I take Frederich Nietzsche quite seriously when he says, “when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you,” and thus I did not, nor ever will watch the recent debate between Bill Nye The Science Guy and Ken Ham The Creation Man. There are things in this world too depressing for people desperate to maintain some sense of hope regarding humanity, its direction, and capacity for truth.
Nevertheless, I want to take this opportunity to point out that, far sooner than any creationist vs. scientist debate amounts to a debate between a Christian and an atheist, it amounts to a debate between atheists. Neither side defends or attacks the Christian tradition. Both argue about a laughably boring god, a strange phenomenon of modernity — not the God of philosophy, theology or Scripture in any meaningful sense.
Fundamentalism, which includes creationism, is a modern phenomenon. The Middle Ages, though rife with scientific illiteracy in comparison with our age, never bred such a beast. It is a 20th century frenzy, not the product of ignorance as much as a by-product of materialism, and I daily blame — in an odd, bitter ritual that usually involves throwing pretzels at a cut-out of Richard Dawkins — the propagators of this selfsame materialism for cursing the world with the idiocies of devil-buried fossils and 6-day literalism. For evolution is only ever a threat to the idea of God if your idea of God has been hopelessly manhandled by materialistic assumptions. That’s right kids. Creationism is materialism’s inescapable, obnoxious spouse.
“What?” protest the protestors. “Creationists believe in angels, demons, and a whole host of immaterial realities, while materialists believe in no such thing!” But the point is not that creationism and materialism are in secret cahoots. The point is that materialism has provided the metaphysical framework for mainstream modern thought, a framework within which the creationist operates, from whence — along with a typically materialistic incapacity to distinguish poetry from a science textbook — comes his creationism.
The materialistic assumption is this: The universe is a closed, material system, and that all there ever is or was can be reduced to matter and material processes. The materialist flatly denies the possibility of the spiritual. The creationist concedes to a closed, purely material universe as the prejudice of the age. Unlike the materialist, however, he holds on to the idea of spiritual things. Now, however — and thanks to the materialist assumption — these spiritual things cannot be in harmony with the material. They — whether God, angels, or demons — must exist apart from it — opposed to it, even.
Consider it this way: If the universe is reducible to matter and material processes, but is nevertheless created by God — for people will always believe in God — then God, who himself is not reducible to matter or material processes, must be “outside” and “apart” from the universe he creates. He is utterly estranged from the universe. In short, the rise of the materialistic worldview meant that — if there was to be a belief in God — this god must be the god of Deism.
This is the god the creationist unwittingly and inconsistently defends, a god who creates the universe at a single point, a god whose creative action must be defended as a particular point in time (6 days of time, to be exact) now long past — a god who already made the closed, material universe and is now done, dwelling outside of it like “an old man peering from the sky.” Such a relationship between God and the universe necessarily makes any forces that determine our physical existence “competitors” of his work. He created the material universe. He served as its origin, a 6-day origin now over. Thus any apparent “creation” within the material order is creation apart from God, and a threat to his sovereignty. The only creation possible must either have already happened, at one point, or it must be magical.
I mean this quite seriously. If by the world we mean a purely physical system, than God — who is not physical — can only be encountered in an inexplicable “break” in the same system. If God is to be active in a purely material universe, it must be as a Cosmic Magician popping into the world over and against all physical processes and laws — utterly at odds with his own creation.
God is evidenced by that which is “utterly apart” from the universe “breaking into” the universe. And so the creationist, having conceded the materialistic assumption, must “prove” the existence of God by way of things “science can’t explain.” The complex cell, the fossil record — God is real because there are inexplicable things, materials that look as if something has broken into the material system and left its immaterial and thereby inexplicable mark.
Evolution, which posits a natural process of change in successive generations of living things, is a threat precisely because it works against the Cosmic Magician, the God of one-time creation who now busts into the universe here and there. It says, quite reasonably, that living things as we know them today were not always so, and that man in his material consistency did not spontaneously pop into existence as the bipedal we know and sometimes manage to love today. Evolution is an affront to a god who “finished” his work of creation some 6000 years ago. It is an affront to a God who made the material universe in one now-past action, a god who now only associates with his creation through the miraculous breaking of the spiritual into what is purely material. It is, in short, a rival god.
But now we’ve stared into the abyss long enough. God is not simply the Creator of the material order, and the theistic tradition has never made such laughable claims. The concept of God as Creator has always been the source of existence as such. This means that God does not just answer the material question of “Where came this rock, that plant, or the entire conglomerate of material thingmabobs we call the universe?” He answers the ontological question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
Evolution cannot answer the question of why there is something rather and nothing, and no scientist outside of the self-titled, 8th-grade r/athesim variety would ever embarrass themselves with such a claim. Evolution presupposes something which evolves. Existence — the fact that something is — is prior to any evolution. Again, God is first and foremost the source of existence, the fact that there is something rather than nothing.
For not a single thing in this entire marvelous universe contains the source of its own existence. Each depends on an innumerable multitude of factors for the fact of its being here. The most obvious example of this is in our origins — there is not a single thing in the universe that brought itself into being. The less obvious but even more important example of this is in our current existence — there is not a single thing in the universe that “holds itself in being.” There is nothing that causes itself to continuously exist. To quote David Bentley Hart again:
If one considers the terms of one’s own existence, for instance, one sees that there is no sense in which one is ever self-existent; one is dependent on an incalculable number of ever greater and ever smaller finite conditions, some of which are temporal, and some of which are definitely not, and all of which are dependent on yet further conditions. One is composed of parts, and those of smaller parts, and so on down to the subatomic level, which itself is a realm of contingently subsistent realities that flicker in and out of actuality, that have no ontological ground in themselves, and that are all embraced within a quantum field that contains no more of an essential rationale for its own existence than does any other physical reality. One also belongs to a wider world, upon all of whose physical systems one is also dependent in every moment, while that world is itself dependent upon an immense range of greater physical realities, and upon abstract mathematical and logical laws, and upon the whole contingent history of our quite unnecessary universe…In short, all finite things are always, in the present, being sustained in existence by conditions which they cannot have supplied for themselves, and that together compose a universe that, as a physical reality, lacks the obviously supernatural power to exist on its own. Nowhere in any of that is a source of existence as such.
If the materialistic assumption is true, and the universe is entirely reducible to matter and material processes, then the universe is an inexplicable oddity. All things exist in their present-moment existence by depending upon other things, which in turn exist in their present-moment existence by depending on other things, and so on unto infinite regress. If this were true, nothing would ever come into or persist in being. The theistic position, properly understood, is that our universe is not an inexplicable infinite regress, but that all things exist in their present-moment existence because all things are upheld by an absolute existence, a being that is the source of its own existence (snipping short the infinite regress), supplying all contingent things with a non-contingent “ground” which renders their existence possible.
How could evolution possibly pose a threat to God, properly understood as the Absolute Giver of Being, who at every moment provides the absolute ground for the existence every contingent thing, every thing which does not contain the source of its own present-moment existence — every particle, every random mutation, every genome strand, every protein, every moment of procreation, every fertilization event, in short, every single material component of the process of evolution?
In fact, I can think of no other view more favorable to the concept of evolution than the view that Creation is now, not an act that happened at one point in time, now long past, but rather the timeless fact of there being something rather than nothing, the present-moment, as-you-sit-reading donation of being which you cannot provide for yourself. God created, creates and is always creating the universe in a singular timeless act by which the entirety of space, time and human history, from beginning to whatever end, is given that existence it cannot provide for itself. God is creating everything now, there is no need for miraculous, inexplicable events to “prove” His existence, no need for him to break in to an already finished work and leave some boggling mark. It is the horrifying and beautiful surprise that anything in this storm of contingencies exists at all that has the theist positing an absolute source of existence, our wonderful God, not a thought that “everything looks so well-designed,” or that “science cannot explain this or that.”
Creationism only exists as a reaction within the framework of materialism. The Christian ought to reject the evolutionist vs. creationist debate on the level at which it is offered, and question instead the metaphysics of the thing, for if the universe is a contingent reality that requires the eternal and ever-present donation of being by an absolute source of being, then the idea that evolution is an affront to creation is ridiculous at best, manufactured for easy points at worst.