Pope Francis, Anti-Science Creationists, and the Gnostic Demiurge

I am grateful to Joel Watts for pointing out the original Italian text of something that the Pope recently said, which had puzzled me in the English translations I had encountered:

Dio non è un demiurgo o un mago, ma il Creatore che dà l’essere a tutti gli enti. L’inizio del mondo non è opera del caos che deve a un altro la sua origine, ma deriva direttamente da un Principio supremo che crea per amore. Il Big-Bang, che oggi si pone all’origine del mondo, non contraddice l’intervento creatore divino ma lo esige.

Here is a translation:

God is not a demiurge or magician, but the Creator who gives existence to all entities. The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos which owes its origin to another, but rather it derives directly from a supreme Principle which creates out of love. The Big Bang, which today is posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative divine intervention, but rather requires it.

And so the Pope is clearly thinking of the God depicted by various anti-science creationists, including the Intelligent Design folks as well as young-earth creationists. That God is either a tinkerer who works rather like a human engineer with evidence of trial, error, and shortcomings, or a malevolent deceiver who makes the world look as though it were something it isn’t.

Of course, it should also be pointed out that evolution acts in many ways rather like the deity these creationists posit, or like a Gnostic Demiurge, inasmuch as it tinkers with that which already exists, at a distance from the supreme origin of the cosmos. And Genesis does depict creation out of chaos.

Be that as it may, Pope Francis, in re-articulating the longstanding stance not just of the Catholic church but of most Christians, is leading the way in the only viable direction for contemporary Christianity: to embrace science and make it part of our worldview, rather than fighting in vain to deny it in a manner that misrepresents both the scientific and religious data.

Pope Francis God magic wand


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  • TomS

    The first I remember hearing of a connection between Creationism and Gnosticism was in Langdon Gilkey’s testimony in the 1982 Arkansas Creation Science trial.

    • Tim

      There is unfortunately quite a bit of connection between Gnosticism and many beliefs common to modern American Evangelicalism. .

  • Freedomlovingdadof7

    The Pope sets up a straw man when he equates God’s acts of creation with the acts of a demiurge or a magician.

    The following statement is riddled with fallacies and sloppy thinking.

    “And so the Pope is clearly thinking of the God depicted by various anti-science creationists, including the Intelligent Design folks as well as young-earth creationists. That God is either a tinkerer who works rather like a human engineer with evidence of trial, error, and shortcomings, or a malevolent deceiver who makes the world look as though it were something it isn’t.”

    Where to start.

    The pejorative description of creationists as ‘anti-science’ is nothing more than a cheap shot.

    The author appears to regard ID as a subset of creationism. This identification is a common misconception of those who want to tar both with the same brush, and is repudiated by IDers and creationists alike.

    However, giving the author the benefit of the doubt, I’m guessing the author is associating Intelligent Design folks with the ‘tinkerer’, and creationists with the ‘malevolent deceiver’. Of course not all ID proponents would agree with the ‘tinkerer’. The author wields a broad brush indeed. And creationists would certainly reject the characterization of God as a malevolent deceiver. This is a straw man of the highest order.

    Consider. If you had encountered Adam one minute after his creation, how old would you have guessed him to be? 20 years old? 30 years old? Both guesses would have been wildly wrong. Adam was created mature, not ‘old’. Our experience leads us to roughly equate maturity with chronological age. However, our experience will not do to account for the origin of the first man himself. Such knowledge necessarily depends on revelation, not experiment or observation. Was God deceiving us by giving us this revelation?

    The ‘malevolent deceiver’ meme fails miserably. Accepting it uncritically forces one to reject not only the creation account, but many of miracles recorded in Scripture as well. What, for example, was the ‘history’ of the miraculous wine at Cana? Unless you knew the history as recorded in the gospel or eyewitness observation, your speculations based on your experience of wine-making would have been wrong. This is obvious from the Gospel account itself.

    ‘When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”‘ (John 2:9-10)

    The servants were eyewitnesses to the miracle, and therefore knew where the wine came from. The master of the feast, not seeing the miracle, drew on his own knowledge and past experience of wine – and got it wrong.

    The author of this post appears to desire an account where any working of God in nature or history is hidden, and is indeed indistinguishable from the accounts provided the philosophy of physicalism. Such an attempt is borne of the desire to account for absolutely everything in terms of natural empirically observable processes. Of course this attempt is ultimately futile, as well as being completely antithetical to an understanding of God’s self-revelation in nature. The Scriptures tell us that the heavens declare the glory of God, not the glory of interlocking secondary causes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      What a bizarre comment. The cdesign proponentsists are apparently not unwilling to misrepresent even a careful distinguishing of anti-science brands of creationism from belief in creation itself.

      How does the story of the wedding at Cana make it plausibke to suggest that God made human chromosome 2 to appear to be the result of fusion of two primate chromosomes, complete with telomeres in the middle, when in fact it was intelligently designed that way? The proponents of ID are as dishonest as the god they have made in their own image.

    • TomS

      The author appears to regard ID as a subset of creationism. This identification is a common misconception

      To share the same word “creationism” for Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism is not to regard one as a subset of the other, nor is it an identification of the two. And I doubt whether the proponents of ID are so diligent to refuse when YEC or OEC supporters include them.

      But what term would you prefer to use for the various versions of empty denial of evolutionary biology? “Evolution denial”? “Pseudo-science”? “Advertising Campaign Against Me Being Related to Monkeys”?

      To be sure, ID has been crafted over the years so that it has, as far as human ingenuity is possible, no positive substance to it. The most recent campaigns seem to be things like “let’s let K-12 children hear about what we think about evolution” or “evolution is to blame for some early-20th-century political-social movements”.

      • Freedomlovingdadof7

        “But what term would you prefer to use for the various versions of empty denial of evolutionary biology?”

        Your tendentious question is along the lines of “When did you stop beating your wife?”, as are your suggestions.

        How about using the following terms?

        – Evolution – All life ultimately shares the same ancestry. Strictly speaking evolution does not deal with abiogenesis, although abiogenesis is certainly implied, and will ultimately need to be addressed. The majority opinion is called the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and a minority view promoted by Niles Eldridge and the late Stephen Jay Gould is denominated ‘punctuated equilibrium.
        – Creation – The universe, the earth, and life were created by God. There are old-earth and young earth varieties of this position
        – ID – the view that many aspects of life demonstrate irreducible complexity, enabling one to infer a Designer, without necessarily specifying who (or what) the Designer may be.

        There are many combinations and permutations of the basic views (theistic evolution, progressive creation, etc.) but this should do for starters, for anyone interested in a real discussion, as opposed to name-calling.

    • Richard Forrest

      The author appears to regard ID as a subset of creationism. This identification is a common misconception of those who want to tar both with the same brush, and is repudiated by IDers and creationists alike.
      No, it is denied by IDers and creationists alike. That does not mean that they have refuted it.
      The fact is that ID was invented when “scientific” creationism was shown to be religion and therefore could not be taught in schools. It is a dishonest attempt to rebrand creationism in sciency-sounding language to evade US law. Google “cdesign proponentsists”.
      It is also a fact that creationists are prepared to lie even under oath to promote their cause, as was so clearly demonstrated during the Dover v. Kitzmiller trial. Given this fact, why on earth would anyone believe what a creationist says?

  • http://www.georgerstewart.com/ Isherwood Williams

    Is the magi‧cal birth also not so?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      If you are asking whether I think Jesus was virginally conceived, then the answer is obviously no. Or were you asking what the Pope’s view on that is?

      • http://www.georgerstewart.com/ Isherwood Williams

        Sorry for the confusion; I was referring to the Pope’s views. I appreciate the Pope saying God isn’t a magician, but there is more magical thinking in the Christian realm than just creationism.

        • TomS

          If you will allow me a personal opinion, I don’t like it when discussions about the failures of ID, and all sorts of (ahem) empty denial of evolutionary biology, turn into discussions of religion. If a cat is white or black, it makes no difference if it catches mice. Your priorities may be different, but as far as i am concerned, if the Pope is an ally against the obscurantism of ID, I welcome his contributions.

          • http://www.georgerstewart.com/ Isherwood Williams

            A discussion of ID is necessarily a discussion of religion. Federal court has ruled that ID is not legitimate science, but religion in disguise.

            Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
            PBS Airdate: November 13, 2007

            I’m glad the Pope has taken this stand against a magical accounting of a single book in the Bible. It’s a small step.

          • Michael

            Note that the court decided this on the basis of the ‘admission’ that a certain type of religious believer would more readily accept ID over standard evolution than a non-believer of the same stripe would. This is in fact a tautology, basically an instance of Bayes’ theorem, as is powerfully argued by T. Nagel http://philosophy.fas.nyu.edu/docs/IO/1172/papa_132.pdf Of course a traditional Christian believer would in fact be less likely to accept ID since it is a demiurge theory.

          • http://www.georgerstewart.com/ Isherwood Williams

            Why do you suppose “traditional” Christianity and demiurge theory conflicts?

            The inferior God created by Sophia’s desire, also referred to as the Demiurge, is the Creator God of the Old Testament […]

            Paul makes the following associations between Christ and Sophia: Christ is the Wisdom of God; like Sophia, he is a creator, first born of all creation, the radiance of God’s glory and the image of the invisible God. Luke describes Jesus as Sophia’s son who communicates her wisdom to humanity. In Matthew’s writings, Jesus is explicitly described as personified Wisdom. Perhaps John’s Gospel draws the strongest connection between the two figures, relating the story of Sophia as the pre-history of Jesus.

            Eventually Sophia was completely fused with Christ.

            excerpts from:
            Gnosticism, Christianity, and Sophia

          • Michael

            By traditional, I meant, after the first few early councils — which of course reject ‘gnosticism’ — not that that’s the only possible demiurge theory (see the Timaeus of Plato, which is locus classicus.) In general a demiurge or any ‘intelligent designer’ operates with pre-existing matter or within a pre-existing framework. The ID people often insist that they aren’t saying *who* did it; for all they know scientifically, they say, terrestrial life was designed by intelligent space aliens — but this shows that *what they think was done* was what a demiurge would do. It brings out the wisdom of Kant’s remark (well before Darwin, but after the post-Newtonian popularization of design arguments) that the method of ‘physical teleology’ can only lead to a ‘demonology’, not a ‘theology.’ For one thing, it can’t rule out several designers. It has nothing to do with theology.

          • TomS

            We have to be careful in attributing anything to “Intelligent Design”, for the concept has been carefully crafted not to say anything – other than “somehow, something’s wrong with evolutionary biology”. I am sure that any difficulty will be met with, “You don’t understand ID.” Of course, it has been crafted as not to be understood.

            But we are presented with examples of things which are the results of ID, and it seems to be that some may be examples of some sort of change in things – as you say, pre-existing matter within a pre-existing framework. It seems to be that ID is like ordinary design in that “necessity is the mother of invention”. Archdeacon Paley wondered, “Why resort to contrivance, where power is omnipotent? Contrivance, by its very definition and nature, is the refuge of imperfection.” (Of course, Paley had an answer to that question. I only quote it because it seems a confirmation of my take on ID .)

          • Sean Garrigan

            A discussion of Darwinism is necessarily a discussion of philosophy, and often of religion.

          • http://www.georgerstewart.com/ Isherwood Williams

            Squawk! You’re parroting …

            Creationist Claim CA610: “Evolution is a religion.”

            Response: Evolution may be considered a religion under the metaphorical
            definition of something pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
            This, however, could also apply to stamp collecting, watering plants,
            or practically any other activity. Calling evolution a religion makes
            religion effectively meaningless.

            Index to Creationist Claims

          • Sean Garrigan

            Nope, I’m speaking from experience.

          • http://www.georgerstewart.com/ Isherwood Williams

            You’re parroting well-worn creationist talking points. Go on, try another creationist claim–even if you allege it as your own.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Nope, I’m speaking from experience.

          • Freedomlovingdadof7

            As opposed to the well-worn evolutionist talking points at talkorigins.org LOL

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            Why not set aside talking points, and anyone that might be called an “evolutionist,” and focus instead on what mainstream scientists conclude. Why not start with Francis Collins. He’s an evangelical Christian, and directed the Human Genome Project. Seems like a natural place to start.

          • arcseconds

            It is no more necessarily a discussion of philosophy than any other branch of science.

            Discussing any branch of science ends up being a discussion of philosophy with someone who has views on the matter highly at odds with mainstream science, especially if those views are informed by epistemological and metaphysical views also highly at odds with those of mainstream science. (Or if they’re just plain sceptical, which could be treated as a special case of an epistemological view at odds with mainstream science. )

            As you’re one of those people on the matter of evolution, naturally discussing evolution in your experience will tend to involve philosophy.

          • Sean Garrigan

            But I’m not talking about comments and arguments that I’ve made about evolution; I’m talking about the comments and arguments that have been made by defenders of Darwinian philosophy. That’s what I mean by personal experience. I’ve inferred that Darwinism is philosophy (and religion) in light of the views of its defenders, not in light of my own theological convictions.

          • arcseconds

            Yes, and if you went up to a chemist and said “how do you know about atoms? You can’t see them! Aren’t you just assuming materialism here? And look at all this ad hoc stuff you’ve got and things you can’t explain? You can’t even genuinely predict the behaviour of anything but the smallest of molecules. Chemistry isn’t a real science at all, is it? Where’s the grand unifying, falsifiable and predictive theory? I have a really strong intuition that it can’t be right, too” the discussion would quickly become philosophical as well.

            (And historically there have been people who have held positions like that, I’m not just satirising you. Ernst Mach, for example, didn’t believe in atoms as anything more than a convenient fiction. Naturally one can find plenty of papers in the philosophy of science about Mach’s operationalism.)

            And the chemist probably isn’t likely to do all that well in responding to this kind of line of argument (they’re likely to get frustrated rather quickly and give up), because the discussion has become a philosophy of science discussion, and generally speaking scientists aren’t all that well trained in philosophy of science.

            Nevertheless chemistry can be discussed quite productively without getting philosophical at all. It does, of course, require the participants to accept the same basic framework (such as accepting intuitions are an aspect of personal psychology more than anything else, and don’t ultimately count for very much). If you don’t accept the same basic framework, how can the discussion be anything other than philosophical?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            And if someone were talking about how atomism is a philosophy, then I might agree with them – but would point out that the term they are using is not aptly applied to chemistry, just as “Darwinism” doesn’t fit as a description of the practice of biology or any of its subfields.

          • arcseconds

            Well, Sean might argue that contemporary science has in fact assumed materialism as a starting assumption (he definitely makes that charge against evolutionary biology). And he is right in the sense that proposing that something happens by atoms moving around without guidance is not going to be regarded as especially problematic by scientists, whereas proposing some agent that somehow guides the atoms around is. This holds for metereology and chemistry just as much as it does for evolution.

            So science very much is materialistic in that sense. And this could be fairly called a metaphysics. But this isn’t a starting assumption, even though he’s got quotes by scientists saying it is. It’s a hard-won conclusion. The scientific community has on several occasions ditched metaphysics it was previously quite sure of if by doing so it got better explanations, which is a good reason to expect that materialism would also be ditched if a successful theory came along which required accepting different metaphysics.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            If he would either talk about science in general, or about scientism, I would have less problem with what he writes. But he pretends that offering natural explanations is objectionable and problematic in biology but not in chemistry or meteorology. That selective rejection and/or misconstrual of science is what particularly irks me.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Yet no one argues that a particular view of meteorology must be right “because the evidence would be inexplicable if an omnipotent creator did it” whereas those sorts of statements are common among Darwinian dogmatists.

            I believe that it was the National Center for Science Eduction that used to provide a Darwin Fish bumper sticker to those who made a donation of a specific amount. I understand that one company produced a bumper sticker in which a Darwin Fish was raping a Christian Fish.

            Yes, it is Darwinists who insist on keeping theory within the context of religion, and so I feel it’s appropriate to honor their work and agree that Darwinism is what their actions say it is: religion.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            I don’t follow you. If people making bumper stickers that are in really poor taste proved anything, then Christians would be in serious trouble, since we are more guilty than anyone in that domain.

            But do you genuinely think that illegitimate attempts to appeal to science in defense of one’s worldview make the science itself wrong? Does the math of quantum physicists have to be wrong because Deepak Chopra hijacks the terminology of “quantum”?

          • Sean Garrigan

            “But do you genuinely think that illegitimate attempts to appeal to
            science in defense of one’s worldview make the science itself wrong?”

            As you demonstrated in a recent dialogue on your blog, it is appropriate to ignore how proponents of a theory define it and conclude for ourselves what the theory *really* is based on the perceived motivations and actions of some of it’s advocates.

            I’m taking your lead. Aren’t you proud? 😉

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            I don’t recognize myself in your vague allusion. What are you talking about?

          • Sean Garrigan

            I thought you agreed with Beau Quilter that Intelligent Design is creationism, and that this inference is legitimate in light of the actions and perceived motivations of some of its advocates, e.g. the folks who edited Of Pandas and People.

            I’m happy to be mistaken on this. Are you now saying that you disagree with Beau, and that his inference that ID is creationism is NOT valid?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

            If you are using creationism in the broad sense, then surely being intelligently designed is a way of being created, is it not?

            If you mean “young-earth creationism” then of course most cdesign proponentsists accept an ancient earth. But for many creationists, the age of the earth is less important an issue than denying evolution. And both are obviously subsets of the category of anti-science denialisms, whether the circles of the two subsets are thought to be largely, partly, or hardly at all overlapping with on another.

            I did not chime in much in that earlier discussion, as I recall, since without first defining what one means, there was little hope of progress. Indeed, I have spoken to people who say they adhere to intellient design, but who have no problem accepting that that design brought about and achived its end through evolution. So you need to clarify your meaning first.

          • Sean Garrigan

            I apologize then, as I must have conflated Beau’s comments with yours.

            I agree that settling on a definition of “creationist” is tricky, as even theistic evolutionists who believe that things were frontloaded so that life would unfold as it did are creationists. Indeed, some might argue that even those who believe that God made all things make themselves are creationists of a sort. They’re mistaken, but still creationists;-)

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter
          • Sean Garrigan

            I know, it’s a favorite tactic to attempt to discredit ID. I’m not fooled by such tactics.

            Ironically, what folks don’t realize is that even if you could prove that ID is creationism, you wouldn’t thereby invalidate ID; rather, you’d validate creationism. ID is true, and so if it’s creationism, then creationism is true.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Sean, you demonstrate that ID is creationism every time you talk about it. That ID is creationism is hardly a tactic – it’s true statement recognized by experts and science organizations.

            There are all sorts of logical errors in your second paragraph, which somehow doesn’t surprise me:

            You can’t make ID true by proclaiming it true.

            If Christianity is a religion and Christianity is true, does that make Hinduism true? It’s a religion, after all!

            You seem to have the notion that I would be worried about the statement “creationism is true”. Not necessarily. I have no problem with evolutionary creationism (more often called theistic evolution these days).

          • Sean Garrigan

            “You can’t make ID true by proclaiming it true.”

            I’m not trying to make ID true by proclaiming it true. I’ve concluded that it’s true, and don’t really have a vested interest in proving it to those whose starting point makes it impossible for them to agree.

            “You seem to have the notion that I would be worried about the statement “creationism is true”.”

            Not at all. I was conveying a fact irrespective of your reaction to it.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I was conveying a fact irrespective of your reaction to it. Intelligent Design is a form of creationism. In fact, experts that range from judges to philosophers to scientists and science organizations routinely refer to it as Intelligent Design Creationism.

            (Your “is” statements in the previous comment still represent a logical fallacy)

          • Sean Garrigan

            “Sean, you demonstrate that ID is creationism every time you talk about
            it. That ID is creationism is hardly a tactic – it’s true statement
            recognized by experts and science organizations.”

            That statement is consistent with your approach, and by employing such an approach one can conclude that Darwinsim is both philosophy and religion.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Whatever “Darwinism” is …

            … you can conclude anything you like about “Darwinism” as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never espoused anything called “Darwinism”.

          • Sean Garrigan

            Ah, you’re going to pay that silly game. Ok, I’ll revise my comment:

            “That statement is consistent with your approach, and by employing such an approach one can conclude that the supposed primary engine of evolutionary change, namely, natural selection working on random variations, is both philosophy and religion.”

            BTW, I searched “Darwinsim” on an online scientific journal website and had so many pages of hits that my fingers got tired of paging through. But you go ahead and be silly if it makes you feel better;-)

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Did you bother to look at the context in which “Darwinism” was used? Or did you just look at numbers?

            Like the majority of evolutionary biologists, I find that the term does not describe the modern theory, any more than Newtonism or Einsteinism would describe the modern theories of gravity.

            As far as your comment goes. All scientific theory has philosophical ramifications. Religious ramifications? Well, that’s up to the religious to decide.

          • arcseconds

            Gee, I wonder why they’d argue like that. It’s almost as if they were engaged in a debate with people who supported a theory in which creatures were the product of an omnipotent creator.

          • Freedomlovingdadof7

            “A discussion of ID is necessarily a discussion of religion. Federal
            court has ruled that ID is not legitimate science, but religion in

            Oh, I see. If a Federal Court ruled that, it must make it true.

            Now about that Dred Scot decision…

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            You don’t have to agree with Federal Court rulings. Just read the major proponents of ID in a document submitted by Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, and William Dembski:


            You’ll find all the entanglement of religion and ID spelled out clearly.

  • Circus King

    Is the pope Gnostic? It seems Like he refers the real God to nothing specific, instead he just said what he is not. But may believe in a demiurge but just not consider the true Father but believes in the Gnostic True God as the one no one knew yet.

  • Matthew Smith

    For real Biblical and scientific answers….. https://answersingenesis.org/ and http://www.icr.org/

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I presume you were being ironic, weren’t you? AiG and ICR are neither Biblical nor scientific. You know that, right? Please tell me you were kidding…

  • David

    So he’s saying god can’t do everything. So god is not omnipotent nor omniscient is he suggesting god is Omni-hypocritical?