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Easter for the Universe

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July 17, 2014 Tags: Biblical Interpretation, Divine Action & Purpose, Earth, Universe & Time, Science as Christian Calling

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Easter for the Universe

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom (1826- 1828), The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. A committed Pennsylvania Quaker preacher, Hicks painted dozens of versions of this eschatological theme from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah. Like all of the others I have seen, this version puts William Penn’s legendary signing of a treaty with the Indians, another theme Hicks’s art depicted, literally into the picture, near the left edge, on the banks of the Delaware River where it is said to have happened. Hicks wrote the poetic version of the biblical text that decorates the frame.

Will the universe have an Easter of its own? Will the present world be transformed someday into a new heaven and earth, in which the lamb will lie down with the lion and there will be no more death? This is the very thought with which Ted Peters concludes his essay: “The primary reason for defending the concept of creatio ex nihilo in concert with creatio continua is that the primordial experience of God doing something new leads us in this direction. The Hebrew prophets promised that God would do something new in Israel. The New Testament promises us that God will yet do something new for the cosmos on the model of what God has already done for Jesus on Easter, namely, establish a new creation.”

To see what this has to do with cosmology, read on…


What Does Creatio Continua Mean?

To Fred Hoyle creatio continua means the constant process of bringing de novo into existence things which hitherto had not existed. Thomas did not use the term creatio continua. Had he accepted Hoyle’s definition he might have argued that it still does not mean changing things which already exist. Hence Hoyle and Thomas would disagree as to when this continuous creation, as creation, occurs. Hoyle would say that there never was a beginning, that the cosmos is now and always has been in a steady state of creative activity. Although there are new beginnings every day, there never was an absolute beginning to all these absolute beginnings. Thomas, in contrast, would say that creation happened once at the beginning of all things, and that today's intra-cosmic events are watched over by God’s conserving care (conservatio). For Hoyle there is no creator and creation is contemporary. For Thomas there is a creator and creation is past. If we were to avoid the strictures of Barbour and Gilkey and mix science and religion, then we would observe that the Thomistic view has greater consonance with Big Bang theory than it does with Hoyle’s steady state theory.

Why then are theologians such as [Ian] Barbour sympathetic with creatio continua? Oddly enough, one reason for advocating continuing creation has to do with re-mixing science and religion. Theologians today commonly assume that modern understandings of nature reveal a basically dynamic rather than a static worldview. Because it is assumed that the ancients who formulated creatio ex nihilo had lived in a static cosmos, and that we moderns now live in a dynamic cosmos, it follows that we need a modern understanding of creation that is more dynamic. Creatio continua seems at first glance to fit the bill. Barbour supports continuing creation by arguing that, “today the world as known to science is dynamic and incomplete. Ours is an unfinished universe which is still in the process of appearing. Surely the coming-to-be of life from matter can represent divine creativity as suitably as any postulated primeval production of matter ‘out of nothing.’ Creation occurs throughout time.” [Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion, p. 385.]

Is Barbour consistent? Here he asserts that our modern scientifically produced picture of a dynamic world is in fact relevant to the theological doctrine of creation. He is assuming that some sort of dynamism in theology should parallel the dynamism found in science. Having committed himself now to following the scientific lead, one would expect him to affirm a temporal beginning over against continuing creation. After all, that is where the preponderance of scientific evidence lies. But instead he reaffirms continuing creation and not ex nihilo.

What does Barbour mean by continuing creation? From the passage cited above, we can see that this is not creatio de novo as proffered by Hoyle. It is, following the model of biological evolution, the process of bringing life out of already existing matter. It is what Thomas would call “change.” Barbour wants the doctrine of creation to refer to God’s continuing activity within the world, not the creation of the world per se. What this amounts to, it appears to me, is a merging of creation with providence. Barbour is not alone in doing this. [Langdon] Gilkey also uses the term “continuing creation” to combine creation and preservation. “Creation is seen now to take place throughout the unfolding temporal process ... thus, creation and providential rule seem to melt into one another. ... The symbol of God’s creation of the world points not to an event at the beginning…” [Gilkey, Message and Existence: An Introduction to Christian Theology, p. 90.] What theologians used to call preservation or providence has been renamed “creation.”

Have we arrived at anything more important than a change in vocabulary, a change which tends to hide the issues? Whereas Thomas used the term “creatio,” to refer to the ultimate temporal beginning of things and to distinguish this from ongoing change, theologians such as Barbour, Gilkey, and [Arthur] Peacocke use "creation" to refer to the process of change within already existing creation. [For more on these thinkers, see a previous column. Here Peters has an important digression in a footnote: “The idea of continuing creation for Barbour and Peacocke seems to be drawn from consonance with biological evolution, whereas the idea of a point of origin overlaps with astrophysics. Hence, these are not mutually exclusive by any means. We might observe further that the notion of emergence as Barbour and Peacocke employ it probably represents a more thoroughgoing understanding of change than was conceived by Thomas and hence, properly deserves the title ‘continuing creation’. [SNIP] Creation will be complete only in the eschaton.”] The apparent motive for the switch is to merge creation with preservation or providence, but the result risks a total elimination of any theological commitment to a temporal beginning. In fact, such a beginning cannot even be discussed theologically, because we have lost the word for it. For temporal beginnings we must listen to the scientists.


Conclusion

Perhaps one of the ironic values of seeking consonance between religious and scientific discourse will be the impetus for Christian thinkers to return to the classic commitment to creatio ex nihilo while, at the same time, gaining a deeper appreciation for creatio continua. It simply makes sense these days to speak of t=0, to conceive of a point at which the entire cosmos makes its appearance along with the spacetime continuum within which it is observed and understood. If we identify the concept of creation out of nothing with the point of temporal beginning or perhaps even the source of the singularity, we have sufficient consonance with which to proceed further in the discussion.

Contemporary scientists do not support either a dualist or pantheist alternative, nor do they favor the idea that the stuff of the universe as we know it has an infinite past. On this particular issue, the scientific community of today is not the adversary to Christian theology that the pagan philosophies of ancient Greece and Rome were. Christian theologians can approach the matter with the positive anticipation that further inquiry may lead to constructive results.

The idea of continuing creation may obtain a more profound meaning through Prigogine’s usage of the second law of thermodynamics as it combines the irreversibility of time with the creation of order out of far-from-equilibrium chaos. Cosmic entropy is complemented by local creativity. What happens locally is that genuinely new things appear. The structures of reality are not reducible to, nor fully pre-determined by, the existence of past material. Thus, what Thomas Aquinas understood as mere change in already existing things is qualified: though the cosmic conservation of energy remains intact, there really do arise events in which new structures occur. We might call these new things “transformations” of reality, but the degree of unpredictable newness certainly exceeds what the medieval mind of Thomas conceived.

Mosaic: “The Last Judgment”
The Last Judgment, eleventh or twelfth century Byzantine-Ravennate mosaic, Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello, Venice. The angel rolling up the starry scroll as the trumpets sound illustrates Revelation 6:14, “The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.” (NIV) I cannot recall ever seeing another art work based on that particular text, let alone one as magnificent as this. If you ever get a chance to visit Venice, be sure to venture off the beaten track and spend some time on the little island of Torcello.

The primary reason for defending the concept of creatio ex nihilo in concert with creatio continua is that the primordial experience of God doing something new leads us in this direction. The Hebrew prophets promised that God would do something new in Israel. The New Testament promises us that God will yet do something new for the cosmos on the model of what God has already done for Jesus on Easter, namely, establish a new creation. What these things imply is that, when looking backward to the beginning of all things, we speculate that God’s initial act of creation was not dependent upon anything which preceded it. To speak of creation out of nothing is a way of emphasizing this point. Similarly, creation activity, whether divine or natural, has by no means ceased. It continues.

Creation is not simply a thing but rather a whole course of natural and historical events in which new things happen every day, a course of events which is bound by its finite future. The end of the cosmos will be something new too. The question which remains is whether the anticipated heat death constitutes a sort of cosmic Good Friday, and whether it makes sense to hope that beyond it lies an Easter for the universe.

Photo: John Polkinghorne
Many contemporary thinkers in the “dialogue” of science and religion are exploring eschatology, speculation about the end times. Probably no one has written more thoughtfully about this than John Polkinghorne. To hear him explain his position, listen to this clip, in which historian John Hedley Brooke introduces him. Like Peters, Polkinghorne realizes that science provides no basis for a future hope: this must come from revelation and religious experience.

Looking Ahead

This concludes our series on Ted Peters’ essay, “On Creating the Cosmos.” At BioLogos, we are keen to bring you the best ideas about Evolutionary Creation. Often those ideas were not written last week and put online the next day for anyone to find them with a search engine. Nor were they written for a wide audience of “real people” who are not specialists in the relevant academic field(s). Instead, as in this case, they were first published in print many years ago, in books and journals that “real people” don’t ordinarily pick up. If you’ve appreciated what we’ve done here, then please consider making a gift to BioLogos: knowledge isn’t free.

Nor is print obsolete, not just yet. Indeed, the software to read it is pretty likely to be around a lot longer than the software you need to read this. No periodic upgrades necessary, either.

When I return in a couple of weeks the topic will be different. I won’t show my hand here—you’ll just have to come back to find out!

References and Credits

Excerpts from Ted Peters, “On Creating the Cosmos,” in Physics, Philosophy and Theology: A Common Quest for Understanding (1988), ed. Robert John Russell, William R. Stoeger, S.J., and George V. Coyne, S.J., copyright Vatican Observatory Foundation, are reproduced by kind permission of Ted Peters and Vatican Observatory Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge their cooperation in bringing this material to our readers.

Editorial Policy

Most of the editing for these excerpts from Ted Peters involves removing the odd sentence or two, or in some cases entire paragraphs—which I indicate by putting [SNIP] or an ellipsis at the appropriate point(s). I also insert annotations where warranted [enclosed in square brackets] to provide background information, often citing information from Peters’ own footnotes when it’s important for our readers.


Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Jon Garvey - #85998

July 17th 2014

Thanks for this series, Ted. I like Peters a lot - like Russell, he’s someone one can do business with both scientifically and theologically. His re-valuation of creation wrt the new creation is excellent. Also his discussion on the perils of merging providence with creation. Too much to like to comment on all.

My only query on this piece is the comparison of modern “emergence” (as creatio continua) with Thomistic change. I’m not sure the former is an “advance” on the latter so much as a diffrenent category altogether - though Peters is surely right that Aquinas would be amazed at how much his “change” category has expanded in 800 years!

To Thomas, “change” meant a reordering of existing material by direct action of God, as in Adam’s body from dust, or Eve from Adam’s side - the “direct action” bit being crucial because “suitable” to God’s continuing interest in his creation and the proper demonstration of his deity. As Peters suggests, it could be called “creation” if Thomas didn’t insist that that word be restricted to ex nihilo.

Emergence, on the other hand, though producing novelty, is about novelty intrinsic to the original properties of creation, ie it’s entirely “natural”, to use that dubious parlance. Surely it would be more akin to Aquinas’s “generation” - the intrinsic powers of secondary causes, just as an oak emerges to all appearances (as far as a mediaeval writer was concerned) unbidden from the acorn.

Using the term “creation” to describe emergent phenomena seems misleading somehow, especially since Peters would not seem to be considering the future new creation as an emergent state (any more than Thomas did the making of Adam), but as something entirely new from God’s decisive action in Christ.

Related to that, Prigogine’s ideas on self-ordering don’t seem to have the power to deliver the self-organisation necessary to life: a crystal can appear from emergent properties of physics, but a book can’t even in principle, a difference that’s been pointed out by a number of people. So that kind of emergence in relation to the origin of living organisms remains factually questionable.

So I wonder whether Peters might have been closer to the mark staying closer to Thomas Aquinas’s change category - which is still pretty dynamic, though in a real-time (and less obviously natural) way.

He could still have called it creatio continua, and retained both the integrity of the original ex nihilo creation, and the immanent dynamism of God’s ongoing work.

The cost? It would sacrifice the insistence on the Universe as a closed (scientific/natural) system by Barbour and Peacocke et al. But is that any more sacrosanct than their version of creatio continua?


Ted Davis - #86005

July 17th 2014

Thank you for taking time to express your appreciation for this series on Peters, Jon. You are one of several regulars here who have called for BL to offer theologically “orthodox” presentations of Evolutionary Creation, so your favorable response is noted. Admittedly Peters doesn’t deal directly with biological evolution in this article, but he does elsewhere, as I mentioned in the first part when I introduced him (http://biologos.org/blog/on-creating-the-cosmos). I recommend that you get acquainted with the works I mentioned there, if you want to see him deal explicitly with evolution.

As I keep saying, the best material about Evolutionary Creation is not readily available electronically. And, even among authors available mainly in print, most of the popular-level stuff is so much fluff theologically. It’s not necessarily bad, and it might actually be really helpful to many readers, but it’s not really very good theologically. That’s a major reason why BL is bringing people like Russell, Polkinghorne, and Peters to the internet.


Jon Garvey - #86021

July 21st 2014

It’s essential work, Ted, and thanks for undertaking it. Only excellence in science and theology (and their handmaidens philosophy and metaphysics) are worthy of our Lord, and sufficient for the issues facing our world.

It’s my feeling that a successful science-faith project is likely to be highly counter-cultural.


GJDS - #86032

July 22nd 2014

Jon,

Such a project must also consider the wisdom of presenting arguments for or against God – I find it impossible to follow any such arguments because none that I have come across can deal with the most fundamental requirement of Christianity, which is that no human being can conceive of God. This type of argument had occupied pagan philosophers and the Patristic writers for centuries, and it has been recognised that the only basis for such arguments is idolatry (creating or conceiving gods by human beings) – yet we are witnessing a resurgence of this area, but instead now atheists believe they can (1) conceive of what they think God must be according to their understanding of the Christian faith, (2) confess they do not share such belief, and in fact deny that it may be believable, and then (3) present arguments that are in fact grounded or what they conceive as their case in point (which is that they do not believe there is a God). It seems they are incapable of accepting their position as self-contradictory and also self-fulfilling.

The dilemma for those interested in a well grounded discussion on faith and science is to provide a sound basis for removing the atheistic and materialistic component(s) from the Physical and Biological Sciences. I think nowadays this will be very difficult and claiming that metaphysical assumptions embedded in the materialist’s outlook on science will not persuade them they are wrong. So I think the point that should be discussed is this – what approach and methodology do we think would reasonable address such a science-faith project, and what are the major components of the Sciences? Presently we have are mainly areas for debate and disagreement, and most can be divided ultimately into theistic vs atheistic outlooks. What approach may y get us out of this endless circularity and to a sound discussion? It must be wide ranging - surely not one obsessing with Darwinian thinking!


Jon Garvey - #86037

July 22nd 2014

Big questions, GJDS.

Here’s just one recent thought. It’s my conviction that information science and the increasingly obvious inherent teleology in living things makes the early modern metaphysics of solely efficient and material causes actually inadequate for modern science. A recent conference paper by Catholic philosopher Fred Freddoso makes that point in detail, at least in relation to mind.

Perhaps the tipping point will come when it finally becomes obvious that the exclusion of formal and final causation (or their equivalents dressed in modern clothes, as Nagel does with teleology) is seriously hampering scientific advance. Or maybe theists could be among the first to revive those categories, which are certainly irrational exclusions from any science practised by people who believe that the world has purpose, and that it was formed by the Logos of God.

I won’t hold my breath for that particvular paradigm shift in mainstream science, though.


GJDS - #86038

July 22nd 2014

Thanks for the reference Jon.

It is often easier to provide (valid) criticism than to offer a positive suggestion – having said that, the faith-science discussion has a great hurdle that has its foundations in medieval outlooks. Polanyi understood this in his “The Metaphysical Reach of Science”, where he states, “... the medieval view, formulated by Aquinas, that empirical astronomy (or science) cannot speak of metaphysical reality. It defended the privilege of philosophic reason to speak of reality against the encroachment of science. The positivists rejected any metaphysical statements as empty and confusing, and aimed at purifying science from any such claims.”

The situation may be reversed nowadays, as science claims a privilege position, making gargantuan claims (it will heal all ills, create a better world, solve all problems, and free humanity from all its evils) and nowadays rejects both faith and philosophic reason as ‘empty’, or an escape from the reality that only science can claim.

I am of the view that both philosophy and science will continue in their ‘muddle’, with the resulting consequences for humanity – I also think that Luke 18:8 says it all .... Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?


Jon Garvey - #85999

July 17th 2014

Rats - this editor lies about italics - there were a number in my post, which have disappeared on publication, and which you’ll have to imagine from context.


g kc - #86003

July 17th 2014

Ted,

“Have we arrived at anything more important than a change in vocabulary, a change which tends to hide the issues? … The apparent motive for the switch is to merge creation with preservation or providence, but the result risks a total elimination of any theological commitment to a temporal beginning. In fact, such a beginning cannot even be discussed theologically, because we have lost the word for it. For temporal beginnings we must listen to the scientists.”

Language is a funny thing. “Funny” things happen when words are deliberately misused, sometimes even to the extent that a word comes to “mean” the opposite of the original or traditionally held understanding. Often it’s the new guy on the block who leads the linguistic charge for change, as implied by those last two sentences.

 

“Similarly, creation activity, whether divine or natural, has by no means ceased. It continues.” Stated differently, creation is not finished.

Can you direct me to any BioLogos articles or series of articles that focus on the meaning of Genesis 2:1-2?

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.”


Ted Davis - #86004

July 17th 2014

You ask a good question about BioLogos resources, relative to that particular text (first 2 verses of Genesis chapter 2). The only one I found quickly is this: http://biologos.org/blog/recovering-the-doctrine-of-creation-a-theological-view-of-science-part-3 but that doesn’t really answer your question.

I’ll put my own answer, in lieu of others. A common theme of biblical scholarship since at least the early 19th century (perhaps earlier), found also among Christian writers about natural history & natural theology (a leading example would be the great American geologist Edward Hitchcock (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hitchcock), is to point out that there is no “evening and morning” for the seventh day. I noted this in my study of Science and the Bible a couple of years ago: http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-the-framework-view. So what? A possible implication is that God has not yet entered into his rest just yet—God’s sabbath is in the eschatological future—in which case creative activity is ongoing. Reformed authors in particular tend to like this interpretation. For an OEC example by a Reformed author, see (e.g.) Robert C. Newman (http://www.arn.org/authors/newman.html) & Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Genesis One & The Origin of the Earth (1977), p. 65: “But a more literal interpetation of the passage could suggest either that God is still resting (day-age view) and we are living now in the seventh day, or that God has not yet begun to rest as the seventh day is still in the future. I favor the latter suggestion on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in John 5:17….”

I’ll leave the homework to you, g kc.


Jon Garvey - #86006

July 17th 2014

Ted

Further to your reply to g kc, may I add some of John Walton’s thought? He sees the Gen 1 account as (to cut a long story short) the inauguration of the Universe as God’s holy Temple. The first 6 days are the equipping and organising of that Temple, and on the seventh, the Lord ceases from that work, to enter the “rest” of living within his Temple, and ruling his world in peace. It’s akin to the “rest” God gave David from fighting his enemies, when he could then get on with being king of his people, at peace.

That may seem to point to the end of creation, but one has only to do a word search on “create” (bara) to see that God continues to organise his world. So the Bible simply affirms positively that God still creates. Most of the references are to human affairs (eg he creates Israel as a nation), but a few to the natural world (eg Ps 104), and in any case any distinction between how God works in the human and non-human realms is, surely, artificial.

So what counts as creatio continua, and how it occurs, is open to investigation. That it occurs, even without traditions like that of the Eastern Orthodox, for example, is simply a biblical fact.


g kc - #86009

July 17th 2014

Jon,

I’m not following you when you say “That it [creatio continua] occurs, even without traditions like that of the Eastern Orthodox, for example, is simply a biblical fact.”

Where in the Bible - Psalm 104 or elsewhere – is God shown creating anything that was not already addressed specifically or generally in Genesis 1? 


Jon Garvey - #86010

July 18th 2014

g kc

Just some representative instances of *bara* (create):

Nu 16.30: If the Lord creates something totally new, and the earth opens it mouth and swallows them… then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.

Ps 51: Create in me a clean heart, o God.

Ps 102.18: ...that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.

Ps 104.30: *When you send your spirit* they are created, and you *renew* the face of the earth. [ie bara = renewing the earth day by day]

Isa 45.7 (in context of call of Cyrus): “I bring prosperity, I create disaster.”

Isa 57.19: “[I will] create praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel.”

Now most of these aren’t about what we would normally *think of* as creation, but your point was about the meaning of words changing, and surely the indisputable original meaning is the biblical meaning. Personally I’m happy to accept the use of a term like “Creation” in a technical cosmological or philosophical way (eg Aquinas’s “ex nihilo” stipulation), so long as it’s understood to be a human description, not a divine category.


g kc - #86008

July 17th 2014

Ted,

Thanks for responding and for all the references.

I still have some questions about some of your words.

“… there is no “evening and morning” for the seventh day…A possible implication is that God has not yet entered into his rest just yet—God’s sabbath is in the eschatological future—in which case creative activity is ongoing.”

What would be entailed by the ongoing “creative activity” after the sixth day if God had already created the heavens and the earth, and all the living things on earth including man?

If the creative activity really wasn’t finished on the sixth day, why wouldn’t the author write more simply that “On the seventh day God rested.” Period. Instead he wrote ‘finished, then rested’. Come to think of it, why would the author say anything at all about a seventh day?

 

 “… God has not yet begun to rest as the seventh day is still in the future. I favor the latter suggestion on the basis of Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees in John 5:17….”

 

Jesus’s words (“My Father is working still, and I am working”) were in response to those criticizing Jesus for performing a healing miracle on the Sabbath. I take Jesus’ use of the present continuous to mean He not only can but does impact life on earth (and that He can do so whenever He pleases, Sabbath or no Sabbath.) We know of Jesus’ many “workings” (e.g. miracles), and also the Holy Spirit’s “workings” (e.g. Pentecost). In all cases, the “workings” affected life as we know it, not as we don’t know it. For example, He restored a leper to his former health, but He did not create a new, never-before-seen, leprosy-free organism. I can’t yet see how the ‘continuous creative activity’ interpretation of Gen 2:1-2 would be compelling. Do you know of any other justifications for it?

 


Ted Davis - #86016

July 20th 2014

I agree that to equate Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees with creatio continua is more than a bit of a stretch, but Jesus’ overall point seems pretty clear: God isn’t resting just yet.

So, if some of God’s work is creating, then we might infer that God might still be doing that part of the job. As I say, not exactly an obvious inference, but certainly in the spirit of what Jesus taught in that instance.

It’s interesting that a staunch opponent of biological evolution (Bob Newman) would appeal to that particular text to argue that God is still working, and use it in the context of a book about origins. This is interesting, b/c zillions of “theistic evolutionists” in the early and mid-20th century would use the same text to argue that God continues to create now, via evolution. Newman wouldn’t use it that way, but they did. Most of those folks were also very liberal theologically—much more liberal than BioLogos’ position. A further irony.


g kc - #86017

July 20th 2014

Ted,

“…but Jesus’ overall point seems pretty clear: God isn’t resting just yet. So, if some of God’s work is creating, then we might infer that God might still be doing that part of the job.”

Or we might say that some of God’s work was creating, but the creating was finished a long time ago. This is what on un-stretched reading of Scripture would indicate.

 

“As I say, not exactly an obvious inference, but certainly in the spirit of what Jesus taught in that instance.”

“Certainly”? How can you feel justified in using that word, while at the same time saying this whole interpretation is “more than a bit of a stretch”, “not exactly an obvious inference”?

 

If science had observed any “ongoing creation” (i.e. evolution) in the 2,000 years since Jesus said those words, then I’d say your position was not a “stretch”. But as you say, and I would agree, your position is “more than a bit of a stretch.”

 

Kind of related to all this, do you know of any Biologos articles on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:6?

“But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female.’”

I’m not only interested in Jesus’ use of the past tense for the creation [see also Mark 13:19], but even more so in how evolutionists address the alleged evolution of gender and sexual reproduction. [On 7/13/14, I asked Dennis Venema questions about this in his latest article, but he has yet to respond.] 


Ted Davis - #86020

July 21st 2014

I respond to this:

[If science had observed any “ongoing creation” (i.e. evolution) in the 2,000 years since Jesus said those words, then I’d say your position was not a “stretch”. But as you say, and I would agree, your position is “more than a bit of a stretch.”]

In fact science has observed ongoing creation in the years since Jesus said those words—especially the birth of new stars.

Was Jesus talking about the birth of new stars, or ongoing creation of new plants & animals? Of course not, any more than the author(s) of Genesis chapter one were talking about an ancient universe: they weren’t. But, the seventh day has no evening and morning, so speculation about the implications is certainly appropriate. I use that word “certainly” deliberately here (again). It’s speculation, as I said, but since the text itself drops no clues about the absence of evening and morning, any interpretation someone cares to offer is just speculation. Would you agree with at least that much, g kc?


g kc - #86027

July 21st 2014

Jon,

“In fact science has observed ongoing creation in the years since Jesus said those words—especially the birth of new stars.”

The “birth” of any new stars, if any, would be akin to the birth of new children. “Birth” is not creation, it’s the fruition of an existing (i.e. already created) system. The birth of a child or the “birth” of a star would be real, observable phenomena. But as you and anyone would acknowledge, biological evolution has never been observed.


Ted Davis - #86028

July 21st 2014

I don’t acknowledge your last point here, g kc, but it’s possible that we differ on what counts as “evolution.” For example, many creationists like the word “adaptation,” which is really just evolution on a smaller scale. Indeed, these days, YEC advocates typically say that there has been a tremendous amount of speciation since Noah’s flood, but they won’t call that “evolution” either. They’ll simply say that changes have happened, on a very large scale and very rapidly, within created “kinds.”


g kc - #86030

July 21st 2014

Ted,

“…it’s possible that we differ on what counts as “evolution.””

It’s not only possible, it’s a certainty.

No sane person would deny the obvious variation within kinds of organisms, whether happening naturally in the wild or unnaturally in the lab (e.g. targeted, designed animal/plant breeding).

But variation is not evolution - small-scale or otherwise. At least it’s not in my view.

The evolutionist, on the other hand, sees variation as small-scale evolution, and stirs up fantastic extrapolations, e.g. A part of the anatomy of a bird on Galapagos lengthens and shortens and lengthens, therefore man is cousin to the ape and the asparagus. (With this example I am not exaggerating nor being sarcastic.)


Ted Davis - #86036

July 22nd 2014

g kc,

Just as I ended my part of the conversation on the seventh “day” with #86035, I’ll now make my final comment about “evolution.”

Let me go back to Darwin, “On the Origin of Species.” In the first edition, Darwin did not use the word “evolution” at all; the final word in the book is “evolved,” and that’s the only instance of that word either. His book is about “the origin of species,” i.e., speciation. All of the observations he brings in (a great wealth of them) bear on that in some way. He’s trying to provide an historical explanation for the differences we see now among individual organisms and also among groups of organisms. This is exactly what he had already done many years earlier for the origin of coral atolls in the Pacific: provide an historical explanaton for the existence of lagoons, rimmed with coral, in the middle of the deep ocean, with no volcanic mountain remaining any longer inside the lagoon. Darwin never actually saw those reefs form in real time, but he “saw” them form very clearly in his mind, by drawing together diverse things he did actually see with his eyes under a single, overarching hypothesis. That’s the proper job of historical science: to explain a range of phenomena in terms of one or a few hypotheses that bring those phenomena together coherently, rather than just leaving them as we find them, as unconnected facts.

Everything in the “Origin” is part of his hypothesis of “evolution,” as we now call it. If you reject it all as pure unsubstantiated imagination, then you are apparently rejecting the legitimacy of the historical sciences in general. If so, then it’s fair to ask what you would replace those conclusions with. Did God just flat create all of those reefs, in all of those different places, to make it look for all the world as though they had been built up over time around now-eroded volcanic mountains in the middle of the ocean? Did God just flat create all of the major kinds of living things, in all of those different places, to make it look for the all the world as though they had developed over time from (often) no longer extant forms? You see where this is going.

You can of course take it wherever you will, but my overall point is that Darwin (and many others) considered the hypothesis of historical development to be much more persuasive, and much more testable, than the hypothesis of special creation in each and every instance.

My best to you, g kc.


Jon Garvey - #86031

July 22nd 2014

Ted

May I comment on stars and creation too? g kc has a point about “birth” - in Aristotelian terms, stars form because they have the “generative potential” to do so within them, as parents have the innate capacity for children. What forms by secondary causes is not, properly, created.

(Caveat - there are still big theoretical problems in stellar evolution from gas clouds, so perhaps they <i>are</i> created! But that’s an extra-scientific slant).

However one deals with the theological concept of creation, I think it’s important to distinguish it conceptually from generation, as Aquinas did. To call the birth of a rabbit “creation” is confusing created secondary powers with creation itself.

In contrast, the reason it may be legitimate to speak of a human child as a new creation is because, in classical theology, each new human soul (aka life - I’m thinking hyelomorphically here, not dualistically) comes directly from God (there is a wonderful christological conception of this in Athanasius - it is the life of Christ breathed into man that distinguishes him from the beasts).

In the non-human world, though, I would suggest that creation is, necessarily, the doing of something new by God - Polkinghorne (though he seems inconsistent) sees this in terms of information: certainly that covers the use by the OT prophets of “bara” - God speaks and does a new thing by his world of power.

If that is agreed, the question is whether God *does* new things in the world, and if so what. I would argue strongly that the unfolding of what is already implicit - wonderful and God-given as that is - is not creation. The actions of secondary natures are not creation, though they only operate under God’s sustaining and governance.

The leading of biological variation in certain “beneficial” directions (quoting Asa Gray) - now that’s the key question.


Ted Davis - #86034

July 22nd 2014

Thank you for that helpful clarification, Jon.


Ted Davis - #86035

July 22nd 2014

Let me make just one further reply to you, g kc, about the seventh “day.” I’d love to bring in a lot of the commentators I alluded to above (#86004), but unfortunately I don’t have time to do that properly. I left further exploration to readers for that reason: I do that fairly often here, on various topics, so that I don’t just ignore everything readers have said. Obviously I can’t respond adequately to most of the comments that merit a detailed response—as yours does. You’re invited to say more, but I will bow out with this comment, and a further comment about evolution which I have put separately.

Let me put my last comment into individual points, so that any disagreement we might still have can be clearly identified.

(1) the text you focus on about God completing his work is assigned to the seventh “day”; it comes after the close of the sixth “day” before God sanctifies the seventh “day”

(2) the seventh “day” is subtly, but loudly, very different from the other six “days,” b/c it has no “evening and morning,” and it does not say why those elements are absent

(3) speculation about the nature of God’s rest, including whether or not God already rested, is still resting, or has not yet rested, arises naturally out of this passage; it’s all speculation, including the conclusions of those who link this text with others, such as John 5:17 or Hebrews 4:1-13 (not mentioned in this thread so far), and the conclusions will reflect various theological and hermeneutical commitments

(4) therefore, the interpretation of God finishing the work of creation (Gen 2:1) will be influenced by the conclusion one holds about (3); no given interpretation of Gen 2:1 can simply be stated as the correct and obvious one, as you seem to be doing here

That’s my final comment on this particular topic, g kc.


g kc - #86039

July 22nd 2014

Sorry to see you leave me, Ted. I still see further points for discussion.

“(1) the text you focus on about God completing his work is assigned to the seventh “day”; it comes after the close of the sixth “day” before God sanctifies the seventh “day””

I wish you had defined what you mean by “sanctifies” here. I see sanctification as something that is done to a distinct something, in this case to his finished work of creation. I don’t see anyone sanctifying something that is yet to be (i.e. the speculative “ongoing creation”.).

 

“(2) the seventh “day” is subtly, but loudly, very different from the other six “days,” b/c it has no “evening and morning,” and it does not say why those elements are absent”

 

Maybe that’s because the seventh day clearly is loudly and very different from the previous six. Maybe that’s because the state of being truly “finished” (and resting afterwards from the forever completed work of creation) is, by definition, ongoing and continuous. You can’t “sunset” being done. Being done is forever.

The first six days are described distinctly, each with its own time and activity. However, the seventh is not, because there can be no bracketing of the state of completion. To try to so would make as much sense as saying “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=butZyxI-PRs

 

I see my explanation not as what you call “speculation”, but rather as common sense and common understanding. It also may have been common to Christian thought for the first 90+% of its existence. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #86011

July 18th 2014

Jon,

We are working with two kinds of creation (or bara) here, ex nihilo and continua.

It has been noted that ex nihilo is not explicit in the text, but is imposed on it by legitimate theological reasons.  If YHWH is Sovereign, then God created the universe ex nihilo. 

Now imho knowing what we know now, as opposed to what people knew then, YHWH’s creatio ex nihilo was what we call the Big Bang, the creation of matter, energy, and the laws which govern the universe.  They are evident in the “first day” of Genesis.  All the rest of creation would be creatio continua.

This would explain in large part the words of Jesus as why there was not a large break between day 6 and day 7, a break that we no longer observe, because the Christian day of worship is the first day of the week.

As I have pointed out before, Genesis creation theology is not the only rationale for the Sabbath.  A different version is found in Deuteronomy based on Exodus liberation theology. 

Thus there is some basis for understanding Jesus’ view of the Sabbath is valid under the Deuteronomy understanding the the Law.  I understand that today Jews are split concerning the Sabbath in this this area. 

Again I am saying that there are two different kinds of creation here.  They are both important and they both come from YHWH. 

To prevent the conflict and misunderstanding we find between conservative and liberals we need to use our understanding of the Trinity to express this. 

In the past humans have not been aware of the age of the earth, ao we have not been aware of the many change our planet and humans have gone through.  Also philosophy has put a premium on stability verse change.  Thus there is an understandable split between conservative and liberal Christians, which we need to reconcile theologically.    


Jon Garvey - #86012

July 18th 2014

Roger

A quick on on the sabbath, though it’s slightly tangential to creation per se, perhaps. I see the Exodus, Deuteronomy and Jesus’s teaching on the sabbath to be equivalent on the “Temple inauguration” view of Genesis 1.

If God’s rest is the stable and secure rule of his kingdom, then the deliverance of Israel from Egypt was a coming into that domain as God’s own people. They, like God, were dwelling secure in their own land, and it was both a joy and a duty to remember that fact.

God was governing his people, and they were free in him - and their work, being the obtaining of his providence rather than wresting subsitence from thorns, was pointedly to cease as they honoured him and recognised that all came from him on the seventh day.

Jesus, God coming to deliver and dwell with his people, was virtually the sabbath personified - hence Lord of the sabbath. Resting in him, the disciples needed no physical reminder of God’s provision, for the bread of life was with them: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

How would I tie that into Genesis as creation, and creatio continua? Much as you do, it seems, only I would wish to emphasise that the heart of creation is never primarily about making matter and energy (which are merely the means by which things get done), but making a home for mankind to dwell under and with the Lord. Getting that home ready - the setting-up - was the initial creation.

But care and maintenance - which might even in this age mean big changes - constitute both creation and providence, depending on how one divides those two.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #86014

July 19th 2014

Jon,

I am glad that we are in agreement at least at one level.  I think that we are interested in two different things.

You are interested in sorting out the facts as am I.  I am also interested in resolving the paradoxes that separate theologians and Christians.  Here it is ex nihilo and continua.  Before it was God’s transcendence and immanence.

To give Ted Peters credit he does preserve the complex duality of God, rather than try to resolve God into a monistic worldview.  However I do not find this sufficient, because God is not a Duality, but Triune. 

I find the Triune model of God much more in tune with the Bible and practical understanding of life than Western dualism in whatever form.     


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