A few weeks ago I started a series on a book by Gerald Rau Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. In this book Rau tries to categorize and organize the various views that Christians take on the question of origins. He outlines six models and then analyzes how the philosophy behind each model impacts the positions that people take on the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of species, and the origin of humans. In this post I would like to outline the six models quoting and paraphrasing from his discussion – and then open a discussion of these models. Do they effectively span the range of options and positions? What would you add or change?
1. Naturalistic evolution. This position is based on philosophical naturalism, the conviction that the natural material world is the sum total of reality. Thus anything and everything will have a natural explanation, one fully described by physics as expressed in chemistry and biology. (p. 43) [Comments in brackets are my notes on Rau’s description.]
Philosophical axiom: There is no supernatural, or nothing can be known about the supernatural. [Rau suggests that one form of agnosticism takes this “nothing can be known” approach, but this is not the way I’ve usually heard agnosticism described.]
Inferences: Evidence from the natural world, empirical evidence, is the only basis for knowledge, so science if the only way of knowing and only explanations based on natural processes are allowed.
Logical conclusion: Since the only thing which we can know are natural, anything else is mere speculation or pure falsehood.
2. Nonteleological evolution. Basically a deist perspective. There is no intervention of the supernatural after the origin of the universe. There was no specific purpose or direction in mind for the universe. (p. 44)
Philosophical axiom: There is a supernatural, but whatever the nature of that force, it has no plan for the universe and therefore does not intervene in it.
Inferences: Only natural forces have influenced the universe since its beginning.
Logical conclusion: Since the supernatural does not direct the natural, naturalistic explanations are sufficient to explain any natural phenomenon. [And natural phenomena are all we can experience]
3. Planned evolution. God has the capacity to intervene in nature, but does not need to do so because of the perfection of the original creation. (p. 46)
Philosophical axiom: God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring this plan to fruition without further intervention.
Inferences: The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation.
Logical conclusion: Since God did not intervene in natural processes after creation, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena.
4. Directed evolution. Directed evolution assumes that God can and does intervene in natural events. These actions include creative events to bring about his plans. Perhaps he directs low probability events, perhaps his intervention is scientifically detectable, perhaps not. However, as with planned evolution the general assumption is that Genesis does not contain information about the method of creation. (p. 48)
Philosophical axiom: God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to accomplish that plan. [Necessary?]
Inferences: Miracles are recorded in the Bible to show that God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, so it is reasonable to think the same might be true for natural history. [Occasionally?]
Logical conclusion: Since we see a large number of low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a goal (teleological), these would be best explained as interventions.
5. Old Earth Creation. In some concrete sense Genesis 1 provides a real description of the process of creation. Old earth models may consider a gap between Genesis 1, in the beginning, and the days described following. Other approaches include a day-age interpretation of Genesis 1. But this is generally also a progressive creation approach – God, through a series of discrete creative events, brought the world into being. (p. 49)
Philosophical axiom: God chooses to reveal himself through the Bible and creation, both of which clearly disclose his existence and identity.
Inferences: We must find the most straightforward interpretations that allow us to harmonize the biblical statement that God created in six days with the empirical evidence that the universe and earth appear to be billions of years old.
Logical conclusion: Since God wants his actions to be clear, the earth must indeed be billions of years old, and his work in creation will be clearly discernible as discrete creative acts over time, in the same order as revealed in the Bible.
6. Young-Earth Creation. When other domains of knowledge appear to conflict with the Bible it is the Bible that is to be trusted. Since the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world in six 24-hour days, this is what happens. No death before the fall is also an important component of this view. (p. 52)
Philosophical axiom: The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and each word should be understood in accord with its normal, common meaning, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary within the text itself.
Inferences: When the Bible says God created everything in six days it means six sequential twenty-four-hour days. When it says he created each kind of animal, or that he created man (male and female), it means that each was created separately and fully formed.
Logical conclusion: Since the Bible says God created everything in six days, and each kind of creature individually, only interpretations of scientific observations which are consistent with those revealed truths can be correct.
Some who hold to a young earth creation will take an appearance of age approach. There is an apparent history as we project backwards based on the forward progress of time since the moment of creation.
Intelligent Design. Finally we can consider Intelligent Design. This is not really a model for creation and proponents can and do hold any of the last three models outlined above, directed evolution, old earth creation, or young earth creation. (p. 53-54)
Philosophical axiom: Design in nature is empirically detectable, and provides evidence for the existence of the supernatural.
Inferences: Natural structures that could not have been built in a stepwise manner, with each step having a positive selective value, are empirical evidence against Darwinism and for design. [I think this is only one of the arguments – the arguments in Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and in much of Dembski’s writing are a bit different.]
Logical conclusion: Design provides a better explanation than undirected processes for the complexity we observe in nature. Since this is based on empirical evidence, it deserves to be called a scientific explanation.
What do you think of Rau’s categories?
I am not particularly satisfied with his descriptions of either planned or directed evolution. Neither really contains the right nuance. But rather than give my view at this point I’d rather open it up for questions.
Do Rau’s categories effectively span the range of options and positions? What would you add or change?
Does he accurately describe your views with one of these categories?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.
If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.