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St. Thomas Aquinas and the Fittingness of Evolutionary Creation, Part 2

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December 31, 2013 Tags: Evolution & Christian Faith project, History of Life
St. Thomas Aquinas and the Fittingness of Evolutionary Creation, Part 2

Today's entry was written by Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P.. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

In my view, at least three further points follow from this theological argument for the fittingness of evolutionary creation. First, I propose that once God had chosen to create through his creatures, it was fitting that he used evolution to create rather than another means, because evolution is the most efficient way for divine providence to use non-personal instrumental causes to generate novel and adaptive life forms on a dynamic and ever-changing planet.

Take the Chicxulub asteroid strike that impacted what is now the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico approximately 66 million years ago. There is significant evidence that suggests that this asteroid strike, which left a 110-mile wide crater now buried nearly a mile underground, triggered the mass extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary that killed off the dinosaurs. This mass extinction emptied ecological niches throughout the planet that could now be filled with novel plant and animal life.

In my view, evolution was the most efficient and fruitful way for God to use non-personal instrumental causes to create novel life forms after this planetary-wide extinction event, because a Darwinian evolutionary mechanism can shape and transform pre-existing life forms so that their surviving progeny can diversify and adapt to the increased number of available ecological niches. Once he had chosen to use non-personal instrumental causality to better manifest his glory, how else could God have used the non-personal instrumental causality of matter to create the novel kinds of mammals and birds that emerged to become the dominant land and marine vertebrates after the Chicxulub asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs?

Next, because of the fittingness of evolutionary creation, I also maintain that God did not “waste” life when he chose to create via an evolutionary process. This is a charge often levied against theistic evolution by creationists. For example, Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research argues in Exploring the Evidence for Creation that evolution cannot be reconciled with Christianity because, “the standard concept of evolution involves the development of innumerable misfits and extinctions, useless and even harmful organisms. If this is God’s ‘method of creation,’ it is strange that He would use such cruel, haphazard, inefficient, wasteful processes.”

In response, no one thinks that Michelangelo “wasted” marble because there were leftover marble pieces after he had completed sculpting his masterpiece, David. There is no waste when the agent fittingly attains his end. Likewise, I propose that extinct species are not pointless waste. Rather, they were the necessary “leftovers” from the creative evolutionary process that God used to generate the novel and diverse forms of life visible today in a manner most fitting to reveal his glory.

Finally, according to St. Thomas, God created the diversity of creatures because no single creature can adequately reflect the perfection of God:

We must say that the distinction and multitude of things come from the intention of the first agent, who is God. For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided and hence the whole universe together participates in the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever. (Summa theologiae, I.47.1)

Therefore, in my view, it was also fitting that God created via evolution rather than via special creation because in doing so he was able to create more species to reflect his glory: With evolution, he created four billion species over a three billion year period, which is significantly greater than the mere eight million extant species today. In fact, it would have been ecologically impossible for all four billion species to co-exist on our planet, because there are only a limited number of ecological niches on the planet at a given moment in time.

To put it another way, there is a limit to the number of species and individual organisms that can be sustained by the planet at any one moment in time. Some of them are even mutually exclusive: If they had been created together, the large carnivorous dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex, would likely have wiped out the Asian elephant, Elephas maximus. However, with evolutionary creation – and not with special creation – these species were able to exist at separate moments in history to uniquely manifest the glory of their Creator. Again, they were not wasted.

To sum up, why did God choose to create via an evolutionary process rather than via special creation? Because it better reveals his glory and his power. Because it reveals better that he is God.

Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., currently serves as an Associate Professor of Biology and an Instructor of Theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from M.I.T. and his Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. His NIH-funded laboratory at Providence College is investigating the genetic regulation of programmed cell death using the yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans, as model organisms (http://www.austriacolab.com). His first book, Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics, was published by the Catholic University of America Press.

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Jon Garvey - #83999

December 31st 2013

This point is very sound, and is entirely consistent with the concept of creation as “very good”.

But why quote this comment: “the standard concept of evolution involves the development of innumerable misfits and extinctions, useless and even harmful organisms. If this is God’s ‘method of creation,’ it is strange that He would use such cruel, haphazard, inefficient, wasteful processes” purely as a critique of creationism, when it could equally have been said by Catholic Francisco Ayala and many other TEs to exempt God from responsibility for the “evil” products of evolution.

The need to critique theistic evolution’s poor theology is every bit as urgent as the need to criticise creationists, and Thomas’s thought is pretty good for both if done meticulously with respect to both the science AND the theology.

Scott Kostencki - #84005

December 31st 2013

Again…love these articles. Thank you! I will be sharing these with my friends.

Scot K.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84007

December 31st 2013

The example of the marble left over from a statue is good, but the fact that God through ecology does not waste anything is much better.  God uses ecology to recycle everything. 

Good science is a better answer to questions posed by bad science, which is the reason why ecological evolution is a better response to Darwinism than ID. 

Yes, we need good theology, but good theology is not backward thinking based on ideas of the past, but bringing the Christian worldview into the present so we can take the present into the future. 


GJDS - #84008

December 31st 2013

We would agree the creation is good because it was God’s good pleasure to create it, and the conclusion “it is good” is derived from the theological principle that God is goodness itself and all that is from God is good.

The human perspective however, is totally through the outcomes of ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and as Moses teaches us, each is equated with life (good) and death (evil). The Gospel also shows us this - I suggest that our outlook is thus devided between theological understanding (revelation) and scientific and reason (human knowledge).

This article notes the fact that the planet simply ‘bursts’ with life in its magnificent diversity, which is ample testiment to the goodness of the creation - I also note that science hsa yet to find any ‘useless’ bits in nature.

Thomas makes the distinction between revelation and human reason, along with all Orthodox theologians and the teachings of the Church. Scientific knowledge must be comprehended within the limitations of human understanding. 

beaglelady - #84011

January 1st 2014

I think there actually are some “useless” bits in nature. There are pseudogenes for making vitamin  C and yolk in humans.  Also vestigial legs in whales.  And tumors I would consider useless; teratomas are especially creepy,  sometimes filled with hair and teeth.

GJDS - #84019

January 1st 2014

I have in mind such things as the conservation of mass and energy, and the great ecological cycles, that show all things are balanced in nature - human beings may subjectively decide on what is useful to us, but within the confines of science, all is part of nature and has a useful role to play (notwithstanding our personal views of good and bad may be). 

Jon Garvey - #84013

January 1st 2014

Question 22. The providence of God
Article 2. Whether everything is subject to the providence of God?

Objection 2. Further, a wise provider excludes any defect or evil, as far as he can, from those over whom he has a care. But we see many evils existing. Either, then, God cannot hinder these, and thus is not omnipotent; or else He does not have care for everything.

Reply to Objection 2. It is otherwise with one who has care of a particular thing, and one whose providence is universal, because a particular provider excludes all defects from what is subject to his care as far as he can; whereas, one who provides universally allows some little defect to remain, lest the good of the whole should be hindered. Hence, corruption and defects in natural things are said to be contrary to some particular nature; yet they are in keeping with the plan of universal nature; inasmuch as the defect in one thing yields to the good of another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the generation of another, and through this it is that a species is kept in existence. Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe. A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals; and there would be no patience of martyrs if there were no tyrannical persecution. Thus Augustine says (Enchiridion 2): “Almighty God would in no wise permit evil to exist in His works, unless He were so almighty and so good as to produce good even from evil.” It would appear that it was on account of these two arguments to which we have just replied, that some were persuaded to consider corruptible things—e.g. casual and evil things—as removed from the care of divine providence.

beaglelady - #84015

January 1st 2014

The question was whether science has found any “useless” bits in nature.  So I provided some examples.  As a matter of fact, BioLogos scientists have written articles about some of the examples here.    

As far as I know, even most Evangelicals have tumors removed if they are operable.    And I’m sure most medical waste is carefully destroyed, unless something is preserved for future study.   Is calling tumors  “medical waste” objectionable?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84016

January 1st 2014


Some genes exist which are not being used.  That does not mean that they had no use in the past or they will have no use in the future.

Tumors are cells gone wild, which does not make cells or the the cell division process evil or bad or waste. 

Jon Garvey - #84017

January 1st 2014

Good reply Roger.

I can think of several “levels” in this situation. For pure science, divorced from theistic considerations,the question of function is like Aquinas’ example of the one caring for a particular thing, who judges what is “useful” only on the basis of its efficiency for the organism. It is a necessary, but limited, viewpoint.

Even here, as you say, we have a track record of judging superficially in ignorance of the true situation. An example there would be the functions found for some Alu sequences, for instance, hitherto considered entirely “parasitic”.

But if we consider God as the custodian of universal providence, that which is useless now but potentially useful becomes significant. Indeed, even some purely scientific indicators of teleology have already been suggested, in the suites of epigenetic changes that occur rarely under new stresses, indicators of enhanced evolvability in certain aresa of the genome etc.

Moving wider, ecology can be seen as a purely accidental balance of different species and environments. But seen as God’s providence, then even what is clearly harmful and fortuitous for an organism - the lethal teratoma, for example - becomes part of what maintains the exquisite balance of the biosphere. I have read, for example, that internal parasites should be considered as top level predators - and as the wolves of Yellowstone show, top level predators are essential for a the health of the local ecology, though a century ago considered useless, even “evil”, and exterminated.

Finally, we need to consider factors altogether outside biology when we are thinking of a providential God. Teratomas, for example, are a unique research tool for modelling tumour formation: they have provided an opportunity for the human struggle against disease - are we to say that this was an opportunity in which God took no interest? Do we know him so well that we guarantee he had no hand in it? And even for the individual who may experience the ill-effects, what gives us the right to say that the failures of secondary causes are beyond God’s providence and utterly useless? I spent a career watching the effects of serious disease (and lost my mother to one last week) - the mystery of how God so often enhanced lives through them providentially offered no easy answers, but taught me not to bandy words like “useless” around carelessly.

beaglelady - #84025

January 2nd 2014

It’s stretching it to claim that tumors are not useless because we can use them to study tumors. The point of studying tumors is to prevent them and/or halt their growth. Even average Evangelicals would not think of grinding them into animal feed or fertilizer, which would be a possible use.

You could claim that mental illness and seizures are not useless because we can use them to study mental illness and seizures.  

sy - #84036

January 4th 2014

I think you make a very good point, Jon. Most of what is happening in cell and molecular biology these days, is finding out how useful those bits that were considered useless a whole ago, really are. Pseudogenes (such as those for egg yolk in humans) being an excellant example. Such apparently useless bits of DNA are likely the seeds of future evolutionary progress.

I would very much doubt that anything in biology has been “proven” to be useless, including tumors and other manifestations of disease. But a thorough exploration of this issue quickly leaves the realm of science, as the definition of “useful” bring us to philosophical and theological considerations, such as “useful to whom?” The answer to that question is God, and of course we cannot know what is useful to Him, except by guesswork.

beaglelady - #84040

January 4th 2014

Tumors are very useful for killing people, I’ll give you that.   If you had one, would you be likely to have it removed or at least treated to reduce it in size?  Would you argue with a doctor about how useful it might be?    If you want one you could take up smoking. 

beaglelady - #84024

January 2nd 2014

I never said that cells are evil, bad, or waste. I was pointing out that  that tumors are considered useless. Even Evangelicals usually have them removed.    

Merv - #84037

January 4th 2014

I can appreciate your insistence on this, beaglelady.  Who indeed wants to play host to a tumor on the grounds that it might somewhere sometime prove useful.  And to throw up the potential to study it as an example of good use will elicit about as much appreciation as my math students will show if I tell them that the reason they need to learn math is so they can teach math to others.  (only nobody is studying math in order to have it removed ... I think  ... maybe I’d better not go there.)

So how to address your challenge ...    I agree with you that a tumor is useless; worse than useless actually.  It’s destructive *to the person so afflicted*.  There is the rub.   What kills me may be very undesirable to me as an individual, but perhaps it is useful to a society which is not equipped to have people like me living forever.  So while I do think all the “evils” we see, may actually be evil indeed, I do agree with other commentors here that uselessness (or destructiveness) to us personally does not imply uselessness to the eternal Creator. 

If there is a season to be born, then there is also a season to die.  Why should the lowly tumor be singled out as the only unworthy agent in bringing about the latter?

beaglelady - #84041

January 4th 2014

  What kills me may be very undesirable to me as an individual, but perhaps it is useful to a society which is not equipped to have people like me living forever.

The same could be said about abortion. (And I’m against abortion.) 

I wasn’t somehow singling out the lowly tumor. It was just an example.   I could have mentioned other things, like genital warts. 

I think all this talk about the usefulness of tumors (in other people,  of course) is silly.  And  I think smokers who shrug and say that everyone has to die from something are nuts.  

Merv - #84042

January 4th 2014

I’m glad you are against all those things—- I am too, even without any plans to run for any political office.  I would make sure I wasn’t on any pro-abortion, pro-tumor, pro-genital warts platforms.

There are many ways in which we can die or otherwise be miserable.  Those are all destructive (that is even worse than useless) to us.  But to say God does not make use of calamity, or evil of every order either at the end of our lives is an unwarranted conclusion to say the least. 

Something is going to end your life, right Beaglelady?  And if it doesn’t then you will live forever along with everyone else and ecological systems will collapse with disfunction and overload, giving us all something else to rail about. 

And the things that don’t kill us might still succeed in making us miserable.  Take all that away and we lose the capacity for building empathy, sympathy, perseverance, mercy, ...  what kind of character does a person develop if they are protected from all adversity in life?   And these are just the obvious things we can think of, or are prompted to think about from Scriptural references.  How much less will we be privy to the entirey of Divine counsel on these matters?

It is enough that we study some of these things in order to better fight them.  But that still doesn’t mean they are of no possible use to God.

beaglelady - #84043

January 4th 2014

Yes, something will end my life one day.  And I hope for a long life before I die peacefully and without great pain. I wish that for all people.

As for building empathy,  many children die very early in life. And half of all pregnancies are miscarried (about half of those are from genetic diseases) so there is little chance for them to develop empathy, etc.   

But let me reiterate, for the second time,  the question I was originally addressing,  and that is whether science has found anything useless in nature.  

Merv - #84046

January 4th 2014


My short answer is that science can find many things.  But it has no grounds from which to conclude that any of it is useless in some ultimate or teleological sense.

beaglelady - #84057

January 5th 2014

Science is by practice (MN) unable to speak of anything in an ultimate or teleological sense.  

And practically speaking, nobody ponders the potential usefullness of a tumor.  Surgery as recommended by the doctor is the usual course of action even for Evangelicals.   I’d hate to think of a pastor who would tell a person to wait and see what God plans to do with the tumor. 

btw,  1/2 of all men in the USA will get cancer.  So don’t put off screening tests and take good care of yourself. 

GJDS - #84047

January 4th 2014

Indeed we all share in the desire for a long, peaceful and happy life - as we all wish to see the planet blossom and all within it prosper. This outlook culminates in the Gospel which seeks to provide for all eternal life in God - and abolishing of all suffering.

Science however seeks to understand the what and why of the planet, its inhabitants and in fact the Universe. Within this contest it is difficult to use words like “whether science has found anything useless in nature”. If science has found anything in nature, it must by definition be part of nature and thus (in one sense) it must by necessity be useful in some way. How some things impact on us however, is an extension of the discussion.

sy - #84048

January 4th 2014



I think Merv and GJDS have given excellant answers to your question, and I agree fully with them. My question to you is, do you think there is anything useless in nature, either from a scientific or philosophical/theological standpoint? If you continue to insist that things which are personally bad for individuals are “useless” than the vast majority of natural stuff is useless. Im not sure what you are getting at. 

beaglelady - #84058

January 5th 2014

Guinea worm disease is useless, unless you think torturing Africans with a grisly disease is useful.  Jimmy Carter’s foundation is trying to eradicate the guinea worm where it persists, and I think that is commendable! 

Hanan D - #84051

January 4th 2014

If science has found anything in nature, it must by definition be part of nature and thus (in one sense) it must by necessity be useful in some way.

One does not necassarily follow the other. Yes, it is part of nature, but are we to presume something like polio is useful in some way? Why the hassle to eradicate it then? If you are looking at it purely materialistic than one cannot always asume something is useful. As long as a species can keep breeding, it will survive. Male nipples sure aren’t useful, but we still have those. Your other option is to look at this theological, which leaves the question begging. 

GJDS - #84052

January 5th 2014

It is unclear how you use the term “useful”; I have stated that we may identify something as a pathogen, and it is in our interest to eradicate it. What I would ask is, “why does nature sustain a pathogen? Should nature eradicate it for us?”. When stated this way, we would consdier the question pointless. My renark is not so much theological, but regarding human agency - by this I mean human beings, through the sciences, establish a cause and effect regarding, say, polio. We then are not concerned with nature or theology, but our well being - and we have the means to eradicate it because it is bad for us. You seem to say that polio is a pathogen and thus ‘not useful’, and from this some concludion regarding nature may be drawn.

Theologically I would ask questions such as, “Why did God create Nature to be what it is?”. Scientifically I would ask, “What is Nature”. Sociologically I would ask, “What in Nature is good for us, and what is bad (life threatening) to us”. Each question will recieve a diferent answer - it is not question begging, but accepting the various answers that we human beings would bring. An atheist would consdier Nature as just that, and things may be given value or non-value; this is also another way of ansering some questions.

 Svience however, simply says, this is Nature as we understand it now.

beaglelady - #84060

January 5th 2014

Science is also applied,  in developing vaccines, developing better crops, detecting asteroids so they can be deflected, and the like.  In other words, scientists are often hard at work developing solutions to real problems.  

GJDS - #84061

January 6th 2014

That is correct - in fact my research is squarely aimed at application towards solving the impact of increasing CO2 resulting from human activity. This is the central point, that of human agency, human activity, and human intent. Science identifies various aspects of Nature, and we human beings, through science, may act for good, or for bad outcomes.

Your point seems to suggest that nature itself determines what is good/useful, and what is bad/useless. My remarks are aimed at showing where human agency fits in within nature. As Christians, we are committed to seeking the good, and science can help us in this.

beaglelady - #84063

January 6th 2014

Actually, my point was that scientists work for what humans deem useful and try to eliminate what is undesirable.

 btw, thanks very much for your work in dealing with the rise in CO2!  Something we desperately need.

Hanan D - #84049

January 4th 2014

Whether science can dictate something is useless is really irrelevant. What’s relevant is that 99.9999% of people live their lives that dictate that many things are useless, or shouldn’t be there. We spend fortunes on getting rid of things that are either just annoying like acne or deadly like tumors. 

I think the overlaying issue Beaglelady brings up still stands. 

GJDS - #84050

January 4th 2014

I and Sy, Merv, are trying to get the discussion point clear - if we move past what science observes and understands, than we are left with human beings, human agency, and what we human beings are within Nature. It is here that we may observe differences that take us out of the notion ‘useful to science”, and we move to what we regard as useful to us. My point is to show that human agency can change things in Nature, and these may be beneficial or otherwise to us - how we decide on these matters is the subject of ethics and sociology. People may choose (if they are able to) to live a healthy life, eating, excercising, etc and they may have a long and happy life. Others may choose otherwise - how do we reconcile human agency and choice, with what science consders “useful”? I think these two questions differ considerably and our discussions may become confused if we do not make the distinction (this is typed in a hurry because the site locks me out after a few seconds).

beaglelady - #84074

January 7th 2014

Well, humans are a part of nature. Science is a human activity.  Of course science is going to talk about what’s good for us, for animals, for plants, for the planet. Of course people can hold any opinion they wish on any topic.   Sometimes we do, as a society, decide what other people are allowed to do.  Prostitution, slavery, and underage drinking are examples.

GJDS - #84076

January 7th 2014

There is little to disagree in these remarks. However, the discussion(s) have been on the one hand, the Aquinas view that Christ is a true man, and what may be found in Nature as useful or useless. You have remarked on the latter, and it is this that I have tried to address. Science has produced useful/good things, but it has also provided the means to peform acts that are far more brutal, cruel and evil than anything we find in nature. My remark has been to point to human agency in these matters.

The impact of deseases and such like is obviously bad for human beings who may die from them - I suggest however, that even in these matters, human beings are unique in that we may understand such things, and seek ways to alleviate their effects. This is true for ancient civilisations and also the modern one with wcience and technology.

It is just that Nature is not the same as human beings - this I think gets us back to Aquinas.

beaglelady - #84078

January 8th 2014

Yes, science gives us the power to do great evil, but also the power to do great good.   Humans alone decide what to do with technology, which is applied science.   

GJDS - #84020

January 1st 2014

Aquinas, in his Summa on the treatise on a last end, speaks of human agency, and draws a distinction between rational and irrational, and the will of a human being as ‘directed towards an end’ (I prefer the notion of human being acting with purpose or a goal). This would include the goal of happiness and the well being of all on this planet.

Darwinists instead discuss mind as being an illusion, and some even state that natural selection works by causing human beings to have a delusion of will, purpose, etc.

If we discus evolution as a way that some come to believe God creates, I submit that such a view would require a revision of almost everything that we human beings consider as human. The human spirit, and all that is involved regarding will, human agency, which lead us to theological matters (the human soul), would be subsumed by the Darwinian outlook. It is not so much that science has shown Darwinian thinking to be correct – in this area there is ample evidence to show that it is incorrect – it is a requirement that the Darwinian belief imposes on the disciples of Darwin.

The atheists’ counter is to insist that science demonstrates, or provides evidence, that God breathed into man the breath of divine life (and thus man became a living soul). It is a twisted notion that, instead of admitting their failure regarding human agency, will, intelligence and spirit, they insist their error must be the subject of theological demonstration.

The Christian faith insists on a distinction between understanding of nature as an act of creation by God out of nothing, and the act of creation of the human spirit that is revealed by the Faith. Thus distinction is, I believe, lost in the discussions which try to amalgamate the Darwinian outlook with theological understanding. It is sufficient for scientists to draw conclusions on things that provide insights on what is before us (i.e. Nature, matter, energy, the planet). It seems perverse that human beings would use science in a way that they then believe shows them to be delusional.

GJDS - #84021

January 1st 2014

I should have included in my post above one of my favourite quotes by Thomas from Augustine who says (De Vera Relig. xvi): “God has proved to us how high a place human nature holds amongst creatures, inasmuch as He (Christ) appeared to men as a true”. It is worthwhile for Christians to be reminded of this!

GJDS - #84022

January 1st 2014

I cannot master this cut and paste - the quote has been cut of - I repeat:

”God has proved to us how high a place human nature holds amongst creatures, inasmuch as He appeared to men as a true man.”

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84027

January 2nd 2014

GJDS wrote:

Darwinists instead discuss mind as being an illusion, and some even state that natural selection works by causing human beings to have a delusion of will, purpose, etc.

What I hear GJDS saying is, “Can we separate Darwinism the scientific theory from Darwinism the world view?”

Dawkins & Co. say no as do Creationists.  It is clear that GJDS does not want to accept the Darwinian world view and neither do I. 

He does not understand how TE’s can reconcile the two and neither do I except to assert that if it is scientifically true then it must be from God.  I would say that since it is not from, since it he reality of the Logos, it must be bad science.  

Evolution Yes!  Darwinism No!  But we need a valid explanation for evolution that is better than Darwinism. 

The problem is not evolution, that God creates by natural God-created and God- directed processes, the problem is that Darwinian science, Dawkins & Co., because of its narrow worldview misunderstands how evolution works.

The problem is on both sides, on theologians who have a narrow view of Creation and scientists who have a narrow view of evolution.  We need to stop pointing our finger at others and accept our share of the problem so we can help others solve their share.       

GJDS - #84029

January 2nd 2014


It seems you have developed a habit of changing what I wish to state, and I would appreciate it if you cease to do this - no, I am not saying a seperation of any view(s) is neded; I am stating what Darwinsts say and claim. Nor is there a reconciliation of some sort, nor do I seek to question the quality of science.

The facts are there for all to see and read - Darwnian thinking has been discussed (you constant reference to Monad should show you this) for decades. Christians should not create a theology that ‘plays’ with the Darwinian outlook, even if it is presented under the guise of science. All good science, after it has been well established and cleared of its errors and speculations, has been shown to be consistent with Orthodox Christianity. WHAT I AM SAYING is that Darwinian thinking should progress to that point before we give it theological significance.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84030

January 2nd 2014


I apologize if you think that I am trying to put ideas in your mouth.  However it seems that we agree that Darwinism is not “well established and cleared of its errors and speculations” even after 150+ years.

You seem to want to wait until this happens, and I want to take a more proactive stance.  We seem to agree about the problem, but disagree on how to respond to it. 

That is what a dialog is about. 

GJDS - #84031

January 2nd 2014


My dialogue is on the theology - not where Darwinian thinking has gone or will go. It is the ‘theological significance’ that is important. You have made some unusual theological statements, and I am unwilling to go over old ground with you. I again emphasise my point on the outlook of Darwin’s disciples, regarding will and mind - that it is a delusion that natural selection has imposed on us - if you wish to argue on this point then do so. Otherwise simply give your opinion, as we all do.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84032

January 3rd 2014


Okay, I will try again.  I agree that Darwinians have argued that the will and mind are delusions.  In my opinion they come to this conclusion based on a monistic, materialistic worldview which they claim with good reason is supported by Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as it has been modified over the years. 

I agree that one cannot integrate this worldview with a Christian understanding of life.  I am concerned that this worldview seems to have gotten some traction with those who believe in Science.

It seems that the problem is that science has become intertwined with philosophy/theology.  It is my belief that the best way to approach the problems of Darwinism is to correct the science, which opens the way to correct the philosophical/theological worldview behind it.  That is my opinion. 

Merv - #84038

January 4th 2014

Somebody once said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world:  those who think there are only two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t.”

Might I propose there are two general approaches to theology shown in these essays about respected historical authorities and in the comments reacting.

Here is my thought.  Some dwell on positions, while others dwell on trajectories.  The former try to establish how an apostle or church father actually thought by appealing directly to how they wrote on that issue.  This is challenging when the issue didn’t exist in that day, requiring inference then from how they did write of the most similar issues they had at hand.

Others, recognizing the futility of asking, for example, how did the Apostle Paul feel about deep time, ask instead what sorts of methods, habits and resources of discernment, what kind of *movement* did the respected person of history make under God’s guidance?  And then we seek to emulate that.

Hence we see the tensions between “positionists”  (What did Aquianas actually think about creation ex-nihilo) who then think the matter is settled on that score alone.  And we have the “trajectorists” who appeal instead to how Aquianas or Augustine handled similar issues of their day (making use of such science of the day as they had, for example) and feeling quite justified in emulating the same methodology now.    Hmmm.  I guess the word “methodist” is already taken.

I think both approaches can be useful (as well as abused), but the latter one seems more broadly applicable in this particular issue.

Merv - #84039

January 4th 2014

Sorry about my multiple misspellings of “Aquinas”.

GJDS - #84044

January 4th 2014

Perhaps I may extend this approach (method?!) somewhat, by noting there are two ways to have fruitful discussions on theology and various faith based aspects we find useful - one is to have a good understanding of theology that has been discussed, scrutinized and finally accepted as Church doctrine (a long and at times tension filled process), and the other way is to look to current trends and various controversies (nowadays all apparently science based, with the bio-sciences considered essential and central to science itself), and from these decide what and how theology should be, modofied, changed, etc.,

My approach is the former, and I suspect a considerable body of opinion presented in these discussions may be of the latter. By all means discuss current trends, seek what is convincing in science, but as someone once said, not everyone should be a self declared pope, or consider themselves as authorities of the Church, based on a few papers they may have read or written. I am not suggesting you, or anyone in particular, is a self-declared authority of the Church - I am trying to warn all of us of falling in such a trap of vanity and hubris.

I think a useful outcome of these discussions may be a better appreciation of established theology, and a sharper outlook towards current ‘fashions’ esp. those that seek to use science to further their personal, and at times odd, outlooks regarding the Christian faith.

GJDS - #84045

January 4th 2014

My comment was meant as a reply to Merv - the site did not accept the reply.

Merv - #84053

January 5th 2014

I agree, GJDS, that theology should not blow with the fashionable winds of the moment, whether those fashions attempt to cloak themselves as science or otherwise.

The challenge is deciding what is settled science, and what is merely “fashion”, with an added realization that there is no hard distinction between the two, especially when the scientific notions themselves may not yet be that old.

The useful thing though, that I wish more creationists would take to heart is that what the stars and rocks declare (shorthand for physical reality, also shorthand for creation) is just as much God’s revelation as is scripture.  There is no shame in tweaking our theological understandings to take into account what we learn from physical realities.  To do so is not to suggest that science is not in authority over theology, but only that many of *our* theological understandings are no more infallible than our scientific ones.  We learn from all God’s revelation not just the written canon. 

It is in this matter that I see these posts on Aquinas (or Dr. Davis’ posts on Boyle) to be critically important for Christians to remember.

Merv - #84054

January 5th 2014

To do so is not to suggest that science is not in authority over theology, but only…

Sorry about the convoluted (and erroneous) double negative in my post above.  I intended that to read:   To do so is not to suggest that science IS in authority over theology ...

I accidentally reversed my meaning with the extraneous “not”.  So to clarify:  I definitely do not see science as having authority over theology, and in fact I don’t even see them as equals.  Theology, for the Christian, has authority over science and makes appropriate use of whatever settled findings science has to offer.  The obligation not to dismiss scientific data does not put science over theology any more than a car driver’s obligation to attend to his speed then means the speedometer has authority over him.  Not so.  This is the common error made by creationists as they worry about whether we look at everything through a scriptural lens or a scientific lens assuming that one must then have primacy over the other.  The choice itself is a false one since none of God’s revelatory activity is to be dismissed as secondary.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84055

January 5th 2014


Thank you for your comment.

I appreciate your concern for theology.

As a minister I am cencerned about applied theology.  Although I am not a pastor of a church, I do have a pastoral concern for people who must live and make a living in this confused and polarized world.

Thus I believe that it is important try to reconcile faith in Jesus Christ with evolutionary biological change that is in much evidence in the world today.  We are called to live in and be an active force in this world, but not be under the control of this world.

We all live in God’s history and are called to advance God’s Kingdom.  We are called as responsible persons to be knowledgable in theology and science.

We need to have informed opinions that we can back up by facts or be willing to change if we can’t back them up.  No one has a monopoly on the truth except God.   



GJDS - #84056

January 5th 2014


“The challenge is to see what science is settled...”

The various works that are readily available show that theologians have, from the early days of Christianity to recent times, maintained a general view that science provides us with details of the Creation (I have quoted some who were relaxed about the four elements proposed by the Hellenic pagans and the various speculations about the earth and its shape, as well as the logic of ending the chain of causality to a primal or original cause). Few have insisted the Bible is a scientific text book. No Christian has questioned the belief that God is the Creator of heaven and earth. On this matter, science and philosophy have been in harmony with the Faith.


There are many aspects of science that are speculative – that is how scientific research progresses. The major stumbling block for some seems to be the Darwinian outlook, perhaps some aspects of geological times, and the vague notion of great changes to the earth over large periods of time. In this area, the major disagreement has been the fundamental tenet that God has created everything from nothing - this is simply an argument that has been with us for centuries, between those who believe in God, and those who do not. Another contentious area has been the nature of human beings. On the latter, I have quoted Aquinas who also shows us that Christ is the true human being. This area is extremely controversial, with atheists and process (open) theists willing to change doctrine to fit in with Darwinians.


One way to ascertain what area of science is speculative is to read reviews of specific areas by prominent scientists. Less informative is to follow popular versions. Reviews related to humanity show enormous controversies, ranging from the origin of human beings, to what is mind. These areas are difficult to clarify by scientists; nonetheless, they are controversial and a lot of speculation is portrait as fact. I argue against such outlooks influencing theological arguments.


I have considered the essential elements of the Faith within today’s context, and acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with so much information, a great deal of which is specialised science and philosophy, and difficult to fully comprehend. What I find encouraging is the attitude of past Christians and theologians, to understand the teachings of the Faith, while fully committed to understanding nature and the lessons from history. I have yet to find anything that would appear threatening to the essential teachings of the Faith. I do see a concerted push by atheists to undermine those teachings, and most of them have claimed science as their own; it is this that I oppose.

Merv - #84059

January 5th 2014

Thanks, GJDS.  Despite whatever differences we may have on which science qualifies as “settled”, your last paragraph especially shows a common area where we stand together.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84062

January 6th 2014

GJDS wrote:

The various works that are readily available show that theologians have, from the early days of Christianity to recent times, maintained a general view that science provides us with details of the Creation….

OK.  Dawkins can agree with that statement.  He says if science can provide us with the knowledge of Creation, that is how the universe works, and humans are part of the created universe, then why do we need theology or philosophy? 

Western dualism gives us a two tier Reality, the natural and the Supernatural.  Science explains the natural and finds it to be monistic in the form of the physical, which is why it says that humans do not have a mind or will because these are not physical.

Philosophy which is the source of Western dualism claims that Nature is rational, but people like Boyle have found that nature is not rational, because it is not personal. 

Thus they say that the universe is mechanistic.  The problem is that Western dualism has broken down because classical philosophy no longer explains how the universe works.

Given the choice between a monistic world view that has some credence from scientists and traditional theologians and a dualistic world view that few people today defend, which are most people likely to accept?

We need to develop a new worldview that decribes the relationship between God and the universe better than two-tier Western dualism.

GJDS - #84064

January 6th 2014

These theologians all base their view on “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Dawkins starts with the opposite - so I cannot understand what you are trying to say.

Duality is not a distinction between natural and supernatural - it is a complicated outlook that may be viewed as spirit/material, or perhaps Descart’s view of mind as distinct from physical, or perhaps the pagan view that a distinct entity is present as an indestructible soul, which may be ‘trapped’ in the body. Whatever or however this dualism is expressed, it is not the Christian view - space does not permit a lengthy discussion,

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84067

January 6th 2014


You are ttalking about a spiritual world view, while I am talking about a philosophical world view.

Deists believe “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” but Dawkins does not have an argument with them.  Dawkins has even said that he has no problem with those who have a mystical absolute view of God. 

Dawkins seems to have a problem only with us Christians that believe that God is active in the world.  He states that he has a monistic physicalist worldview which is compatible with naturalism, but not with the fact that life has meaning. 

Now I am saying that a monism is not compatible with Christianity and good science.  You are saying that dualism and I agree is not a Christian view. 

That leaves the question, “How would you characterize the Christian worldview?”   

Roger A. Sawtelle - #84068

January 6th 2014


You are ttalking about a spiritual world view, while I am talking about a philosophical world view.

Deists believe “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” but Dawkins does not have an argument with them.  Dawkins has even said that he has no problem with those who have a mystical absolute view of God.

Dawkins seems to have a problem only with us Christians that believe that God is active in the world.  He states that he has a monistic physicalist worldview which is compatible with naturalism, but not with the fact that life has meaning.

Now I am saying that a monism is not compatible with Christianity and good science.  You are saying that dualism and I agree is not a Christian view.

That leaves the question, “How would you characterize the Christian worldview?”  

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