere creation. The key issue is the creation of kinds of things, particularly populations that can vary only within created limits.

The question then is the existence of ‘natural kinds’ which are kinds of things that possess a fixed nature. To include creation in the concept, a ‘natural kind” would be a ‘created kind’. And someone who accepts ‘created kinds’ should be called a, well, ‘creationist’ in the sense that includes created kinds. At least this is not far from the common meaning today.

The term ‘scientist’ is problematic, too. It would literally mean someone who studies knowledge. That would refer to every discipline that concerns knowledge, including history, philosophy, theology, etc. But the term is meant for a restricted class of people who study empirical science. The correct term would seem to be ’empiricist’. However, empiricism is a teaching that all knowledge is based on sense experience. That usually means ‘scientism’ so we seem to be going in circles.

The solution is to broaden the definition of scientist to include all those who study the sciences, as distinct from the arts. The restricted usage would then be ’empirical scientist’. Since one does not need a license to practice science, unlike the medical or engineering professions, the term ‘scientist’ seems to be available for wider usage. So historians, philosophers, and theologians are scientists, too.

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.

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 everything non-natural 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.

Seminar presentation

I’ll be a speaker this weekend at the Genesis Seminar in Bridgeville, Pa (near Pittsburgh). The keynote speaker is Dr. Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University, Chicago. The title of my presentation is History and Philosophy of the Science of Origins, in which I will try to organize a diversity of material in history, philosophy, science, and biblical studies.

I see a dialogue/dialectic between two opposites/extremes, represented by these two lists:

(a) Genealogy, generations, chronicle, narrative, diachrony, history, process, society, time

(b) Logic, principles, philosophy, theory, exact science, synchrony, structure, universe, space

Where does theology fit in this? Exegetical and historical theology fit with (a) and systematic theology fits with (b).

Where does biology fit in this? Platonic, Scholastic, scala naturae, fixed-species biology fits with (a) and Aristotle (not Aristotelian), developmental, adaptive, evolutionary biology with (b).

There is also a both-and (c) to go with this either-or of extremes:

(c) mean, moderate, combination, synthesis, duality, complementarity, space-time

In science (c) is the convergence of increasing precision, the duality of particle and wave, the synthesis of space and time.

Theologically (c) is the Old and New Testaments, Law and Gospel, direct and indirect creation, Word and Spirit, and the Trinity as a unity-of-duality.

Biologically (c) is a combination of process and structure, variation and permanence, bottom-up and top-down classifications.

The Bible is remarkably balanced version of (c).

From history to nature

Over the centuries the various sciences have developed from a focus on history to a focus on nature, that is from a temporal or diachronic focus to a spatial or synchronic one. Saussure saw this in linguistics and reoriented it from a focus on historical language change to language as a system. Both have their place but historic study finds few natures, i.e., invariants, whereas the study of natures discovers many invariants.

For example, astronomy and physics in ancient times focused on cycles and the “harmony of the spheres” but in modern times focuses on a four dimensional continuum. Chemistry has developed from an alchemical focus on transmutation to a modern focus on the periodic table and compounds. Biology still focuses on temporality with its concentration on origins and history; to further develop it will need to focus on the nature of biological kinds. Geology has a similar focus on temporality so it will need to focus more on the nature of geological features.

Both History and Nature have been used by atheists as substitutes for God — in the 18th century Newton’s system was seen as Nature in control, then in the 19th & 20th centuries Darwin’s evolution was seen as History in control. So both approaches can be carried to extremes and will be by some.

Biology — whether evolutionary or creationary — needs to move from defining species or created kinds in terms of descent from original organisms to defining them in terms of their nature, e.g., as either having something in common (an essence) or a some type of interconnectivity (a topological definition).

Secular science

The word “secular” can mean simply non-religious but really means more than that; according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, secular means

“worldly, pertaining to a generation or age,” from Latin saecularis “of an age, occurring once in an age,” from saeculum “age, span of time, generation.”

The basic distinction is between matters that pertain to the age and world in which we live and those matters which are beyond it — life after death, unseen spiritual reality, etc.

Modern science has always focused on the secular in this sense, and abstained from investigating metaphysical and spiritual matters — but that should include “deep time,” too. By definition “deep time” refers to ages of time before this present age, this age of human life. No human being ever lived in deep time. Human experience does not include deep time. A scientific organization (or a government) cannot promote belief in deep time and remain secular.

Secular science should exclude everything that is not part of the age and world in which humanity lives. That means secular science must remain within recorded history, the period of time covered by written sources. This may be extended slightly by the study of artifacts for societies without writing.

Since scientific creationism stays within recorded history, it is more secular than any deep time theory.

 

Distinctions of Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless, and indistinct; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. The evening and the morning were the first day. So the first distinction was between Day and Night.

Then God said, Let there be a space in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. Thus God made the space, and divided the waters which were under the space from the waters which were above the space; and it was so. And God called the space Heaven. The evening and the morning were the second day. So the second distinction was between waters below and above Heaven.

Then God said, Let the waters under Heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the Earth; and it was so. And the Earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. The evening and the morning were the third day. So the third distinction was between the Earth and the Seas.

Then God said, Let there be lights in the space of Heaven to distinguish the Day from the Night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the space of Heaven to give light on the Earth; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the Day, and the lesser light to rule the Night–and also the stars. God set them in the space of Heaven to give light on the Earth, and to rule over the Day and over the Night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. The evening and the morning were the fourth day. So the Day was marked with the greater light and Night was marked with the lesser light.

Then God said, Let the Seas abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the space of the Heavens. So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the Seas, and let birds multiply on the Earth. The evening and the morning were the fifth day. So the Seas were marked with fish and Heaven was marked with birds.

Then God said, Let the Earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind; and it was so. And God made the beast of the Earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the Earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the Seas, over the birds of the Heaven, and over all the Earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the Earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the Earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the Seas, over the birds of Heaven, and over every living thing that moves on the Earth.

And God said, See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the Earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the Earth, to every bird of Heaven, and to everything that creeps on the Earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. The evening and the morning were the sixth day. So the Earth was marked with man.

Thus the Heaven and the Earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all His work which he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all his work which God had created and made. So the seventh day was marked with the Sabbath.

Intensional science

The word intension is not as well-known as its homophone intention. The word intension denotes the intrinsic meaning of a word, also called the comprehension or connotation. It contrasts with the extension, which denotes the range of applicability or objects to which the word refers, also known as the denotation. For example, the intension of “boat” is “a small vehicle for mobility on water” but the extension is the particular boat or boats that are included such as canoes, kayaks, rowboats, etc.

In physical science the extension particularly refers to the primary qualities of size, shape, and number which belong to physical matter independently of an observer. Modern science focuses on the extensional side of things and is less interested in the intensions associated with them. This is the basic reason why modern science lacks meaningfulness; it has little to say about intensions.

Is there a kind of science that is interested in the intensional side of things? Yes, but it is considered primitive by modern science. This can be explained by the inverse relation between the intension and the extension of words: as the intension expands and becomes more specific, the extension gets smaller and as the intension contracts into one more general, the extension gets larger. For example, the extension of “boat” covers all the boats in the world but the extension of the more specific term “speed boat” covers only boats which are built for speed.

Extensional science privileges a theory with a larger extension over one with a smaller extension. But an intensional science would privilege a theory with a larger intension, which means a smaller extension. For example, a geocentric theory is considered primitive by extensional science but its small extension would not be a disadvantage to an intensional science. The value of a theory would depend more on how meaningful it is.

This makes intensional science very strange from the modern perspective which so values large extensions. It does however lead to a reevaluation of traditional theories or narratives, which may have deep intensional aspects. For example, consider cosmology in the ancient Near East:

Sumerian cosmology became the foundation of many Near Eastern concepts. The Sumerians speculated that the major components of the universe were heaven (a vaulted, hollow space) and earth (a flat disc) which existed, immovably, in a boundless sea from which the universe had come into being. Between heaven and earth was the atmosphere, from which the sun, moon and stars were fashioned. The separation of heaven and earth and the creation of the planets were followed by plant, animal and human life. Invisible, immortal gods guided and controlled this universe, according to prescribed rules. [A New Dictionary of Religions, edited by John R. Hinnells, Blackwell, 1995.]

Again, this is very primitive from the extensional perspective. It doesn’t mention the earth’s rotation about an axis, its orbit around the sun, the distance to the stars, etc. But it fits the everyday world we live in, which is not a world of light-years and large masses; it’s a world with the earth’s surface below and a curved space above. And it’s part of a narrative about who is behind the universe and why it exists. Extensional science has nothing to offer on that subject.

This leads to consideration of the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. There certainly are similarities between the Genesis narrative and the Sumerian cosmology. Their extension is minimal but their intension is part of a narrative about the meaning of the universe. The Genesis narrative contains many subtleties noted by commentators over the centuries. It repays close study and meditation. It is part of the Bible, which is certainly a very profound book, and for a large portion of humanity is Holy Scripture.

A mature intensional theory would correspond to reality in its own way. All traditional narratives are not equally valid. Criteria need to be developed to privilege the better ones. Insofar as intensional and extensional theories overlap, they should be consistent with one another. Modifying an extensional theory for intensional reasons would no doubt be controversial.

Which is better, extensional or intensional science? Neither. They both have their places. Extensional science is well suited for studying the furthest stars, the possibility of interplanetary travel, and more mundane tasks such as building roads and bridges. Intensional science gives us a meaningful understanding of the universe, tells us who is behind it, why it exists, and why we’re here. We need both.