Primer on Origins Views for Christians (Part 2 of 3)

“All truth is given by revelation, either general or special, and it must be received by reason. Reason is the God-given means for discovering the truth that God discloses, whether in his world or his Word. While God wants to reach the heart with truth, he does not bypass the mind.”  — Jonathan Edwards, 18th c. revivalist preacher, philosopher, theologian

Continuing from Part 1

Flagellar assembly of E. coli

Flagellar assembly of E. coli

Now, where does “Intelligent Design” (ID) fit in? This is one of the most contentious concepts in the areas of science and science/faith discussions, with many theists and non-theists alike making incorrect assumptions — or even, in the latter case, intentionally misrepresenting it. (Do accusations of “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” sound familiar?) Of course, one may refer to something as “intelligently designed” in a generic sense, but in the context of the origins debate, there is a more nuanced meaning accorded the term by proponents of modern ID Theory (e.g., Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells). For example,

“Intelligent design (ID) is a scientific theory that employs the methods commonly used by other historical sciences to conclude that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. ID theorists argue that design can be inferred by studying the informational properties of natural objects to determine if they bear the type of information that in our experience arise from an intelligent cause. The form of information which we observe is produced by intelligent action, and thus reliably indicates design, is generally called “specified complexity” or “complex and specified information” (CSI).”  — Center for Science and Culture’s FAQ page, Discovery Institute

Also, biochemist Michael Behe notes in Darwin’s Black Box that,

“The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer.”

So, while some people think of it as a separate position on origins, I think a better way to think of ID is as an approach to scientific inquiry/explanation that is unencumbered by naturalist/materialist assumptions and restrictions, thereby allowing for the possibility of outside agency. It is not inherently “religious”, since it neither begins with sacred text nor requires any religious doctrine. But, it is certainly consistent with a theistic worldview, which is why many Christians and other theists then use philosophical, theological, and scriptural arguments to step beyond the design itself and infer an identity for the Intelligent Designer of the cosmos and all life within it. Thus, the ID banner would fly over Young Earth Creationism (YEC), Old Earth Creationism (OEC), and some forms of Theistic Evolution(ism) (TE), even though there are differences of opinion over things like scientific evidence, limits of natural processes, hermeneutics, and the most effective approach to breaking the cultural stranglehold of philosophical naturalism.

The problem with these three categories — TE, OEC, YEC — is that they do not quite reflect the range of variation within each, and there is sometimes confusion about the differences between OEC and TE. The differences within YEC are relatively minor, while those within OEC are perhaps too numerous for purposes of this primer, though some will be addressed in Part 3. Beyond that, I find the distinctions/labels used by Dr. Gerald Rau in his book Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything quite helpful, particularly for distinguishing the types of TE. Of course, there is still a lot of variation along the spectrum, but I think Rau does a great job of describing the more significant differences and “mapping” them into six still-fairly-broad models. For those who haven’t read Rau’s book, I have put together a slightly expanded version of “Table 2.1 Distinguishing features of the six models of origins” (and I hope Dr. Rau doesn’t mind):


Naturalistic Evolution (NE)

Nonteleological Evolution (NTE)

Planned Evolution (PE)

Directed Evolution (DE)

Old-Earth Creationism (OEC)

Young-Earth Creationism (YEC)

Theology No supernatural Creator Creator Creator Creator Creator
Teleology No purpose No purpose Purpose Purpose Purpose Purpose
Intervention No intervention No intervention No intervention Intervention Intervention Intervention
Genealogy Common descent Common descent Common descent Common descent De novo creation De novo creation
Cosmology Old universe Old universe Old universe Old universe Old universe Recent creation
Process Spontaneous natural processes only Conditions necessary for life established at creation Perfect creation naturally fulfills God’s purposes Changes in universe and life subtly directed over time Major body plans created over millions of years Each “kind” created in one week, within the last 10,000 years
Noted Advocates include… Richard Dawkins, Ernst Mayr, Stephen J. Gould, Eugenie Scott Ian Barbour, John Haught, Christian de Duve Denis Lamoureux, Howard Van Till, Francis Collins, Kenneth Miller Michael Behe, Henry “Fritz” Schaefer III, Deborah & Loren Haarsma Hugh Ross, Stephen Meyer, Robert C. Newman, Dean Kenyon Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, Henry & John Morris, Kent Hovind

(The book contains additional tables for comparison in Appendix 1, which look further at what the models hold/teach regarding Origin of the Universe, Origin of Life, Origin of Species, and Origin of Humans.)

Mapping the Origins DebateMoving left to right, the first position is the only one that is non-theistic and, therefore, the only one totally unavailable to Christians and anyone else who believes in a creator God/god of some sort. Positions 2-4 (NTE, PE, DE) all fall under the broader label “Theistic Evolution”, with position 3 (PE) being roughly analogous to the “Evolutionary Creationism” view typically espoused by BioLogos. Positions 3-6 (PE, DE, OEC, YEC) all allow for some measure of purpose and, therefore, might fall under the “Intelligent Design” umbrella. However, neither Rau nor I am aware of anyone in the PE group that is comfortable arguing for ID. For them, as with NE & NTE, any apparent design must be chalked up to happy, evolutionary accident and never the fingerprint of actual, revealed design.

Along these lines, when sharing this with others in the past (without the helpful visual of the table), the question I got was for more clarification between PE and DE. Rather than try to paraphrase, I prefer to quote the following two sections from Dr. Rau’s book:

“The distinctive ideas of the PE model can be summarized as follows:

Philosophical axiom: God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring that plan to fruition without further intervention.

Inferences: The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation. (Note, this is separate from the question of determinism within God’s plan.)

Logical conclusion: Since God did not intervene in natural processes after creation, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena.” (italicized emphasis mine)


“The distinctive ideas of the DE model can be summarized as follows:

Philosophical axiom: God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to accomplish that plan.

Inferences: Miracles are recorded in the Bible to show that God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, so it is reasonable to think the same might be true for natural history.

Logical conclusion: Since we see a large number of low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a goal (teleological), these would be best explained as interventions.”

Others have tried similar categorizations of some or all of the above along the spectrum of origins beliefs (e.g., Ian Barbour (1997), Eugenie Scott (1999), Giberson & Yerxa (2002), Kurt Wise (2002)), though the only other attempt I am a little familiar with is that by Marcus Ross (2005). I am obviously partial to Rau’s efforts, while recognizing that there is still variation within each of his “models” and likely exceptions to some of the generalizations. (See J.W. Wartick’s article for some discussion on this and a little more explanation on the six. Also, Melissa Cain Travis wrote a very helpful, 2-part review of Rau’s book. All three of us highly recommend it.)

That should be sufficient to give you a handle on the general positions regarding creation, evolution, and design. Hopefully in the next week or two, I’ll conclude this primer by listing several positions held regarding the Creation Days.

Part 3a
Part 3b


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