Saturday, September 23, 2006

Only One Creation

Speaking of creation (as I was in the previous post), I think it's worth pondering an interesting but false distinction that is all too common in arguments between evolutionists and creationists. Evolutionists and other scientists claim that creationism cannot count as science because it is untestable--and they are right, but not for the reasons they claim.

According to the standard story one hears from scientists, the principal difficulty with creationism is that it refers to a unique event in history, something that some folks dub The Creation or Special Creation. Special Creation is supposed to refer to that moment in time at which the material universe began to exist (creationists differ as to how long ago this occured--it was anywhere from 6000 to 13 billion years ago). Since this event was a one-time, one-of-a-kind thing, it is not something that can be subsumed under any law of nature and, hence, is not testable.

But this is not what "Creation" as such is. Or, better, this understanding of Creation is too narrow. As Aristotle might have put it, in one way this moment was The Creation and in another way it is not. It seems to be The Creation because it marks the beginning of the existence of the material universe. But Creation as such is a continuous thing, since God is atemporal and the creative act, for him, transcends all time. To put it another way, the act of creation was not merely that moment in (our) time at which the material universe began to exist, it is all moments in time: God continually holds all of creation in existence by an act of his will. If he were not "continually" willing the material universe to exist, it would cease to do so.

This is a theological point that no scientists who are not themselves religious have articulated, and very few creationists bother to make the point either. It is, however, a point known to the educated; among scientists, for example, Steven Barr has mentioned it in his published works, and among philosophers the idea is at least as old as Pierre Malebranche, if not older.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that this fuller understanding of the nature of The Creation will be of any help to creationists, because no matter how you conceive of The Creation, whether as a moment in time or as a "continous" act of God's will that is outside of time, it remains something untestable and, hence, unscientific. The single-moment conception is untestable because it is not subsumable under any law; the "continuous" act of the will conception is untestable because it is not subject to empirical truth conditions. In fact, the only "test" anyone has ever even suggested is the notoriously fallacious analogy from like effects, a "test" that in itself is not scientific but in any event proves nothing.

The point here is not to bludgeon any further the dead cause of creationism, but to remind all seriously religious folks of the complex and beautiful conception of Creation as it is authentically taught. Accept no fundamentalist substitutes here, folks--you'll be missing out on something truly spectacular, truly miraculous: every instantaneous moment of your existence upheld by an act of God's will!


djr said...

For what it's worth, the understanding of Creation that you've described was what I heard at my first RCIA meeting. So somebody is getting it right. Not that it solves many intellectual problems, but it is definitely much richer than the canned version of 'creation' that we usually hear about.

Steve said...

I think this issue between religion and science becomes more difficult for those who subscribe to creatio secunda such as Mormons

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