Friday, August 24, 2007

The Inconsistent Logic of Creationism or Why Creationism is Essentially Deistic

...At the heart of their anti-evolutionism, the creationists have hidden a stunning inconsistency in their own logic.

Consider this: Creationists would reject any notion that God is unable to act in the world today. Indeed Christianity, like Islam and traditional Judaism, regards the continued, personal activity of God to be an essential element of belief. Now, let's step back a bit and think about this.

As a matter of unshakable faith, they believe that God can act in the world at the present time. And that, presumably, He can work His will in any way He likes -- with power or with subtlety, by works of nature, or by the individual actions of His creatures. The very same people, bowing to the explanatory power of molecular biology and biochemistry, would also agree that life today can be understood as a wholly material phenomenon. None that I know of would reject the proposition that a single fertilized egg cell -- the classic specimen of developmental biology -- contains the full and complete set of instructions to transform itself into a complex multi-cellular organism. Neither would any respectable creationist challenge the assertion that every step of that developmental process is ultimately explicable in terms of the material processes of chemistry and physics. Miracles aren't required -- the complexities of molecular biology will do just fine.

This means that the biological world of today, which we can test and study, analyze and dissect, is one that works according to purely material rules. But this world is also one in which believers, as a matter of faith, accept sincerely the tenet that God can and does work His will. Obviously, they do not see any conflict in the idea that God can carry out the work He chooses to in a way that is consistent with the fully materialist view of biology that emerges from contemporary biology. Neither do I.

But there's the rub. Curiously, they somehow regard those very same mechanisms -- adequate to explain God's power in the present -- as inadequate to explain His agency in the past. For some reason, God acted in the past in ways that He does not act in the present, despite the fact that we assume in the present that he can do anything and everything. This inconsistent reasoning is at the heart of their desperation to show that evolution -- which depends on the material mechanisms of biochemistry and genetics -- could not have created the multitude of new species that have appeared throughout the geologic record of life.

Such reasoning shows a curious lack of faith in the creative power of God. Creationists act as though compelled to go into the past for evidence of God's work, yet ridicule the deistic notion of a designer-God who's been snoozing ever since His great work was finished. They want a God who is active, and active now. So does any believer. But why then are they so determined to fix in the past, in the supposed impossibility of material mechanisms to originate species, the only definitive signs of God's work? If they believe in an active and present God, a God who can work His will in the present in ways consistent with scientific materialism, then why couldn't that same God have worked His will in exactly those ways in the past?

The more sensible and self-consistent position, scientifically and theologically, would be quite different from theirs. The real, actual, working world that we see around us is one that is ruled by chemistry and physics. Life works according to its laws. If God is real, this is the world He has to work in. Therefore any effort to view God's work in light of modern science must find a way to understand how His will can be accommodated at all times, not just in some distant past.

--Kenneth Miller, Finding Darwin's God (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 216-18.


Johnny! said...

Using the author's reasoning, he's as much a Deist as I am. He's only pushed the problem back to the Big Bang. Matter is not created according to normal physical laws currently operating in the physical universe.

Third Mill Catholic said...

Actually, he's pushed it back to "before" the Big Bang, and since he believes, like Christians do, in creatio ex nihilo, I would suggest that this is a theologically tenable position, rather than a "problem."

Also, unlike deists, Miller believes that God acts immanently through natural causation as well as through miracles. His position simply doesn't require a "miracle" to prove that the origin of life or the emergence of the various species is Divine.

I would think this last point would appeal to your Van Tillianism, even if you don't accept the science of evolution.

Johnny! said...

It still requires a miracle--the miracle of creatio ex nihilo. Then God starts to work immanently through natural causation. I believe the same thing, with 5 more days of miracle. That doesn't make me any more of a Deist than y'all.

Third Mill Catholic said...

I understand your point. However, to be precise, creation ex nihilo reqires no miracle in that miracles presuppose already existing created order.

Be that as it may, as a good catholic, Miller affirms the miraculous. So the point is moot, because he readily concedes the possibility (unlikely though it be) that the emergence of the various species could have been by miraculous intervention.

What he is addressing is the argument set forth by creationists that evolutionary theory is decidedly non-theistic because, in positing a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life and emergence of species (including human beings), evolutionary theory leaves no room for "God to be God." His counter argument is that such thinking is inherently deistic, not theistic. He is eminently correct on this point.

Thomas said...

I would not call 'creatio ex nihilo' a "miracle" for the reason that the definition of "miracle" includes the notion of an event which transcends the natural order. It happens outside the "system". Since there was not a natural order before the creation of the world (it would be more exact to leave out the temporal reference and say that there is no other natural order than the created one) in which creation took place, it would not be correct to call creation a miracle. In other words, a miracle depends upon the divine power for its happening since natural causes are insufficient to produce the miraculous effect. The matter of the two fishes and fives loaves – as well as the forms of fish and bread – and the fishing, farming, and cooking capabilities of the apostles there present – could not produce the effect of feeding five thousand hungry men. Thus the cause was neither in the human agents or the food, but rather in the divine power mediated by Christ. “Before” creation, there was only God and his infinite power. Thus the coming into being of the universe was possible given the limitless divine power. Creation was not a miracle since besides creation there nothing besides infinite power. Thus there is no contradiction of an established order in creation as there is in miracles.

It would be better to call it a mystery since it is impossible to comprehend how something emerges from nothing.

I think the problem here – as always – is neither theo-logical nor metaphysical. Christian evolutionism is as coherently theistic and – via faith – Trinitarian as Christian creationism. The real issue is the proper hermeneutical principle for interpreting ancient mythical accounts of the origin of the cosmos.

Thomas said...

OOps! Sorry Dan. Didn't see your last response. Didn't mean to repeat you.

Third Mill Catholic said...

You said it much better than I. Nothing to be sorry about.

Roland said...

But why then are they so determined to fix in the past, in the supposed impossibility of material mechanisms to originate species, the only definitive signs of God's work?

Allow me to suggest an answer to Miller's question. When atheists argue that the origin of species through natural selection serves to debunk the supernatural, they are implicitly assuming that the natural and the supernatural are mutually exclusive. Creationists unwittingly accept this illogical (and heretical) minor premise of their opponents, which leaves them to argue against the major premise that species came about by natural means (which, unfortunately for the creationists, happens to be true).

It follows from the Incarnation that the supernatural need not displace the natural.

Roland said...

Or vice versa.

Brett said...

I've been reading Rowan William's "Tokens of Trust" and he spends alot of time on this idea of God as creating (present tense), rather then merely as having created (past tense).

I was strictly a young earth Creationist up until a few yearsago, and perhaps I've justlightened up enough to read what those "other" Christians had to say rather then simply yelling "liberal!" and plugging my ears..

Williams speaks of God as continuously creating, intimately involved with the creation. Not in any sort of ant-farm sense, for He has given "free-will" to all of Creation..made it independent of Himself in some way. He works in, though, alongside the natural processes He has put into place. Sometimes of course..He suspends that natural law. But in a real's ALL miraculous isn't it?

It's hard to explain..I get what he's saying but perhaps not well enough to put it into my own words.
It is new ground for me, so it's exciting stuff. I was taught for years that the scenario was "Creation or Evolution".. why never the possibility that evolution itself is a tool of His creation?

I also have "the language of God" by Francis S. Collins on my to-read list, waiting on my bookshelf.

I will wait to brush up on some of the basics of scientific thought before reading any of John Polkinghorne's work.. or I won't benefit as much from what I read.

Starting simple, working my way up. Like I said, I'm a baby on this issue and I won't pretend to be otherwise.

Brett said...

The way Williams also probes deeper into the questions of natural disasters and such.., in this same context, is really fascinating..

Seemingly violent, even 'destructive' processes bringing forth, over time, various forms of life..and finally human life. These same processes which we might now refer to as "natural disasters" which cause the loss of human lives, suffering, and cause us to ask God "why?!"

Indeed we should ask 'why', and Williams is careful to explain that He is not trying to answer that question (as if he could)..but inviting us to probe a bit deeper. I've never engaged the question of "where was God?" from this angle, before..

This is turning out to be a good stimulating read, but then I'm a theological lightweight what the heck do I know :)

Third Mill Catholic said...

Hi Roland,

You make an excellent point! BTW - I had opportunity to visit your blog "Two Natures." Great site! I've added it to my list.

Thanks for dropping by!


Anonymous said...

The Christian/evolution debate always seems to focus on the area of creation and origins. And much of the time it is reasoned that God and evolution is compatible. Fine. But I have never heard an in-depth discussion of the moral implications that a "God and evolution" position would have. It seems to me that if God used evolution to create man then all those things that are presented in Genesis as consequences of the fall (death, killing for survival, etc.) are attributable to God's creation because they were in existence prior. Does it not confound the problem of evil and make God responsible because these consequences are no longer the result of man's free will but are there as the result of a created evolutionary process?