Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mapping the Origins Debate: A Summary of Gerald Rau's Taxonomy

Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything
by Gerald Rau (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2012)[1]

1.     Naturalistic evolution (NE):

“When most people use the term evolution, what they are referring to is naturalistic evolution (NE), based on philosophical naturalism, the conviction that everything can be explained by natural causes.  Naturalism is closely related to materialism, the idea that there is no reality apart from the material world, so naturalistic evolution could also be called materialistic evolution, but naturalistic is preferred since evolution is an explanation of a process rather than the underlying substance.” (42)

·      Philosophical axiom.  There is no supernatural, or nothing can be known about the supernatural.

·      Inferences.  Evidence from the natural world, empirical evidence, is the only basis for knowledge, so science is the only way of knowing and only explanations based on natural processes are allowed.

·      Logical conclusions.  Since the only things we can know are natural, anything else is mere speculation or pure falsehood. (43)

Proponents: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward O. Wilson, Ernst Mayr, Eugenie Scott

“Many of the writers of science textbooks also hold a naturalistic position, whether this directly stated or not.” (43)

2.     Nonteleological evolution (NTE):

“Nonteleological evolution (NTE) posits that there is no intervention of the supernatural after the foundation of the universe.  This is basically a deistic perspective, although many proponents would not willingly accept that moniker.  Many authors who support NTE espouse a liberal Christian theology, such as process theology… The term nonteleological is chosen to convey that although the universe was created with the ability to evolve, there was no specific end or direction (telos) in mind at the beginning.

“Nonteleological evolution is almost identical to naturalistic evolution in interpretation of the scientific evidence, with the exception of the origin of the universe, because it seeks to identify a natural cause for all natural phenomena subsequent to that point.” (44)

·      Philosophical axiom.  There is a supernatural, but whatever the nature of that force, it has no plan for the universe and therefore does not intervene in it.

·      Inferences.  Only natural forces have influenced the universe since its beginning.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since the supernatural does not direct the natural, naturalistic explanations are sufficient to explain any natural phenomenon. (44)

Proponents: Christian de Duve, Ian Barbour, John Haught.

3.     Planned evolution (PE):

“The difference between planned evolution (PE) and the two models just described is again more theological than scientific.  It is nevertheless important to list it as a separate model since the question of teleology, which separates them, plays a prominent role the debate and has important ramifications.  According to this view God had a definite plan in mind, which was set in motion at the moment of creation.” (45)

“According to PE, God has the capacity to intervene in nature but does not need to do so because of the perfection of the original creation, what Howard Van Till (1999) calls ‘the fully gifted creation,’ which is able to bring forth life in various forms over time in response to the changing conditions, ultimately leading to humankind.” (45)

“Scientifically, this results in a position almost identical to naturalistic evolution (NE) and nonteleological evolution (NTE), since God does not regularly intervene in the development of life or species, and therefore natural processes are thought to be sufficient to explain the evidence.  The difference lies in the fact that PE asserts the mechanisms for change were built into creation and established for the specific purpose of bringing about God’s plan of creating sentient being who could worship him.

“Since this model also seeks only natural causes after the moment of creation, the scientific inferences made are in many cases indistinguishable from NE and NTE.” (46)

·      Philosophical axiom.  God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring that plan to fruition without further intervention.

·      Inferences.  The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since God did not intervene in natural processes after creation, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena. (46)

Proponents: Howard Van Till, Francis Collins and the Biologos Foundation, Kenneth Miller

4.     Directed evolution (DE):

“Directed evolution (DE) and planned evolution share a similar overall interpretation of Genesis 1, although proponents of DE are more likely to view Adam and Eve as single individuals, progenitors of the entire human race.  Directed evolution asserts that God not only brought the universe into being but continues to act in it, not only in the lives of individuals in response to prayer but also in creative events, to bring about his plans.  In many cases this does not involve superseding natural law as much as direction of low probability events, hence the name of the model.”  (46-47)

“From a DE perspective, science and religion are not viewed as distinct or complementary domains of knowledge, but as interacting domains of knowledge.  This is a crucial difference.  Complementary domains have no overlap.  They deal with a separate set of questions and answer those questions based on disparate methodologies.  Interacting domains do intersect.  According to this view at least some questions are best addressed using evidence from both domains.  In the case of DE, the only evidence admitted from Scripture about origins is the existence of a deity who intervenes from time to time in miraculous ways, with science providing evidence for mechanism.  The two creationary models, described next, assert that Scripture also tells us something about the method of creation, which DE denies.” (47)

·      Philosophical axiom.  God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to accomplish that plan.
·      Inferences.  Miracles are recorded in the Bible to show that God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, so it is reasonable to think the same might be true for natural history.
·      Logical conclusion.  Since we see a large number of low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a goal (teleological), these would be best explained as interventions. (48)

Proponents: “At this point I am not aware of any author who gives a complete scientific and religious justification of this model.” (48)

5.     Old-earth creation (OEC):

“Old-earth creation agrees with DE that science and religion are interacting domains of knowledge, but OEC further asserts that the Genesis account has explicit scientific value, that the order of events in Genesis 1 accurately reflects the order of what happened.” (49)

“At least four different models—PE, DE, OEC and YEC—believe that the Bible and the world are equally important revelations of God, and that the two, properly interpreted, will not conflict with each other.  Reflecting this tension between two sources of knowledge, empirical evidence and religious texts, OEC sometimes chooses to interpret the Bible in the light of scientific evidence, but other times chooses to interpret science in light of the Bible.”  (49)

·      Philosophical axiom.  God chooses to reveal himself through the Bible and creation, both of which clearly disclose his existence and identity.

·      Inferences.  We must find the most straightforward interpretations that allow us to harmonize the biblical statement that God created in six days with the empirical evidence that the universe and earth appear to be billions of years old.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since God wants his actions to be clear, the earth must indeed be billions of years old, and his work in creation will be clearly discernible as discrete creative acts over time, in the same order revealed in the Bible. (49-50)

Proponents: Hugh Ross and the staff of Reasons to Believe, Stephen Meyer, and many others at the Discovery Institute

6.     Young-earth creation (YEC):

“The Christian YEC model claims that the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world and everything in it in six literal twenty-four hour days about six thousand years ago, and that any other view involves ‘reinterpreting the Word of God on the basis of the fallible theories of sinful people’ (Ham, 2006: 88).  Other key tenets of YEC include Adam and Eve, two individuals created de novo by God, being the progenitors of all humans, one act of sin leading to the fall of humankind, no death of any sort before the fall, a worldwide flood and separation of human language groups at the tower of Babel.” (51)

·      Philosophical axiom.  The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and each word should be understood in accord with its normal, common meaning, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary within the Bible text itself.

·      Inferences.  When the Bible says God created everything in six days, it means six sequential twenty-four-hour days.  When it says he created each kind of animal, or that he created man (male and female), it means each was created separately and fully formed.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since the Bible says that God created everything in six days, and each kind of creature individually, only interpretations of scientific observations which are consistent with those revealed truths can be correct.  (52)

Proponents: Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International, John Morris of Institute for Creation Research, Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds of the Discovery Institute, Kurt Wise.

     [1] Rau’s discussion of these models on pages 38-52 can be found here: