Origins Questions
for Science and Theology

An Introductory Overview
by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

an updated/expanded variation of this page is
FAQ about Creation, Evolution, and Design

This overview, written
from a Christian perspective,
looks at a wide range of questions:

1. Understanding and Attitudes
 What is a productive way to discuss origins questions? 

2. Theistic Perspectives
 Does God influence events in the physical universe? 
 What do Christians believe about origins, and why? 
 Can science prove the existence and activity? 
 Do theology and science support young-earth theories? 
 Is theistic evolution a valid theological option? 
 What are the author's views? 

3. The Universe
 Why is the universe "just right" for life? 

4. Four Evolutions
 (astronomical, geological, chemical, biological) 
Astronomical: What happened after the Big Bang? 
 Geological: Are modern theories of geology adequate? 

5. Chemical Evolution
 How did the first life become alive? 

6. Biological Evolution
 Does evolution (or creation) have more than one meaning? 
 Why do "shifts of meaning" occur, and how can we avoid them? 
 What produced the diversity and complexity of life on earth? 

7. Design and Science
 What is a theory of design? 
 Can a theory of design be scientific? 
 What are the advantages of an Open Science? 
 Can any theory about the history of nature be scientific? 
 What are the limits for what can claim to be science?  and  
What are the limits for what science can claim to explain? 

8. Science and Religion in Education
 In public schools, how can we achieve a fair, 
balanced treatment of religious perspectives?


  1. Understanding and Attitudes 
    A TYPICAL APPROACH:  polarized debates between those who are sure they know the origins answers, with mutually hostile us-versus-them "culture war" attitudes.
    A BETTER APPROACH:  improved communication about origins questions, based on
    accurate understanding (by getting the best information about all sides of an issue) and
    respectful attitudes (by recognizing that people with other views may have good reasons, both intellectual and ethical, for their views).

    Hopefully this overview will help to improve understanding and attitudes.

  2. Theistic Perspectives

    2A. Theistic Action
    When we're developing our worldviews — our theories about reality and values,
our views of the world that we use for living in the world — an interesting question is:
    If God exists, what does God do?

    According to the Bible, God designed and created the universe, continually sustains its ongoing operation, and can influence events in ways that appear natural (normal, consistent with the usual operation of nature) or miraculous (not according to our usual expectations).  In the Bible, God's actions were usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing.
    There is a page with more about Theistic Action.
    NON-ITALICIZED LINKS will open a new page in a new window (so this page remains open in this window), but ITALICIZED LINKS will keep you inside this page.

    2B. Four Theistic Options
    In a common cultural stereotype,
there is one Judeo-Christian theory of creation.

    In reality,
four types of creation theories are compatible with Biblical theism:
    young-earth creation in six 24-hour days, 6000-10000 years ago, followed by a global flood;
    old-earth creation in billions of years, with natural process plus occasional miraculous-appearing action either to create a new species independently (so it would not necessarily have any relationships with existing species) or to create a new species by modifying the genetic material of an existing species.
    theistic evolution, with the universe designed so complex life would naturally evolve.

    Each position proposes the creation of humans, by natural and/or miraculous process, with a "spiritual connection" that allows a spiritual relationship between humans and God.
    Each position makes different scientific claims.  { These differences are described in Section 6B, and my views are in 2F. }

    2C. Humility in Metaphysics and Science
    AN OBSERVATION:  Our personal interactions are more enjoyable when we respect the rationality of other positions and other people, and respect seems to arise more easily when we adopt an attitude of logically appropriate humility about the certainty of our own positions.
    AN OPINION:  I think it is unwise to link the Gospel of Jesus with any particular view of origins, by claiming that "if the Bible is true, the earth is young" (which is logically equivalent to saying "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true") or "if the Bible is true, evolution is false."
    A QUESTION:  Does God want us to be certain about His existence and activity?
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.
    CHOICE AND FAITH:  I think this state of uncertainty is 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.  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 of daily living.  { Is there proof for the existence and activity of God? }

    2D. Young-Earth Creationism
    In my opinion, theories of young-earth creation are not theologically necessary or scientifically plausible:
    Linguistically and theologically, old-earth interpretations of the Bible seem justified and satisfactory, so believing the Bible is true does not require belief in a young earth.
    Theories of flood geology — which claim that Noah's Flood produced most of the earth's geology and fossil record — make many incorrect predictions (for geology, fossils, biogeography,...).  And independent evidence from a wide range of fields (geology, oceanography, nuclear physics, genetics, astronomy,...) indicates that the earth and universe are billions of years old.  { more about Young-Earth Creationism: Theology and Science }

    2E. Theistic Evolution
    In my opinion,
    all theists, including both proponents and opponents of theistic evolution, should believe that natural process is designed and sustained by God, and can be guided by God.
    an all-natural formative history (for a total evolution of the universe: astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological) is compatible with miracles in salvation history (such as those recorded in the Bible) that are designed to achieve the goals of God for humans.
    when all things are considered, miracles during the formative history of nature seem probable (for theological and scientific reasons) but not theologically necessary, so a claim that "the Bible says God created, but does not explicitly specify a method of creation" seems justified.  Therefore, a theist can be open-minded about science, and is free to accept any answer (yes, no, or maybe) when we ask whether empirical evidence indicates that miracles occurred in formative history.
    even if, as proposed in a theory of evolutionary creation, God designed the universe so natural process could produce complex physical structures (like stars and planets) and biological structures (like intelligent life), God could guide a natural formative history so it produced a desired complex result (such as humans with particular characteristics) instead of another result.  In fact, I think such guidance would be necessary to achieve the goals of God, even if natural process is sufficient to produce all of the complexity we observe.  And, as explained in Sections 5 (for chemical evolution) and 6E (for biological evolution), there are scientific reasons to question the creative sufficiency of natural process.  { more about Evolutionary Creation (Theistic Evolution) & Theology }

    2F. Old-Earth Creation (my view)
    What is my view of origins?  I think that:
    the universe and earth are billions of years old,
    the first life was independently created, and
    biological development occurred by natural process (with genetic changes sometimes guided by God *) supplemented by occasional "miraculous-appearing theistic action" to modify some of the genetic material in previously existing organisms.
    * I define "natural" to mean "normal appearing," which does not mean "without God."

    Why are these my views?  It seems to me that:
    There is abundant scientific evidence for an old earth, and an old earth is theologically satisfactory;
    based on scientific evidence, it seems that a natural origin of life is extremely improbable, and
    natural process alone was not sufficient to produce the biological complexity we observe;
    compared with independent creations (of new species), genetic modifications (to create new species) is more scientifically plausible, and is more consistent with a Biblical history in which God usually works with currently available resources instead of "starting over from scratch";
    theories of intelligent design (which propose that a feature was produced by design-directed action rather than undirected natural process) are more scientifically justifiable than theories of creation.
    details about my views

  3. The Universe 
    Scientists are discovering that many properties of the universe are "just right" for a variety of life-permitting phenomena.  One explanation is that the universe was cleverly designed.  Other explanations are that "we're just lucky" or that if there were an immense number of universes, extremely improbable things (like properties that allow intelligent life) would occur in one of these universes.
    All of these theories seem impossible to test, due to an absence of data about what existed and what happened before the beginning of our universe.  But when all things are considered, I think the most plausible theory is that there was an extremely clever designer and awesomely powerful creator of the universe.  { more about The Anthropic Principle & Fine Tuning: Multiverse and/or Intelligent Design? }

    4. Evolution 
    In an attempt to explain the entire history of nature, scientists have proposed theories of natural evolution: astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological.

    Astronomical Evolution:  As far as I know, there are no scientifically significant creationist challenges to theories proposing that natural processes can produce galaxies, stars, and planets.
    An interesting question: If the universe had a "big bang" beginning, did this require an act of creation, or could it occur naturally?

    Geological Evolution:  Conventional theories of modern geology — which propose a combination of slow-acting uniformitarian processes and fast-acting catastrophic events (such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods) — can explain a wide variety of historical observations.  These theories are more scientifically adequate than the "flood geology" alternatives of young-earth creationists.

    5. Chemical Evolution 
    Scientists who are trying to imagine how life might have arisen naturally propose a two-stage process:
    1) formation of organic molecules, which combine to make larger biomolecules;
    2) self-organization of these molecules into a living organism.

    What scientists are learning is that the complexity required for life (in terms of biomolecule formation and self-organization) seems to be much greater than the complexity possible by natural process (beginning with lifeless matter).  This huge difference has motivated scientists to creatively construct new theories for reducing requirements and enhancing possibilities, but none of these ideas has progressed from speculation to plausibility.  { more about The Science of Chemical Evolution }

    6. Biological Evolution 
    CONCEPTUAL CLARITY is a worthy goal.  To communicate with more precision, we should precisely define two central concepts: evolution and creation.

    6A: The Many Meanings of Evolution 
    To rationally evaluate "evolution" we must distinguish between its many potential meanings.  In general, E is any process of change.  In biology, E is a change in the gene pool of a population.  But E can also refer to fossil progression, common descent, micro-E within a species, macro-E to produce a new species (*), neo-Darwinian theories proposing that E occurred by specific mechanisms, or a Total Macro-E claim that all biodiversity and biocomplexity was produced by the cumulative effects of natural macro-E.
    * macro-evolution could range from minor macro-E (which occurs, for example, when two groups within a species become isolated from each other, then evolve independently until they can no longer interbreed, thus forming two species that are very similar) to major macro-E.

    6B: The Many Meanings of Creation 
    Similarly, a theory of "creation" can be young-earth creation (yeC), old-earth creation (oeC), or theistic evolution (TE).  Understanding the scientific differences between the four basic creationist positions is important because
    evidence for an old earth (including evolutionary fossil progressions) is not evidence against the two old-earth theories;
    evidence for common descent (such as homologous adaptations of previously existing structures, vestigial structures, "molecular clock" analyses, and a sharing of pseudogenes, Hox genes, and the genetic code) counts against one old-earth theory (oeCindependent, with independent creation) but not another (oeCmodification, with creations by miraculous-appearing genetic modification).

    The table below shows four components of evolutionary theory that are described above and in Section 6A, and whether each creationist theory affirms this component (yes) or denies it (no).  This lets you see the similarities and differences between neo-Darwinian natural evolution (E, which is scientifically identical whether the E is theistic, agnostic, or atheistic) and three modern creationist theories, plus outdated creationism from two centuries ago (1800).

components of E-theory
(for each component, does
a theory say yes or no?)
of 1800
micro-E, minor macro-E YES YES YES YES no
 old earth, fossil progressions  YES
common descent
YES no no no
natural Total Macro-E YES no no no no

This table illustrates the value of precise definitions — for the four types of evolution (the four theory components) and the three modern non-naturalistic creation theories — in understanding the components that each theory includes and excludes.
    The process of logical comparison requires asking, when two theories are compared, "In what ways do the claims made by these theories differ?  For example, by looking across the "micro-E, minor macro-E" row, you can see (YES, YES, YES, YES) that evidence for micro-evolution does not help us distinguish between neo-Darwinian evolution and any modern creationist theory.  To distinguish between two theories, we must focus on components where the claims differ.  When comparing "natural evolution" with "old-earth macromutational creation" the only difference is "natural Total Macro-E" (YES, no) so evidence for common descent (or an old earth or micro-E) is irrelevant.  But when comparing neo-Darwinism with "young-earth independent creation" there are different claims (YES, no) about three components.
    To evaluate theories in a way that is scientifically rational, we need precise definitions and logical comparison.  These ideas (in 6A-6E) are explored more thoroughly in Logical Evaluations of Evolution and Creation.

    6C: Shifts of Meaning 
    Often, support is illogically shifted from a strongly supported meaning of evolution (such as basic "old earth" progressions in the fossil record, or micro-E changes that occur in finch beaks and drug-resistant bacteria) to a less strongly supported meaning (like Total Macro-E).
    Often, scientific evidence against young-earth creation is shifted onto old-earth creation;  and the important scientific differences between two old-earth theories (independent creation and genetic modification) are ignored.
    With an evolution-shift the implied support increases, with a creation-shift it decreases.  But in each case the shift (and associated implication) is not logically justified.

    6D: Why do shifts of meaning occur? 
    Shifts of meaning can arise from an intention to mislead, inadequate understanding of concepts, lack of communication skill, or (in one type of shift) a narrow focus on the most visible and vocal form of creationism.
    But value judgments (about the relative importance of different evaluation criteria) can also provide a logical reason to ignore distinctions between theories.  For example, if a young earth is all that matters, all old-earth theories will be opposed with equal vigor.  And for someone whose main goal is to avoid any implication that God has "interfered with nature," any creationist theory is equally guilty.
    Value judgments are an essential part of making decisions, but they should be logically analyzed to determine whether they are contributing to inaccurate evaluations and unwarranted implications.

    6E: Questions about Evolution 
    We should critically evaluate the plausibility of an extrapolation from micro-E through minor macro-E to Total Macro-E by asking "How many mutations and how much selection would be required, how long would this take, and how probable is it?"
    Another important question is whether systems that seem irreducibly complex (because all parts seem necessary for performing the system's function) could be produced in a step-by-step process of evolution, since there would be no function to "select for" until all parts are present.

    6F: Questionable Criticisms of Evolution 
    To avoid illogical criticism of evolution,
    We should evaluate only accurately characterized modern theories, not distorted strawmen.
    We should not imply that debates between evolutionists automatically discredit their theories.  { But some of their criticisms do raise questions about neo-Darwinism. }
    We should not claim that evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics, since in each step of neo-Darwinian evolution the actions (mutation and natural selection) are thermodynamically allowed, and so is a long process composed of these steps and actions.  There are reasons to question evolution, but The Second Law is not one of these reasons.  { more about Young-Earth Creationism and The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy and Evolution }
    We should not imply that atheism is a necessary aspect of evolution, because "if atheism then evolution" is not logically equivalent to "if evolution then atheism," and "all atheists are evolutionists" does not mean that "all evolutionists are atheists."  { Does "all dogs are animals" mean that "all animals are dogs"? }

    7. Science and Design
    This area is important, with many interesting ideas, and eventually I'll write a compact version of it.  This isn't available now, but now the main ideas are in a page asking, Can a theory of intelligent design be scientific?

    8. Religious Perspectives in Origins Education
    How can we move toward a fair, balanced treatment of religious perspectives?
    Of course, we can agree that teachers in public schools should not impose their religious beliefs (theistic, atheistic, new age,...) on students.  But a simplistic policy of avoiding religion does not achieve a neutral balance, due to an asymmetry of expression:  to be communicated, theistic views must be explicitly stated;  but nontheistic views can be implicitly communicated by an absence of God in all discussions.
    Avoiding an implicit advocacy of worldviews is not easy, but is possible.  An effective teaching of science/religion relationships depends on the integrity and skill of teachers who think carefully, with wisdom and courage, about desirable goals, who build a solid foundation by adequate preparation, and who carry out their classroom activities with sensitivity and respect.   Critical Thinking (about evolution & intelligent design) in Public Schools and Critical Thinking & Worldviews in Public Education

    for readers in the United States:  The U.S. Constitution encourages a "free expression" of religion, but prohibits an "establishment" of religion, and says nothing about a "separation of church and state."  If teaching is done skillfully, with wisdom and sensitivity, with an intent to educate (about science) rather than to persuade (about religion), it should not run into legal trouble with the "establishment" clause of the Constitution.  Recent court rulings that limit what teachers can be required to do in the classroom place far fewer restrictions on what a teacher is allowed to do.

    8B. Origins Education
    Teachers face many difficult choices when deciding what to teach, and how.  The difficulty increases when teaching about origins, due to the climate of controversy produced by a complex blending of science, religion, and culture.
    In origins education, one valuable principle is to aim for conceptual clarity by defining clearly, with precision, each of the many potential meanings for three key concepts: evolution, creation, and design.  Another principle is to make a distinction between helping students understand evolution (this is the main goal) and persuading them to believe evolution.  If done well, open discussions can be educational (leading to accurate understanding and respectful attitudes) but if not done well they can be dangerous (leading to worldview indoctrination).  { for a quick overview of basic ideas, read Origins Education in Public Schools: Critical Thinking about Evolution and Intelligent Design }

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
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Here are other related pages:

FAQ about Creation, Evolution, Design
(updated/expanded variation of this page)

Origins Questions for Science & Theology
(pages about origins by Craig Rusbult)

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