Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything

imagesI’ve just started reading Gerald Rau’s book Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything, and I must say, I am finding it incredibly helpful. There is a lot of heat, and less light these days in the so-called “science vs. religion” wars. Rau’s purpose (as far as I can tell 80 pages in) is simply to educate without taking a side on the various positions one may hold in explaining four separate events: the origin of the universe, life, species, and humans. The book is well organized and contains many helpful charts (these alone are worth the price of the book) at the end that set each of the models side-by-side, highlighting similarities and differences.Insightfully, Rau points out that our choice of a model is (in part) determined by our philosophical stance regarding the degree of interaction between the supernatural and the natural worlds. If we think there is no supernatural, there can be no interaction, so we will need to find a naturalistic explanation for every phenomenon. If we think that God not only exists but also has supernaturally revealed both his method and timing of creation in the first chapters of Genesis, we will be led to take the creation story as a literal twenty-four hour days. Between these two extremes lie the remaining positions.

So, to whet your appetite, let me set out the six models of origins and their respective stance on the relationship between religion and science as articulated by Rau:

1. Naturalistic Evolution (NE): The origin of everything can be explained through science and empirical observation. Naturalism is true: there is no supernatural reality. Science and Religion are separate complementary domains, but science is the better domain (science deals with knowledge, whereas religion deals with subjective values). Advocates: Dawkins, Dennett, Steven Jay Gould, etc.

2. Nontelelogical Evolution (NTE): there is no intervention of the supernatural after the foundation of the universe. Except for the origin of the universe, NTE is identical to NE in its interpretation of the scientific evidence (that is, it seeks to identify a natural cause for all natural phenomena subsequent to creation). Science and religion are separate complementary domains of knowledge, but the two are equal in value, or religion is superior. Advocates: de Duve, Barbour, Haught.

3. Planned Evolution (PE): God had a definite plan in mind, which was set in motion at the moment of creation. The early chapters of Genesis should be viewed as an ancient genre wherein the emphasis is placed on the actor rather than the action, on God as creator rather than the process of creation. God has the capacity to intervene in nature but does not need to do so because of the perfection of the original creation (“the fully gifted creation,” Howard van Till) which is able to bring forth life in various forms over time in response to changing conditions, ultimately leading to mankind. Scientifically, PE is almost identical to NE and NTE, since God does not regularly intervene in the development of life or species, and therefore the natural processes are sufficient to explain the evidence. Science and religion are separate complementary domains of knowledge, but each is important and superior in its own area of study. Advocates: Francis Collins and Biologos, perhaps Timothy Keller.

4. Directed Evolution (DE): God not only brought the universe into being but continues to act in it, not only in the lives of individuals in response to prayer, but also in creative events, to bring about his plans. (In many cases, this does not involve superseding natural laws as much as direction of low probability events.) Science and religion are not distinct or complementary domains of knowledge, but rather are interacting domains of knowledge., on DE, some questions are best addressed using evidence from both domains.

NB: In contrast to the four evolutionary models just described, which claim there are no gaps in natural processes where God’s creative hand is evident, the two creationary models claim that empirical evidence of direct creative acts can be found in creation. Thus, they assert that the Bible explains not only the purpose of creation but also something about its mechanism.

5. Old-earth creation (OEC): a model of origins based on the premise that the Creator acted sequentially in creation, according to the order referred to in Genesis, over a long period of time. Science and religion are interacting domains. Further, Genesis has explicit scientific value—the order of events in Gen. 1 accurately reflects the order of what happened. Advocates: Hugh Ross (Reason to Believe), Stephen Meyer (and many at the Discovery Institute).

6. Young-earth creation (YEC): A model of origins based on the premise that the Creator finished creation in a period of six twenty-four hour days, in the order listed in Genesis, within the past ten thousand years. Adam and Eve were created de novo (“afresh”, instead of by slow natural processes) by God. As opposed to the complementary or interacting domains views, YEC holds to overlapping domains of knowledge (conflict). Thus, where evidence from another domain, particularly natural science, appears to conflict with what the Bible says, it is the latter that comes out on top and in which we are to trust. Advocates: Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, John Morris, Institute for Creation Research.

If you are interested in understanding the framework of the debate and the relationship between evolution, science, and Christianity, I highly recommend to you this book. Apart from the above helpful models, Rau nicely elucidates the underlying hermeneutical, theological, and philosophical presuppositions to each position.

8 Responses to Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything

  1. The Janitor says:

    It should be kept in mind that the categories of conflicting vs. interacting are usually simplistic representations of what those involved are trying to do. To illustrate, on a YEC view we will (or should) account for the strength of the exegetical evidence. So, for instance, the exegetical case for Scripture teaching geocentrism is much weaker than the exegetical case for six ordinary days of creation. As such, young earth creationists need not be committed to geocentrism to be consistent with their theological system.

    Ignoring these complexities can lead to misunderstanding. On this particular point, OEC often ask with incredulity why, if we believe in a young earth, we don’t also accept geocentrism.

  2. Matthew Price says:

    I think that, as Christians, we should understand all truth as God’s truth, and moreover, within a Universe (an entire system of all things in relation to each other) that any truth will be related to any other truth… So it seems that to have more than one domain of knowledge is mistaken (maybe “branches” is a better term, as in branches of Science).

    Perhaps also talking about natural vs. supernatural is an unhelpful dichotomy… If a miracle occurs, surely it isn’t that natural laws have been suspended, but that, from within an entire body of related laws (both natural and supernatural), some ‘supernatural’ ones are having a greater effect – in much the same way as flight does not mean the law of gravity has been suspended (excuse the pun…)?

    Perhaps then, God’s involvement with creation isn’t merely intervention/non-intervention, but differing degrees of application of a universal set of laws?

    • says:

      Hello Matt-I think your question is very insightful. Perhaps intervention is not the right word, given a God-bathed world that is created and sustained by God!

      • Matthew Price says:

        Thanks – It seems also that the biblical narrative shows differing degrees of the “directness” of God’s involvement (in judgement, revelation, providence, etc.), so it’s probably not unreasonable to think that he would create in the same manner.

        By the way, I’m going through Collins’ “Language of God” in a book group at the moment, so it’s helpful to see where he sits on the spectrum!

  3. Gerald Rau says:

    Thanks for the review. Not only in the first 80 pages, but throughout the book, my purpose is “to educate without taking a side on the various positions.” Although total neutrality is impossible, I try to present why each thinks their perspective is the best, rather than why I think one is the best. Hope you enjoy the rest of the book.

    • says:

      Hello Gerald, you are welcome. I did enjoy the rest of the book–I have found in very helpful. I just posted another blog on your book–I think you provide, even as you don’t force us to choose a model, a good guide on how to do that–I try and map that out in latest blog.

  4. Pingback: Forks in the Road in Choosing a Model of Origins | Paul Gould

  5. Rich Davis says:

    Hey Paul —

    Where do you think folks like JP, Bill Craig, and Al Plantinga fall on this scale? Are they guided evolution people?

    It’s hard to believe that (say) Paul and Jesus believed in the Adam of Genesis 1 (created out of the dust), whereas Adam was actually pre-homind in a herd of thousands.

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