Similarities and Differences
between Old-Earth Views:

Progressive Creation


Evolutionary Creation
( Theistic Evolution )

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.



The goal of this page — improved understanding and respect — seems necessary because, when we're thinking and talking about people with other views of origins, often there is too much misunderstanding and disrespect.  My view is progressive creation with a combination of continuous natural-appearing creation (guided by God) plus occasional miraculous-appearing creations, but in Theology of Evolutionary Creation I defend the rationality of a view proposing that God used only natural-appearing evolutionary creation.  Similarly, this page defends the theological and scientific rationality of evolutionary creation, but it's also a defense of progressive creation, along with encouragement (for everyone) to be more flexibly open-minded with appropriate humility, to think and speak with more understanding and respect.

In this "sampler" page — which is intended to serve a useful function in our thinking about METHODS OF CREATION — I summarize important ideas from different views of origins, showing their overlapping similarities and contrasting differences, using illustrative quotations from Terry Gray, Loren Haarsma, Keith Miller, Gordon Mills, George Murphy, Robert John Russell, Peter Rüst, and Howard Van Till, plus Dick Fischer, Stephen Jones, and Hugh Ross. (*)  It's about Origins Questions, not The Origins Answer, so you'll be disappointed if you expect it to describe (and argue for) a single coherent view.  This isn't my goal.  But I think you'll find it thought-stimulating if you read with an open mind and your goal is to understand.

An Overview-Summary
* Showing you a variety of views about science and theology, in the authors' own words, makes this “many pages in one” so it's a large page.  To help you quickly see the big picture, here is an overview of the similarities and differences in two science-and-theology views, evolutionary creation (EC) and progressive creation (PC).  It combines my assertions (in definitions, and ideas generally accepted in both views) with acknowledged opinions ("I think...").

      1. Divine Action: Natural and Miraculous
      In a theologically conservative Judeo-Christian theistic worldview based on the Bible, EC and PC agree that:  during the salvation history of humans, God works actively in two modes, usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing;  God designed natural process, created-and-sustains it, and can guide it to produce a desired natural result instead of another natural result.  Therefore, “it happened by natural process” does not mean “it happened without God,” although atheists often imply this and (unfortunately) so do some theists.
      In the formative history of nature, EC claims that God used only his natural-appearing mode of action, and some ECs think this natural process was guided by God;  PC claims that God used two modes of action, occasionally miraculous-appearing (with independent creations or creations by genetic modification) and usually natural-appearing (possibly guided).  ECs and PCs both agree that the earth & universe are old, but they disagree when we ask whether God designed the universe to be totally self-assembling by natural process.
      more — The appendix explores questions about details of divine action:  does natural-appearing guidance occur by a control of quanta and chaos, and also at other levels?  do miracles involve a “modification of existing matter-energy” and/or a “creating (or annhilating) of matter-energy”?

      In science and theology, our humility should be appropriate — not too little, not too much.  In each area, I think we can make some claims, but not others, with confidence.

      2. Can we be scientifically certain?
      I think we have scientific reasons for confidence — almost to the level of certainty — in the consensus conclusion for age-questions (and also in many areas of evolutionary science) but caution is appropriate for some design-questions;  but often both of these are reversed, and there is too much skepticism (by young-earth creationists who ask "were you there?") about the reliability of historical science for age-questions, and too little humility (by both opponents and proponents of design) for conclusions about design-questions.
      Our thinking can be more precise if we recognize that, in principle, an observed feature might have been produced by four types of design — by natural process because nature was designed so this would happen, and/or natural process that was supernaturally guided, detectable design-directed action by a supernatural agent, detectable design-directed action by a natural agent — or by natural process that was undesigned, unguided, and undirected.
      ECs and PCs agree that evidence for an old earth/universe is strong, but disagree about the status of “biocomplexity theories” proposing a totally natural origin of life and development of life.  Some possible areas for disagreement occur when we ask whether undirected natural process can produce:  minimal complexity (required for the first carbon-based life) in a pre-Darwinian chemical evolution;  irreducible complexity (if there is no selectable function until all parts are in place) and rates of change (sufficiently fast to produce observed changes) during biological evolution. 
      ECs and PCs often disagree about principles for scientific evaluation and philosophical evaluation:  How much evidence is required for a confident conclusion?  What should we “conclude” when a logical scientific evaluation, based on currently available evidence, is not conclusive? (who has the “burden of proof” or gets the “benefit of doubt”?)  And how should we estimate, and take into account, what will probably happen in the future of science?
      An EC can propose that God achieved an intelligent design of biocomplexity by divine guidance of natural process during biological evolution.  For individual events a natural-appearing guidance is, by definition, undetectable.  But in principle, could we detect natural-appearing guidance in a cumulative sequence of events by using skillful scientific detective work?  { When we ask, "In reality, have we detected divine guidance?", this is similar to the usual question about Intelligent Design and PC. }

      3. Can we be theologically certain?
      Are EC and/or PC theologically acceptable?  is either preferable?   Would our created world have “functional integrity” in EC (with total self-assembly) and also in PC (with partial self-assembly plus miracles) if this two-mode history was required in order to create an optimally functional world-in-operation?
      I think we should avoid two either-or claims:  we should not state (or imply, or allow others to imply) that “either it was a miracle or God didn't do it” or that “a claim for a miracle requires claiming God isn't involved in non-miracles,” since the Bible clearly declares that God works actively in both ways.   /   In a proposal that is related but is less important, I think the term “God of the gaps” should be avoided (or at least it should be used with more precision) because this criticism of PC is ambiguous:  some of its many potential meanings are theologically justifiable, but other meanings are not, and the intended meaning is rarely clarified.
      the question of theodicy:  Why does God, if He is powerful and loving, allow evil (both natural and moral) in the world?  This is not a major problem for deism, if God is never active in history.  But it is a problem for a theistic theology proposing “divine action that makes a difference” in salvation history.  It's a problem during formative history for theistic EC (if it proposes natural-appearing guidance) and PC (with natural guidance plus miracles) due to the suffering of many animals, allowed (and planned) by God, during long time-periods of natural selection.  Is the incarnation of God in Jesus, with his human life including crucifixion (with God participating in the results of natural and moral evil) an important part of a satisfactory theodicy-explanation?
      I think that:  a deistic view of formative history (proposing deistic evolution, which theologically is weaker than theistic evolution) is compatible with a theistic view of salvation history;  but even if nature was designed to be totally self-assembling, some natural guidance would be necessary to achieve “the goals of God” for humans;  we should avoid logical fallacies (slippery slopes, guilt by association, overgeneralizing,...) and we should use theological analogies with logic (by recognizing both similarities & differences) and caution;  regarding appropriate humility, "you and I should say in public — and believe in private, in our hearts and minds — that ‘IF God created using another method (differing from the way I think He created), then God is worthy of our praise.’  But this humility (if... then...) is compatible with also explaining why we think a particular view is most likely to be true."

TABLE OF CONTENTS for sections in this page:

1. Divine Action (natural & miraculous) in History
Theistic Action (What does God do?)   Views of Creation   Does “natural” mean “without God”?   naturalism and NATURALISM   Could unguided evolution achieve the goals of God?   Divine Guidance of Natural Process   Theistic Interpretation of Naturalistic Theories

2. Can we be scientifically certain?
Appropriate Humility in Science   Scientific Questions about Design (and Evolutions)   Recognitions of Scientific Uncertainty   Evolutionary Creation with Intelligent Design?   Can we detect natural-appearing divine guidance?   Theological Explanations for Scientific Uncertainties   Appropriate Humility in Science

3. Can we be theologically certain?
Is evolutionary creation theologically acceptable?   Does “functional integrity” require Total Self-Assembly?   “God of the gaps” and “either-or” Errors   Should we consider the possibility of formative miracles?   Using Analogy with Humility   Theodicy (Why does evil exist if God is powerful and loving?)   Sloppy Logic (Slippery Slopes, Guilty Associations, Overgeneralization)   Appropriate Humility in Theology

note:  In this page, all inside-the-page links (except the subsections above) are italicized.

Appendix  —  Divine Guidance of Natural Process (Part 2)   Progressive Creation with Common Descent (science & theology)   What should we call it? (terminology)   Cross-Based Apologetics


      1. Divine Action — Natural and Miraculous

      Theistic Action — What does God do?
      When we look at origins, our worldviews (our theories about reality; our views of the world, used for living in the world) play an important role.  In a theistic worldview, God's theistic action has two aspects: foundational and active.
      foundational theistic action:  God designed and created the universe using initial theistic action, and "keeps it going" through sustaining theistic action.
      active theistic action changes "what would have happened without the active theistic action" into what actually happens.  With natural-appearing "guiding" theistic action everything appears normal and natural because God's guidance blends smoothly with the usual workings of nature.  In miraculous-appearing theistic action an event differs from our expectations for how things usually happen.

      theism and deism:  In my web-pages, the actions of a divine God — if they occur as believed in a theistic worldview — are called divine action and also (with the same meaning) theistic action because active theistic actions distinguish theistic beliefs from deistic beliefs;  theists believe that God is "active" by doing things that influence history;  deists believe that God is "passive" after His creation of the world, doing nothing to affect the formative history of nature, or the human history of individuals or societies;  theists propose all types of divine action, but deists propose only initial divine action.

      Does "natural" mean "without God"?
In our everyday experience, natural events are just "the way things happen," and God doesn't seem necessary.  Does this common assumption mean that God actually is not involved?
      A normal-appearing "natural event" can be interpreted theistically (as being produced by God), atheistically (happening without God), or in other ways: deistic, pantheistic, animistic,... or agnostic.
      For a Judeo-Christian theist, natural does not mean "without God" because we believe that God initially designed nature, then created nature and now constantly sustains nature, and can guide nature (in a natural-appearing way that blends smoothly with the normal operation of nature) so one natural result occurs instead of another natural result.  Whether natural process is guided or unguided, the result is natural, but the cause is supernatural.
      There are epistemological limitations on what we can know.  Even though some natural-appearing events appear random to us (with random meaning we cannot predict the results), these events could be guided by God.  We cannot use observations to distinguish between natural events that are guided and unguided due to lack of a “control history” since there is no way for us to compare one history (without guiding) and another history (with guiding).
      Later, we'll return to the idea that “natural events occur without God” because this is one of two "either-or" false dichotomies.

      naturalism and NATURALISM
      Confusion is caused by the common use of "naturalism" with two meanings:  in a narrow meaning, naturalism is a claim — which is compatible with Christian theism — that "only natural process" occurred for a particular event, sequence of events, or historical period of time;  in a broad meaning, NATURALISM (or naturism) is a claim — which is not compatible with Christian theism — that "only nature exists."
      Thus, there are two major differences between methodological naturalism and atheistic philosophical naturism, although it can be useful to ask "what are the relationships between them?" and "is there a tendency for either to cause the other?"   { more about naturalism and NATURALISM }

      Views of Creation
      What theistic action was used in creation?  God may have decided to create everything by natural process (perhaps partially or totally guided), or create everything by miracles, or create some things by natural process and others by miracles.  The links-page for VIEWS OF CREATION describes "three basic creation theories, plus variations, that are compatible with a basic Judeo-Christian doctrine of theistic creation." 
      • One view is a young-earth creation in which "everything in the universe was miraculously created in a 144-hour period less than 10,000 years ago;  later, most of the earth's geology and fossil record were formed in a global flood."
      In this page we'll look at views of those who think there is abundant evidence that the earth and universe are billions of years old:
      • In one old-earth view, progressive creation, "at various times during a long history of nature (spanning billions of years) God used miraculous-appearing action to create.  There are two kinds of progressive creation:  one proposes independent creations ‘from scratch’ so a new species would not necessarily have any relationships with previously existing species;  another proposes creations by modification of genetic material (by changing, adding, or deleting) for some members (or all members) of an existing species.  Each of these theories proposes a history with natural-appearing evolutionary creation plus miraculous-appearing creations (independent or by modification) that occur progressively through time."   { Compared with independent-PC, I think modification-PC has strong scientific support and (when we examine biblical miracles) also theological support, as explained in the appendix. }
      • In another old-earth view, evolutionary creation (also called theistic evolution), natural evolution was God's method of creation, with the universe designed so physical structures (galaxies, stars, planets) and complex biological organisms (bacteria, fish, dinosaurs, humans) would naturally evolve.  /  This view is described by Howard Van Till, who thinks "the creation was gifted from the outset with functional integrity — a wholeness of being that eliminated the need for gap-bridging interventions to compensate for formational capabilities that the Creator may have initially withheld from it" so it is "accurately described by the Robust Formational Economy Principle — an affirmation that the creation was fully equipped by God with all of the resources, potentialities, and formational capabilities that would be needed for the creaturely system to actualize every type of physical structure and every form of living organism that has appeared in the course of time."

The rest of this section looks at theistic guidance in theistic evolution.

      Could unguided evolution achieve the goals of God?
To be theologically satisfactory, a process of evolutionary creation would have to be functionally sufficient (to produce complex physical and biological structures) and also theologically sufficient (to achieve the goals of God).  We should ask:  1) How precisely defined were the goals for creation?  Did God want to create exactly what occurred in nature's history, or would something slightly different, or very different, have been satisfactory?   2) How reproducible is unguided evolutionary history?  If the history of natural evolution was allowed to "run freely with unguided natural process" a hundred times, would the outcomes be divergent (with widely varying results) or convergent (with similar results)?
      Even if evolutionary history was more convergent than most scientists think, some guidance seems necessary to achieve the goals of God, unless these goals — which only God knows (we can just make biblically educated speculations) — were extremely flexible.  This guidance, which would produce a desired natural result, would be especially useful in creating humans with the characteristics (physical, mental, emotional, ethical, spiritual) and environment (planetary, ecological,...) desired by God.   { A guiding of natural process can also be proposed for progressive creation, since it combines "natural-appearing evolutionary creation plus miraculous-appearing creations." }

      What is theistic about theistic evolution?
      In what ways does theistic evolution (with God actively involved in evolutionary creation) differ from deistic evolution (with God setting nature in motion and then just "letting it run")?  What kinds of theistic action (TA) did God use during creation?  Were the creative actions of God restricted to foundational TA (with initial-TA determining the characteristics of nature, and sustaining-TA letting nature continue) that allows history, or did God's actions also include active TA (either guiding-TA or miraculous-TA) that makes a difference in history?  Evolutionary creationists think miraculous-appearing TA was not needed, and was not used, but what types and amounts of active guidance do they propose?

      Divine Guidance of Natural Process (in evolutionary creation)
The following ideas about natural process and theology are from an excellent multi-author book, Perspectives on an Evolving Creation.
      The book's editor, Keith Miller, says: "The Bible describes a God who is sovereign over all natural events, even those we attribute to chance such as the casting of lots or tomorrow's weather.  This perspective has been placed into a modern scientific context by some theologians who see God's action exercised through determining the indeterminacies of natural processes.  God is thus seen as affecting events both at the quantum level and at the level of large chaotic systems.  Regardless of how one understands the manner in which God exercises sovereignty over natural process, chance events certainly pose no theological barrier to God's action in and through the evolutionary process."   And in other chapters:
      Terry Gray, who "comes from a fairly conservative Calvinistic theological perspective," says, "I believe that Scripture teaches that God is absolutely sovereign over all his creation.  Whatever comes to pass was ordained by him. ...  Thus all of the events envisioned by an evolutionist are under God's oversight (as are all events).  This includes random events such as mutations, chance encounters of particular genomes, recombination events, mating events in populations, which sperm actually fertilizes a given egg, and so forth.  From a human perspective these are all random events.  From God's perspective, exactly what he ordained to occur occurs. ...  God is as much in control of the outcome of the process as he is if he had zapped things into existence without any process.  Obviously, this is not the random, undirected evolution of atheistic naturalists."
      Loren Haarsma: "The Bible proclaims that God is equally sovereign over all events, ordinary or extraordinary, natural or supernatural. ...  If something happens “naturally,” God is still in charge. ...  It is incorrect to say that natural laws “govern.”  God governs. ...  God can supersede the ordinary functioning of natural laws [that he designed and created] any time he chooses, but most of the time God chooses to work in consistent ways through those natural laws. ...  The Bible teaches that God can precisely select the outcome of events that appear random to us.  It is also possible that God gives his creation some freedom, through random processes, to explore the wide range of potentials he has given it.  Either way, randomness within natural processes is not the absence of God.  Rather, it is another vehicle for God's creativity and governance."   { Later, there is more from Haarsma and Russell about divine control of quanta and chaos. }
      Robert John Russell "starts with theistic evolution and attempts to press the case for divine action further.  Along with creation and general providence (or continuous creation), can we also think of God as acting with specific intentions in particular events? ...  God does not act by violating or suspending the stream of natural processes or the laws of nature but by acting within them. ...  Indeed these laws and processes are open to God's action because God made them that way. ...  Quantum processes, created by God, provide the ontological openness for God's action. ...  The laws that science discovers, at least at [the quantum] level, would suggest that nature at that level is open: there are what could be called “natural gaps” in the causal regularities of nature that are simply part of the way nature is constituted. ...  We can view nature theologically as genuinely open to objective special providence. ...  Not only is God's action here to be understood in terms of general providence, God's providing evolution as a whole with an overall goal and purpose, but it is also understood in terms of special providence, God's special action having specific and objective consequences for evolution.  These consequences would not otherwise have occurred within God's general providence alone, and they can be recognized as due to God's action only through faith.

      Theistic Interpretation of Naturalistic Theories
      Theologically, theistic evolution is a theory of divine creation.
      Scientifically, theistic evolution agrees with conventional neo-Darwinian evolution, which ignores the possibility of divine guidance.
      The main difference between theistic evolution and atheistic evolution is their nonscientific interpretation of scientific theories.  A nonscientific atheistic interpretation claims that the process of biological evolution was not designed by God, not guided by God, and used matter not created by God.  {an example: the "unsupervised evolution" of a prominent educational organization, NABT, in 1997}   But a nonscientific theistic interpretation can disagree with these atheistic claims by proposing that an evolutionary process was designed by God, guided by God, and used matter created by God.  Terry Gray says, about his theistic view of evolution, "obviously this is not the random, undirected evolution of atheistic naturalists."

      2. Can we be scientifically certain?

      Appropriate Humility in Science
In science, our humility should be appropriate — not too little, not too much.
      One extreme is "too little," which is typical for questions about design.  We'll look at this later.
      The other extreme is "too much," when we ask questions about age.  Advocates of young-earth creation often criticize the conclusions of all historical sciences by asking, "Were you there? Did you see it?", and implying that "NO" means "then you can't know much about it."  In a three-page series I ask "Can historical science produce reliable conclusions?" and answer "yes, historical science is empirical, is scientific, and it can reliably produce correct conclusions."
      But will it produce conclusions that are true?  I'm cautious about generalizing: "We should avoid asking a general question — Does historical science reliably produce true conclusions? — and instead we should ask specific questions about particular historical situations and claims. ...  We should carefully examine the evidence-and-logic for a particular situation, and try to determine the scientifically justifiable level of confidence in the reliability (and truth-plausibility) of a particular claim about that situation. ...  Sometimes the limitations of historical data provide a reason for caution about conclusions.  Sometimes, however, we have reasons to be confident about conclusions. ...  Most scholars, including myself and other members of ASA, think the essential foundation of historical science — the logical evaluation of evidence — provides a reliable way to learn about the fascinating world created by God."
      As an example of not overgeneralizing, of "asking specific questions about particular historical situations and claims," we should have more confidence in our current scientific conclusions about age-questions, compared with design-questions.  In a page asking "Is old-earth progressive creation logically inconsistent?", I explain that my view is logically consistent "even though progressive creation accepts the current scientific consensus in one area (for questions about age) but rejects it in another area (for questions about design).  Why?  Because in a comparison of the two areas, age and design, we find major differences in four areas: ...  The most important difference between consensus theories about age and design is the scientific evidence.  For age-questions, there is overwhelming scientific evidence [from many fields of science] for an old universe.  But for design-questions, there are scientific reasons to question whether undirected natural process was sufficient to produce the first life and all complex life."  Basically, I think there are reasons for confidence — almost to the level of certainty — in the consensus conclusion for age-questions (and also in many areas of evolutionary science), but caution is appropriate for some design-questions.

      Scientific Questions about Design (and Evolutions)
What is intelligent design?  There are Four Types of Design since a designed feature could be produced by:  A0) natural process because, before history began (at time = 0), the universe was cleverly designed so this would happen, and/or  A1) natural process that, during history, was supernaturally guided in an undetectable natural-appearing way, or  B) empirically detectable design-directed action during history, by a supernatural agent (B1) or natural agent (B2), with design-action being necessary because undirected natural process would not produce the feature.  Usually, claims for Intelligent Design (ID) are for B, for detectable design-action during history.  I think that many advocates on both sides, both pro-ID and anti-ID, have unwarranted confidence in the certainty of their claims either for or against the occurrence of design-action during the history of nature.
      For biological evolution, I think it's justifiable to ask two design-questions: "For each of the many steps in a macro-evolutionary scenario, how many mutations and how much selection would be required, how long would this take, and how probable is it?  Could a step-by-step process of evolution produce systems that have irreducible complexity (because all parts seem necessary for performing the system's function) since there would be no function to “select for” until all parts are present?"
      And for a chemical evolution of the first carbon-based life (*) we can ask, "Could a nonliving system naturally achieve the minimal complexity required to replicate itself and thus become capable of changing, in successive generations, by neo-Darwinian evolution?"  For the past five decades, have scientists been learning that what is required for life seems much greater than what is possible by natural process?   {* This pre-biological "evolution of chemicals" is separate from neo-Darwinian biological evolution, which simply assumes the existence of an organism that could reproduce, and doesn't try to explain how the first living organism became alive. }

      The questions above are from Logical Principles for Evaluating Evolutions where I explain why a proposal for creations by genetic modification (instead of independent creations) increases the credibility of critical questions: "A full common descent is only one component of naturalistic evolution, which could be false even if common descent was true... because a discontinuity in descent is only one of several possible ways that evolution might be false. ...  Logical scientific evaluation provides support for the plausibility of a full common descent, so arguing against descent is counter-productive (in building a case for design) because this will focus attention on aspects of biology where the evidence is consistent with neo-Darwinian theory, and will distract attention from important questions — about rates of change, irreducible complexity,... — where evidence indicates that a theory of 100%-Natural Total Macro-E may be incorrect."
      Stephen Jones, who also proposes a progressive creation by genetic modification, says: "I have myself found from a decade of debating evolutionists, that what really rattles them is a creationist like me who accepts common ancestry (the strongest part of their position), and challenges that it was always and everywhere a fully naturalistic mechanism (the weakest part of their position)."

      Later in this section Peter Rüst questions the plausibility of unguided biological evolution, which he thinks would be, "for lack of time, unsuccessful in mere random-walk trials; ... random mutations, followed by natural selection, cannot produce all biological functions and an entire biosphere [due to] the huge size of the possibility space; ... specific direction is required. (2001)" and he thinks we are scientifically justified in asking questions about two evolutions, chemical and biological: "In two respects, it is still unknown whether the known mechanisms of evolution are adequate:  First, the origin of life...  Second, the evolutionary emergence of novel functions... (2005)"
      In a series of papers in the ASA journal, Gordon Mills explains why he thinks "the origin of new genetic information is the major unanswered question of a naturalistic theory [of evolution]" so he is proposing that "in the history of the origin and development of living organisms, at various levels of organization, there has been a continuing provision of new genetic information by an intelligent cause. (1995)"  Mills also describes the focused questions of Michael Behe, about some biological systems but not others: "Behe's view is really three-tiered: (1) Those structures or processes that show clear evidence of design; (2) those structures or processes where the evidence is insufficient to make a statement; and (3) those that may be explained by chance events. (2001)"

      But most scientists think neo-Darwinian evolution was sufficient to produce everything that happened in formative history.  In Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Terry Gray and Loren Haarsma, who propose a divine guiding of natural process, wrote chapters about "Biochemistry and Evolution" (Gray) and "Complexity, Self-Organization, and Design" (Haarsma & Gray) describing the scientific evidence-and-logic leading them to think God designed nature so all biological evolution could occur by natural process.  In their shared chapter, they explain how "we know several evolutionary mechanisms that increase the size of a cell's genome (e.g., gene duplication, horizontal transfer, polyploidy, endosymbiont capture).  Combined with natural selection, this allows information transfer from the environment to the cell's genome.  In addition, the genomes of living organisms display redundancy and multitasking, allowing for the evolution of novelty and interlocking complexity."  I.O.U. — Scientific questions about evolution will be carefully examined in EVALUATIONS OF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION which will have more content by the beginning of March 2009. }

      Recognitions of Scientific Uncertainty
Above, Haarsma & Gray say "we know..." but they recognize the limitations of current knowledge: "Only within the last few years have biologists mapped out the entire genetic sequence of a handful of species.  Within a few more decades, we will probably map the genetic sequences of many species.  Even then, we will have only begun the work of understanding the capabilities and limits of evolution.  In order to know whether or not some complex piece of biological machinery could have evolved, we must know each species' genetic sequences, but also understand in great detail how gene products interact with each other in living cells."  Regarding questions about a natural origin of life and its evolutionary development, they think that "as biologists learn more, they might eventually discover that for some systems... there are no plausible evolutionary scenarios... [or] they might come to the opposite conclusions," so currently "the jury is still out."  But they explain why "it seems most promising — both scientifically and theologically — to study biological complexity expecting to find more evidence that God designed into it the ability to self-organize."  {more excerpts from their chapter}
      Other scientists also recognize the limits of current science.  Gordon Mills thinks "there has been a continuing provision of new genetic information by an intelligent cause" but he does not claim scientific certainty: "In some cases, the jumps necessary to bridge gaps in phylogenetic relationships might be brought about by relatively small changes in chromosomal DNA, particularly with changes in developmental genes.  Unless one can make probability estimates for the possibility of these changes, it may be nearly impossible to know which changes were a consequence of chance mutations and which were due to modifications by a designer. (2002-PSCF)"   /   I agree.  In my page asking "Can a theory of evolution be scientific?", I acknowledge the limitations of historical data: "Could we distinguish between natural punctuated equilibrium evolution and progressive creations by genetic modification?  Maybe.  It would be easy with detailed data, such as lab reports (for physiology, structure, genome-DNA,...) for all organisms during a period of change.  But with the data we actually have now, it is much more difficult."


      Evolutionary Creation with Intelligent Design?
      Was a divine guiding of natural process necessary to produce biological systems that could not occur, in the available time, without guidance?
      Peter Rüst proposes that "both theological and scientific indications point to a continuous, active, but usually hidden involvement of the Creator in all that happens. (2001) ...  Whereas Van Till opts for a concentration of the provision of all that is necessary for the entire historical development of the creation at its very beginning, I prefer to view it as distributed over time.  While it may be difficult to distinguish these two options based on biblical evidence, I believe the weight of scientific evidence is on the side of a distributed gifting.  In particular, the [large amount of] information required to specify functional biological structures and organisms appears to be neither storable in a prebiotic universe nor capable of spontaneously emerging. (2002)"
      He describes a problem: "The reason why random mutations, followed by natural selection, cannot produce all biological functions and an entire biosphere is the huge size of the possibility space;... specific direction is required" because a process of unguided evolution would be, "for lack of time, unsuccessful in mere random-walk trials. (2001)"
      And he proposes a solution: "For instance, the spontaneous occurrence of a specific combination of mutations required for the emergence of a certain enyzme activity may, in context, be transastronomically improbable.  Even so, we can never prove it impossible, as the tails of the Gaussian probability distribution extend to infinity.  Yet God may have chosen to actively decree it to occur.  Such “hidden options” do not represent acts of “special creation” in the sense of exceptions to any natural law.  Rather, they are specific acts of selection among distributions of many different naturally possible values for stochastic variables.  The only thing that is “supernatural” about them is the fact that selecting specific events means feeding information into the system.  The physical system does not display any lack of functional integrity, but it needs information, just as a fully functional computer requires software, data, and input events to do any useful work. (2001)"
      But he is cautious in making his claims, especially in 2005 (in PSCF, not yet available on the web) when he asks, "How can novel molecular sequences of minimal functionality originate spontaneously out of ones completely lacking the function under consideration?  Are they accessible through mutational random walks in the huge sequence space?  Theoretically, sufficient density and contiguity, in sequence space, of every functional specificity required might solve the problem.  But whether this situation really applies is unknown and, according to presently available data, questionable."  Later in the paper, at the beginning and end of his section on The Mechanism of Evolution: "The highly random character of the basic evolutionary mechanism makes spontaneous, unguided evolution very slow and inefficient.  On the other hand, the biosphere is extremely complex and efficient.  This suggests some guidance of quantum and other random events. ...  Thus, the Darwinian mechanism of random mutation and natural selection is extremely inefficient and slow, even for just improving already existing functionalities.  In accordance with this estimate, most of the new genes are apparently derived from pre-existing ones by means of minor modifications or domain shuffling by genetic recombination.  It is still very much an open question how really novel domains and functionalities arise.  Does this require some guidance — by divine hidden options?"  And earlier, in 1992, he acknowledged "the inevitable uncertainty of the parameters" when making estimates of evolutionary probabilities.

      How should we categorize the views of Rüst?  He accepts evolutionary common descent (but so do some progressive creationists) and he proposes "only natural-appearing divine action" with an "active but usually hidden involvement of the Creator" in a guiding of natural process that is similar to the views of Robert John Russell and other evolutionary creationists.  But there is a difference.
      If I'm reading Russell and Rüst correctly, Russell thinks natural process can produce all of the biocomplexity increase (and associated increase of information) that is observed in the history of evolution, and guidance is only needed to produce the specific natural results (including humans and our environment) desired by God;  Rüst thinks unguided natural process probably could not produce all observed biocomplexity (and information) so design-directed action probably was required.  Similar to a progressive creationist, Rüst questions the sufficiency of unguided natural evolution due to "the insufficiency of natural information sources" for producing the large amount of "information required to specify functional biological structures and organisms."  He thinks the problem is slow pacing, with an unguided evolution taking too long to find the genetic combinations needed to produce new biological features — for example, by forming functional proteins and then combining these proteins (and maybe other components) into functional systems — so God "speeds up" the process by supplying the genetic information that is needed to produce a new feature more quickly.  He thinks there is a need for inflow of genetic information, similar to Intelligent Design claims for detectable design-directed action in history.
      But he is cautiously asking questions — "whether this situation [with ‘density and contiguity’ sufficient to produce novel functional proteins in the time available without guidance] really applies is unknown and, according to presently available data, questionable" — instead of confidently making bold claims.  And the guidance proposed by Rüst "does not represent acts of “special creation” in the sense of exceptions to any natural law."  He thinks the Creator's involvement in the creation process was "hidden" (but apparently it is not entirely invisible, if clues can be found with skillful detective work using the tools of modern science) and was probably necessary. 

      Can we detect natural-appearing divine guidance?
      Maybe.  Why?  Because when we look at collections of events the distinction between natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing can be fuzzy, with appearance varying along a continuum.  For example, if you pick the winning number on a roulette wheel once, most people will think you're just lucky.  But if you win 8 times in a row, with the odds more than a trillion-to-one against you, almost everyone will become suspicious and will propose that what they're observing is more than just undirected natural process.  At what point will they propose a basic design theory claiming "there was design-directed action"?  After two wins? four? eight? twenty?  This will vary from one proposer to another.
      But even after 20 spins and wins, if each spin appears natural — if it seems to operate according to the normal principles of gravity, inertia, collisions, and friction — has anything occurred that appears obviously miraculous?  Each individual event (each spin) seems to occur by undirected natural process, but the overall event (the cumulative process of 20 spins) does not seem to be undirected natural process, so how should we describe what we observe?  Is it natural-appearing, or miraculous-appearing, or...?
      As suggested by Rüst, we should think about what happens and also how long it takes.  Imagine that a fan of Michael Jordan (or LeBron James) wants to bet on #23 and win 20 times.  How long will this take?  If the wins don't have to be consecutive, in 5 hours of play (assuming 3 spins per minute) each of the 38 slots in an american roulette wheel, including #23, will get the ball 24 times, so 20 wins is a reasonable goal.  But winning 20 consecutive spins is almost impossible, and it would probably take 1025 years, more than a trillion times the lifetime of our universe.   /   To achieve a more reasonable goal — 8 consecutive wins, with odds of "1 in 4 trillion" for success in a single series of spins — might require a million years.  But if the rate of play was increased from 3 spins per minute to a billion per second, it might take only an hour.
      Thus, we see that probabilistic plausibility depends on many factors, including the goal, time per trial, and available time.  At 3 spins per minute, for example, getting more than 8 wins in 5 hours is highly probable, but in 5 minutes it's almost impossible with only unguided natural process, without some type of design-directed action.
      Applications of probability in biology can be difficult.  When scientists try to estimate probabilities for natural evolution, as in forming the first life or a particular feature of complex life, they often disagree about the best values to use for biological parameters that are analogous to the "goal, time per trial, and available time" for roulette.

      Earlier, I describe four types of design (by a design of natural process, undetectable supernatural guiding of natural process, and detectable design-directed action by a natural agent or supernatural agent) and scientific humility — for some questions, Haarsma & Gray say "the jury is still out," and Mills thinks "it may be nearly impossible to know."  And if "the distinction between natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing can be fuzzy," as in the examples above, it may be even more difficult to distinguish between what is and isn't detectable.  Here are some related ideas from my page asking whether we can find scientific support for or against a theory of intelligent design:
      A directing of natural process can be detected, in principle and usually in practice, IF the observational data is adequate and our logic is skillful.  But for various reasons, sometimes an agent wants design-action to be undetectable, as with the design-directed action of an illusionist (entertainment magician) who "directs" things in a way that is difficult to detect, or a criminal, plastic surgeon, or in the special effects of a movie-maker, or when God "guides" natural process. ...
      Perhaps [as proposed by Rüst] some biological complexity was created when God combined many individually undetectable "guided natural events" to produce a desired-and-designed overall result that can be scientifically detected — if the data is adequate and is skillfully analyzed — when we observe an increase of genetic information (and biological complexity) that could not be produced, with a reasonable probability, by undirected natural process.  If this occurred, would we categorize the design-action as A1 (undetectable) or B1 (detectable)?
      This type of doubt — when we wonder "is it detectable? have we detected it?" — is one reason, among others (including uncertainties about what will happen in the future of science), that scientists cannot prove design or non-design.


      Theological Explanations for Scientific Uncertainties
      Peter Rüst recognizes the limits of science, and provides a theological reason for scientific humility: "There are serious scientific arguments against evolution.  They basically boil down to the insufficiency of natural information sources.  However, they only apply in an atheistic... framework of axioms [in which there is no possibility for divine guidance of natural process to provide the necessary information for evolution, for God to ‘actively decree it to occur’ despite its low probability].  In nature, there is a tremendous amount of evidence for God's marvelous activity, but none of it is of the kind of a mathematical proof.  Probability estimates yield remarkable results, but the inevitable uncertainty of the parameters required leaves a loophole to those who do not choose to believe.  God wants to be loved out of a free decision, rather than a forced one. ...  God has created human beings as persons, and he respects this dignity he has chosen to give them.  He uses loving moral persuasion and leaves them the freedom of choice.  It appears that, in order to guard human freedom, evidence for creation has to be hidden in logical ambiguity.  God has thrown the veil of stochastics over his footsteps.  In this life, we “walk by faith, not by sight.” (1992)"  And in 2001, "For theological reasons, I believe that God “hides his footsteps” in creation to protect the personal freedom he has chosen to give us so that we can make a faith decision for or against him.  His footsteps in creation are plain, but only to those who choose to believe; to others, their evidence is ambiguous."
Most proponents of evolutionary creation will agree with Rüst, and so do I ask Is there proof? Why isn't God more obvious? and "Why is there evidence... that might lead some rational people to propose ‘atheistic evolution’ as an explanation?  Perhaps the universe was designed so all creation would occur by natural process.  Or maybe ‘miracles in formative history’ would be accepted by scientists if their theories were not being constructed in a community biased by its [methodological naturalism] assumption that everything has occurred by natural process.  Or maybe a “veiling of miracles” during the creation process is one aspect of a state of uncertainty intended by God, who seems to prefer a balance of evidence, with enough logical reasons to either believe or disbelieve, so a person's heart and will can make the decision.  Each person can use evidence (historical, personal, and scientific) to estimate the plausibility of various worldviews, but there is no logically rigorous proof for any worldview.  Therefore, we have freedom to choose what we really want, and an opportunity to develop the “living by faith” character that is highly valued by God, with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all thoughts and actions in daily living."  On the other hand, God does miracles throughout the Bible, and there are other attention-grabbers, such as angels that become visible and audible.  And if "a universe with optimal operation cannot also be totally self-assembling" due to a tension between operation and assembly, we might be able to scientifically detect a gap in the self-assembly.

      Appropriate Humility in Science
      In the first part of the "appropriate humility" bookends for Section 2, I describe two extremes of humility, with too much for age-questions (by young-earth creationists) and too little for design-questions (by both opponents and proponents of design).  These claims are based on my differing evaluations for the two areas: "I think there are reasons for confidence — almost to the level of certainty — in the consensus conclusion for age-questions (and also in many areas of evolutionary science), but caution is appropriate for some design-questions."  But other scientists disagree.
      Our disagreements could be due to differences in our scientific evaluations and/or philosophical evaluations, as explained in the final part of my page asking, Can we scientifically evaluate theories of design? ,
      "An important aspect of philosophical evaluation is deciding what to conclude (or whether to conclude) when a logical scientific evaluation, based on currently available evidence, is not conclusive."  After some discussion — with analogies about baseball umpires and courtroom juries, in strategies for defending evolutionary paradigms by assigning "the burden of proof" to design and "the benefit of doubt" to non-design — I ask if "instead of ‘declaring a winner’ can we just say ‘we're not sure at this time’ and continue searching, with this humble open-minded attitude, in our efforts to learn more?"  And I propose that when we ask questions about the origin of some features (such as the first life, or certain aspects of biocomplexity), scientific humility is appropriate: "It seems rational to adopt different levels of status for different claims about design.  Instead of deciding that we must make a binary choice (either yes or no), we can decide that five claims for ‘design-directed action’ in the origin of a particular feature — with claims ranging from bold to humble, [from ‘design is almost certain’ to ‘design is plausible enough to be seriously considered as a possibility’] — should be judged to have progressively increasing levels of scientific status."

      Appropriate humility is also a worthy goal in theology.

3. Can we be theologically certain?

      Is evolutionary creation theologically acceptable?
Currently, many evangelical Christians seem to think "theistic evolution" is a logical contradiction because evolution is inherently atheistic, so evolutionary creation is not compatible with Christianity.  I disagree because, as Keith Miller explains,
      "There is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and a Christian faith with a high view of scripture. ... Christian theologians (including evangelicals) have long recognized that a faithful reading of Scripture does not demand a young Earth nor does it prohibit God's use of evolutionary mechanisms to accomplish His creative will. ...  God is intimately and actively involved in what we perceive as ‘natural’ or ‘law-governed’ processes.  I thus see no distinction between God's activity in ‘natural’ and ‘miraculous’ events.  If one accepts this theological view, which I believe is thoroughly orthodox, then a completely seamless evolutionary history of life would be entirely acceptable theologically.  In other words, such a scientific description would not violate one's understanding of the nature and character of God."  (source)
      Peter Rüst agrees with Miller and me: "If the biblical evidence is critically examined, the [typical] case against evolution is rather weak. ...  Some traditional interpretations of the biblical texts have definitely mislead many.  Of course, this has not been a problem as far as any central tenets of the Christian faith are concerned.  These are clarified abundantly throughout the Bible.  It is obvious that God is proclaimed as the Creator, but his creational procedures are not so obvious — they are spiritual non-essentials. (1992)"
In fact, evolutionary creationists claim theological support for their views, as you'll see below.

      Does "functional integrity" require Total Self-Assembly, or just Optimal Operation?
      Howard Van Till says, "I believe that the universe exists now only because its Creator has given it being and continues to sustain it in being from moment to moment. ...  Each of its resources, potentialities, and capabilities can be celebrated as a gift of being that is indicative of the character and intentions of the Creator,... indicative of both the Creator's creativity (in the action of conceptualizing something that would accomplish the Creator's intentions) and the Creator's generosity (in the act of giving such integrity and fullness of being as this robustly gifted universe appears to possess). ...  The more robust the universe's formational economy is, the more the universe owes to its Creator for the richness of its being.  In the context of this consideration I find it especially ironic when Christian opponents to evolution appear to argue the contrary position: the less robust the universe's formational economy, the more it needs a Creator or Designer.  In other words, their claim is that the chief evidence of a Creator or Designer is the presence of gaps in the universe's formational economy.  Elsewhere, I have characterized this strategy as “the celebration of gifts withheld.” ...  I think the Creator is better known by what the Creation can do rather than by what it cannot.  That's the Generously Gifted Creation Perspective.  (from Perspectives on an Evolving Creation)"
      Van Till's carefully constructed theology of creation is worthy of careful consideration, but is it too rigid?  If the universe was designed to assemble itself by natural process, this would be impressive (and glorifying for God) since it requires a very clever design. (*)   But miracles are also impressive (and glorifying) and they eliminate a need for total self-assembly.   /   Is a natural total self-assembly possible?  Maybe not.  There might be an inherent tension between operation and assembly, and perhaps a universe with optimal operation cannot also be totally self-assembling.  To illustrate this possibility, Walter Bradley asks whether a car designed to change its own spark plugs would be a good design, or if this unnecessary requirement would hinder the car's effectiveness in other ways that are more important.   { Is the term functional integrity being defined too narrowly?  If God designed our world to be partially self-assembling, then it does have functional integrity if this term is humbly defined as "functioning with optimal operation, exactly as God intended." }
      * Our world is partially (and perhaps totally) self-assembling, and in its mode of natural operation it is "just right" for life.  Should we be impressed?  If you're wondering, you can read about this in Fine Tuning: Divine Design and/or Multiverse?

      Peter Rüst explains that the "hidden actions" he proposes "are not gaps in God's initial plan, but from the beginning a part of what he presumably intended to do at the appropriate time. ...  They are not gaps in “creation's economy” as all materials and their properties were fully in place and well equipped to proceed anywhere in development, just sometimes in need of the specific direction required (being, for lack of time, unsuccessful in mere random-walk trials). ...  Van Till seems to suggest that it would detract from God's honor to admit that he created something in an unfinished or imperfect state.  In a similar vein, believers in a young Earth maintain that everything that God created must have been perfect immediately, originating in sudden fiat creations out of nothing, as anything else would deny the absoluteness of his wisdom and power. (2001)"  /  "A fully sovereign God can certainly have as intimate a relationship with his creation as he sees fit, but without binding himself to arbitrary principles like “never act intrusively.” ...  There is no reason to believe a “functional-integrity” mode of creation to be more suitable or worthy for God than one using a continuous intimate but sovereign relationship using insertions of information during an evolving creation which didn't start out “all set” at the big bang.  Why should anything be “lacking” in a creation God decided to perform not all at once?  The “perfect-all-at-once” misconception is one of the basic errors of young earth creationism. (2002)"
Gordon Mills: "Is not Van Till limiting God's omnipotence by insisting that he should implant all of these ‘resident capacities’ at the time of creation?  Surely, a Creator could have chosen to provide capacities for organismal development on a continuing time basis if he so willed.  Is it not possible (and I believe theologically sound) to believe that the Creator chose not to place capacities for organismal development in atoms and molecules. ...  I also wonder if it is not God's province rather than man's intuition to decide whether such a world [if this is how God designed and created it] would be [as claimed by Van Till] developmentally incomplete [with gaps and deficiencies]. (1995)"

      “God of the gaps and Two either-or Errors
Howard Van Till expresses a God of the gaps concern: "By placing emphasis on the need for occasional interventions, it might appear that God's creative action is needed only occasionally.  The doctrine of God's occasional action too easily degenerates into a doctrine of God's usual inaction."
      Gordon Mills proposes action by God — "in the history of the origin and development of living organisms, at various levels of organization, there has been a continuing provision of new genetic information by an intelligent cause; for a theist, that intelligent cause is God" — but he doesn't think this is the only thing God does.  Mills feels it is necessary to defend his claim (this shouldn't be necessary, but he has heard the "God of the gaps" criticisms) so he clarifies: "When one speaks of a Creator as having a continuing involvement in creation, not only in providing infusions of genetic information, but also as author, sustainer, and finisher of all natural processes, then surely any charge of a “God of the gaps” theology is avoided. (1995)"  In a related clarification, he says: "Behe's position is very similar to that of my own, and though I have presented evidence, as has Behe, that certain processes were designed, I have tried to avoid stating that other processes were not designed.  In fact, I have emphasized the traditional Christian statement: “that God is the Author, Sustainer and Finisher of all natural processes.”"
      I think we should abandon the term "God of the gaps" because it is imprecise, with too many potential meanings.  Of course, claiming "God acts only in nature-gaps" is bad theology (so Mills explains why he is not proposing this), but a claim that "God sometimes acts in gaps" (or "gap-action is possible") is incorrect only if "God never acts in gaps" (or "gap-action is impossible").  Sometimes evolutionary creationists imply that any proposal for "miracles in formative history" is a denial of God's action in natural process, as if — in order to avoid faulty "only in the gaps" theology — a Christian must make an either-or choice between natural-appearing action and miraculous-appearing action, instead of affirming (as we should) that God can use both modes of divine action.  And when there is a specific claim that "in this historical situation a gap did occur (or did not occur)" we should have a respectful discussion about the scientific and theological merits of this specific claim.

      not either-or, and not either-or:  We should avoid two false dichotomies.  First, we should not imply — and we should gently but firmly disagree when others imply — that "natural" means "without God," that "if it isn't a miracle then God didn't do it," that if something happens by natural process this "counts against God" in our worldview-thinking about divine action.  Second, we should not imply that if someone claims God can (or did or does) work through miracles, in formative history or salvation history, they are denying God's activities in natural-appearing situations.  Both of these demands — claiming that you must make a choice because "either it's a divine miracle or it's divine inaction," or "the actions of God are either always-natural or never-natural" — are false dichotomies, because the Bible clearly declares that God works in BOTH ways, usually through natural process and occasionally through miracles.
      either-or dichotomies are useful for atheists in "a clever ‘heads we win, tails you lose’ argument — if there are no nature-gaps then it all happens without God, but it's wrong to claim a nature-gap" — in which they use the either-or claims made by opponents and proponents of evolutionary creation, respectively.  Christians can respond by rejecting either atheistic argument (heads or tails) but — considering our uncertainties in both science and theology — it seems wiser to reject both. 
      For a wider range of thoughts about this mini-section, including details of the "heads-or-tails" arguments by atheists, you can read what various authors say about GOD OF THE GAPS.

      Should we consider the possibility of formative miracles?
John Robert Russell describes a goal: "Along with creation and general providence (or continuous creation), can we also think of God as acting with specific intentions in particular events... when the scene is nature and not just God's special action, or ‘mighty works,’ in personal life and history?  And can we do so without being forced to argue that God's special action constitutes an intervention into these processes and a violation of the laws of nature that God has established and that he maintains? ...  We can view nature theologically as genuinely open to objective special providence without being forced into interventionism. ...  We should avoid an interventionist argument as far as possible;  obvious exceptions arise in the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. ...  My concern here for a noninterventionist approach is not meant to disparage interventionism per se but to avoid its unnecessary application in the context of evolution. (PEC)"
      I like Russell's approach, but do we really know what is "unnecessary" in our search for truth about the history of nature?  It doesn't seem wise to eliminate miraculous-appearing "interventions" from consideration, if our search is guided by a traditional Judeo-Christian theology which affirms that God is able and willing to do miracles.  A central question for theology-and-science is whether nature was totally self-assembling or mostly self-assembling (either way it's a very clever design!), whether the history of nature has been 100% natural (not just 99.9999...% natural) and thus whether the .00...01% might have occurred, or actually did occur.  And even if we are trying to evaluate objectively, we should recognize that "in our search for truth, when we ask ‘Is the universe self-assembling?’ we are influenced by differences in personal preference, which occur for reasons that are scientific, theological, philosophical, emotional, and aesthetic.  Some people want the universe to be self-assembling because they feel that God would not ‘interfere with the laws of nature he designed,’ while others prefer a process that includes miracles.  Both preferences seem compatible with what is taught in the Bible. (from my Theology of Theistic Evolution)"  Therefore, some humility is appropriate when we're evaluating a theology and are trying to understand the blending of preferences (that are personal) and principles (that are clearly taught in the Bible).

      Using Analogy with Humility, with Logic and Caution
George Murphy explains a theology of creation based on the character of God: "Christ's ‘emptying’ and ‘humbling’ of self... reveals the divine character. ...  If the cross does indeed reveal the character of God's own self, then we will expect to see a similar emptying, a similar self-limitation of God, in all divine activity, including the creation and preservation of the universe.  Creation, redemption, and sanctification are different works, but they are all actions of the one God, the Trinity, who is revealed in the resurrection of the crucified. ...  We should not expect to get a unique theory of divine action in a deductive fashion from the theology of the crucified as sketched in the previous section.  But if we look at ideas about divine action in the light of the cross, we can get a reasonably good idea about which approaches are likely to be dead ends and which are worth pursuing. ...  A universe which God will preserve and govern by cooperating with natural processes in this kenotic fashion is one which will display the functional integrity described by Van Till.  The phenomena that will take place in it will be ones that can be accomplished through natural processes."
      This theology emphasizes profound principles and it stimulates thinking, but does it include everything we know about the life of Christ?  During his incarnation as a human, Jesus did many miracles, and his natural crucifixion was followed by miraculous resurrection.  Therefore, two modes of divine action (natural and miraculous) seems to be a more appropriate model if we want to propose analogy between the human life of Jesus and the formative history of nature.

      Or should we be more cautious in using analogies to draw conclusions about divine actions in various contexts?  With all analogies, we should be logical by asking "What are the similarities and differences between the contexts?", and recognizing that differences usually indicate reasons for caution.
      For example, historical analogy provides a theological reason to think God created by progressive creation, if God's action during the long process of creation (with very little detail in the Bible) is analogous to the long process of salvation (with lots of detail in the Bible) in which God's action is usually normal-appearing (sometimes or always guided) and occasionally miraculous-appearing.  If during the salvation history of humans, including the most important part in the incarnation of Jesus, God used two modes of action — usually natural and occasionally miraculous — then should we also expect two modes of action during the formative history of nature?  I think this analogy provides some theological support for progressive creation.  But when we consider the similarities and differences between these two histories, the differences provide reasons for caution, for not claiming that the analogy provides strong theological support.

      Theodicy — Why does evil exist if God is powerful and loving?
Claims for theistic action lead to important theological questions:  Can God (or does God) control anything? ... control everything? (i.e., do any unguided events ever occur outside God's control?)  If God does exert total control (or can but does not), why do bad things happen — due to nature (as in a hurricane) or the actions of humans (how does human freedom and responsibility fit into the picture?) — in a universe operated by a God who is all-powerful and loving?  If God is guiding natural process, is He responsible for harmful random events (genetic defects,...) and evolved organisms (deadly viruses,...) that happen in history and in the present?
      These questions are examined by various authors in DEATH AND SIN.
      Terry Gray admits that tough questions about theodicy (explaining how evil and suffering can occur in a world governed by a God who is good and is powerful) and how to combine divine sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility "remain a mystery that we may not be able to solve as creatures" and "as for the problem of evil, I am not convinced that the Scriptures would have us sacrifice the sovereignty of God to preserve his reputation."
      Robert John Russell: "The real challenge to Christianity is the problem of evil, including not only human, moral evil resulting from sin, but “natural evil”: pain, suffering, death, and extinction in nature."  Explaining death and suffering in a long history of nature is a challenge for all old-earth theories, but (says Russell) "I believe the problem of theodicy is stunningly exacerbated by all the proposals, including my own, that God acts at the level of genetics.  If God is intimately at work at the level of the gene, is not God also responsible for the disease, pain, suffering, and death brought about by these genes? ...  An all-too frequent response is to remove God from the detailed history of nature. ...  A [deistic] world stripped of God's special providence and tender, constant attention seems a much more troubling one to me than a world in which God is genuinely, even if inscrutably, at work, caring for every sparrow that falls. ...  A more fruitful response begins with the insight that God created this universe with the evolution of moral agents in mind.  In such a universe suffering, disease, and death are in some way coupled with the conditions for genuine freedom and moral development. * ...  For me, the way forward will be a version of the... “crucified God” scenario... with its stress on the God who suffers with us and redeems us by God's suffering.
      * Russell says, "God created this universe with... conditions for genuine freedom and moral development."  I agree, and my page asking Why isn't God more obvious? concludes with observations about life as drama:  "How does life produce drama?  For drama, some uncertainty and suffering is necessary, to make decisions difficult (due to uncertainties) and important (because there are significant consequences in terms of suffering, pleasure, relationships, and other things affecting quality of life).   Why would God create life with drama?  Maybe (yes, I know this is speculation) the drama performs an essential educational function, helping us learn how to live by faith and giving us opportunities to "practice" and improve our skill through experience with faith-based living." 
      But one reason for "uncertainty and suffering" is the sinful disobedience of humans, which produced three results for humans:  loss of relationship with God (in Genesis 3:7-13) plus two judicial decrees by God, resulting in a decreased quality of life (Gen 3:14-19,23) and (Gen 3:22,24) losing the gift of immortality: "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  But the grace of God, in Jesus, gave us back the gift of life through His sinless human life, obedient death, and victorious resurrection.  In the future, believers will regain "the tree of life" (Revelation 2:7) and (in Rev 21:4) "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. (paraphrased from Death before Sin: Theology for Humans not Animals)"
      George Murphy: "It is natural to ask how a God who is all-good and all-powerful could create the type of world in which processes involving massive loss, death, and extinction would be involved in the development of life.  But things look different if we view evolution from Golgotha.  The cross... does not answer all questions about evil and suffering, but is the point from which an adequate theodicy must start."   Cross-Based Apologetics

      Sloppy Logic — Slippery Slopes, Guilty Associations, and Overgeneralization
      Howard Van Till and Gordon Mills ask us to avoid illogical leaps: "The truth or falsity of the RFE Principle [proposing a fully-gifted creation with functional integrity] cannot be rejected by Christians simply because naturalism requires it to be true or claims ownership of it. (Van Till)" and (Mills) "Many writers assume that a Creator would use only fiat creation, by creating entire organisms.  However, there is no reason to limit the creative activity of a Creator to fiat creation."
      Unfortunately, these pleas are necessary because views are sometimes evaluated using illogical criteria.  In a slippery slope argument, instead of evaluating a view for what it actually IS, a view is evaluated for what it might become if it was taken to an extreme.  In guilt by association, a view is evaluated based on its partial similarities (in some ways but not others) with another view, so Van Till is criticized because atheists also propose evolution, and Mills is criticized because young-earth creationists also propose design, even though neither criticism is logically justifiable.
      But even when self-defense is justifiable it should be done carefully, without overgeneralizing about the critics.  For example, Robert John Russell responds to an unfortunately common claim — that theistic evolution is a logical contradiction because evolution is inherently atheistic — with a counter-claim that "theistic evolution offers the real attack on atheism by successfully giving a Christian interpretation to science — thus undermining the very assumption that fundamentalists and atheists share, namely, that a Darwinian account of biological evolution in terms of variation and natural selection is inherently atheistic."  Although I agree that Russell is successful in "giving a Christian interpretation to science," he makes an overgeneralization that is false when he implies that all fundamentalists (not just many fundamentalists) think evolution is atheistic.  Also, simply changing one small word — by claiming that theistic evolution offers "a real attack" instead of "the real attack" — would make his statement more accurate and more humble.

      Appropriate Humility in Theology
      In my opinion, none of the theological arguments above is decisive, and our current scientific knowledge isn't decisive when we ask, "Can natural process (guided or unguided) lead to a total self-assembly of the universe into its present state?"  From my page about theology of theistic evolution:
      "The Bible clearly states that God used miracles in creating the universe and in salvation history, but is less clear about miracles in formative history, so each view — proposing a formative history with or without miracles, with two modes of action or only one — seems compatible with what the Bible clearly teaches. ...  Therefore, instead of criticizing either view as being "less worthy" it seems wise to adopt a humble attitude.  Each of us... should decide that God's plan for design-and-creation was wonderful and is worthy of our praise, whether he did it with two modes of action or one.
      When science helps us discover any aspect of God's clever design for self-assembly in nature — for example, how a balance of forces lets stars (like our sun) operate for billions of years, and how this operation eventually produced the atoms that form our bodies and our planet (yes, we and our home are made from stardust) — we should praise God.  We should also praise God for miracles, in salvation history or formative history.  Whether a feature of the universe (stars or stardust, first life or complex life) was created by natural process and/or by miracle, we can praise God for his intelligence, power, and wisdom, for what he created and how he created it. ...
      You and I should say in public — and believe in private, in our hearts and minds — that "IF God created using another method (differing from the way I think He created), then God is worthy of our praise."  But this humility (if... then...) is compatible with also explaining why we think a particular view is most likely to be true.  We can be humble while we explain — using arguments based on theology and science, based on our interpretations of scripture and nature — why we think one view is more plausible than other views. ...
      An appropriate humility requires a balance between two desirable qualities — confidence (which if overdeveloped can become rude arrogance) and humility (which can become intellectual laziness, timid relativism, or aggressive postmodernism) — that are in tension.  But most of us tend to err in the direction of overconfidence in our own theories, so trying to develop the virtue of modest humility usually has a beneficial effect."
  {more about appropriate humility when interpreting the two books of God}

      Even when Christians disagree about the details of creation, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can join together in our praise of the creator, joyously proclaiming that "you are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)"



      Divine Guidance of Natural Process in Creation — Part 2

      Here is a summary, from earlier, of Loren Haarsma describing divine guidance: "God is equally sovereign over all events, ordinary or extraordinary. ...  The Bible teaches that God can precisely select the outcome of events that appear random to us. ...  It is also possible that God gives his creation some freedom, through random processes, to explore the wide range of potentials he has given it.  Either way, randomness within natural processes is not the absence of God.  Rather, it is another vehicle for God's creativity and governance."   And here is more from Haarsma:
      "Some people use the word “chance” as an alternative explanation to God.  When they say that something happened by “chance,” they believe that it had no purpose, no significance of any kind, nothing guiding it, nothing that cares about the final results. ...  Some scientists do use the word “chance” this way in their popular writings,... [but] they are adding philosophical overtones that go way beyond the scientific meaning.  When scientists use the concept of chance scientifically, they mean simply this:  They could not completely predict the final state of a system based on their knowledge of the earlier states.  In a scientific theory, the term “chance” is not a statement about causation (or lack of causation); rather, it is a statement about predictability."  /  This scientific meaning "is entirely compatible with a biblical picture of God's governance.  Many Bible passages describe God working through apparently random events. ...  God could select the outcome of scientifically unpredictable events in order to achieve particular outcomes.  God could do this subtly, interacting with creation in ways that are significant but that we could not detect scientifically.  God could also do this dramatically upon occasion, choosing an outcome that is scientifically possible but extremely improbable, something that might even appear miraculous to us.  Another way God might use random processes is to give the created world a bit of freedom.  Through the laws of nature, God has given the material creation a range of possibilities to explore, and he gives his creation the freedom to explore that range."

      Earlier, Peter Rüst says, in 2001: "Both theological and scientific indications point to a continuous, active, but usually hidden involvement of the Creator in all that happens. ...  The spontaneous occurrence of a specific combination of mutations required for the emergence of a certain enyzme activity may, in context, be transastronomically improbable.  Even so, we can never prove it impossible, as the tails of the Gaussian probability distribution extend to infinity. Yet God may have chosen to actively decree it to occur. ...  Selecting specific events means feeding information into the system."
      More from Rüst, in 1992: "The demonstration of stochastic [probabilistic] distributions characterizing chance events cannot eliminate the possibility of a precise providential predetermination by the Creator, should he choose to do so.  In any case, science has no way of finding out what causes individual elementary events.  The claim that there is “nothing but chance” behind mutations is non-scientific.  It is a matter of personal belief.  Such a use of the concept of chance masquerading as science is an abuse of the popular respect for science. (1992)"  /  God could either "determine the outcome of each elementary event individually, or manage them collectively, e.g. by specifying Gaussian normality, mean and standard deviation, or higher level principles, not caring about individual events as such.  Or he might imperceptibly guide chaotic dynamic systems by means of a few disturbances.  Chance is not an alternative to God's action: it may be the usual way his creative activity “manifests” itself to us."
      And later, in 2005: "For each adaptive mutation successfully fixed, there are, in principle, two possibilities.  In the first case — the only one accessible to science — the mutation is truly random (God's providence at the quantum level), the probability of selection is extremely low, the time to fixation extremely long, succesful fixation very improbable, and the increase of information is due entirely to selection by the environment.  In the other case, the particular mutation is determined by God's selective choice (quantum event guided by God), selection and fixation occur according to God's predetermined schedule (maybe through other quided quantum events), success is certain, and God's guidance is the source of the information increase.  In both casess, scientists rightly see such events as random.  In principle, the first case is repeatable and could be shown to be randomly dispersed.  The second case is unique, and so its repeatability cannot be investigated.  On the other hand, both cases are the outcome of God's design, either providential or creative."   {more about divine guidance from Peter Rüst}

      From my page about divine action: "God might influence natural process by converting one natural-appearing result (that would have occurred without theistic guidance) into another normal-appearing result (that actually occurs).  One possible mechanism for natural-appearing divine guidance is for God to convert potentialities into actualities:  from the multitude of quantum possibilities that might occur, God chooses to make one of these actually occur.  In this way, God could influence (or determine) natural events by controlling some (or all) uncertainty at the quantum level, which could be done in a way such that events appear normal and statistically random during this theistically guided natural process.  This theistic action is active, not just foundational, and it could be amplified through a natural-appearing guidance of chaotic systems, to control (partially or totally) their outcomes.  Since quantum interactions occur constantly, not just during “observations” by humans, God could control — but may or may not actually control — everything that occurs. (1998)"  {more about quantum mechanics}

      As explained earlier, "whether natural process is guided or unguided, the result is natural, but the cause is supernatural."  Due to this ambiguity, when describing events I usually contrast natural-appearing with miraculous-appearing, rather than natural with supernatural, in an effort to increase precision in thinking and communicating.

      Earlier, John Robert Russell says: "Nature at that [quantum] level is open: there are what could be called “natural gaps” in the causal regularities of nature that are simply part of the way nature is constituted. ...  These [natural] laws and processes are open to God's action because God made them that way. ...  We can view nature theologically as genuinely open to objective special providence... with God's special action having specific and objective consequences for evolution.  These consequences would not otherwise have occurred within God's general providence alone, and they can be recognized as due to God's action only through faith."
      More from Russell: "Quantum processes give rise to the ordinary world of our experience, and they also allow for individual quantum processes to trigger irreversible and significant effects in that world.  In doing so they offer us a clue as to how things in general come to be as they are [general divine action], as well as how things in particular happen [special divine action] within the general environment. ...  God created a world open to God's actions. ...   Indeterminism... occurs throughout the universe wherever elementary particles [irreversibly interact with] objects ranging from complex molecules and interstellar dust to those of the ordinary macroscopic world.  To me this suggests a God who acts throughout innumerable occasions in the universe. ...  Quantum mechanics allows us to think of special divine action as the “providential determination of otherwise undetermined events.”  Moreover, though pervasive in its effects on the world's structure, God's action will remain hidden within that structure. ...  God acts in particular ways in the context of the genome, though this action may have indirect consequences at the level of the phenotype and its eventual and occasional expression in populations by natural selection, which we may also identify as acts of divine objective special providence."
      He also explains that time-and-causality is different for us and for God because "God does not foresee our future from our present or foreknow our future by calculating the outcome from our present.  Instead, God as eternal sees and knows the future in its own present time and determinate state.  God's knowledge of what is for us the indeterminate future is God's eternal knowledge of an event in what is its own present, determinate state.  Thus, theologically, God can have knowledge of the future consequences of God's actions in the present."
      And he describes another level of appreciation for divine action: "Regardless of the issue of quantum mechanics, God is already present and acting ubiquitously in nature in and through all the laws of nature and as the source of nature and the laws of nature."

      Here are some ideas — actually they're my paraphrased constructions, which are incomplete approximations of the original ideas — that I've heard about and want to share:  Richard Bube emphasizes that God is on constant interface with everything in his creation, allowing God to intimately interact with and sovereignly govern his entire creation.  John Polkinghorne draws analogy between human action (we're familiar with this in concrete ways) and divine action (usually we simply believe this based on faith);  from personal experience, we know that we can decide to "do something" and make it happen;  by faith, we believe that God can also do this.  In a similar analogy, David Oakley compares God's actions with our actions when we write on a piece of paper, when there is communication between our brain (developing ideas about what to write) and our fingers (writing these ideas onto paper), when small-scale processes (in our brain, nerves, and muscles) are translated into the large-scale action of writing;  similarly, the ideas of God are actualized through small-scale actions by God (at the levels of quanta or chaos) that become, in ways we cannot understand or even imagine, large-scale results we can observe.
      But these ideas, along with other ideas in this page, should be viewed with caution, recognizing the limitations of human speculations with appropriate humility, because "now we see but a poor reflection." (Paul, I Corinthians 13:12)

      Progressive Creation with Common Descent
What "essential characteristic(s)" should we use to define evolutionary creation and progressive creation?
      Stephen Jones uses "totally natural process" rather than common descent.  He accepts full common descent but he doesn't think the creation process was totally natural so he calls himself a progressive creationist: "common ancestry [common descent] is not uniquely evolution" and "does not preclude supernatural intervention" and "if there has been any supernatural intervention then it is not evolution but creation" so (and here he cites Phillip Johnson) "creationists can believe in common ancestry."  He also quotes "evolutionists [who] regard those who accept common ancestry as creationists, if they don't accept that the mechanism was fully naturalistic.  For example, leading Intelligent Design theorist, Michael Behe accepts “that all organisms share a common ancestor,” but he is regarded by evolutionists as a creationist, because he argues that natural processes alone were insufficient to explain life."   {more about the views of Jones}
      I also use this definition, and so do most proponents of evolution.  Like Jones, I've noticed that "advocates of naturalistic evolution... often define the essence of evolution as full common descent;  but full descent is accepted by Michael Behe, so why is there such a strong reaction against Behe... if the essence of evolution is descent, rather than a history that is 100% natural?"  The answer is that they think "100% natural" — not any of the many other meanings of evolution — is the essential characteristic of evolution.

      Similar to Jones, I propose progressive creation by genetic modification instead of by independent creations.  For more than two decades I've been proposing genetic modifications that are miraculous-appearing, and I still am, but recently I've recognized that "the distinction between natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing can be fuzzy" and "with the data we actually have it is... difficult [to distinguish]," so I'm now recognizing the merits of proposals by Rüst and Russell, at least for biological evolution.  But an analogous proposal for a "chemical evolution to produce life by guided natural process" would seem much less plausible, since a natural chemical evolution seems much less plausible.
      Here are three of the many scientists whose views might be labeled progressive creation by genetic modification, PC-by-modification:  Gordon Mills doesn't put a label on his views (see my comments about his views) but what his theories seem closest to PC-by-modification.  Michael Behe challenges a totally natural evolution with his questions about irreducible complexity, and he claims Intelligent Design rather than creation, but he believes in creation, and accepts common descent instead of proposing independent creations, so he seems to be PC-by-modification.  Peter Rüst seems closest to evolutionary creation, but his views also have strong aspects of PC-by-modification, as discussed earlier.
      By contrast, Hugh Ross proposes an old-earth creation model with independent creations and frequent breaking of common descent: "God repeatedly replaced extinct species with new ones.  In most cases, the new species were different from the previous ones because God was changing Earth's geology, biodeposits, and biology, step by step, in preparation for His ultimate creation on Earth — the human race.  The many “transitional” forms seen in the fossil record suggest that God performed more than just a few creative acts here and there, letting natural evolution fill in the rest.  Rather, God was involved and active in creation of new species."   { But for astronomical evolution, Ross seems to propose a fine-tuned design of nature (to allow natural evolution) combined with natural-appearing guidance that was needed to create the earth as a "special home" for humans. }

      Scientific Support for Common Descent
      Peter Rüst says, "The strongest evidence for common descent of different species consists of shared errors, like certain mobile genetic elements inserted at exactly corresponding positions in their DNAs. ...  As a consequence of the extensive genome sequencing efforts of the last few years, the “fact of evolution,’ which has been touted for almost one hundred fifty years without stringent support, now at last has become virtually incontrovertible. (Sep 2005 in PSCF)"
      Dick Fischer: "It is one thing to suggest that God may have modeled our DNA along the same lines as lower animals, such that similarities are due to like genes ordering a protein sequence serving a like function.  It is quite another to assert that God also incorporated all the excess nonfunctioning baggage."  Fischer is quoted by Stephen Jones, who explains that if species were created independently, "“God also incorporated all the excess nonfunctioning baggage” in each separate creation from scratch, to deliberately create an appearance of descent, that never actually happened.  But this is the same ‘appearance of age’ problem of Philip Gosse's Omphalos, which claimed (in effect) that creation... bore false witness to past processes, which had never taken place." *  Evidence for common descent "is a tie-breaker between the two possible creationist/intelligent design positions: design without descent, i.e. separate ex nihilo and de novo creations; and design with descent (or descent with design), i.e. mediate creations."   {* more about CREATION WITH APPEARANCE OF AGE}
      With progressive creation by modification, a new species is created by genetic modification but most of the original genetic material is not modified, and the parent/offspring relationships are retained.  This is consistent with evidence for common descent — such as a shared genetic code (in almost all species), structures that seem vestigial, homologous structures (like bat wings, whale flippers, dog paws, and panda thumbs) that seem to be "variations on a theme" derived from previously existing structures, similarities in gene sequences (ranging from essential developmental genes to nonfunctional pseudogenes) in different species, and "molecular clock" correlations — that is often claimed as evidence against progressive creation.  With independent creations, sometimes there might be a logical reason for a designer to re-use functional components (including genes) from an existing organism in a newly created organism.  But in most cases, especially with pseudogenes and genetic errors, a more plausible explanation is a history of common descent, which is consistent with either natural evolution or progressive creation by genetic modifications.

Theological Support for Creation by Modification
      A process of biological development with progressive creation by genetic modification of existing genomes (and thus with common descent) would be analogous to Biblical history because, when doing miracles, God usually works with available resources instead of "starting from scratch" with independent creations.
      For example, Jesus converted water into wine (in John 2) instead of creating wine from nothing.  At the beginning of history, Jesus created the universe from nothing, but during history He preferred to create wine from water.
      And when God acted through Peter and John to miraculously heal the lame man in Acts 3, there was major biological constancy — the man retained his body (with most of it unchanged, so he was recognized by others) — despite the major biological changes in his muscle tissue and in the new nerve-coordination knowledge that let him use his new leg muscles.  Throughout his life, at all times except the instant of miraculous change, natural process (partially or totally guided by God) seemed to be the only factor operating in his life, with everything occurring naturally in the usual normal-appearing way.  A timeline of his life would be "natural (for a long time), miracle (for an instant), natural (for a long time)," analogous to the timeline proposed in progressive creation by genetic modification.
      Of course, the fact that this "natural miracle natural" pattern occurs repeatedly throughout the Bible is not a proof.  But if there is analogy between the formative history of nature and the salvation history of humans (and there are reasons for caution in making this claim) and if God used miracles during formative history, then Biblical miracles provide theological support for creation by modification, rather than independent creation, as the most common type of miracle used by God during the process of creation.
      But the possibility of a rare "creation from nothing" is supported by historical analogy, because God has "created matter from nothing" during salvation history, not just in His initial creation of the universe.  For example, God created manna "from nothing" during the exodus of the Hebrews, and created an increase of mass when Jesus (as reported in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6) fed a multitude with a small amount of bread and fish.

      And a "miracle by modification" may include an ex nihilo creation of matter "from nothing."  A jar of pure water (HOH) contains only atoms of H and O.  But wine also contains organic molecules with other atoms (C, N,...) so a conservation of atoms is not possible, and some creation of matter seems required.  { If atoms of H and O were transformed into atoms of C and N, these nuclear reactions would involve a change of mass and thus a huge change of "e = mcc" energy, so — depending on the details — mass/energy would have to be either "put in" or "taken out" during the miracle. }
      Turning water into wine is modification, since the liquid in a jar was modified from water into wine;  a jar of wine did not "pop into existence" at a location where, an instant earlier, no jar-with-liquid existed.  But the process of modification might require atoms (and the smaller elementary particles from which atoms are made) to be created where previously no atoms existed.  What kind of miracle was this?  It's sort of a hybrid:  at the large-scale level of jars, it looked like modification;  but at the small-scale level of atoms, matter was being created.
      And when the legs of the lame man were modified by divine healing, the amount of muscle in his atrophied legs was increased.
      In these two examples there was a creation of matter, which would also occur if genes were miraculously added to a genome during a process of increasing biocomplexity.  ( But genome size can also increase naturally by gene duplication, polyploidy, transfer,... )
      Another possible application of creation from nothing (with ex nihilo creation of matter) is the origin of life.  I think current science supports a theory that "chemical evolution" from nonlife into life could not occur naturally.  If the first carbon-based life was produced by miraculous-appearing creation, it's possible that there was a perfect conservation of atoms — so a collection of nonliving atoms could be miraculously transformed into a living organism with the same collection of atoms — but this doesn't seem likely.

What should we call it?  (terminology confusion)
      Earlier, Progressive Creation and Common Descent begins with a question: "evolutionary creation is an old-earth view of creation, so how does it differ from what is usually called old-earth creation or progressive creation?"  In the pages I'm writing, as author and editor, I usually use old-earth creation (not progressive creation) for a view that accepts an old earth (billions of years old) and proposes a formative history including some miraculous-appearing divine action.  Should this change?
      An advantage of "old-earth creation" is to make the contrast with "young-earth creation" obvious and self-contained within the term.
      A disadvantage is that evolutionary creation is also an old-earth view of creation, so maybe I (we?) should not be making a distinction between evolutionary creation and old-earth creation.
      Despite this "maybe," at least for awhile I'll continue to use old-earth creation (instead of progressive creation) in most other pages, especially those I'm writing as author, not editor.  But I'm willing to change, and I'll check with others to determine if there is a set of terms that is commonly used and is internally consistent.  ( A hybrid term, old-earth progressive creation, is accurately descriptive but it's also longer and less simple, and we don't usually say "old-earth evolutionary creation." )
      To distinguish between acceptance or rejection of common descent, I use progressive independent creations and progressive creations by modification.  Stephen Jones calls these progressive (fiat) creation and progressive (mediate) creation, respectively, contrasting "immediate" creation (by fiat, from nothing, ex nihilo) with "mediate" creation (using existing materials).  I typically use the term old-earth creation, while he typically uses progressive creation, but both of us — and I think most others — use these two terms interchangeably with the same meaning.

      Also:  As described in Theistic Interpretation of Naturalistic Theories, evolutionary creation "scientifically... agrees with conventional neo-Darwinian evolution" and "theologically... is a theory of divine creation."  Two terms that describe this combination of science and theology, terms that I use interchangeably with the same meaning, are evolutionary and theistic evolution, which combine the two aspects (science and theology) in different "adjective and noun" orders:
evolutionary (scientific) creation (theological),
theistic (theological) evolution (scientific). 

      Cross-Based Apologetics
Here are essential worldview-principles of reality and salvation, from Cross-Based Apologetics by George Murphy:
      One popular approach to Christian apologetics starts with facts and methods of argument to which Christians and unbelievers can agree, and proceeds to construct a case for Christian belief.  Such evidentialist apologetics may sometimes be effective in helping to bring people to faith, but there are serious problems with this approach.  Theology and science together can help us to develop a better one.  .....
      For many purposes, and especially when addressing scientifically literate people, it may be better to begin with a full, adult, industrial-strength statement of the Christian claim:  The most profound understanding of life and the universe is to be found in the suffering and death of Jesus of Nazareth.  To use "God" language, we can say:  God is revealed most clearly in the cross of Christ.
      Is that a crazy idea?  Of course!  From the standpoint of traditional theism or the corresponding traditional atheism, it is an absurd claim. ...  But developments in mathematics and physics since the sixteenth century should have taught us not to judge theories by criteria of common sense.  Whether the presuppositions of a theory seem plausible initially is not the question to ask.  We have to work out the consequences of those presuppositions to see how well they help us to understand the world. .....
      We should not try to persuade people on grounds of common sense that the fundamental level of reality is revealed in Christ crucified.  We should be explicit about the ways in which this claim runs counter to common sense, and invite people to consider their lives and knowledge of the world from this standpoint.  This does not mean that we ask them to believe something even though it is crazy, much less because it is crazy.  What we should ask of them is simply a "willing suspension of disbelief," supported perhaps by an appeal to the scientific examples we have noted [about the theories of Copernicus and Einstein that have helped us understand our world, even though each theory initially seemed absurd based on "common sense" intuition].  They can then be brought to see how this idea of God revealed in the cross can address feelings of guilt, lack of meaning, and fear of death.  If they have been influenced by scientifically based arguments against religion, they can be helped to see how this concept of God and God's relationship with the world can respond to them, as we will discuss shortly.  The hope is that the person will be brought beyond mere intellectual speculation to genuine faith in Christ — bearing in mind that the Holy Spirit, not apologetes, converts people.


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