Science in Christian Perspective


The Doctrine of Special Creation 
Part III. The Ideal Type

  Department of Natural Sciences 
Loyola University of Chicago Chicago, Illinois 60611

From: JASA 27 (September 1975): 126-129.
This is Part Ill of a four-part paper being published in the journal ASA during 1975. It is an analysis of Biology: a Search for Order in Complexity (Moore and Slusher, eds., 1970) published by the Creation Research Society.


Two problems faced during the 19th century by adherents of the special-creation doctrine were (1) the anatomic similarities between different vertebrates and (2) variability within a single species. Indeed, biologists have sought to understand these matters since the time of Aristotle. The Darwinian solution was a common ancestry with hereditary relatedness. We must now examine the authors' solution of these ancient puzzles. In so doing, we are again back in the decades before Darwin, where we shall find the most important difference between the creationist and evolutionary viewpoints. The difference is more profound than this textbook implies.

In at least 14 passages the text expresses the view that both similarity and variability were established at the time of the creation. Examples are the Creator's outline of order as seen in groups of plants (p. 183); the assertion that each molluscan type was created as such (p. 237); the primordial separation between echinoderms and vertebrates (p. 243); the idea that a fossil plant form represents a "kind" (p. 393); limited variation within each group of organisms (p. 147, 419, 458); that the Genesis "kind" also represents limited variability (p. 393, 403, 410, 429, 430); that man and the ape were created according to the same plan (p. 434); and reference to a fossil ancestral human "type" (p. 437). These passages would seem to be a faithful expression of the first two chapters of Genesis. So far so good; but two further passages must cast doubt on this interpretation.

On p. 396, in a section on the life cycles of seed plants, we are told that "the Creator used different patterns or systems in various plants and that none is therefore any more primitive or advanced than the others." And on p. 422, in an interpretation of vertebrate homologies, we learn that

Creationists believe that when God created the vertebrates, lie used a single blueprint for the body plan but varied the plan so that each "kind" would be perfectly equipped to take its place in the wonderful world He created for them.

A question immediately arises: what texts in the Bible would the authors put forward as documentation for "blueprints," "patterns," and "systems"? Of course, there are none. (The famous word "kind" in Genesis 1 probably represents only a general, reproductive relationship, certainly not an eternal model. Only John 1:1-3 and 2 Corinthians 4: 18 are suggestive, but in context the meaning of each is entirely different.)

Platonic Idea of Homology

The view expressed in these two passages in the text resembles that held by the anatomists of the early part of the 19th century-particularly Richard Owen (180492). He recognized that certain similarities between bony structures of different animals are more important than others. He applied the term "homologies" to these similarities in his book On the Nature of Limbs (1849). Owen decided that vertebrate skeletons, including fishes, reptiles, birds, mammals, and man, were modifications of a single "archetype" that existed as a divine reality, wholly apart and beyond nature. For example, the similarity in the bones of the appendages of a dugong, a horse, a mole, a whale, and man seemed to him to be expressions of the same eternal archetype for different locomotor functions.

Owen's term, homology, remains in modern biology but in a different sense, for it denotes structural similarity as an index of common ancestry. Owen's ideas represent the culmination of a European tradition in anatomy that, in the decades before Darwin, sought to understand uniformities in nature in terms of transcendent principles. This interpretation was derived historically from the thought of Plato.

What texts in the Bible would the authors put forward as documentation for "blueprints," "patterns," and "systems"? There are none.

In the Republic (books 6 arid 10) and Timaeus (30c-31a, 48e-53d), Plato insisted that the "real" world is not the same as our world of sense experience. The former is not subject to time and change, because it contains eternal and immutable "ideas." The latter-the visible world that we inhabit-is less real, because it contains transient and changing copies of these ideas. Similar animals are therefore varying manifestations of a single idea (eidos) that has an existence of its own, quite beyond the realm of the verifiable.
 Furthermore, the regularity we perceive in nature has resulted because the Demiurge (God), a kind of divine craftsman, has imposed order on preexisting Chaos by using these ideas as "models" (Frazer, 1967; Robin, 1967). Objects as we see in nature are therefore flickering images of ideas -mere shadows cast by the eternal light on the walls of a cave, according to Plato's famous allegory (Republic, book 8).

This is a profound conception. It may be traced, with its Aristotelian modifications, as a guiding influence in biology from Greek times until the publication of the Origin of Species. It was a prominent theme in comparative anatomy in France, Germany, and England in the latter part of the 18th century and through the first half of the 19th century. Transcendental anatomists used the terms "archetype," "ideal type," "type," and "unity of plan" when conceptualizing similarity and variability.
Platonic and Aristotelian thought was a powerful tool: through its use morphology became central to zoology and provided much of the empiric data for the later theory of evolution. For example, Platonic doctrine pervaded Owen's explanation of homologies, by which be showed, correctly, that vertebrate skeletons are constructed on a common plan. And in his denial of evolution (or transformation) he was quite clear that the source of this similarity was an eternal idea, beyond nature (iS49, p. 86):

The Divine mind which planned the Archetype also foreknew all its modifications. The Archetypal idea was manifested in the flesh, under diverse such manifestations, upon this planet, long prior to the existence of those animal species that actually exemplify it.

Moreover, he even invented a diagram of what this archetype must be like. The authors' explanation of homologies, as shown in their statement on p. 422, quoted above, is strikingly similar to that of Owen, given here-except that Owen, unlike them, acknowledged Plato as the source of his interpretation (1849, p. 2). Moses really did not take up the problem of vertebrate homologies.

The Mollusk Problem

According to the text, only one "type" or "blueprint" was required for the creation of all seven classes of vertebrates (p. 422, 533-535). But apparently the Almighty required (p. 237) a separate blueprint for each of the five molluscan classes (p. 529). A certain heavenly efficiency might have been introduced into these proceedings if the authors had thought to attribute to the Creator lust one blueprint for all the mollusks. And is the human "type" mentioned on p. 434, 437, 439 the same as the vertebrate "type" on p. 422?

The mollusks have posed important problems in morphology since the time of Aristotle. The authors might have consulted what Thomas Henry Huxley had to say about them, even though he became an arch-foe of special creation. In 1846-50, when the young Huxley was taking part in a South Seas expedition, he made a special study of the cephalous Mollusca (squids, snails, slugs) in an effort to understand their basic homologies. In so doing he effectively transformed the Platonic type into the type concept in use today. Rejecting the metaphysical approach, he regarded the "type" as simply an empiric summary of the structural congruities found in a group of related organisms (Huxley, 1852).

I am relieved to see, on p. 447, that the authors did not succumb to the temptation to apply one and the same archetypal idea to both vertebrates and invertebrates. The diagrams showing a generalized salamander and a generalized crayfish reflect, in fact, Huxley's conceptual approach, that is now firmly fixed in modern biology. Each diagram is an empiric abstraction (and is therefore effective as a pedagogic device).

But these diagrams are reminiscent of the controversy in French biology in 1840 concerning the extent to which the idea of the "type" may be applied to both vertebrates and invertebrates. Etienne Ceoffroy SaintHilaire (1772-1844), who had been making extensive comparative studies of the anatomy of vertebrates and invertebrates (including cephalopods), argued that a single ideal type might do for both groups. Cuvier thought not; and he remarked (1830), with a touch of asperity, that Geoffroy's discussions of anatomic similarity between vertebrates and cephalopods had not gone far beyond Aristotle's. Geoffry, to no avail, insisted (1837) that his view was not really an extension of Greek doctrine.
The coup de grace was delivered to Owen's anatomic application of the type idea in 1858 by Huxley, who showed that embryologic evidence simply would not support its claims. Since then, homologies have been determined in terms of developmental derivation, rather than by adult anatomic similarities. And this embryologic "type" rests firmly on the foundation laid by Darwin, who removed it from the cosmos and gave it an empiric existence in the real past.

Platonic Idea of Species

The authors' view of species is also Platonic in conceptual origin. According to the specialcreationists, all species are discrete entities. They are essentially nonhistorical, for their existence is accounted for by separate, independent events ex nihilo. There is no connection, or relatedness, between them-certainly not an hereditary one-save an ideal connection between each eternal idea, or "type," that coexists with the Creator. The reality is the unchanging, eternal type, of which visible species are ephemeral manifestations. Variations must therefore he understood as oscillations around an unchanging, metaphysical mean.

The Origin of Species may he regarded as an argument against this view of species, that was dominant through the 18th century until the middle of the 19th century. To be sure, the application of the Platonic notion of the "type" took many forms; but this conception may be discussed as essential in the work of the leading naturalists of the time, including Carolus Liiinaeus (1707-78), who emphasized the constancy of species; Owen, in whom the special-creation doctrine reached its zenith in England; Agassiz, who was the leading American exponent; Cuvier and Geoffroy, in France; and, for a time, Lyell, Huxley, and Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911), in England. The Platonic type was in fact the only concept available to them for dealing with similarity and variability until the theory of evolution was established (Mayr, 1963, ch. 1, 2).

The authors' view of species is Platonic in conceptual origin. The reality is the unchanging, eternal type, of which visible species are ephemeral manifestations.

The Finch Problem

The concept of the Platonic type may help us understand the authors' interpretation of variability. On p. 454 the authors describe a reexamination that has been done recently of more than 1,200 Galapagos finches at the California Academy of Sciences museum in San Francisco. We are told that "all the assigned species intergrade with one another." Furthermore, if they are arranged according to body and beak size "a perfect gradation would be found betwen the species having the leargest beak, Geaspiza nsagnirostris, and the species having the smallest beak, C. fuliginosa." This is supposed to be evidence that the Galapagos finches actually belong to the same species.
Apparently, if Darwin had only recognized this gradation he would not have been led astray. But when we consult his Voyage of the Beagle (1962, p. 380) we find that it is precisely this gradation that caught his attention:

The most curious fact is the perfect gradation in the size of the breaks in the different species of Geospiza, from one as large as that of a hawfineh to that of a chaffinch . . . instead of there being only one intermediate species . there are no less than six species with insensibly graduated beaks.

Thus the significance of the authors' discovery of gradation in these finches is not at all clear, in view of the fact that Darwin was struck by it in October 1835.

The authors are referring, perhaps, to the study by Lammerts, who considers "these birds as all in one species broken up into various island forms" ["The Galapagos Island Finches," in Lammerts, 1970]. His study should be compared with that of Bowman [1963], who also raised questions about the uniformity of gradation and the relative importance of various adaptive factors. But Bowman did not minimize the importance of the variability, nor did he say the finches all belong
to the same species. I am grateful to H. William Lunt, for drawing Bowman's work to my attention. As for the special- creationist's failure to consult carefully Darwin's published views: I have already had occasion to deal with two such lapses [Aulie, 1968, 1970].

But what is significant is the contrasting view of the variability by special creation and by Darwin. The constancy of species was emphasized by early-day special creationists, just as it is by the present authors. These constant species were created, we are told on p. 458 (also p. 147), with "much potential variability"-whatever that is. Variability cannot mean any significant biologic activity now occurring-certainly no hereditary divergence-because it reflects merely the designing action of the Creator. Thus, variations are capricious fluctuations in a category of thought.

On the other hand, Darwin was not circumscribed by Platonism. He could fasten his attention not on the mystical, unchanging type but on the visible variant itself as a product of some biologic activity. He could then ask himself (1) why those beaks could be arranged evenly according to size across six separate species of finches, instead of one; and (2) why those six species were now in fact constant? He saw the Linnaean fixity as a problem to be solved. For Darwin the constancy of species was an empiric observation rather than a principle of metaphysics.

I do not object to the use of the Platonic "idea" when the theory of evolution is rejected. Indeed, the Platonic idea is the only alternative to evolution for an understanding of the nature of species. But I do object to the implication in this textbook that "blueprints" and "types" are an accurate exegesis of the Bible. They are not. Owen, who was orthodox in his religion, took care to cite Plato. Were these "blueprints," "patterns," "systems," and "types" coexistent and eternal outside the deity, or were they ideas within the divine mind? In either case their use recalls Plato's Demiurge, wrestling with a recalcitrant Nature while consulting these eternal "models" for the regularity to be imposed. The authors' conception of God should not be equated with Plato's Demiurge, but we should be aware of the philosophic origin of the "type" and be wary of its theologic implications. (To the ancient Greeks, the Platonic system was in essence a dualism composed of eternal form and matter. Creation therefore meant that the Demiurge imposed form [ideas] on an organized something that was already in existence. This dualistic view of reality was much discussed in Christianity's earliest period, and implicitly disallowed in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed.)

To affirm that all things were created by God is not the same as saying that the Creator employed a blueprint for their creation. The former assertion is derived from the Judaeo-Christian tradition; the latter is merely an extension of Greek doctrine.

To affirm that all things were created by God is not the same as saying that the Creator employed a blue print for their creation. The former assertion is derived from the Judaeo-Christian tradition; the latter is merely an extension of Greek doctrine.


Aulie, R. P., 1968, "Darwinism and Contemporary Thought"; Journal ASA 20 (4), p. 123-125. 
_______1970, "Darwin and Spontaneous Generation";
_______Journal ASA 22 (1), p. 31-34. -
_______1974-75, "The Origin of the Idea of the Mammal-Like Reptile": American Biology Teacher 36 (8), p. 476-485; 36 (9), p. 543-553; 37 (1), p. 21-32.
Bowman, B. I., 1963, "Evolutionary Pattern in Darwin's Finches": California Academy of Sciences Occasional
44, p. 107-140.
Cuvier, G., 1830, "Considerations sur les Mollusques, et en Particulier sur Ics Cepisalopodes": Aususles des Sciences
19, p. 241-259.
Darwin, C., 1962 (1860), The Voyage of the Beagle; Natural History Library, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, LI, NY.
Frazer, J. C., 1967 (1930), The Growth of Plato's Ideal Theory; Russell & Russell, New York City.
Huxley, T. H., 1853 (1852), "On the Morphology of the Cephalous Mollusca, as Illustrated by the Anatomy of Certain Heteropoda and Pteropada, collected during the Voyage of H. M. S. 'Rattlesnake' in 1846-50": Philosophical Transactions 143 (part 1), p. 29-65. 
_______1857-59, "On the Theory of the Vertebrate Skull": Proceedings of the Royal Society 9, p. 381-457.
Lammerts, W. E., 1970, Why Not Creation?; Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Nutley, NJ.
Mayr, E., 1963, Animal Species and Evolution; Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Owen, R., 1849. On the Nature of Limbs; J. VaisVoorst., London.
Robin, L,, 1967 (1928), Greek Thought and the Origins of the Scientific Spirit; Russell & Russell, New York City.
Saint-Hilaire, E. C., 1837, "Dc Ia 'Théorie des Analogues,' Sources de Conception Synthetique d'un Hant Enseigumeut en Historic Naturelle": Comptes Rendus (Paris) 4, p. 537-546.