Science in Christian Perspective
From: PSCF 39 (December 1987): 212-220.
Each model of alternate Theistic frameworks has ancient roots, has played a significant role in the secular and religious response to Charles Darwin, and is still involved in today's evolution Icreation debate. When someone says that they teach or theorize in a "Theistic" framework, it is critical to distinguish which model they mean.
Four issues are considered from each viewpoint: mutation, natural selection, species stasis, and species change. The same concept looks very different when presented within a different world view.
The distinctions of Charles Hodge (1874) are used to define "evolution" and the concept that God might act creatively through an evolutionary process is evaluated. The conclusion is that the continuing soverignty of God in the natural world is the major issue.
The choice of data, the organization of the concepts, the sort of implications discussed, will all reflect the presenter's world view, and, often, the world views of the individual who first developed the idea.
On the other hand, every idea presented is reshaped by the world view of the person using it. It's true that the same general concept may be explained by, or made to fit into, a variety of different world view frameworks. This does not mean that the transplanted concept will remain unchanged. Hence, a transplanted concept or theory is a new idea, analogous to the original, but yet essentially different. In fact, if a transplanted concept has not changed it has not been transplanted, but instead it has partially supplanted the new user's world view with that of someone else (Kuhn, 1962; Olthius, 1985; Livingstone, 1983).
Although considerable differences exist among the world views of those who call themselves Christians, they would all claim to be "theistic." But, what do they mean by that term? In this paper I explore the differences between three major models of reality with ancient Christian historical traditions, and their current relevance in today's "creation wars." One of these will correspond best with the accepted definition of the term "Theistic," but due to the confusion in present usage I will not insist on that definition until the end of the paper.
David L. Wilcox received a Ph.D. in Population Genetics from Penn State University in 1981. He has taught five years for Edinboro State College and eleven years for Eastern College. He currently chairs ASA's Creation Commission and has presented papers dealing with the theoretical nature of selective fitness and the use of biblical perspectives in analyzing biological theory.
metaphysical set of "final causes" or goals, which are continuously drawing reality onward (and upward) (Klaaren, 1977).
The second model, God as a "Craftsman," became popular during the Renaissance, and especially during the Enlightenment within Logical Positivism. Its view of the basis of nature is (with modification) the view of Democritus, who held that all of reality is composed of colliding and interacting atoms. Nature is considered to be an autonomous realm with its own intrinsic laws and processes, The Christian variant accepts that view of nature for the present order, but points out the necessity of a beginning, and hence, a beginner. The Deity, in analogy with a human artisan, is viewed as the wise craftsman who made and wound that intricate clock, the universe. At the time of creation, the Divine Craftsman (artifactor) placed within Nature (artifact) a principle of autonomous existence, assorted "natural" laws and nature's initial state and motion, and then He left it ticking away. Holders of the Craftsman position differ both on the degree to which the clock is considered to be still open to actions of the clockmaker, and on the comprehensiveness of the Craftsman's initial plans (Klaaren, 1977).
Variants in the "Prime Mover" model reflect the views of different Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle.
The third model is based on the concept of a ruler and his obedient subjects. In this "King" model, God is the only central reality: calling the universe into existence, sustaining it and directing it, by the "Word of His Power," His Royal command (fiat). This model directly reflects the viewpoint of the Hebrew writers of the Scriptures, and takes quite literally the numerous biblical statements of the relationship between God and His creation, nature. (The other two sorts of models would interpret such statements metaphorically.) The implications of seeing God as King are: first, that nature is totally contingent upon God's will for its structure and continued existence; second, that nature is completely obedient to that will; and third, that A events in the natural world are precisely planned and presently controlled by God (Klaaren, 1977).
Historically, this viewpoint has been broadly represented in Christian theology, including Augustinian thought, Medieval Nominalism, and Reformed theology in general. At first glance, the modern mind would probably assume that this viewpoint rules out natural law and causal relationships, but that assumption is a function of modern "socialization." An older formulation (The Westminster Confession of Faith) makes this clear:
God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; not is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Chapter III, article 1, emphasis mine.) (Also see Chapter V.)
In fact, a strong case has been made for this viewpoint being the catalyst which produced the phenomenon we call "modern science." If the universe is totally obedient to the will of God, we must look at it to see what He has done rather than trying to deduce its structure from logic (Hooykaas, 1972; Hummel, 1986; Klaaren, 1977).
In the next section, we will analyze four specific biological issues involved in the evolution/creation debates of today, looking at each issue through the spectacles of each of the three models. Following that background discussion, in the last portion of the paper we will took back to the nineteenth century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge for specific definitions of the terms "evolution" and "Darwinism." The distinctions which Hodge drew in his day are equally valid today, and have the advantage of not being a product of the present conflict. Using those definitions, we will analyze the meaning of "theistic evolution" from the viewpoint of each of the three models of making.
The Deity [a "Craftsman"], in analogy with a human artisan, is viewed as the wise craftsman who made and wound that intricate clock, the universe.
[The "King"] model directly reflects the viewpoint of the Hebrew writers of the Scriptures, and takes quite literally the numerous biblical statements of the relationship between God and His creation, nature.
The Craftsman theorist will view random events as unpredictable products of, or the complex autonomous causal structure of, reality. They might have been specifically planned, with tfie timing programmed in at initiation (the design concept-a "Minnesota Fats" model of God), or they might be the unexpected expression of possibilities built in at initiation (the potentials concept-God as a surprised observer). Benefits of mutations presumably would exist if programmed, but rarely if only as a potential. Such events could also randomly set the direction for future development by other forces.
The concept that God is King over all natural events naturally includes mutations. Although unpredictable by us, they are still completely obedient responses of nature to God's providential commands, part of what He is doing as He builds His kingdom. "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD" (Proverbs 16:33). Mutations may or may not appear to be of utility to human observers, but that is not surprising. We do not often know the mind and purposes of God.
As a person teaches about mutations and other
random" events, therefore, the interpretation placed
on them-rebellion, happenstance, or unexpected obedience-will imply one of the three models of making.
Natural selection, or differential mortality and fertility due to natural causes, is a rather irrelevent irritant to the Prime Mover theorist. In one form or another, natural selection implies that physical (natural) causes can act as agents to produce or maintain some degree of biological order. In the Prime Mover world view, however, order is a function of metaphysical entities or forces, and the physical world itself can fundamentally produce only disorder. Natural selection as an ordering process must therefore be rejected or relegated to a secondary adjustment role, secondary to the "real" forces, ideals, final causes, et cetera. Significantly, this position dominated biological thought during the last half of the nineteenth century. People like Cope and Marsh rejected Darwin's mechanism of change (ordering), instead accepting a Neo-Lamarckian evolutionary process (Moore, 1979).
For the Craftsman thinker, natural selection is the imprint of, or the complex autonomous causal structure of, real reality-the physical universe. Such physical constraints could include both environmental conditions and genetic developmental patterns. As mentioned in the consideration of random events, selective change might have been planned (design concept) or unplanned (potentials concept). In either case, natural selection is viewed as nature autonomously ordering itself, according to its initial state and laws. This world view, therefore, views natural selection as a major source of order at the present time; whether that order is static retention or dynamic change, programmed or undesigned.
As a person teaches about mutations and other "random" events, therefore, the interpretation placed on them... will imply one of the three models of making.
If God is King over the natural order, all events will be obedient responses of the creation (nature) to His commands. Natural forces are obedient servants, including the natural pressures of environment and developmental pattern. Births and deaths work out God's will for the world of life, whether He wills change or stability. "The earth is full of your creatures ... these all look to you to give them their food at the proper time ... when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created (Psalm 101:24,27,29, 30). If God is King, therefore, natural selection will literally be supernatural selection, in which God's hand of Providence works His free and exact will for each living thing.
Again, the way one presents natural selection proclaims one's view of nature-a rebellious chaos, an autonomous clock, or an obedient creature-and, therefore, it teaches a world view.Species Stasis
Species stasis is the concept that species (or perhaps some larger taxonomic unit) are stable, constrained in some fashion at the present to a sort of morphological locus or ideal form (Stanley, 1979). This concept has been held in one form or another within each of the three models. Species stasis is attributed by Prime Mover theorists to the pressure on chaotic matter of static metaphysical ideals; entities which, therefore, are the true essence of a species. In this viewpoint, the concept of species stasis is identical to the concept of the fixity of species, because metaphysical ideals are inviolable and unchanging. Such ideals counteract any chaotic tendency of the material organism (change). This view of biological species was first explicitly taught, in Christian thought, by Francisco Suarez, a Neoplatonic Jesuit theologian of the CounterReformation (Klaaren, 1977).
Neoplatonic views dominated biology before 1860, with the "archetype" concept providing a strong stimulus in the development of comparative anatomy. One unusual and unfamiliar feature of this view was the thought that permanent extinction was impossible. The metaphysical ideal would bring the species into existence again, possibly by using other existing species. This may have been the basis of Cuvier's views of multiple catastrophes and re-creations by types (Moore, 1979). It makes sense if the metaphysical is the essence; the most real thing about a species.
The way one presents natural
selection proclaims one's view
nature-a rebellious chaos, an autonomous clock, or an obedient creature-and, therefore,
it teaches a world view.
Within the Craftsman model, species stasis must be due to physical limits to change. Such physical constraints are certainly not metaphysical ideals. However, for species stasis to occur, something must function in a fashion analogous to the Platonic metaphysical ideal. In some fashion, a Craftsman theorist would maintain, a species' (or a larger group's) ideal structure must be built in-presumably on its DNA. That material pattern must control any tendency to change, implying the presence of autonomous cybernetic systems which will maintain the preprogrammed ideal species standards (on DNA). Such a system could be ecosystem-based (stabilizing selection), or it could be a set of developmental constraints; i.e., internal physio/genetic mechanisms. The Craftsman view of stasis has, therefore, developed the concept of a materially encoded analogue to a Platonic ideal.
Such a self-governing (cybernetic) system should be able to remain stable for as long as its referent, the physical ideals structure, remains intact. This may be a long time (10 million years, according to Stanley, 1979), but since this view considers the species ideal a physical entity, that ideal itself will be subject to unplanned changes from the rest of autonomous physical universe.
Species stasis does not pave a "Royal Road" to Christian Theism, but instead points to one's view of ideal forms.
By logical necessity, a material ideal could be mutated. When that occurs, the stasis mechanism itself would act to enforce change, In the end then, since such a material ideals structure is part of an autonomous universe, it is vulnerable.
If God be King, species' stasis is their obedience. That is, God chooses to have no change in a particular group of organisms. He therefore acts providentially through all natural events-mutation, births, deaths, developmental constraints, natural catastrophes, or happenstance-producing stasis. He commands and nature obeys. Stasis has a spiritual source. King modelers have suggested that species may represent permanent choices which God made back before time began; i.e., some sort of divine mental constructs that will act in a fashion equivalent to Platonic ideals, a view held by the Medieval "idealist" school. King modelers state that, in any case, the stasis of a present species represents God's present will for that species; a choice which God remains free to change at any time, since He is not constrained by physical reality.
Clearly then, species stasis does not pave a "Royal
Road" to Christian Theism, but instead points to one's
view of ideal forms. Such forms may be viewed as
metaphysical, as material, or as spiritual patterns, and
may be thought to have any degree of autonomy from
the will of God. Species stasis can therefore point
The concept that species change has been held by individuals from each of the three models of making. Individuals with the Prime Mover assumption often view species as the present manifestation of some sort of a metaphysical progressive "life force." Such a force would be drawing specific lineages into greater order, toward a final goal. As mentioned before, this view dominated late nineteenth century biology (Moore, 1979).
A Craftsman thinker who accepts species change has two possible viewpoints. Perhaps changes were programmed in by the Deity at the beginning, just as a developing animal changes through a series of morphological stages stored in its genes. The created program is now autonomous, unrolling toward its end. Secondly, change might be attributed to unplanned environmental input of a selective or a random nature. Perhaps God put in the potentials, but their expression is happenstance. Such views have been well stated many times; for instance:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been made, and are being evolved. (Darwin, 1859.)
In either case, the Craftsman concept of species change will sound familiar, since it is a close logical analogue to the non-deistic concepts of the Logical Positivists which have dominated the thought of twentieth century biology.
In teaching that species change, one may imply that God is presently unnecessary ... or, one may imply that observed changes demonstrate God's Providence and purposes at work.
If God be King, species' changes are their obedience. That is, God chooses to have change in a particular group of organisms. He therefore acts providentially through all natural events-mutation, births, deaths, developmental constraints, natural catastrophes, or happenstance-producing change. He commands and nature obeys. Change has a spiritual source. King modelers have suggested that species change may simply be a way that God can create a new biological entity, that such change is Divine Providence at work, and reveals plans which God made back before time Degan (Warfield, 1915). They state that, in any case, present change in a species represents God's present will for that biological lineage; a choice which God remains free to change at any time, since He is not constrained by physical reality.
In Hodge's opinion, Darwin's real problem, his basic error, was his rejection of design.... For Darwin,
God could not use natural selection because
God did not affect nature.
In teaching that species change, one may therefore
imply that God is presently unnecessary, either because
He built a metaphysical "progress" principle into the
universe, or because present changes just unroll life's
programmed potentials (as created by God); or instead,
one may imply that observed changes demonstrate
God's Providence and purposes at work.
An Analysis of Theistic Evolution
Charles Hodge-Analysis and Definition
In moving to the analysis of a more complex concept, careful definitions are critical. I have suggested elsewhere that Theistic Evolution is used by many as a sort of conceptual trash can for the disposal of awkward viewpoints that don't fit their pigeon holes (Wilcox, 1986). "Theistic," I shall temporarily expand to mean one or all of the three models of making being used in this paper. "Evolution," however, must needs have a narrow definition, or analysis will be impossible. To obtain such a definition, I will go back 1 00-plus years to possibly the greatest of Darwin's theological opponents, Charles Hodge of Princeton Seminary.
In his 1874 analysis of Charles Darwin's theory, What is Darwinism?, Hodge identified three aspects to Darwin's thought: Evolution, Natural Selection, and the Exclusion of Design. To allow him to speak for himself:
From what has been said, it appears that Darwinism includes three distinct elements. First evolution, or the assumption that all organic forms, vegetable and animal, have been evolved or developed from one, or a few, primordial living germs; second, that this evolution has been effected by natural selection, or the survival of the fittest; and third, and by far the most important and only distinctive element of his theory, that this natural selection is without design, being conducted by unintelligent physical causes. Neither the first nor the second of these elements constitute Darwinism; nor do the two combined.... It is however neither evolution nor natural selection which give Darwinism its peculiar character and importance. It is that Darwin rejects all teleology, or the doctrine of final causes. He denies design in any of the organisms in the vegetable or animal world. (Hodge, 1874.)
Most popular ideas of [the last 250 years] reflect the progress myth, (including Marxism, Capitalism, Fascism, and even the Wagnerian operas). In fact, this myth has been so pervasive that most people consider it a self-evident truth.
This paragraph has several important implications. First, the three aspects of Darwin's thinking can be separated. Evolution, Hodge said, meant the descent of all modern forms from common ancestors. Natural Selection, on the other hand, was Darwin's theory of mechanism for evolution. Neither of them, be said, was Darwinism! Darwinism Hodge defined as the world view assumption that there is no design; i.e., no action of God anywhere in nature. In Hodge's opinion, Darwin's real problem, his basic error, was his rejection of design. Hodge pointed out that Darwin uses the word natural" as antithetical to "supernatural," as well as to artificial," and therefore excludes the concept of supernatural selection" (Hodge's term). For Darwin, God could not use natural selection, because God did not affect nature. When Charles Hodge rejected Darwinism, therefore, he was rejecting Darwin's world view, the idea that nature is autonomous in its operation. That is what Hodge meant by his often-quoted concluding sentence. Here, in context, is that sentence:
-Dr. [Asa] Gray goes further. "If Mr. Darwin believes that the events which he supposes to have occurred ... were undirected and undesigned ... no argument is needed to show that such a belief is atheistic." We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic; that the exclusion of design from nature is, as Dr. Gray says, tantamount to atheism. (Hodge, 1874, emphasis mine.)
So then, evolution can be considered as a biological idea without accepting Darwin's world view. That includes even "macro-evolution," which is obviously what Hodge meant by the term. I am not implying that Hodge had accepted evolution. He had not. He did, nevertheless, allow for the possibility that some might accept both biological evolution and the Scriptures at the same time.
The words "evolution" and "Darwinism" are so often in this country, but not in Europe, used interchangeably, that it is conceivable that Dr. Peabody could retain his faith in God, and yet admit the doctrine of evolution. But it is not conceivable that any man should adopt the main element of Mr. Darwin's theory, viz., the denial of all final causes, and the assertion that since the first creation of matter and life, God has left the universe to the control of unintelligent physical causes, so that all that has ever happened on earth is due to physical force, and yet retain his faith in Christ. On that theory, there have been no supernatural revelation, no miracles; Christ is not risen, and we are yet in our sins ... (Hodge, 1874.)
Following Hodge, I shall define evolution
"DarwiDism," the idea that the universe is without
design or designer, but simply as the biological concept
that several species may be descended from a common
ancestor with modification-whatever causative mechanisms may be involved. The theological meanings
which the word typically carries will be considered in
the following section, using the same analytical framework-the three models of making.
In today's debates, the idea of evolution as the descent of many species from a common ancestor has often been identified not as a biological concept, but as a world view which leaves out God completely. Many men, past and present, who have accepted evolution in Hodge's sense of the word, have thought otherwise. However, their views on how God is involved have varied considerably along the lines we have been exploring. Individuals with a Prime Mover world view have usually viewed evolution as the biological product of a general metaphysical progress principle which guides all reality toward some final goal or state; the "Omega point," perhaps.
A Prime Mover version of evolution might be more accurately termed Metaphysical Evolution, since it is based on the Neoplatonic or Aristotelian world view.
The progress myth, which grew from an Aristotelean concept of reality during the Enlightenment, has probably been the most culturally active assumption in the Western world during the last 250 years (Lewis, 1967; Livingstone, 1983). For instance, Condorcet (1793) proposed that man was moving from savagery to perfection in ten stages (Moore, 1979). Most popular ideas of that period reflect the progress myth (including Marxism, Capitalism, Fascism, and even the Wagnerian operas). In fact, this myth has been so pervasive, that most people consider it a self-evident truth. The myth strongly shaped the popular understanding of Darwin's theory, producing adulation for his "scientific proof" of progress (which he didn't try to prove), but neglect of his specific theory of biological changenatural selection. Both science (Cope, Marsh, et cetera) and religion (Drummond, Abbott, et cetera) equated evolution with progress and made this myth central to their enterprises, producing "Neo-Lamarekian science" and "classical liberal" Christianity (Moore, 1979). Such a Prime Mover version of evolution might be more accurately termed Metaphysical Evolution, since it is based on the Neoplatonic or Aristotelian world view.
Craftsman versions of Theistic Evolution would be better termed forms of Deistic Evolution, since they are based on variants of the Deistic world view.
Craftsman theorists consider evolution to be due to an extensive degree of either programmed or unprogrammed biological change. In either case, the process is considered presently to be autonomous and unguided. Goals depend upon the initial program, and progress is limited by that program's possible complexity and by the programmer's level of insight. If one assumes an omniscient God, that's a lot. On the other hand, it may all be a bit of a surprise to Him as well (potentials concept). Randomness either is a problem for the Deity's initial program, or it is an autonomous machine which he made for producing change. If the Deity wasn't too good at it, He might occasionally need to return and add other programming-i.e., the God of the Gaps. Craftsman versions of Theistic Evolution would be better termed forms of Deistic Evolution since they are based on variants of the Deistic worldview (Wilcox, 1986).
If God is perceived as a ruling King, biological evolution, in common with all other historical processes, would be a planned and directed process-from good to good-and a part of God building His kingdom. Progress would be due to God having a goal, a plan to which He calls the natural order in totally
The Divine Craftsman, is not the God of the Scriptures.
So, one can teach biological evolution and point students away from God to an autonomous material natural order or to metaphysical forces and forms. Alternatively, one can point through evolution to the Sovereign God, ruler of nature and Lord of history, who is working out His will in every "natural" event. But then again, one might also be pointing students toward or away from the Sovereign God as one teaches that evolution does not occur.
The most critical question is: Are our models of God a response to His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures, or have our biblical interpretations become functions of our a priori models of God?
Does God ever relegate His sovereignty to autonomous secondary agencies? Can the clay constrain the Potter, or does He retain the right and power to make what He wills out of it? Once God makes a species, is He stuck with it? The most critical question is: Are our models of God a response to His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures, or have our biblical interpretations become functions of our a priori models of God? Do we try to squeeze God into the Deist's box because we fear He might act in an inappropriate manner if we let Him continue to putter around with the world? But, what if He won't be squeezed? He isn't a "tame lion"!King of Nature/King of Man
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and things on earth ... all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17) ... whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:2-3) And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ ... in him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will .... (Ephesians 1:9, 11) ... Not one [sparrow] ... will fall to the ground apart from the will of your father. (Matthew 10:29)
Darwin, C. 1859. The Origin of Species. New York: Random House (reprint). Hodge, C. 1874. What is Darwinism? New York: Scribners, Armstrong and Co.
Hooykaas, R. 1972, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Hummel, C. 1986. The Galileo Connection Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,
Klaaren, E.M. 1977. Religious Origins of Modem Science. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Kuhn, T.S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lewis, C.S. 1967. "The Funeral of a Great Myth," in Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Livingstone, D.N. 1983. "Evolution as Myth and Metaphor." Christian Scholars Review. 12:111-125.Moore, J.R. 1979. The Post-Darwinian Controversies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.