Science in Christian Perspective






From: JASA 18 (March 1966):

I. Creation in the Scientific Sense

Two types of cosmological theories compete with each other today: those which state that the universe had a definite beginning in time as a superdense concentration of matter, and those which argue that the universe has always existed in a steady state without a beginning. The former theories, due to Lemaitre, Gamow, Milne, and others are often referred to as idereationist cosmologies" even though their authors have been careful not to mention God as Creator or First Cause in their technical expositions. Milne, in 

*Walter R. Hearn is in the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, Iowa State University, Ames, lowa.Paper read at the International Conference on Science and Christian Faith sponsored by the Research Scientists' Christian Fellowship, Regents Park College, Oxford University, July 17-26, 1965.

his posthumously published Modern Cosmology and the Christian Idea of God, may have moved toward a theistic concept of God, but the deistic "Creator of the laws of the universe" was limited by mathematical reasoning in Milne's a priori cosmology as never to have any "bifurcation of possibilities." Although Gamow's cosmological arguments are presented in a book entitled The Creation of the Universe, Gamow obviously eschews any theistic interpretation of creation.

The alternative to the creationist cosinologies is the steady-state cosmology developed by Bondi, Gold, and Hoyle, the major feature of which is the concept of iccontinuous creation" of matter ex nihilo at a rate sufficient to maintain a uniform density in the universe over the whole of both time and space. In spite of the theological origin of the term "creation ex nihilo" it is clear that the proponents of the steady-state cosmology do not use it in any theistic context and in fact regard the concept as a final elimination of God from our picture of the universe.

Mascall's discussion of creation in theology and science is valuable in clearing up confusion engendered by use of the term creation in a non-theistic sense by cosmological theorists. He also warns against construction of an "entropological argument" for the existence of God of the sort seized upon by Pope Pius XII from evidence that the universe is expanding. From a scientific standpoint such an argument is weakened by the meaninglessness of extrapolating backwards to a point of full coincidence and by the impossibility of ruling out an implosion before the explosive phase. From a philosophical standpoint there is the danger of ascribing unwarranted metaphysical significance to the conservation of matter and energy, and of assuming that the notion of time as we experience it bears any direct relation to "time" in remote cosmological epochs.1

The term creation has also been used in scientific discussion of the origin of presently living forms and more recently of life itself. Even while criticising the elan vital" of Bergson's Creative Evolution, Driesch's entelechy", and du Nouy's "telefinalism" as unworthy of serious scientific consideration, G. G. Simpson concedes that vitalistic theories "established the fact that evolution involved forces that are directional in nature and creative in aspect".2

In scientific discussions of creative evolution, of the creation of life in a test tube or on the primitive Earth or on Mars, or of the creation ex nihilo of matter in the universe at a distant point in time or continuously throughout time, creation clearly involves nothing more than the appearance of something new, either matter itself or a new arrangement of matter.

II. Creation in the Artistic or Inventive Sense

There is another sense in which the word creation is used by scientists, however: we speak of some colleagues or students as being more creative than others. The fact that we distinguish between investigators who are merely "productive" and those who are "creative" implies that here innovation is not the major connotation; research productivity itself means turning out papers with new experimental data and new interpretations. A creative scientist is sometimes compared to an architect who designs buildings and a productive scientist to the bricklayer who builds them.

It might be argued that man in his role as a scientist is actually not creative but merely inventive: a scientist does not create the laws of the universe but merely discovers and describes them. God alone is creative in the ultimate sense; however, human creativity in the artistic sense has a well-established meaning in our vocabulary. Creativity has frequently been discussed on an esthetic level but it also is of interest to psychologists and other scientists: poetry and music have been produced by electronic computers as models of human creative process.

Anthologies such as Ghiselin's The Clreative Process point to the essential similarity of the creative process in fields as varied as art, science, and religion.3 Mysteries of the creative process have been probed by artists and writers such as Arthur Koestler.4 Serious scientific study of creativity has been stimulated partly by the interest of granting agencies in identifying potentially creative individuals in the sciences as the worthiest recipients of financial support. Although a recent collection of essays and research reports on scientific creativity leaves the impression that creativity cannot as yet be rigorously defined, some general conclusions about the human creative process can now be drawn.5

Although novelty is one criterion of creativity or inventiveness, it is clearly not the only criterion, as seen in legal questions of patentability or in esthetic appreciation of "pop" art, for example. The mere appearance of a new arrangement of matter does not imply that a creative act has taken place. Creation in this sense implies a purposive act involving "creative effort" on the part of inventor or artist, the essence of which in either art or science is the random scanning of the stored data of experience for possible new relationships plus the selection of the arrangement most propitious for the creator's purpose.

III. Creation in the Biblical Sense

The following conclusions are based on Scripture itself but are no doubt influenced by the particular theological writings consulted:6

1. The cosmology of the people of the Old Testament was probably not very different from that of the peoples surrounding them: the habitable world was thought of as surrounded by waters of chaos which would engulf the world unless held back. In this "three-decker" universe of heavens, earth, and waters below, the earth was generally thought of as resting on pillars; hints of this cosmology appear in the "Priestly" account of creation, Gen. 1:1-2:4, and in Gen. 7:11, Ps. 24:1-2, 104:5-9, and 148:1-14.

2. However, the Old Testament creation account is completely demytholo&ed and radically different in character from the creation accounts of other primitive peoples; remnants of the pagan language survive in places only as poetic speech in praise of Jahweh, as in Ps. 74:9-17, 89:5-11, Isa. 26:20-27, and 51:9-10.

3. The dominant idea of the Hebrews was Jahweh as the God of history, not the God of nature. In fact, the idea of man as part of "nature" probably seemed almost a pagan idea to them, surrounded by the "nature religions" of Babylon, Egypt, and Canaan; in these pagan religions there was a mythology but not a divine history. In two similar accounts of why Israel should praise God, the earlier narrative does not mention God as having created the universe, beginning with Abraham's call (Dent. 26:1-11); the later account (Nehemiah 9:1-15 and 9:32-38) begins with "Thou hast made the heavens . . ." The idea of the God of history is linked explicitly with the God who created the world in passages such as Jer. 27:4-7 and 32:16-25.

4. The idea of the God of creation as revealed to the writers of the Old Testament was a natural extension of the idea of the God of history to account for the beginnings of history. Two almost inconsistant ideas are repeatedly expressed: the constancy of nature as a pledge of God's faithfulness, as in Jer. 5:20-31 and 31:31-37, and the use of nature by the Creator to direct the course of history, especially in thwarting the enemies of Israel, as in Exod. 14:19-15:18 and Judges 5: 19-21.

5. The idea of the God of history links closely the ideas of creation and redemption throughout both the Old and New Testaments, so that God's action in history is seen as a process of continually creating. The idea that God is acting continually or repeatedly in history to "create a people of God" is expressed clearly in Ps. 74:9-19, in Isa. 43:1-7, 43:15, 43:21, 44:2, 44: 21-24, and 45:11-13; New Testament passages such as Eph. 1:3-14 present the sweep of God's activity "from the foundation of the world" to the culmination of history in the future.

6. The absolute sovereignty of God over His creation is emphasized; the created world of nature is to be accepted as God's handiwork but never worshipped. The figure of speech of the potter and his handiwork is used to emphasize God!s sovereignty in Gen. 2:7 as in Isa. 29:15-16 and in Rom. 9:20-21.

7. The creative work of God is revealed as being accomplished by His word, which is not a sound nor an idea but action which carries out God's purpose, as in the Genesis creation account, "And God said . . . Let there be . . . and it was so." The creative word is also referred to in Ps. 33:6-9, 148:5, Isa. 45:11-12, 55:10-11, John 1:1-5 and Heb. 11:1-3.

8. The idea of creation ex nihilo in contrast to molding or shaping matter already in existence does not seem to be a dominant theme of the Old Testament, although it is clear that God was "in the beginning" and that "all things" were created by Him. The New Testament does contain several explicit statements, in Heb. 11:1-3 and Rom. 4:17, that God "calls into existence things that do not exist."

9. There is harmony and goodness in God's creation, not because of any inherent "order in nature" but because of the sovereign purpose of God; Job 38 and Ps. 19 are whole chapters devoted to this idea, and other references include Ps. 104:24-35 and I Tim. 4:4-"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."

10. Man has an exalted place in creation: the earth is created for man, to remind him of God's goodness. Man is made "in God's image" to work with God in carrying out His purpose, experiencing fellowship with God in this task. To many commentators, this is the principal theme of Genesis creation narrative.

11. Two threats are seen to God's creation: the forces of chaos which could wreck the order of nature set by God, as depicted in Ps. 46:1-3 and Rev. 21:1, and the sin of man which could thwart the continual creative activity of God in history, as depicted in Gen. 3, Gen. 6:5-8, Jer. 8:4-7, and 4:23.

12. The promise of a new creation, of new heavens and a new earth, is made in the Old Testament through the prophets, as in Jer. 31:31-34 and Isa. 66:22-23; the New Testament interprets this promise as being fulfilled in Christ, again by the action of the Creator God in history, as in Rom. 8:18-25 and Eph. 1:3-10. In three passages Jesus Christ is clearly identified with the Creator of the world (John 1:1-18, Col. 1:15-20, and Heb. 1:1-4); and, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (11 Cor. 5:16-21).

IV. Conclusions for a Christian Philosophy of Science  

1. A theological definition of creation adequate for a Christian philosophy of science should emphasize the purposive activity of God in bringing into existence that which is new. Creation should be thought of not primarily as events or processes but as the inherent relationship between the material world and the God of Scripture, who is both transcendent over His creation and immanent in its workings. Natural science excludes consideration of theological purpose, so it is both possible and necessary to look at any event in man's experience from both a natural and a supernatural point of view. It is more appropriate to speak of complementary naturalistic and supernaturalistic interpretations of events than of natural and supernatural events. Novelty is an important aspect of creation, but novelty of relationship or arrangement should be emphasized; restriction of the doctrine of creation merely to the bringing of matter into existence ex nihilo is essentially a deistic rather than a theistic view and possibly a reification of matter both un-Biblical and philosophically unjustifted.1

2. Emphasis in the doctrine of creation should be placed on processes at least to as great an extent as on discontinuous or instantaneous events, although it is understandable that apparently instantaneous events may stand out in man's experience with dramatic intensity; an example is the importance placed on the "sudden flash of insight" in descriptions of the overall process of human creativity. The point here is that such events are not to be considered "more supernatural" or "more miraculous" simply because they seem at the time to be unexplained or unexplainable in naturalistic terms. The whole concept of time needs to be thought out carefully in theology in the light of difficulties in interpreting Biblical references to time and in the light of God's dual relationship to it:
i.e., His transcendence implies His being outside of time and His immanence requires His involvement in time as experienced by Man. Creation of time and creation in time are both legitimate concepts for theological consideration. Pollard makes the valid point that the word time in physics is used in a unique way, since the physicist who actually lives in historical, unidirectional time can reset his time-scale to zero with each experiment.8 Recalling that the Bible speaks primarily of the God of history, we might conclude that the God of history is not the God of physics; indeed, we may have no need for the concept of a God of physics, although we have great need for the God of physicists, who is the God of history.

3. The human creative process as it is now being studied scientifically, should not be overlooked as a possible theological model of the Divine creative process; the equivalence of creativity with random scanning of possibilities plus selection may serve as an effective analogy of the contingency of the creation upon Divine will. Furthermore, participation of apparent randomness at some point in what is recognized at the level of human consciousness as a non-random creative process may help Christians to avoid equating God with "anti-chance," setting up a false dichotomy between random natural processes and non-random supernatural events.9 Inability to visualize participation of apparent randomness at some level of creative activity has rendered the outlook of some evangelicals not only anti-evolutionary but eventually anti-scientific as well. "Special creation" and "providence" perhaps could be considered as two different levels or modes of creative activity, analogous to the two different levels of human creative activity pointed out by Ghiselin.10 Finally, consideration of human creativity as a model of Divine creative activity might have an influence on the personal lives of Christians, challenging us to stir up the largely untapped imaginative powers inherent in our imago Dei natures; thus we might strive to imitate God in His creative aspect also, as well as in His justice and love. May we follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ by being both creative and redemptive with our lives.


1. See Mascall, E. L., Christian Theology and Natural Science, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1956, Ch. 3 "Cosmology and Contingency" and Ch. 4 "Creation in Science and Theology" for an excellent discussion and pertinent references; for a non-theist's viewpoint see Singh, J., Great Ideas and Theories of Modern Cosmology, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1961 (paper), Ch. 16 "God and Cosmology."

2. Simpson, G. G., The Meaning of Evolution, Mentor, New American Library, New York, 1951 (paper), pp. 131-132; for serious discussion of biological evolution by theists, see Mixter, R. L., ed., Evolution and Christian Thought Today, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1959, or Lever, J., Creation and Evolution, Grand Rapids International Publications, Grand Rapids, 1958.

3. Ghiselin, B., ed., The Creative Process, Mentor, New Amerlean Library, New York, 1952 (paper); MacIver, R.M., ed., Moments of Personal Discovery, and The Hour of Insight, Institute for Religious and Social Studies, Harper & Bros., New York, 1954.

4. Koestler, A., The Act of Creation, MacMillan Co., New York. 1964; Sartre, J. P., The imagination, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1962; Nahm, M.C., The Artist as Creator, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1956.

5. Taylor, C. W., and Barron, F., eds., Scientific Creativity: Its Recognition and Development, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1963, esp. Ch. I by N.E. Golovin, "The Creative Person in Science."

6. Anderson, B. W., "Creation," In The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Abingdon Press, New York, 1962; Richardson, A., Genesis Z-XZ, Torch Bible Commentaries, SCM Press Ltd.s London, 1953; Young, E. J., Studies in Genesis One, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1964.

7. Barr., J., The Semantics of Biblical Language, Oxford University Press, London, 1951; Barr, J., Biblical Words for Time, Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 33, SCM Press, Ltd., London, 1962.

8. Pollard, W. G., Chance and Providence, Charles Scribners & Sons, New York, 1958.

9. See, for example, Clark, R.E.D., The Universe, Plan or Accident?, the Paternoster Press, London, 1961; or Morris, H. M., The Twilight of Evolution, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1963.

10. Ghiselin, B., IlUltimate Criteria for Two Levels of Creativity," Ch. 3 of Ref. (5).