Models, Models, Models (RJS)

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]

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  • Dan

    Not perfect, but no summaries like this ever can be. I usually find this sort of categorization helpful despite the limitations. I think the ID folks would quibble with the suggestion that design “provides evidence for the existence of the supernatural”. They would say there is evidence for design and stop there, leaving the “supernatural” for discussions in philosophy and theology.

    I find myself wishing the YEC and OEC camps would find more room for discussion than they sometimes do. Missing is the recent discussions in YEC camps regarding the nature of time (at least two very different approaches), which in my mind makes the 24-hour day issue a bit less of a dividing line between OEC and YEC.

    Regardless, the lines between each of the 6 views are not solid, and folks in various camps often borrow ideas from each other across the spectrum. Still, such categories form a basis for discussion and as such can be useful.

  • Phil M

    I also am not satisfied with those descriptions.

    All the categories seem to drive a wedge between God and nature, rather than view the workings of nature as the very hand of God; that the whole universe hangs together and is sustained by God.

    I think any model that attempts to understand how we got here needs to reflect that concept.

    But I am more bothered by the notion that this list can be discussed without first asking important questions like “What is the nature of scripture?” or “What kind of book is Genesis?”. Perhaps that comes up later in the book?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah, shall we call that Spinozist Evolution? 🙂 . But your point is well made.

  • copyrightman

    Curiously missing is the theological category that is most important: “creation.” What I mean is this: “creation” means that “nature” is utterly other than God and utterly and continually contingent on God, that God is utterly transcendent of “nature,” and that God’s “causality” over nature is not the same as “natural” causality. So, to suggest that “planned evolution” implies that “God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring this plan to fruition without further intervention” imposes a category mistake between God and “the universe.” It assumes that at T(1) God thought of a plan, at T(2) God kicked off all that was needed to implement the plan, and at T(3)….T(i) God hangs around while the plan unfolds. All of this means T applies to God just the same as it applies to “the universe.” The same kind of criticism can be leveled against “planned evolution” and in fact against all these categories.

    But the classical Christian doctrines of God and creation imply that T simply doesn’t apply to God because T itself is created and thus part of “the universe.” In a sense, T(1)…T(i) are all at once eternally “present” to God. This means that, if (as the evidence shows) biological evolution is true, it is not the case either that God kicked it all off at T(1) and then sat back to watch, or that God “intervened” at T(1), T(35million), T(4billion), etc. The truth is that what, from the perspective of T(1)…T(present)…T(i), has evolved, is evolving, and will yet evolve, is also sustained by God’s love and will, drawn to God as final cause, and wholly within the ambit of God’s providence, while possessing its own kinds of created, temporal causal integrity.

  • AHH

    Not bad for its purpose of a bird’s-eye categorization; one could hope for more nuance within the book.
    I agree with dopderbeck (in his superhero persona of copyrightman) about missing the Christian doctrine of what it means for the world to be a creation. Similarly, I don’t like the way so much is phrased in terms of “intervention” which seems to pit God against nature and ignores the classic Christian doctrine of Providence.
    Also agree with Phil M that approach to Scripture (for example, whether one is committed to concordism) is perhaps a more important categorization that drives much of the rest.

    I do like the way it points out that Intelligent Design can be held with options 4, 5, or 6 — so therefore ID can be compatible with “Theistic Evolution” (which is basically options 3 & 4). I shake my head when I so often hear ID promoted as an evolution-defeater, when in fact that fraction of ID work that is non-ludicrous (like Michael Behe) falls into category 4. ID can even occasionally be category 3 — one can find the term “front-loading” in some ID literature.

  • Richard Green

    You beat me to it! I add the comment I was going to in case the different wording is helpful to someone:

    Here is another model. God is outside of time. He sees the whole of his creation from the beginning to the end stretched out as it where on an enormous canvas. If He wishes to make an alteration he can apply his brush-stroke in any direction timewise, so if he wished He is able to change the past just as easily as the future, or everything at once. This means He is capable of manipulating His creation in ways we can’t even conceive of, yet alone detect. Alternatively He could interfere specifically to give us a message, as in the Biblical miracles.

  • RJS4DQ

    Phil M,

    You hit on one of my biggest reservations with this list. It drives a wedge, too big a wedge, between God and nature and between natural and supernatural events. I don’t think any of his categories really catch my thinking.

  • Susan_G1

    God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent. In none of these does He seem omnipresent while having created all laws of the universe. The closest (I guess) to what I believe is number 4. But I see no reason it can’t be 1- 3 without limiting God’s presence in our world. This is referred to in the comments as nuance? I see these as false categories.

    I would like to see more categories. God is too limited in both His continued presence and His creation of all laws of Nature from the beginning.

  • Gerald Rau

    Writing the brief descriptions RJS quoted was one of the hardest parts of the book. Remember that, like the whole book, they are not intended to give a complete picture, but rather to help those with little background in this area understand the whole range of opinions. None of those commenting here appear to be in that category. Many of the questions you raise are addressed elsewhere in the book, in particular the importance of the interpretation of Genesis. The distinction between Planned and Directed Evolution is closely connected with the question of God’s transcendence/immanence, as I say on p. 75:

    Where DE and PE differ is in the degree of intervention after the
    moment of creation. Directed evolution springs from a theological position
    that emphasizes God’s immanence, and DE would prefer to say
    not that God is intervening but that he is continually involved in the
    creation, whether sustaining natural law or temporarily suspending it in
    what we call miracles. Planned evolution, on the other hand, emphasizes
    God’s transcendence and distinguishes God’s intervention in redemptive
    history, in the miracles of the Bible or by working in people’s
    lives as a response to prayer, from his lack of intervention in natural
    history, in physical processes that can be investigated scientifically

  • Gerald Rau

    You are correct about the statement about ID. That has been pointed out by others as well. I was speaking of the majority of ID proponents who are theists, but the statement as it stands is incorrect. Mea culpa.

  • RJS4DQ

    Thanks Gerald,

    The posts will be spaced out, but I intend to interact with your discussion of the four origins over the next month or so. The book makes a good place to start a discussion.

    No book or person can covert all nuances, of course. It is these areas of nuance that make for good discussion.

  • Gerald Rau

    Agreed. That is exactly what I hoped the book would generate – good discussion among different positions. Thanks for facilitating it.

  • Paul Bruggink

    Re “Do Rau’s categories effectively span the range of options and positions? What would you add or change?”:

    I think that it is somewhat unfortunate that Gerald Rau believes that it is helpful to come up with new names for some of the positions, specifically his Nonteleological Evolution (aka Deistic Evolution), Planned Evolution (aka Theistic Evolution or Evolutionary Creation) and Directed Evolution (essentially Intelligent Design).

    Other than that, I thought he did a good job of concisely presenting the issues, the models, and the arguments for and against each model. I especially liked Appendix 1, his wonderfully complete and detailed 12-page table of the six models relative to the four origins, including lists of the prominent proponents of each model.

  • Rob Bradford

    There may be another possible category that Rau has not identified. Within the evolutionary history of living organisms, competitive evolution does not explain all species interactions. I would add the concept of “Cooperative” evolution in which some species cooperate for certain resources, roughly identical with the ecological idea of mutualism. Both organisms benefit from the relationship without having to compete. Such a category could reduce the emphasis on nature as being “red in tooth and claw”.
    Today we very much need an alternative image of evolutionary development within the scope of cooperative behavior. We’re running out of species and resources to compete for, which usually results in harm or damage to one or the other or both.

  • Not sure any of those models would fit my view which was “God intentionally created in essence physics: and physics created everything else over time.” I think this view is not far from what Gregory of Nyssa viewed Genesis:

    Gregory of Nyssa: (AD 350)

    “These, moreover, were first framed before other things, according to
    the Divine wisdom, to be as it were a beginning of the whole machine,
    the great Moses indicating, I suppose, where he says that the heaven and
    the earth were made by God ‘in the beginning’ that all things that are
    seen in the creation are the offspring of rest and motion, brought into
    being by the Divine will.”

    Professor Brian Cox: (2013): “Far from being some chance event ignited by some mystical spark the emergence of life on earth might have been the inevitable consequence of the laws of physics …. A living cosmos might be the only way our cosmos can be.”

    I read both saying, “once the laws of physics were
    fixed – all the rest of creation including life was inevitable?” Or as
    Gregory put it: “all things that are seen in creation are the offspring
    of rest and motion” of the Universe.”