iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Creation

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

Evolution for everyone

The word evolution is related to the terms evolve and evolute, and originally meant an unrolling. It acquired a sense of development in the 19th century and was associated with progress, especially as promoted by Herbert Spencer. Charles Darwin used it in print only once since his theory was not a theory of progress. “But Victorian belief in progress prevailed (and the advantages of brevity), and Herbert Spencer and other biologists after Darwin popularized evolution.” (source)

Today the basic meaning of the word evolution is change over time. That is, evolution refers to a process that changes one form into another form over time; in short, transmutation. There are various proposed means or mechanisms of evolution but they are all asserted to produce change over time.

Thus the concept of evolution is the opposite of the idea that forms do not change over time. What makes it complex is that some forms may change over time but not others. But no one today seriously alleges that there is no significant change over time. In that sense, we are all evolutionists.

Then we need terms to distinguish the different kinds of evolutionary concepts. One could simply attach the names of their originators, but their concepts are modified over time so additional terms would be required. We need simple terms to designate the main types of evolution. Three-letter acronyms would help, too.

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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’.



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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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.

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.

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).