My Views of Creation

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

The purpose of this page:
In an effort to avoid misunderstanding and stereotyping,
this page summarizes my views about origins (in the first
30% of the page) and then provides an appendix with details.

        Regarding origins, I'm scientifically agnostic without dogmatism, but if I were forced to bet — which I would do hesitantly, with appropriate humility — I would bet that:
        the universe and earth are billions of years old (very little humility is needed here because a wide range of scientific evidences for an old universe are overwhelmingly strong, but maybe there was perfect "antiquing" by young-universe creation with apparent age);
        • the first life was independently created by God (but this could not be scientifically proved, especially if the possibility of a multiverse is considered), and
        • biological development occurred mainly by an evolutionary natural process (with genetic changes sometimes guided by God *) but this process may have been 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" — not "without God" — because I believe that natural process is designed, created, sustained, and sometimes guided by God.
        but I hold these two -views lightly, as tentative proposals that are open-minded, that encourage the current posing of productive questions for science and theology;  in the future, after we have learned more about nature and its history, if all claims for detectable divine action (for the first life and its evolutionary development) appear to be improbable, I will simply say "ok, now we know."

        Why do I think this is how it probably happened?  Because it seems that:
        there is abundant scientific evidence (in a wide variety of areas) for an old earth, and an old earth is theologically satisfactory;
        based on scientific evidence, it seems that a natural origin of the first life was very improbable, unless immense probabilistic resources (in a huge multiverse) are invoked;
        and that natural process alone may not have been 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."

        Here is a summary for five aspects of my views:
        Theologically, I think that:  Genesis 1 describes creation history in a non-chronological framework;  God created everything, and is involved in natural process by designing and sustaining it, and sometimes guiding it;  miracles in formative history are probable if this history was analogous to the salvation history of humans recorded in the Bible, in which God's actions were usually naturally-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing;  for miracles, there is theological support for "creation by modification of existing matter" rather than independent creation of matter, as explained below in The Creation Process in Biblical History;  but miracles in formative history are not theologically preferable or necessary, so theistic evolution is a theological option for a Christian;  a Judeo-Christian theist has a wide range of options — in the many variations of theistic evolution (evolutionary creation), old-earth creation, or young-earth creation — and is free to follow the evidence and logic of science wherever it leads.
        Scientifically, based on evidence and logic, I think God designed the universe so it would be mostly self-assembling, and my theory for "how God created" is independent miraculous-appearing creation of the first life, followed by old-earth creation (mainly with continual creation by natural-appearing evolution over billions of years, possibly supplemented with occasional creation by miraculous-appearing genetic modifications) for the production of complex life.  Regarding age, strong scientific evidence, from a wide range of fields so we have multiple independent confirmations, supports a confident conclusion ("proved" beyond any reasonable doubt) that the earth and universe are billions of years old.
        Methodologically, I think an open science — which begins by assuming "it happened by natural process" but treats this as an assumption that can be tested, not a conclusion that must be accepted — is a useful scientific strategy in our search for truth about nature.  But methodological naturalism (which requires that scientists must always begin and end with a conclusion that "it happened by natural process") differs from philosophical naturism (claiming that only nature exists) in two ways — methodological is not philosophical, and naturalism is not naturism — so methodological naturalism is theologically acceptable for a Christian.
        Relationally, my goals are accurate understanding and respectful attitudes because our "views about other views and other people" are an important part of life.  These goals are consistent with my recognition that an appropriate humility, about science and theology, is justifiable and useful.  I claim to have some productive ideas about Origins Questions, not The Origins Answer.  But our humility should be appropriate: not too little and not too much.  Humility should be balanced with confidence, because even though some humility is logically justifiable and is useful (both intellectually and relationally), we often have reasons for some rationally justifiable confidence, so I think postmodernism "goes too far" and converts a good idea (re: humility) into a bad idea (re: skeptical extremes and radical relativism & Reality 101).
        Educationally, I think critical evaluations of evolution — at a level that is matched with students' abilities — can be educationally useful in public school classrooms, by providing evidence and using logic.  The scientific support for a wide range of questions about evolution (astronomical, geological, chemical, and biological) should be examined in a neutral, unbiased way.   { As editor of the ASA website for Whole-Person Science Education, my philosophy and goals are described in the home-pages for Origins Questions and Origins Evidence and in Understanding & Respect. }

        What about theistic evolution?   I'm a critic and defender, who thinks (with humility) that totally natural evolution — with God designing the universe so everything in nature would form by 100% natural process — probably was not the way it happened.  But even though I'm not a proponent of theistic evolution, I think it can be theologically satisfactory, should be carefully considered, and evolutionary creationists (who think natural evolution was God's method of creation) should be treated with respect as fellow Christians, with no "theological deficit" in their views.
        What about intelligent design?  I'm a defender of the questions they ask, but also a critic.  Logically, most of my views — about a "partially self-assembling universe" (scientific), and thinking "an open a useful scientific strategy" (methodological) — are consistent with allowing the questions asked by intelligent design.  Sociologically, I would not fit into the current "big tent" community of intelligent design, because I'm too friendly toward theistic evolution, and too critical of young-earth views.

          My views about origins are summarized in an Introductory-FAQ and
(with more detail, in the best page I've written about origins) Overview-FAQ and
my other pages are described at the end of Origins Questions for Science & Theology
and a brief history of my life is in a bio-page.

The rest of this page is details about "why I think this is how it happened."

THEOLOGY:  The Creation Process in Biblical History
    In young-earth special creation, God "used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe. (Duane Gish)"  But in old-earth progressive creation, the divine action of God during the long creation process is similar to divine action (usually normal-appearing and occasionally miraculous) during the long salvation process, recorded in the Bible, that extends from the Fall through Abraham and Jesus into the present and future.
    And what about old-earth creation by independent creation or by genetic modification?  In old-earth biological creation by genetic modification of existing biological genomes, another analogy with Biblical history is that, when doing miracles, God usually has worked 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 Jesus preferred to create wine from water, not from nothing.  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 everyone) — 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 almost all his life, except for 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 time-line of his life would be "natural (for a long time), miracle (for an instant), natural (for a long time)," analogous to the time-line that is proposed in old-earth "creation by genetic modification" for the development of earth's biological life.
    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 Biblical history and creation history, then Biblical miracles provide theological support for "old-earth progressive creation by modification of existing resources" rather than "independent creation from nothing" as the most common type of miracle (but not necessarily the only type) used by God during the process of creation.
    Occasionally, as in providing manna during the Hebrews' exodus, God does create from nothing.  And in miracles like the increase in mass of the lame man's leg, or the "multiplication" of loaves and fishes by Jesus (in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, John 6) there is some independent creation of matter, as there would be in adding genes to a genome.  So there is Biblical evidence that God can (and does) "create matter from nothing" during the history of nature, not just in his initial creation of the universe.

    In the summary above (re: five aspects of my views), I say "miracles are probable during formative history — if this history is analogous to the salvation history of humans recorded in the Bible, which included divine action that was usually natural-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing — but are not theologically necessary."  Later, I'll write more about whether "this history is analogous," about the similarities and differences between the two histories and how these affect the possibility of analogy between the histories.

SCIENCE:  This is from the longer version of my page about Logical Evaluations of Evolution and Creation:

    According to old-earth creation (oeC), God's creative activity was spread over billions of years.  At various times during this period, God used miraculous-appearing theistic action to create new types of organisms.  There are two main types of old-earth creation:  oeCindependent proposes independent creations "from scratch" (so a new species would not necessarily have any relationships with existing species) similar to the independent creations in yeC;  oeCgenechange proposes creation by macromutation, with extensive modification (by changing, adding, or deleting) of the genetic material for some members (or all members) of an existing species.  Both old-earth theories, oeCindependent and oeCgenechange, propose a natural history involving a combination of natural-appearing evolution and miraculous-appearing creation.  .....

    The main scientific difference between the old-earth theories — oeCindependent and oeCgenechange, with creations that are independent or by genetic changes, respectively — is common descent.  The independent creations of oeCindependent (or yeC) would break a chain of continuous common descent.  By contrast, with oeCgenechange the chain is unbroken because during creation by a macromutational "extensive modification of genetic material" most of the original genetic material is not modified, and the parent/offspring relationships are retained.
    Therefore, evidence for common descent — such as a shared genetic code (in most 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 Hox genes to apparently nonfunctional pseudogenes) in different species, and "molecular clock" correlations — is consistent with either oeCgenechange or natural evolution.
    Although this evidence would be possible with oeCindependent, there seems to be no logical explanation for much of the data if common descent has been interrupted by totally independent creations.  With oeCindependent, sometimes there might be a logical reason for a designer to re-use functional components from an existing organism in a newly created organism.  But in most cases a history of common descent (as proposed in oeCgenechange or E) seems to be a simpler, more plausible explanation.  With independent creation (either old-earth or young-earth) we might expect designs to appear independent and optimal.  By contrast, theories of oeCgenechange and E both predict that new species will appear to be modifications of old species, because this is what they are.
    Notice that, although common descent and Total Macro-E are often equated by proponents of E, they are not the same.  oeCgenechange agrees with common descent, but proposes some supernatural creation activity that — if we could compare the genomes before and after a creation event — would appear to be miraculous rather than natural, so it challenges a theory of completely natural Total Macro-E.  { note: The full "Logical Evaluation..." page explains that "Total Macro-E is a claim that all biodiversity and biocomplexity, in all organisms throughout the history of life, was produced by the cumulative effects of natural micro-evolution and macro-evolution." }

    Can scientists distinguish between oeCgenechange and evolution?  With detailed data — such as lab reports (for physiology, structure, DNA,...) for all organisms during a period of change — it would be easy.  But it's more difficult with the data we actually have because oeCgenechange, which includes two mechanisms (continual natural-appearing evolution and occasional miraculous-appearing macromutational genetic modifications), is consistent with most evidence for evolution.  The major differences are that oeCgenechange challenges Total Macro-E by raising questions (re: irreducible complexity, rates of change,...) about important details of bio-E. *
    Does oeCgenechange have to be "more different"?  No.  A "high contrast" with other theories is not a requirement for a scientific theory.  For example, in most situations the predictions of Newton's classical mechanics and Einstein's special relativity are almost identical.  But we don't demand that, if we are to take Einstein seriously, his theory must be modified to make it differ from Newton's theory in other ways, so that (for our convenience, so we can use data that is easy to collect and analyze) we can more easily distinguish between his theory and Newton's theory.  .....

    * All of the non-E theories (design, oeCgenechange, oeCindependent, yeCindependent) challenge a claim, made by Total Macro-E, that "undirected natural process" mechanisms are sufficient to produce the entire history of life.  These theories question 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 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 of the parts are present.

    OLD-EARTH CREATION (details from an earlier overview, before revising/condensing)
    When all things are considered, including science and theology, I think "old-earth creation by God" is the most plausible theory of origins.  I'm open to a change of mind if this ever seems justified, but my current position on origins is an independent creation of the first life, followed by old-earth creation by macromutation (oeCgenetimod) for the development of biological complexity and diversity.  Here are the main reasons for my views about origins:

    Why do I think there was a non-natural creation of the first life?  This theory is based mainly on scientific evidence and evaluation, not theology, since a natural production of life seems extremely improbable.

    Why an old earth?  In brief, the science of young-earth creation (yeC) lacks plausibility, but there are credible old-earth interpretations for Genesis.
    yeCs seem to begin with a firm commitment to young-earth theology based on their interpretation of Genesis, and then adjust their science as necessary to force an agreement.  A yeC interpretation of the Bible is reasonable, but this makes it necessary to accept science that, according to most scientists (including myself) is very unreasonable.
    On the other hand, a motivation to propose old-earth views seems to come from science, but when we study the Bible carefully there are valid reasons, both linguistic and theological, for concluding that an old-earth interpretation is justified.  { I think a non-chronological framework interpretation of Genesis 1 is most plausible, and is most likely to be correct. }  Therefore, it seems more accurate to say that science (which strongly supports old-earth views) stimulates a motivation to reconsider young-earth interpretations, rather than a logical adjustment of theology.  This distinction is similar to the context of discovery and context of justification recognized by philosophers, based on the principle that the logic used to justify a theory may (or may not) be relatively independent from the motivation used to propose this theory.  I think there is much less logical adjustment with oeC theology (which seems very credible) than with yeC science.   Young-Earth Creationism: Theology and Science        Young-Earth/Young-Universe Science

    Why old-earth creation?  If God chose theistic evolution (TE) as His method of creation, by designing a universe with all of the characteristics needed to naturally produce complex life, this would be fine with me, and it would not weaken my faith.  But based on scientific evidence, I think it is more likely that some knowledge-gaps in biological E (especially regarding a natural production of all the biocomplexity we observe) are actually nature-gaps that were bridged by miraculous-appearing theistic action during the history of nature.   Theistic Evolution (Evolutionary Creation) and Theology

    Why oeCgenetimod (with creation by miraculous-appearing macromutational genetic modification) rather than oeCindependent (with independent creation)? 
    Theologically,... [this section, slightly revised, appears earlier]
    Scientifically, oeCgenetimod seems more satisfactory due to its acceptance of common descent, as discussed earlier.
    Based on theological analogy (between Biblical history and formative history) plus scientific evidence, it seems likely that oeCgenetimod — with slow natural-appearing evolution occasionally punctuated by quick miraculous-appearing change — was the primary method of creation.  I'm open to the possibility that God might have also used some oeCindependent, but if this occurred I would expect it to be far less frequent than oeCgenetimod.

    I think claims for intelligent design are more scientifically justifiable than claims for creation: "A basic design theory is limited to claims that can be scientifically evaluated.  For example, biochemical analysis might help us determine whether a particular system was produced by design or non-design, but it probably could not help us determine whether the designer was God or..."


 Another page describes what I've written
about a wide range of Origins Questions.