Recovering the Doctrine of Creation, Part 5
Creation Has Functional Integrity
The final element of the DoC that I will cover is the functional integrity God has given creation. Creation has the causal capacities to both be itself and to create elements of itself, so creation can accomplish what God intends it to accomplish in Christ. The functional integrity of creation follows from God’s purpose that creation be itself (i.e., be something other than Him). It also follows from the ministerial form of divine mediated action. A large part of God’s activity in creation is bringing about creation through creation (e.g., Gen. 1:24, Ps. 139:13). Indeed, several of the Church fathers (e.g. Augustine) used creation’s functional integrity to argue against creation being a distortion or dilution of divine reality (i.e. creation isn’t some kind of reduced or diluted emanation out of God’s being).
However, we have to be careful about creation’s functional integrity. Creation’s integrity is NOT independent of God. Without God sustaining it there would be no functional integrity and no creation. Also, as we’ve seen, Jesus is crucially involved in upholding all things and this includes creation’s functional integrity. Moreover, creation’s functional integrity in bringing about other elements of creation reflects God’s creativity, not some independent creativity—it is a form of God’s activity mediated ministerially through creation. And wherever creativity and multiplicity in creation are mentioned in Scripture, the Spirit is crucially involved. Finally, creation’s functional integrity serves God’s purposes in creation, salvation and sanctification, and Jesus and the Spirit are always involved in these purposes.
This element of the DoC perhaps more than any other underwrites science. The study of the regularities involved in creation’s development only makes sense in light of creation’s functional integrity (this idea played an important role in the Scientific Revolution and development of scientific methodologies). Furthermore, creation’s functional integrity provides a basis for natural laws and regularities and ensures that there is an order to creation that is intelligible. Moreover, creation’s functional integrity is an expression of God’s character: he’s not capricious! Finally, the fact that God gave creation a particular kind of functional integrity—contingent rationality—implies that we have to investigate creation to discover the particular nature of this ordered functionality.
The DoC leads naturally to a consideration of miracles. Since the Scientific Revolution, it has become customary to think of miracles as violations of natural laws (David Hume’s formulation). We can understand miracles of this type as suspensions of creation’s functional integrity, i.e. God acting in creation in ways which differ from His usual mediated activity. The incarnation and resurrection would be examples of this.
But before the concept of natural laws was formulated in the seventeenth century, another conception of miracles was anything God did leading to awe and wonder (e.g. Augustine). Although, this conception includes God acting apart from creation’s functional integrity, it also includes instances of the Spirit’s enabling creation’s processes to work much more rapidly than their normal rates. An example Augustine used was Matthew 8: 14-15. When Jesus touched Peter’s sick mother-in-law, she was rapidly and fully healed. The human body has the natural capacity to heal diseases and wounds, but the Spirit enabled those healing capacities to perform these tasks much more rapidly than is usual.
We don’t need to restrict miracles only to suspensions of creation’s functional integrity. The DoC allows us to see God’s miraculous ways with creation’s functional integrity fully involved in such instances as unexpected healings, timely gifts of money or food that avert the closure of an orphanage, or the avoidance of a near accident.
A typical objection to miracles is that if God can intervene in nature in unexpected ways, then the idea of scientific investigation is pointless: we can never know for sure when God might do something that defies the normal order, so the motivation for searching out and understanding regularities drains away. However, the DoC helps us see that this objection is misplaced. The DoC affirms that the regularities we experience are God’s normal ways of acting in creation—creation has contingent rationality!—so there is a genuine order to search out and understand.
A last comment on miracles: Sometimes Christians and non-Christians alike fall into thinking that God is only active in creation when there are miraculous violations of natural laws. Otherwise, the natural order carries on without any Divine involvement whatsoever. In contrast, the DoC affirms that this is a false dichotomy. God is as intimately involved in the gravity keeping you glued to this Earth as He was in resurrecting Lazarus from the dead.
To this point I’ve mostly drawn general connections between the DoC and science, so I’ll close with some specific thoughts on evolution. The DoC gives us a vantage point for interpreting evolution and seeing its consistency with biblical Christianity.
If, as the DoC teaches, God intends for creation to become itself, something distinctly different from God, then we would expect to find that it has capacities for development and growth. Indeed, biblically, creation is God’s project moving towards its calling instead of being a static work completed in the past. Psalms 104 and 139:13, among others, indicate that God’s acts of creation didn’t cease with the “seventh day” of Genesis 2. Evolutionary mechanisms are consistent with this biblical expectation and represent a means by which God fulfills His intention for creation to participate in becoming what it’s called to be in Christ.
The ministerial form of God’s mediated action–God’s activity in creation mediated by creation—is relevant, here. The general stability of environments and cycles (e.g., day/night, seasons) ministers to life by providing conditions favorable for the shaping and maintaining of life. An important way creation ministers to creation is through some organisms sacrificing themselves so that others may live (we call this hunting and feeding). Moreover, the genetic variations appearing in each generation of organisms ministers to that population by providing an ability to cope with a variety of challenges such as adapting to environmental change, or further penetrating an ecological niche.
If the Spirit is crucially involved in the variety, creativity and beauty of creation, then evolution represents a means through which the Spirit produces variety, creativity and beauty reflecting the glory and wisdom of God. According to the DoC, the randomness of genetic variations would represent the Spirit’s ministry of variety and creativity on behalf of creation. Evolutionary processes and the developing of new species would then be results of the Spirit’s enabling creation to fulfill its calling in Christ.
Darwin emphasized that evolutionary mechanisms produce “just good enough” solutions to making a living in environmental niches. Hence, we see organisms very well adapted to their environments through what properly can be called just-good-enough features. For example, it’s well known that the human body has a number of non-optimal, but good-enough traits. Such features are entirely consistent with Jesus and the Spirit sustaining and enabling creation to become what it is called to be according to its nature.
Finally, through the DoC we can view evolution as a means God uses to create in space and time in ways paralleling His saving and sanctifying in space and time. God works alongside and through the functional integrity of creation to bring the creation to full consummation in the incarnate Son, through His Spirit “in the fullness of time.”
Robert C. Bishop is the John and Madeline McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science and an associate professor of physics and philosophy at Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his master’s degree in physics and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. Bishop's research involves history and philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. Bishop is the author of The Philosophy of the Social Science and co-editor of Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Determinism.