Monday, May 14, 2012

Flavors of Creationism

When topics of origins come up for discussion, my comments often trigger the explicit question, “Are you a creationist?” My answer is an equally explicit, “Yes, I am a creationist.” Usually my answer conjures up in my listeners the impression that I believe the universe, the earth, and all its life forms were created in six 24-hour days a mere 6000 years ago. This flavor of creationism is termed “young earth creationism.”

Evangelical historian Mark Noll’s definition of creationism reads as follows: “The word creationism by rights should define all who discern a divine mind at work in, with, or under the phenomenon of the natural world.” According to Noll’s definitional umbrella, several forms of creationism would be included. For example, my personal belief would be termed “progressive creationism.” This belief accepts the enormous age of the earth as proposed by the mainstream science establishment, about 4.5 billion years, and allows for many widely spaced, sudden supernatural creation events along the timeline of earth history, including the initial appearance of earth life. In these supernatural interventions, new species of life would appear on earth suddenly.

Another form of creationism is the ever more popular “evolutionary creationism,” also termed “theistic evolutionism.” The American Scientific Affiliation offers this description of evolutionary creationism: A theory of theistic evolution (TE)—also called evolutionary creation—proposes that God’s method of creation was to cleverly design a universe in which everything would naturally evolve. Usually the “evolution” in “theistic evolution” means Total Evolution—astronomical evolution (to form galaxies, solar systems…) and geological evolution (to form the earth’s geology) plus chemical evolution (to form the first life) and biological evolution (for the development of life)—but it can refer only to biological evolution.

Evolutionary creationism is a fascinating proposal. Those who offer it are theists. They believe God created matter in the beginning, and endowed it with the capability to develop into galaxies, solar systems, and the geological features we see on earth, to originate life, and to fully develop the complexity of life forms and processes we now observe. A friend claims such a scenario is really more extraordinary than periodic, sudden supernatural interventions. But is it?

The vast majority of evolutionary biologists have a worldview of naturalism. Stated another way, they are materialists who reject the supernatural. They do not believe there is a God who initially set up the system with the ultimate purpose of generating the marvelous complexity we now see in our universe. On the other hand, theistic evolutionists inject God into a proposal (evolution) which is naturalistic to its core. If that scenario occurred, we must admit it would be quite extraordinary. Such a proposal demands nearly unlimited contingencies.

Theistic evolutionists credit God with omniscience. They claim God foreknew the effect of every cosmic ray. The reference to cosmic rays relates to the fact that evolution, as still understood, depends upon rare beneficial mutations caused by cosmic radiation, in concert with the operation of natural selection to produce new species. In such a theistically guided, yet naturalistically permeated scenario, evolution, in theory, produces the wondrous abundance of life we observe in our day. Why is evolutionary creationism included in the listing of creationist flavors? Because God supposedly “guides” an essentially naturalistic process by virtue of knowing or directing in advance what happens.

The great majority of naturalistic evolutionists, including over 90% of evolutionary biologists, do not endorse the marriage of naturalistic evolution to theistic evolution. Naturalistic evolutionists believe the process of evolution should stand on its own. It does not need the intervention of God to make it work. In this sense, theistic evolution is an oxymoron. We must decide if theistic evolutionists are justified in appropriating the term “creationist” to describe their belief system.