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Robert J. Schneider's views on Science and Faith
11 years ago

I have decided to cut and paste the essays from a Christian website for the sake of encouraging critical discussion among EE members on matters regarding faith. I have already indicated to at least one EE member that I'd like more input from moderate religious views on evolution, as opposed to merely bashing fundamentalism because of its anti-evolution bigotry. So, here we go!


Robert J. Schneider

Revelations for a Doctrine of Creation

There is a sense in which every Christian is a "creationist," for every Christian believes that he or she lives in a universe that is a creation, and that the Source of creation is the God who is revealed in the Bible as "maker of heaven and earth." This is true, whether the Christian is a young-earth creationist, an old earth creationist, an intelligent design creationist, or an evolutionary creationist. While these various creationists may strongly disagree among themselves about the "how" of creation, and subscribe to different portraits or models of creation, they do agree on certain essential beliefs or doctrines about creation, beliefs that they find anchored in the revelations of Holy Scripture. So, to look at creation from the perspective of Christian faith we begin with the Bible.

First, we need to understand what the word means. "Creation," as I shall use the word in these essays, refers both to the process and product of creation: we apply it both to the creation of the universe and to the universe as a creation. And I must make an important clarification from the start. Too often, "creation" as process is popularly understood, and thus misunderstood, to refer simply to the origination of the universe. Many people, it appears, think of creation as something that happened in the past. To them "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1) means "God did this way back then." Christians have been arguing rather vociferously in recent years over how far back "then" is, as many believers accept the scientific evidence for a universe some 13.7 billion years old, and others claim that the Bible teaches that the universe is only about 6,000 to 10,000 years old. In fact, the Bible doesn't teach this, but that is another matter, and we'll review this controversy in a later essay.

But Christian theologians, both ancient and contemporary, declare that this understanding of the act of creation as a past event is limited and inadequate, for the Bible sets out a more complex understanding of "creation." I shall survey some perspectives from the history of Christian theology on the meaning of creation in the second essay, but here I focus on creation as understood in Holy Scripture.

There is a consensus among biblical scholars that the revelation about creation in the Bible refers primarily to the relationship between the Creator and the creation,

and that the Bible declares that this relationship, as I shall explain below, is both intimate and covenantal. Furthermore, in the Bible "creation" is revealed not only as the calling forth of the universe into being but also its sustaining in existence and its eventual transformation: original creation, continuous creation, new creation. While some Christians emphasize the verse in Genesis that states, "God finished his creation," the Bible witnesses in other places that God continues to create, and will "make all things new." Also, "creation" for those of Christian faith also includes God's calling humanity into covenants, enduring bonds of promise and fidelity, especially the covenant God established with the Israelites at Sinai and the new covenant Christ established with all who believe in him. Out of these covenants the good news goes forth that the God who creates heaven and earth is the same God who saves-from bondage in Egypt, from bondage to sin.

The popular emphasis that is placed on the first chapter of the Book of Genesis has encouraged this misunderstanding about the meaning of creation. But as important as that narrative is, it is only one of many passages in both the Old and New Testaments that reveal the relationship between the Creator and the creation. An appendix at the conclusion of this essay lists them. Here I shall try to summarize the major themes of creation that are to be found in these and other passages in the Bible.

Part 2 of essay 1
11 years ago

Major themes of the first creation narrative:

Let me start where most people start, but ask you to reread Genesis 1:1-2:4a, the first creation narrative, with fresh eyes. Set aside any preconceptions as to how you would ordinarily interpret it, and ask the question as if for the first time, "What is this narrative about?" I shall take the position, common among most Christian scholars, including many evangelicals, that Genesis 1 is not "a straightforward, historical and scientific account of how God created," the view espoused by young-earth creationists. Rather, this magnificent hymn-like passage is a theological proclamation, a manifesto, a statement of faith about both the creation and the Creator. Disagreements among Christians over the interpretation of Genesis 1 often fall into an either/or argument: either it's history, people argue, or metaphor (or poetry); those who think it is not an account of what actually happened call it "just a story." I should like to sidestep this rather misleading dichotomy. First, what is historical about Genesis 1 is the context in which it was framed, and it needs to be understood within that context. Second, the word "metaphor" does not do justice to this powerful and majestic proclamation. I agree with the widely accepted view that Genesis 1 is a narrative that combines the rhythms and repetitions of a worship text with a theological declaration. This revelatory narrative challenges and rejects the theologies of Israel's polytheistic neighbors, both the Canaanites among whom they lived as a free people and the Babylonians among whom they lived as exiles. It is anti-mythological, in that it rejects the mythological truth claims of its neighbors' creation stories; but it proclaims theological rather than chronological truths. As I shall argue below, in agreement with the great majority of biblical scholars, including evangelicals, Genesis 1 is a theological hymn of praise to the God of creation and a celebration of creation.

It might seem redundant to those of you who are Christians if I should summarize the content of Genesis 1, but there is a pattern in this creation narrative that is often not recognized, and it is worthwhile to point it out. The account begins with that part of the creation that is other than the heavens, here spoken of as "the earth" but including "the Deep," in a state of "utter chaos" (Wenham I, 15-16), translated in the KJV as "without form and void" (Heb. "tohuwabohu"). Many scholars have noted a pattern to the "six days": in the first three "bohu," i.e., "formlessness," is given form: (1) light emerges from darkness, (2) the waters are separated to form the lower and upper seas-the latter supported by the "firmament," and (3) land emerges from the lower sea and is adorned with plant life. In the latter three days "tohu," i.e., the state of being "empty," is filled: (4) the sun, moon, and stars fill the firmament, (5) fish and other sea creatures fill the lower sea and birds the sky, and (6) wild and domestic beasts, other land creatures, and human beings fill the earth (Hyers 67-71). The seventh day of rest hallows and validates the commandment of a Sabbath rest (Exod. 20:11) by weaving it into the very structure of creation.

Because of this pattern, many evangelical biblical scholars have been drawn to some version of a "framework hypothesis": the six days are to be seen not as a chronological account of the steps of creation but as a framework in which the various categories of "creature"--the word refers to both inanimate and living things--are laid out in a logical order that in itself declares that creation in the beginning involves the bringing of order out of chaos. The "utter chaos," the "formless and empty" undifferentiated mass of the beginning of creation is a "problem" God moves immediately to solve, and the solution is to differentiate matter through separation and to fill it with both inanimate and animate creatures. Seen in the light of this hypothesis, Genesis 1 provides a theological declaration of God's creativity rather than a scientific description of events (Hyer, ibid; Wenham I, 39-40).

Part 3 of essay 1
11 years ago

If we read and interpret Genesis 1 theologically rather than scientifically, then what sort of revelation can we expect to find in it? Genesis 1 teaches what is the common faith of all Christians (and also Jews and Muslims): that there is one God, not the many, combative divinities Israel's Semitic neighbors believed in and made actors in their creation myths. The creation is called forth by this one God in a placid and orderly manner and given structure; it is not the expression of contending divine forces that Israel's neighbors believed accounted for the changes and upheavals they experienced within nature. The "utter chaos" of undifferentiated matter God marshals and makes fertile by simple but powerful and royal declarations of "Let there be!" God does not have to battle other forces in order to bring cosmos (order) to creation. Even the sea monsters are not divinities (as in the creation myths of Israel's neighbors) but products of God's creative word (Gen. 1:21). Further, this creation is entirely natural; no portion of it is to be understood as divine. While it is sacred because it is the product of the Holy One, it is not composed of divine beings. Genesis 1 also implies that the entire creation is contingent, wholly dependent upon its Creator for its very being and continuing existence and for all of the forms, capacities, capabilities, and potentialities it possesses-all of its elements, living and non-living--and that it is given all these solely by the will of its Author. Finally, this majestic narrative proclaims that in the eyes of its Maker, each element of the creation is essentially good, and that looking upon the whole of creation God declares that it is very good.

God's intimate companionship with the creation and creation's grateful response:

Christians disagree whether the story of Eden in Genesis 2:4-24 is a second creation story that differs from the account in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Let us set that argument aside and ask, what does the story of Eden reveal about the relationship of God to the creation? I think the answer is clear: God's relationship is an intimate one. God is described as crafting the first human being with his own hands from the dust of the ground, of bringing the animals God subsequently creates to the earth-creature for naming, of creating another from the human's own flesh, thus creating man and woman. As the narrative continues in the following chapter, God is described as walking with the man and the woman in the Garden in the cool of the evening. If the creation narrative in Genesis 1 depicts God as transcendent, that is, wholly other than the creation, "standing apart," as it were, from the creation he calls into existence, then the creation story of Genesis 2 emphasizes God's immanence, his presence within the creation, his intimate interaction with the creation. Both of these notions are present, as we shall see in the second essay, in the theology of creation that develops in early Christian thought.

God's intimacy with creation is an important theme throughout the Old Testament. God's address to Job (chapters 38-41) reveals God's intimate relationship with all of his creation, and, even more, God's joy in everything that he has created, whether it be in the "majestic snorting" of the horse or the soaring hawk or the wild ass that scorns the city (Job 39:7, 20, 26). Many of the Psalms also emphasize God's love and intimate relationship with the creation, and the latter's utter dependence upon God for its existence and its operation. Psalm 104, an extended hymn to creation and the Creator, lauds God's creative activities. This psalm is an important witness to the revelation that God's creative activity is ongoing: significantly, nearly every one of its verbs is in the present tense. For the Psalmist, God continually creates, making the springs gush forth in the valleys, causing the grass to grow for all hoofed beasts, planting the cedars of Lebanon (Ps. 104:10, 14, 16). Creation's utter dependence is emphasized:

When you hide your face they are dismayed
When you take away their breath they die;
When you send forth your Spirit they are created,
And you renew the face of the earth
(v. 29)

Yes, God's covenant with the earth is a covenant of faithful sustenance and continuous creation. The biblical God is always making things, sustaining things, renewing things, blessing things.

Creation's grateful response is to praise its creator. In Ps.148, the psalmist eloquently calls upon every element of the creation--sun and moon, fire and hail, snow and frost, creeping things and flying fowl, "every thing that hath breath"--to praise the Lord.

The biblical writers live in a world whose every creature is alive to the presence of its Creator and rejoices at his manifestations.

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). At the coming of the Lord, the morning stars sing together (Job 38:7), the mountains skip like rams (Ps. 114:4), and the trees of the field clap their hands (Isa. 56:12).

Part 4 of essay 1
11 years ago

These and many other passages may show us how differently the ancient Israelites and we ourselves experience the creation. So many of us today are so little connected with the natural world. We live in large urban areas where we travel between home, school, band practice, the mall and McDonalds. Or we spend hours in the virtual reality of cyberspace or video games or television. Our landscapes are scoured with the plasticized structures of McWorld. Light pollution blots out our view of the Milky Way and other stars. Or we live in our heads, intellectually or imaginatively, in the realm of ideas or fantasies. When I taught the course that inspired these essays, I assigned students to spend a brief period of time weekly gazing at the heavens at night or at some thing of beauty in nature during the day. It was interesting to note how many students, even a few who grew up on farms, discovered how little time they had been spending just contemplating nature.

But the biblical writers and their fellow Israelites did not have these distractions and barriers. They lived in intimate relationship with the landscape that surrounded and sustained them. They were attuned to the changes of the seasons, the flights of birds, the fury of storms, the silence of the heavens and of the desert wastes, the bleating of lambs and goats, the hot, dry desert wind, stretching the dust out like a curtain, the breezes blowing through the cedars that adorned the hills and high places. They looked up at the night sky and saw the parade of stars that moved across its great dome. They were aware of the expanse of the heavens and of the deserts that stretched from horizon to horizon, and some may have viewed the magnificent vista of the Jordan Valley from the heights of Mt. Zion with awe, as I once did. This creation seemed small enough that they could feel its intimacy, could feel close to the God whose throne was heaven and footstool earth. This is the God who spoke to them in a burning bush and in the sound of a still, small voice, who accompanied them in cloud and fire, who made prophets his friends and kings his sons. It is no wonder these inspired writers proclaimed a God whose relationship to the world was so awesome and yet so intimate.

The One who creates is also the One who saves:

The message proclaimed in Genesis 1 is made explicit also in the words of the prophet of the Babylonian Exile (6th century BC) preserved in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah 40-45 contains words of comfort the prophet offers to his fellow Judahites exiled in Babylon: his ringing proclamation that their God is the One who has created the heavens and the earth:

I am the Lord who made all things,
Who alone stretched out the heavens,
Who by myself spread out the earth.
(Isa. 44:23; cf. 42:5-6)

Who has measured the waters in the hollows of his hand,
And marked off the heavens with a span,
Enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,
And weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
…The Lord is the everlasting God,
The Creator of the ends of the earth
(Isa. 40:12, 28).

The prophet goes on to say that God will create rivers in the desert and straighten crooked paths. He will make a new thing. When he freed Israel from bondage in Egypt centuries earlier, God created of them a people for his own and made a covenant with them. Now, his act that liberates their Judahite descendants from exile in Babylon will be at the same time an act of creation. He will renew his people as he renews the creation, and will give them a new covenantal responsibility, to be a light to the nations (Is. 42:6). Thus, creation and salvation are closely tied together in the understanding of the biblical writers.

God creates the universe in wisdom:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all...
(Ps. 104:25)

An important theme in the Old Testament is that God creates all things in wisdom, an expression of God's own nature. God is the source of all wisdom (Prov. 2:8), and wisdom is one of the most important of God's gifts to humankind (Prov. 8:11-12). Specifically, wisdom's role in creation is highlighted in key passages. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified and praised as God's agent and assistant in creation. "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work," Wisdom declares, "the first of his acts of old." "When he established the heavens" and "marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman" (Prov. 8:22ff). In the magnificent love song to the creation in Job 38-41, God reminds Job that only God's wisdom knows the creation in its entirety and in all its parts, and that the knowledge and understanding of human beings is limited.

Part 5 of essay 1
11 years ago
The creation as the expression of God's Wisdom is also developed in the books of the Apocrypha, recognized as part of the Old Testament by Roman Catholic and eastern Orthodox Christians. In the book of Ecclesiasticus, Jesus son of Sirach writes that Wisdom alone has "made the circuit of the vault of heaven and … walked in the depths of the abyss" (Sir. 24:5). Thus, whatever human beings are able to comprehend about the creation, wisdom teaches them, as the author of the book of Wisdom also declares (Wis. 7:22). In this same passage, an eloquent psalm of praise, the author describes Wisdom as "a breath of the power of God and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty, … a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness" (25-26).The Word and Wisdom of God is revealed in Jesus Christ, the Lord of Creation:

"Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God"
(1 Cor. 1:24)

In the New Testament, these themes of creation found in the Old Testament are recapitulated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Once his disciples proclaimed their Nazarene teacher to be Lord and Messiah following his Resurrection, some early Christians soon came to perceive him in more cosmic terms. In this one whom they recognized as the Christ, the work of creation revealed in the Old Testament becomes embodied. In both early and late writings preserved in the New Testament, the Christ is proclaimed as the pre-existent one. In the Letter to the Colossians he is lauded as

the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible or invisible…
all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together….
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross"
(Col. 1:15-17, 19-20).

In this remarkable passage, perhaps an early Christian hymn incorporated by the writer of this letter, we see Christ proclaimed as the Agent of Creation (in him all things were created), the Wisdom of God (the firstborn of all creation, as in Prov. 8:22), the Sustainer (in him all things hold together), and the Savior (through him God was pleased to reconcile all things). And the passage itself rings with praise to Christ. He--the One through whom God saves, and not only human beings but all things, the entire cosmos--is also the very Word of God who spoke the whole of creation into existence, as John the Evangelist also affirmed in the words of perhaps another early Christian hymn:

In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God,
And the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
And without him not one thing came into being
(John 1:1-3).

In the earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, who had such a profound sense of intimacy with his Father, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, we also see his intimacy with the creation. The one who stilled the storm on the lake, whom the winds and the waves obeyed (Mark 4:35-41), also spoke of the lilies of the field and the fall of a sparrow, of the search for lost lambs, of vineyards and fields of grain, of the simple yet sacramental elements of water, bread and wine. The intimacy with God's creation he shared with his fellow Jews prefigured the deeper intimacy his followers would come to believe of him: that he is the One who holds all the creation together in himself.

In these New Testament proclamations about the cosmic Christ, the elements of the Old Testament portrait of the creation and its Creator find their completeness.

Is There a "Portrait" of Creation in the Bible?

Up to this point I have focused on those passages about Creation in Holy Scripture that have provided essential themes for a theology of creation. But does the Bible, in particular the Old Testament writings, also offer a portrait of the creation, that is, do these writings contain a conceptual model to account for the variety of natural phenomena the sacred writers observed and described? One does find such a portrait: it was basically the "standard model" the Israelites shared with their Semitic neighbors of the ancient Near East. Although there is no single passage where this portrait is elaborated in detail, there are a number of allusions to its various elements throughout the Old Testament.

Part 6 of essay 1
11 years ago

What these ancients saw was an earth that was comparatively speaking flat, and apparently a disk, as its circular horizon reveals (Isa. 40:22a). The Earth, here meaning "the land" (and not "the other part of the creation from the heavens") apparently rests upon and is surrounded by a huge body of water, which the Hebrews referred to as "the Deep" (Prov. 8:27; Job 26:10). The portion of this water that lies under the earth is the source of the freshwater springs that well up from below the ground (Gen. 2:5). Above the land is a great expanse of the sky, which appears dome-like, called the Firmament (Heb., "raqi'a" [Gen. 1:5]); it is held up by "pillars," high mountains on the edge of the earth (Job 26:11). That this dome-like expanse was thought to be solid is clear from the fact that one finds another great sea above it, referred to in the Bible as the "upper sea" or the "waters above the heavens" (Gen. 1:6-7; Ps. 148:4). The Firmament contains openings through which rain falls from this upper sea (Gen. 7:11-12) and "storehouses" which hold snow, hail, and lightning (Job 38:22).

In the great expanse of Sky are placed the lights of the stars, and the "greater and lesser lights," the sun and the moon. Elsewhere the sun is described poetically as "running its course" (Ps. 19:5). In Gen. 1:14-18, God is said to have set the stars, sun and moon in the dome; elsewhere, they appear, and are understood, to utilize openings in the expanse or the horizon as they make their journeys across the skies.

There is another area within the disk of the earth that enters into this portrait of the creation, an underworld called Sheol. Located deep within the earth (Isa. 7:11; Prov. 9:18), vast (Hab. 2:5) and dark (Job 10:21-22), it was regarded as the natural resting place of the dead--but not, for the Hebrews, a place of punishment (Job 3:11-19).

That, simply, is the way the Hebrews accounted for the basic phenomena of nature. They sometimes conceived of their model as bipartite--God made "the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1), and sometimes as tripartite--"the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth" (Exod. 20:4), but it is clear that the creation they saw around them was conceptualized in this way (for more detailed accounts of this portrait, see the books and articles by Bailey, Stadelmann, Stek, Seely, Van Till, and Walton, listed in "Further Reading," below).

These biblical writers were not scientists, and the fact that there is no extensive, detailed description of the physical world in the Bible strongly suggests that they were not inspired to provide a scientific description.

Rather, they were spokespersons of the message that the world they perceived was created and sustained by the God who led them from bondage to freedom, and showed his power in every aspect of the creation. In my view it is a mistake, and truly misguided, to try to read modern scientific knowledge into these ancient depictions, as some Christians try to do (Schneider 159-169). The Bible does not contain this sort of knowledge. Evangelical Bible scholar Gordon Wenham's comment on this practice expresses my own view:

Instead of reading the chapter as a triumphant affirmation of the power and wisdom of God and the wonder of his creation, we have been too often bogged down in attempting to squeeze Scripture into the mold of the latest scientific hypothesis or distorting scientific facts to fit a particular interpretation. When allowed to speak for itself, Gen. 1 looks beyond such minutiae. Its proclamation of the God of grace and power who undergirds the world and gives it purpose justifies the scientific approach to nature (40).

The cosmological model of the ancient Hebrews was not ours. On the other hand, it does not deserve to be dismissed as "pre-scientific" or scorned because it is outmoded; rather, one can respect and honor it for the service it provided in making the created world they lived in intelligible to the Hebrews and their descendents. Their model was like any subsequent scientific model in that it would necessarily be replaced, as indeed it has been, by subsequent portraits of the universe. Yet, and this is so important that I wish to emphasize it, the Bible's theological truths about the creation do not depend for their validity upon the ancient model in which they are set.

They are accepted as true by faith, irrespective of how each generation may conceptualize the universe they seek to understand and explain.

End of essay 1
11 years ago
Looking ahead

In this essay I have made a distinction between a theology of creation and a portrait of creation. The first has to do with the revelation that God is the creator of the universe; the second with the way God's creation appeared to and was conceptualized by his covenant people. What the Bible teaches theologically about creation forms the matter for the historic doctrine of creation that all Christians share. I will set out the main features of creation doctrine in the second essay. In the third essay I shall explain how theologians and biblical scholars throughout the centuries have upheld the Bible as truthful scripture in light of the ancient cosmological model the sacred writers describe.

Appendix: Biblical Passages relating to Creation

Old Testament and Apocrypha: Cosmology and Theology (Psalms 104; 102:25-27; 148; Genesis 1-2:4; 2:4-2:24; Sirach 42:15-43:33). God, Creator and Redeemer (Isaiah 40-43; Psalms 33; 74:12-23; 77; 136). Wisdom (Proverbs 8; Sirach 24:1-7; Wisdom 7:7-8:1).

New Testament: Christ the Creator (I Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:9-23; Hebrews 1:1-13 [=Psalms 102:25-27; 110:1]; John 1:1-14). Christ and the New Creation (Romans 8:18-25; 2 Peter 1:1-8; Revelation 21-22:5).

Further Reading

Bailey, Lloyd R., Genesis, Creation, and Creationism. New York: Paulist Press, 1993.

The Holy Bible (KJV, NRSV).

Bouma-Prediger, Steven, For the beauty of the earth: A christian vision for creation care. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001, Chapter 4.

Hyers, Conrad, The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science. Atlanta: John Knox, 1984.

Schneider, Robert J., "Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth?" in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith [PSCF] 53 (2001) 159-169

Seely, Paul, "The Geographical Meaning of 'Earth' and 'Seas' in Gen. 1:10," Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997) 231-55.

Seely, Paul, "The Three-Storied Universe," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation [PSCF] 21 (1969) 18-22 (

Stadelmann, Luis, S.J., The Hebrew Conception of the World. Analecta Biblica, 39. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970.

Stek, John H., "What Says the Scripture?" in Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation, by Howard J. Van Till et al. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Van Till, Howard J., The Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens are Telling Us about the Creation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986. "Part I: The Biblical View."

Walton, John H., Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Wenham, Gordon, ed., Genesis. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 1. Waco, TX: Word, 1996.

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11 years ago
Part 1 of essay 2
11 years ago


Robert J. Schneider


Christian theology is the intentional, rational and creative process of reflection and articulation of beliefs about God, human beings, and the creation, based first and foremost on the interpretation of biblical revelation, but also on the theologian's understanding of the natural world and the world of humanity. This process has led to the development of a theology of creation. The earliest Christian thinkers, those whom we call the Church Fathers, laid down the basic features of this theology, and their concepts have remained central to the way Christians have understood the relationship of God to the world throughout the history of Christian thought. In this essay, we shall look at the foundations and development of creation theology through the time of the Protestant Reformation by focusing upon the ideas of four influential thinkers: the patristic theologians Irenaeus of Lyons and Augustine of Hippo, the medieval thinker Thomas Aquinas, and the reformer John Calvin. In another essay, I shall show how contemporary theologians and theologically literate scientists have found in their concepts about creation the basis for a revised theology that accounts for God's action in an evolving creation.

Cosmos as Creation: The Contributions of the early Church FathersChallenge and response

As pointed out in the first essay, Old Testament proclamations about God and creation sometimes display a polemical dimension: Israel's faith was shaped in the context of the challenges that the polytheistic religions of the Canaanites, Egyptians, and Babylonians posed. The prophet in Isaiah, chapters 40-55, and the writer in Genesis 1 declared that the creation is not the work of many gods but of the one and same God who saves his covenant people; that the creation itself is not divine or made up of divinities, but wholly other than divine and wholly dependent upon the one Creator for its very existence, order, structure, and creaturely capacities. While Israel and her neighbors shared the same cosmological model of the heavens--the circular earth, and the waters placed above the firmament and below the land--Israel's explanation for why this world existed and how it came into being differed radically from that of her neighbors.

As Christianity emerged within the intellectual world of the various philosophies and religious cults of the Roman Empire, those who developed its theology were faced with a similar problem. A new "standard model" of the cosmos developed by Greek philosophers offered an alternative to the older Semitic model. The Greeks depicted a cosmos consisting of a spherical earth fixed at its center and surrounded by a number of transparent spheres of planets and fixed stars, all moving in a circular motion. Gone were such features of the old cosmology as waters above the heavens and a flat, circular earth. Christian thinkers recognized the cogency of this cosmological model and over the centuries incorporated it into their world-view. However, certain philosophical assumptions linked to this world-view challenged theologians to articulate a theology of creation that provided an alternative Christian understanding of the world.

God creates out of nothing: Creatio ex nihilo

The Greeks held that the cosmos had always existed, that there has always been matter out of which the world has come into its present form. Aristotle (384-322 BC), the foremost natural philosopher of his day, had developed a philosophical argument for the eternity of the world (Physics, I, 9; On the Heavens, I, 3). Philosophers of other schools such as the Stoics and the Epicureans also agreed that the world or its underlying reality is eternal. All these thinkers were led to this conclusion because they observed that "nothing can come out of nothing," and so there always has to be a "something" that other things can come from, however one understands the processes of coming into being and passing away.

Against this notion of an eternal cosmos, the church fathers reasserted the biblical doctrine of creation, and in doing so they emphasized not only the transcendent otherness of God but also the astonishing immensity of God's power.

God did not form the world out of a pre-existent matter, but spoke into being ("Let there be!") that which literally did not exist before.

Part 2 of essay 2
11 years ago

This doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) is not a teaching dependent upon particular biblical passages, though thinkers have cited 2 Maccabees 7:28 and Rom. 4:19, both of which speak of God bringing things into existence from non-existence. Yet these verses exerted less influence than the declarations of God's creative power found throughout the Bible.

Creation out of nothing is central to the theology of one of the most important early Christian thinkers, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (d. ca. 202). Rejecting Greek notions about the world in his treatise Against the Heresies, Irenaeus declared: "God, in the exercise of his will and pleasure, formed all things…out of what did not previously exist" (II.x.2: Irenaeus 370). The concept, adopted by other patristic theologians, perhaps finds its mature form in the writings of Augustine of Hippo (354-430), who in his Confessions declares that through his Wisdom God creates all things, not out of himself or any other thing, but literally out of nothing (XII, 7; Pine-Coffin 284).

The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo illustrates a very important feature of creation theology: it is a principle drawn from an interpretation of biblical revelation, not a conclusion drawn from scientific observation.

It is not dependent upon any scientific model of the cosmos for its validity, and that means that it also will be consonant with any scientific model that does not insist on the world's eternity. Over the centuries, science has given us its best understanding of the way the world works and what it is like; and with each major increase in knowledge and understanding new theories and models of the world have emerged. But Christian theology has always declared that, whatever understandings and theories about the universe science may attain, the Source of everything that exists for science to study is the God who creates them. Finite existence derives solely from the will of God.

Creation is good.

In addition to the debate with Greek philosophy over the eternity of the world, mainstream Christian thought was engaged in a struggle with a powerful religious movement known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism asserted that matter and all that is made of it is essentially of inferior value, or even evil, the work of a lesser deity Christian Gnostics identified with the god of the Old Testament. We human beings, they held, are eternal souls created by the good god of the New Testament but trapped in a corrupt material world. Our way out is through a secret knowledge (Greek "gnosis") that liberates the spirit from the power of matter.

Irenaeus spoke out against the Gnostics, and extensively so, in his treatise On the Heresies. He argued that these heretics are mistaken in positing two divine principles, one inferior to the other, for the God who proclaimed salvation in Jesus Christ is the same God who created heaven and earth. Matter cannot be evil, since as Scripture has declared, God said that his creation is "good"; indeed, the whole of it is "very good."

Because God is Supreme Goodness, and his creation is the expression of his essential nature, which is Love, any product of God's creating activity must also be good.

God creates neither out of external necessity or internal compulsion, but freely out of his gracious will (II, ix-x; IV, xiv.2; Irenaeus 369-370, 478).

The Trinitarian Creator

Creation theology took a most important turn when the early Church resolved a more fundamental question within Christian thought: how are Christians to understand the very nature of God? In particular, what is the relationship of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit to God the Father? That the Holy Spirit was a manifestation of God's creative power and activity was attested in the Bible (cf. Ps. 104:30). The early Christian community also proclaimed its belief that Jesus the Christ was the incarnated, pre-existent, creating Word who was with the Father before the worlds began (John 17:5), the One by whom the world was spoken into being (John 1:5, echoing Gen. 1), the Wisdom of God, "the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15, echoing Prov. 8:22ff). Thus, the Christ "through whom are all things" (1 Cor. 8:6) participates in creating the world as both Word and Wisdom. The New Testament teachings about Jesus recapitulate the creation themes of the Old. But just how are Christians to understand the relationship between the one declared Son of God and the Father who so declared him? In what sense is Jesus "the image of the invisible God," "the exact imprint of God's very being"? (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3)

Part 3 of essay 2
11 years ago

Disagreements over the nature of the relationship between Christ and the Father were settled at a council of the universal Church at Nicaea in 325 AD. The Nicene Creed encapsulates the doctrine that the One God is a "tri-unity": Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in so perfect and intimate a communion within the Godhead that one can truly say, "these three are one." It simultaneously articulates the early Church's creation faith. In simple and concise theological language the Creed declares: "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…. and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, …of one Being with the Father, through whom all things were made…. and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life." The Father creates through the Son in the Spirit. Since the fourth century the Church, whatever its divisions and denominations, has maintained this common faith in a Triune Creator. As Augustine of Hippo (354-430) stated, "God the Almighty Father made and established all of creation through the only-begotten Son, that is, through the Wisdom and Power that is consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who is also consubstantial and co-eternal." (De genesi ad litteram, opus imperfectus 1,2).

Creation is continuous: creatio continua

Another central feature of Christian creation theology is the notion that creation is a continuous process. God's creation exists at every moment of time because it is upheld by his sustaining power, the work both of the Word and of the Holy Spirit, "the Lord and Giver of life." This doctrine lies at the heart of the covenant God established with the whole of creation in the beginning and renewed after the Flood (Gen. 9:8-17; Bouma-Prediger 99). Thus, theologians did not take the statement that "God finished his creation"(Gen. 2:3) to mean that God no longer creates. It would be more accurate to say, and the biblical tradition is explicit about this, that God is at every moment creating, for the creation would cease to exist altogether if God were to withdraw his sustaining power.

Continuous creation (creatio continua) is the ongoing activity of the initial creation out of nothing.

The two activities really cannot be separated, but they can be distinguished logically in that creatio ex nihilo highlights the divine transcendence, the "wholly otherness" of God from the creation, while creatio continua expresses the divine immanence. God's continual presence in creation, God's continual providence over creation, God's continual governance of creation--all are conveyed by the notion of creatio continua.

The relationship of these two notions about creation is developed in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Augustine asserted that creation is an instantaneous act: all of its materials, processes, capacities, and pathways appear at the very instant God speaks the universe into being (in this sense of instantaneous creation one could perhaps say that God "finished" his creation). However, the creation obediently responds to the divine "Let there be…" over time.

While nature is wholly dependent upon God for its very existence, it is able to express God's gracious endowment according to the relative autonomy and functional integrity that God granted it at the instance of its appearing.

The powers and capacities built into the creation allow its various forms, which existed invisibly in the mind of God and potentially in the creation at the moment of its inception, to be actualized in material substances over the course of time. In fact, time itself is a creature, Augustine maintained; that is, time itself did not exist prior to creation (and couldn't have, for there was nothing) but was created along with matter and is coextensive with the creation. The creation unfolds, in the beginning as "causal reasons" or "seed principles," as Augustine put it, which over the course of time become the actualized creatures that populate the world in all their diversity and complexity (Van Till 31).

In his Literal Commentary on Genesis, Augustine took pains to reject a literalistic understanding of the six days of creation. These "days," he asserted, are not to be understood chronologically; rather, they represent a topically ordered set of revelations to the angels as well as an accommodation to the limited intellectual powers of those who would hear the story (De genesi ad litteram, II, 8; IV, 33, 52, cited in Van Till 30). The creation's powers to actualize are not bound by a fixed period of time; rather, they are manifestations of nature's work over the period of all time, as long as time, i.e., as long as the creation, will exist.

This post was modified from its original form on 16 Jun, 21:53
Part 4 of essay 2
11 years ago

The creation is God's "love song."

In the writings of Irenaeus, Augustine, and their contemporaries, one finds the essential features of the historic theology of creation spelled out: The creation originates in the will of the Triune Creator, is made out of nothing, and is a continuing process, the product of the outpouring of God's goodness and love and the object of God's providential care. The creation, in obedient response to God's command, but in accordance with the autonomy and integrity of powers and processes graciously bestowed upon it, brings into existence over time the various forms and capacities displayed by the manifold creatures that populate the cosmos. To Augustine, the creation, God's love song (carmen dei), shows in its beauty and goodness traces of its Triune Creator (vestigia trinitatis): the goodness of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom of the Son, and the power of the Father.

Medieval and Reformed Thinkers

These elements of patristic creation theology are reaffirmed in the writings of medieval and sixteenth-century theologians. Two of them, St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, have been most influential in shaping the theological world-views of Catholic and Protestant Christians up to the present day.

Thomas Aquinas

By the time the doctrine of creation was taken up by the theologians of the thirteenth century, the spherical model of the cosmos developed by Greek philosophers Aristotle and Ptolemy of Alexandria had been incorporated into Christian thought. Theologians began to reflect upon the meaning of creation in the context of this world-view. One of the most influential, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), took up the task. He wrote a brilliant systematic exposition of the Christian faith, the Summa theologiae (ST), in which he integrated Aristotelian philosophical concepts with the theological tradition shaped by St. Augustine. Yet, Thomas read Aristotle with discrimination, for he challenged and rejected the latter's arguments for the eternity of the world (see ST I 46, 1; pp. 64-89).

Thomas' fidelity to the central notions of creation theology is clear in his argument for creatio ex nihilo and against the world's eternity, even as he uses Aristotelian concepts to make his case. He distinguishes philosophically between the essence of a thing, i.e., that which makes it what it is (e.g., its "chair-ness"), and its existence or being (e.g., an actual chair). Only in God is existence and essence identical--God is pure Being, and only by God is being conferred upon everything else that exists. While the essence of something can exist in the human mind hypothetically (e.g., the ideal "easy chair"), the actual existence of such a thing depends upon its having being, which only God can bestow. Because non-being is literally no-thing, God creates all that has existence from non-existence.

Like Augustine, Aquinas argued that in the initial act of creation God conferred upon nature its own integrity, especially the ability to exercise autonomously the causal powers God has given it, even though it depends at every moment upon God for its existence (creatio continua). Following Aristotelian notions of causality, Aquinas held that nature operates according to derived or secondary powers of cause and effect. By distinguishing between primary and secondary causality, Aquinas preserves the autonomy of the created order to work according to its secondary causal principles, what we might call its natural laws, while at the same time maintaining that God providentially and intimately works in all things as the primary cause. God's providential working is another way of expressing the notion of continuous creation, which "does not take place by reason of a new action, but by means of the continuation of that action by which God confers being" (ST I, 104, 1, ad 4; cited in Hayes 49). Moreover, nature's autonomy allows for the accidental and random. "It would be contrary to the nature of providence and to the perfection of the world if nothing happened by chance," he wrote (cited in Haught 41). Randomness, then, is an essential feature of God's creation.

As God is the Primary Cause of all that is and comes to be, so also is God the Final Cause, the end toward which all of creation tends. This teleological, or goal-centered, perspective on creation Aquinas and his contemporaries shared with Church Fathers like Augustine: creation is purposeful, both as to its cause and to its end. God creates, he says, "because it is the nature of the good to communicate itself"; and the divine goodness is one with the divine love. In response, every creature tends toward, "stretches out to, its own completion, which is a resemblance of the divine fullness and excellence." This is its goal, its final purpose (Hayes 48). Like Augustine, Aquinas also saw in the creation a fundamental likeness (similitudo) to the Creator. There is in the effects we see in the creature a presence that can lead one to identify its Cause: God's "fingerprints" (to speak analogically) can be seen in the creation.

Part 5 of essay 2
11 years ago

For Thomas, meditation on God's works leads us to admire and reflect upon God's wisdom, power, goodness, and beauty (McGrath 172).

John Calvin

While the leading thinkers of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation were preoccupied with questions of grace and salvation and the conflict with Roman Catholic theologians over the proper relations between faith and works, theology of creation was inseparably linked to the whole question of humanity before God, and so the major Reformers expounded on creation theology in their treatises and sermons. Furthermore, they lived in the same universe as Aquinas and his thirteenth-century contemporaries. Nicolas Copernicus published his revolutionary hypothesis of a sun-centered universe in 1543, but it was a while before it would emerge as a disturbing presence in late sixteenth century thought. Thus the cosmological model by which most educated men of the Renaissance and the Reformation, both Catholic and Protestant, conceptualized their world remained that of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Nevertheless, there are distinctions to be noted between the theologies of the Reformers and medieval thinkers like Aquinas. John Calvin (1509-1564), perhaps the most influential Reformer for the development of evangelical theology, returned the language of creation theology to its biblical roots, and so his writings on creation differed in expression and emphasis from Aquinas' philosophical theology. He also downplayed the role of secondary causality in natural processes and instead emphasized God's primary activity in creation.

A perusal of his magisterial systematic theology, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, will show that Calvin stood very much in the mainstream of creation theology. From the patristic writers Basil of Caesarea and Ambrose of Milan, Calvin writes:

We learn that God by the power of his Word and Spirit created heaven and earth out of nothing. We shall likewise learn that he nourishes some in secret ways, and, as it were, from time to time instills new vigor into them; on others he has conferred the power of propagating, lest by their death the entire species perish; that he has so wonderfully adorned heaven and earth with an unlimited abundance, variety, and beauty of all things as could possibly be" (Institutes I.xiv.20; Battles 179-180).

In these words Calvin affirmed the doctrines of trinitarian creation, creation out of nothing, and continuous creation. He anchored the concept of continuous creation in his doctrine of Providence: "Herein lies the unfathomable greatness of God: not only did He once create heaven and earth but He also guides the whole process according to his will" (CR 32, 359, cited in Niesel 70; cf. Inst. I xvi.1, Battles, 197-198). This providential creative activity is threefold: in sustaining the creation in being, in disposing upon all things their effective reality, and in guiding all things to their ends (Niesel 70). Calvin emphasized the preeminent role of the Word of God in creation: the Logos, who is also the Wisdom of God, is the instrument of the creative process (Inst. I, xiv, 2, Battles 160).

Calvin also agreed with his predecessors Augustine and Aquinas that the creation reveals the knowledge, wisdom and creative artistry of God.

The divine Artificer "discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe";

"innumerable evidences both in heaven and on earth…declare his wonderful wisdom" (Inst. I, v, 1, 2; Battles 51-53). Nevertheless the creation also shows the marks of its corruption as a result of Adam's sin. In this respect Calvin departed from the view of Aquinas and the Catholic tradition generally, which understands nature as showing the signs of imperfection that need to be brought to perfection by grace. Calvin went much further: creation has been corrupted by sin, suffers along with humankind disorder and death, and awaits its final restoration by the redemptive activity of Christ, the savior as well as the creator (McGrath 174-175).

Concluding Comments

The historic Christian theology of creation was developed within the paradigm of a stable universe: growth and development are included in the concept of continuous creation, but the notion of an evolving universe had not yet emerged in either science or theology. Yet, its essential features--creation by the Triune God out of nothing, continuous and providential creation, the goodness and purposefulness of creation, and creation's functional integrity--have found a comfortable place in the newer theologies of creation that Christian thinkers, both evangelical and non-evangelical, are developing in response to the evolutionary paradigm that constitutes the modern scientific world view. In a later essay, I shall introduce some contemporary theological models of an evolving creation.

End of essay 2
11 years ago
Further Reading:

Aquinas, Thomas, Summa theologiae. Vol. 8: Creation, Variety and Evil, trans. by Thomas Gilby, OP. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.

Augustine, Confessions, trans. by R. S. Pine-Coffin. New York: Penguin, 1961.

________, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. by J. H. Taylor, SJ. Ancient Christian Writers, vols. 41-42. New York: Paulist Press, 1982.

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Ford Lewis Battles. Library of Christian Classics, Vol. XX-XXI. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.

Haught, John F., God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.

Hayes, Zachary OFM, The Gift of Being. A Theology of Creation. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2001.

Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies, trans. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.

McGrath, Alister E., A Scientific Theology. Vol. 1: Nature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.

Niesel, Wilhelm, The Theology of Calvin. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956.

Van Till, Howard J., "Basil, Augustine, and the Doctrine of Creation's Functional Integrity," Science and Christian Belief 8 (1996), 23-38.

11 years ago

It took billions of years to turn Hydrogen into the Iron that makes our blood able to function. The historic events of this evolving universe can not be replaced by stories of invisible and unverified magic.

The Universe is Truth. Words are Not.

11 years ago

Because of the extreme length of all the essays on that website referred to earlier, I have decided to include link to the essays' table of contents, which in turn has links to all seven essays so that you may view the originals if you wish to do so:

11 years ago

The first two essays explained the historical and theological background behind the author's views on the issue of creationism vs. evolution. With the fifth essay, we come to the actual physical evidence for evolution, and here is where things get really interesting.


I've chosen this title for the essay on biological evolution because it has become clear to me that most Christians know little about the scientific details of evolution, either about the enormous amount of evidence already gathered to support evolution or the dominant theory that explains how it happens, natural selection. This is true both of Christians who accept evolution and support teaching it in the public schools of the United States and those who reject it and oppose its teaching. Part of the problem for this widespread ignorance lies with the politics of local education, as became clear the first year I taught "Science and Faith" at Berea College. After we had looked at evolution, I asked the twenty students in the seminar if they had learned about evolution in any of their high school science classes. Only four had, one in a Catholic high school. One by one, most of the students who attended public high schools stated, "The teacher skipped that chapter." After the fifth time, I said, "I know why the teacher skipped that chapter. She didn't want to get late-night phone calls with complaints from irate parents, or a pointed request from the principal to avoid 'controversial' subjects."

Clearly, most of my students had not learned a thing in high school about evolution, nor would any of their high-school classmates who have gotten no further exposure to science education. My students would have been exposed to evolution in the junior-level Natural Science core course and perhaps other science courses. Also clearly, they did not want to talk about evolution, even as I emphasized that this concept is at the core of every life science from genetics to biochemistry to ecology, and that the term "evolution" is used to describe not only the emergence of new species on this planet but also the emergence of the cosmos from the Big Bang. We live in an evolving creation, I asserted, and we really cannot understand what science is reading and finding in the Book of Nature unless we understand evolution. Yet, the topic made some of them uncomfortable, and others may have hesitated to speak up in class out of a concern that their point of view might cause conflict with other students. Attempts to draw them into discussion following presentations that dealt with evolution by their fellow students or myself were more often than not met with silence.

Many Berea College students are exposed to a negative view of evolution in their churches. They are taught that evolution is contrary to the Bible, that they cannot believe in both God and evolution, that evolution is an atheistic philosophy, and, sometimes, that evolution is an invention of the devil. Any information they receive about evolution in sermons or Sunday school usually comes from young earth creationists and not from evolutionary scientists, and, sad to say, what they learn is a not a true picture but a caricature. This anti-evolution viewpoint can stir powerful feelings in many students when the topic comes up in classes and reading assignments in college. One student told one of my science colleagues that when he was exposed to evolution in a previous course, he became physically ill. I hope and trust that such a reaction is rare, but it does point up the difficulty I and others face in trying to help students armed and armored against evolution by religious authority figures to let down their defenses and listen to another point of view--to understand evolution in a different and positive light.

All the more reason, then, for me to explain, as best I can, what evolution is or is not. Since this essay is aimed primarily at an audience of Christian students, I will include among my sources the writings of several scientists who are evangelical Christians.

A significant number of scientists from all Christian traditions are among those who advance the research that every year more firmly grounds evolution as a valid scientific way of understanding the history of life.

Like me, they earnestly desire that all Christians understand what evolution actually is and why one can accept it without giving up belief in God, the doctrine of creation and the Bible, including the assurance of salvation Holy Scripture proclaims. I would ask the reader who approaches this assertion with skepticism to try to set aside, to "bracket" as it were, any negative views or feelings, and listen to the voices of scientists, including their fellow Christians, as they explain evolution.

Like Big Bang and the history of the universe, biological evolution is such a broad and complex topic that I can do little more than summarize its most important features. I urge the reader to go farther, however, and fill in the details, using any of the books, articles, and on-line resources given in "Further Reading" or in the "Resources" section of this site.

Part 2 of essay 5
11 years ago
Evolution vs. "Evolutionism"

First I need to challenge a serious misunderstanding about evolution. "Evolution" is commonly presented as a materialistic philosophy by both its young earth and intelligent design opponents and those at the opposite end of the spectrum of opinion who claim that the material world is all there is. Whether you read the works of anti-evolutionists like young earth creationist Ken Ham and intelligent design advocate Phillip Johnson, or evolutionary materialists like scientist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel Dennett, you will find these strange bedfellows of conservative Christians and atheists agreeing on one thing: if evolution explains everything in reality and if you accept it, then you can throw religion and belief in God out the window. Those of us who accept evolutionary science and believe that God's creation is an evolving one reject this tragically erroneous point of view. I shall address the arguments of these spokespersons in separate essays later, but I want to make the point here that both sides fail to distinguish between a scientific theory that empirically accounts for what nature has revealed, and a materialistic belief system. The materialists argue that their philosophy necessarily follows from the science, and therefore evolution removes any need for God. The creationists, strangely, buy this faulty argument, and agreeing that one cannot separate the science from the philosophy reject both. So the young earth creationists offer their "creation science" and the intelligent design proponents their "theistic science." In later essays I will argue that both fail the test of good science.

Both sides tend to make their voices loudly heard in the public arena through speeches, debates, books, articles, on-line sites, and verbal jousts on cable news channels. But they are the extremes that exclude the middle, and the middle is this:

Evolution as science is not a materialistic philosophy; it makes no assertions about any realm of reality outside of nature; it makes no claims for or against the existence of God or the notion that we live in a created universe.

The philosophical system that totalizes reality is better referred to as "Evolutionism." As an "-ism" combined with Scientism, the view that only science offers the way to truth, it competes with young earth Creationism and its "Intelligent Design" variant. While materialists claim support for their belief system from the science of evolution, the belief system and the science are not identical. The scientific concept of evolution simply accounts for the world as nature presents it. It needs to be understood and evaluated as science, not as philosophy.

I want to make this point as strongly as I can, because what I present here is science. I will outline and highlight the major elements of the empirical study and research that has placed evolution at the center of the modern scientific world-picture.


Today's generation of naturalists look out with astonishment at the extent and range of life in all of its incredible diversity. As evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala has noted, "More than two million existing species of plants and animals have been named and described: many more remain to be discovered, at least ten million according to most estimates." The two million include "approximately 250 thousand species of living plants, 100 thousand species of fungi, and 1.5 million species of animals and microorganisms, each occupying its own peculiar ecological setting or niche…" (Ayala 21, 32). The fossil evidence from earth's long history indicates that many more, perhaps 90% of all species that have ever lived, are now extinct (Price, chapter 9). No less astonishing are the incredible variety of species and their habitats. Living species range in size from the giant Sequoias of California to bacteria less than one-thousandth of a millimeter in length. The range of life's habitats is equally staggering, for species are found in every nook and cranny on earth from the heights (if not the peaks) of the Himalayas to the deepest ocean vents, in the coldest ice masses in Antarctica and the hottest springs in Yellowstone park. Some 800 species of microbial life do good or ill in your intestines, and mites too small for the naked eye but fearsome-looking creatures when viewed through an electron microscope clean your eyelashes. There is hardly a niche on earth where life does not dwell.

How does one account for all of this incredible diversity? The answer that scientists have come to, and have since reinforced with each new discovery, is that all of this variety is the outcome of evolutionary processes. All living things are interrelated; all have descended over time from one or a few common ancestors. Charles Darwin (1808-1886) called this process descent with modification, and the phrase still accurately describes what scientists today technically call macroevolution.

Fact and theory

A great deal of confusion exists over the meaning of the word "Evolution." When a state school board such as Alabama's directs that every science textbook carry a "warning label" stating that "evolution is a theory, not a fact," more likely than not the board members have misunderstood both "fact" and "theory" and also are more than likely to have misunderstood "evolution." I want to straighten this matter out.

Part 3 of essay 5
11 years ago

"'Biological evolution'," Keith Miller, geologist and member of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), writes, "is an incredibly broad unifying scientific concept. It consists of a large array of proposed mechanisms and draws on a wide range of observational data from geology, paleontology, ecology, population biology, genetics, developmental biology, [and other related fields of science]" (ASA list, Oct. 19, 2003).

As a unifying scientific concept, it provides a core of solidly established fact and theory that is ringed by a number of related theories and hypotheses.

In this context of an overarching scientific concept Evolution is described as fact. It is important to understand what the word "fact" means in science. A scientist does not mean by "fact" an "absolute proven unquestionable truth." Rather, a scientific fact refers to a truth "generally accepted to a degree of precision as to have predictive value in subsequent experiments and the accumulation of data," or, as paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould put it, "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent" (Gould, 1983, 255). Newtonian mechanics are factual in that no one expects an apple to move upward from the ground to a tree, contrary to gravity, or that the earth will suddenly fly out of its orbit and depart from its pathway round the sun. In the same way, evolutionary scientists assert that the cumulative evidence for descent with modification is so extensive and so strong that it is appropriate to say that evolution in this respect is a scientific fact.

Likewise, the word "theory" needs to be clarified. In popular speech we often use "theory" to mean "a guess." But scientists never use "theory" in this way. Rather, by "theory," scientists denote "an explanation supported by repeated observation and confirmed repeatedly by further experimentation and data." Under "theory" are classified the various explanations put forth to account for the descent of life, such as Darwin's theory of natural selection or its revised version known as the Modern Synthesis, or the more recent theory of punctuated equilibrium developed by Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould (see below).

Finally, evolutionary biologists have been engaged in the business of reconstructing the "family tree of life," i.e., the emergence over time of these innumerable species and their relationships with other forms of life. The image of a branching tree appropriately describes common descent, for evolution clearly does not proceed in a straight line. Rather, lineages diverge from common ancestors analogous to the way branches grow from the trunk of a tree. As those who work on the historical reconstruction of evolutionary pathways study the mounting evidence about various species derived from paleontology and molecular biology, they continually redraw this tree and its branches as they find more accurate evidence of how living species have diverged from common ancestors in the past. This branch of evolutionary biology is called systematics.

So, the evolutionary sciences constitute a web or constellation of facts, theories, and speculative hypotheses that has been established by the ongoing scientific work of gathering data and making predictions on the basis of hypotheses and testing them.

In this respect their practitioners are like all scientists, confident that the basic concepts are unlikely to be altered, but incomplete in that there is more to be discovered about the evolution of life. Many hypotheses will be confirmed or abandoned as new facts of nature are brought to light. The narrative of life's history will continue to be revised, its portrait redrawn. Like the story of the cosmic universe (essay IV), life's story remains unfinished with respect to both evolution's story and its future.

In essay IV: "Big Bang and the History of the Universe," I addressed an objection often raised by young earth creationists against the ancient age of the universe--the claim that an event in nature must have been observed by human beings in order to count as scientifically legitimate. I dealt with this false notion at length in that essay, and suggest the reader click this link and read those paragraphs now. Let me just say here that the historical sciences of cosmology, paleontology, and evolution, are just as rigorous in their application of scientific method as are such sciences as physics and chemistry, and just as reliable in establishing knowledge about the history of the world.

Part 4 of essay 5
11 years ago
Evolution or descent with modification

"Biological evolution is the process of change and diversification of living things over time, and it affects all aspects of their lives-morphology, physiology, behavior and ecology. Underlying these changes are changes in the hereditary materials. Hence, in genetic terms, evolution consists of changes in the organism's hereditary makeup" (Ayala 36). Now critics of evolution often say that they accept microevolution, that is, the changes in an organism's heredity makeup, the variants within species due to genetic modification and environmental pressures. (How could they deny such clear and compelling evidence?) The widely varying breeds of dogs exemplify microevolution. However, they claim that macroevolution, the process of change or diversification over time, or descent with modification, is a philosophical dogma without scientific evidence to support it. In public debates over evolution, this claim has been expressed so often that it has taken on the character of a mantra--but it simply is not true. The genetic mutations that lead to the varieties within species are the same kinds of changes in the hereditary material that eventually lead to macroevolution, or the emergence of new species. The distinction often made between micro- and macro- may serve some pedagogical and analytical functions but it does not indicate that these are essentially different evolutionary processes. In reality, they are not.

There is an enormous amount of empirical evidence that in its totality makes such a compelling case for macroevolution, that, with few exceptions, it is accepted by the world-wide community of biological scientists (Ayala 21).

This evidence is not uncritically accepted; indeed, the community of scientists is a most critical bunch. They, not their opponents, continually gather new information from nature and test and argue over their own hypotheses and theories about the mechanisms of evolution and the historical reconstruction of life's descent. They do not doubt the fact that evolution has occurred; rather, they are debating how it happened and what pathways it has taken (Gould, 1983, 256). If evolution were merely philosophical dogma this scientific activity would not be taking place.

Since the critics of evolution concede microevolution, I shall devote the rest of Part I to laying out the case for macroevolution. What sorts of evidence do scientists bring forward to support descent with modification? Here are four very important sources: (1) the fossil record, (2) comparative anatomy, (3) biogeography, and (4) comparative molecular biology.

(1) The fossil record: New fossils of extinct species, hundreds of thousands of them already, continue to be found in numerous geological strata (i.e., layers of sedimentary rock) throughout the world and studied extensively by paleontologists. Thanks to this work, many gaps in the fossil record Darwin noted have been filled by the discovery of thousands of previously unknown species including transitional forms. Strata which geologists have uncovered over the decades, and from which they have mapped out the history of the earth, shows a steady progression in the fossil record of new phyla, genera, and species. The chronology of the strata first worked out by geologists has been refined considerably using numerous well-established and reliable radioactive dating techniques (Weims) among others. As one goes up the geologic column of strata, beginning with the simplest microbial life (3.5 billion years ago [bya]), life has emerged into more complex bacteria (1.4 bya) to the first multicellular animals (670 million years ago [mya]), to shell-bearing animals (540 mya), to vertebrate fishes (490 mya), to amphibians (350 mya), to reptiles (310 mya), to mammals (200 mya) to modern humans (100,000 years ago). This order with no reversals is preserved in successive geological layers all over the planet, demonstrating that life has developed from the simpler to the more complex. Such a succession cannot be accidental: it reveals a fact about the development of life (NAS 13).

Anti-evolutionists continue to assert that the fossil record is incomplete and therefore poor evidence for common descent (e.g., Johnson, 1997). In truth, a very large number of intermediate forms have been found in the fossil record, so many that it is often difficult to determine when a transition occurs from one species or class of organisms to later descendents (NAS 14). Miller would go further and say, "In a very real sense, all fossil species within a line of descent are transitional forms in that they are anatomically intermediate in many features between earlier and later forms" (Miller, 2003, 173).

Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, has noted that, "Elephants, turtles, whales, birds often have been cited as species where transitional species have not been identified. This is no longer true. We have gained more in the fossil record in the last ten years than in almost the entire previous history of science" (151; cf. Miller, 2003, p. 180).

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Let me cite just a few examples out of thousands. Over 250 species of the extinct order of therapsids (mammal-like reptiles) discovered in recent years have provided evidence of a transition from reptiles to mammals (Lamoureux 36). Going back even further in geologic time, paleontologists now understand more accurately the evolution of creatures moving from water to land. Fossils of a group of rhipidistian fishes, the panderichythids, provide evidence for the evolution of amphibians from fish (Miller, 1994, 117). A growing number of fossils of extinct ungulates (hoofed mammals) illustrate the later evolution of legs to flippers in the earliest species of whales, supporting this transition from land to water creatures that took place some 35 mya (Miller, 2003, 173-176). The transitional pathways that led from dinosaurs to birds have also been greatly enhanced in recent years by new finds. Fossils of a group of small theropod dinosaurs called maniraptorans are now identified as the ancestors of birds. The famous Archaeopteryx shares numerous features with these maniraptorans, a genus that includes among its species the velociraptors of "Jurassic Park" fame. While Archaeopteryx differs from modern birds in several ways, the discovery in just the past several years of new fossil birds has provided a subclass, called enantiornithes, showing transitional features between Archaeopteryx and more modern birds. Thanks to these newly discovered transition fossils, "birds are now recognized as simply a specialized group of feathered dinosaurs!" (Miller, 2003, p. 176-178).

Given that the discovery of new fossil species continues at a rapid and accelerating pace, paleontologists are confident that more and more transitional species will connect more clearly the pathways of macroevolution. The preservation of remains is haphazard, and the fossil record is likely never to be completed to the extent paleontologists desire and anti-evolutionists demand; yet it is far more complete than it was one hundred and fifty years ago (Ayala 29-30). Like a huge and growing chorus of voices, these numerous fossils cry out that the concept of common descent accurately describes the systematic development of new species over time.

(2) Comparative anatomy: There is ample evidence that different species share basic forms that have been modified in a variety of organisms. One need only look at the skeletal structures of humans, dogs, whales, and bats to see how strikingly similar these mammals are, although the animals belong to widely varied species. Ayala noted that "The correspondence, bone by bone, can be observed in every part of the body, including the limbs: yet a person writes, a dog runs, a whale swims, and a bat flies with structures built of the same bones" (31). These phenomena reinforce the evidence for evolution gathered from paleontology and molecular biology (see below).

(3) Biogeography: Environment has a major impact on the divergence of species and provides another important source of evidence for descent with modification. Variation followed by speciation takes place when members of the same species become geographically isolated: some species migrate to islands or to other places where they become separated by geographical features such as oceans, lakes or mountain ranges. The invading species modify in response to the new environments. Over time, and more quickly in a new ecological niche, their offspring reach a point of development where they can no longer interbreed with their relatives on the mainland or in the next valley--the surest sign that a new species has evolved. One finds, for example, avian forms on the Galapagos Islands similar to those on the South American mainland but belonging to different species. The fly Drosophila migrated to the Hawaiian Islands, and among its different ecological niches speciated rapidly; about one-third of the 1500 species of this fly are found only on these islands (Ayala 46). Some species adapt to highly limited niches: the fungus Laboulbenia, which "grows exclusively on the rear portion of the covering wings of a single species of beetle (Aphaenops cronei) found only in some caves of southern France," is one example of many (ibid 32).

The hypothesis that an evolutionary process of variation and environmental adaptation accounts for these phenomena has been repeatedly tested and confirmed. Geographical isolation and adaptation (see below) provides one of the strongest kinds of evidence for macroevolution.

(4) Comparative Molecular Biology: Some of the most convincing evidence for macroevolution comes from the astonishing discoveries made in the science of molecular biology over the past fifty years. This latecomer to the scene provides the data that spectacularly confirms the historical picture patiently constructed first from the fossil record and then from genetics (Gray 257-258).

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A problem plagued Darwin as he attempted to explain evolution: he knew of no mechanism by which he could account for the variations he observed in natural species and that he took advantage of when breeding domesticated animals. The mechanism was discovered by Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel in the 1870s. Through patient experiments with generations of plants, Mendel discovered the patterns of variability in traits inherited from parent plants. His pioneering work, rediscovered in 1900, led eventually to the development of the science of genetics, and by the 1930s, geneticists could account for the variations on which natural selection worked. In the 1950s the structure of DNA was discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson, greatly advancing research in evolution on the molecular level. The process by which genes replicate and undergo mutations was discovered. Crick, Watson, and others received Nobel prizes for their important work.

Why does molecular biology and biochemistry providing such convincing evidence for descent? Because all living things share the same biochemistry--the same structure of the DNA molecule and the same four component nucleotides, or bases. Furthermore, nearly every living thing synthesizes proteins from different combinations and sequences of the same 20 amino acids. During the 1990s, scientists mapped the human genome, one of several that have been decoded, and which have yielded valuable information for the descent of life. Thanks to comparative studies, geneticists have discovered that the genetic code is the same in almost all organisms and that all share a high percentage of the same genes. For example, geneticists have compared the human with the genome of the mouse, the animal most used in testing new pharmaceuticals for human beings. Evidence from protein evolution (described below) indicates that humans and mice diverged some 80 million years ago. A close examination of their gene sequences shows that there is a great deal of similarity: in some places the sequences of the two is identical or nearly so over a stretch of 100 base pairs (Collins 147). Minute changes in organisms through genetic mutation take place in the same identical fashion in all species. These identities and similarities at the molecular level make no sense as the product of separate creations; they make most sense if they are understood as deriving from a common origin (cf. Gray 260-262).

Let me illustrate this commonality further with a familiar example from the evolution of protein molecules, one of many that could be chosen. It is possible to quantify with some precision the degree of similarity or of change in the sequence of the protein molecule cytochrome c, so that comparisons may be made within families or classes of living things, both as to their present relationship and to their descent in the past.

"Comparisons of sequences of cytochrome c from different organisms produced an evolutionary tree that was nearly identical to what had been ascertained from comparative biology and the fossil record" (Gray 265).

For example, humans and chimpanzees share the same 104 amino acids of this molecule in the same order, but differ by one amino acid with the rhesus monkey, by 11 with the horse, by an additional 21 with the tuna (Collins 147). As biochemist and ASA member Terry Gray notes, common ancestry, hypothesized on the basis of paleontological and other evidence gathered in an earlier period of evolutionary research, has proved to be a testable hypothesis. The dramatic, independent test has been provided by the evolutionary sequences of cytochrome c and other protein molecules (ibid 276-268). I would go further, and say that the abundant evidence for common descent gathered from biochemistry and molecular biology establish its factual basis in science.


While paleontology, comparative anatomy, biogeography, and molecular biology provide powerful evidence for descent with modification and constitute evolution as scientific fact, I move now to theory: how do biologists explain descent? Natural selection remains the major theory that accounts for change, though there are related processes that create the genetic circumstances for selection.

Darwin described the process of the natural selection of variants in species in three simple steps:

  1. More individuals are born than are able to survive;
  2. In the struggle for food and shelter, those who bear some variations may have a selective advantage over those without such a variation;
  3. The survivors will breed more offspring, and eventually a new variety and then a new species may emerge.

Darwin contended that this process has taken place slowly and gradually over immense periods of time, and by itself accounts for descent with modification. His model of speciation is often characterized by the term "gradualism." I make this point because when some of its more popular opponents criticize evolution, they label it as "Darwinism" or "gradualism." But evolutionary theorists, while honoring Darwin's fundamental contribution, have moved far beyond this early, simple model.

How evolution occurs is explained now by a web of theories. While natural selection remains the central explanatory theory, other factors also account for variation and speciation.

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Most important, and the basis of natural selection, is changes in gene frequency. Gene frequency measures the frequency in a population of a particular gene relative to other genes in its locus, i.e., its position on the chromosome. In fact, this is a measure of the frequency of alleles or alternate forms of the same gene. Four processes affect gene frequency change: "mutation, migration, drift, and natural selection" (Ayala 37). Related to changes in gene frequency are the phenomena of gene flow and genetic drift. We briefly look at these phenomena as well as reproductive isolation and adaptive radiation. In conjunction with natural selection they constitute what is called the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory.

Natural selection: Ayala has defined natural selection as "the differential reproduction of alternative hereditary variants" or alleles that enhance the survival of the organisms that carry them and enable them to "reproduce more successfully than organisms carrying alterative variants." The term "differential reproduction" includes differences in survival, fertility, mating success, and rate of development (Ayala 36). The amount of genetic variation is astonishingly high in all organisms, especially those that reproduce sexually, and thus the opportunities for evolutionary change in response to environmental conditions are virtually unlimited. While most genetic mutations are adaptively neutral, and many prove to be harmful, the comparatively smaller number of beneficial mutations is more than enough to account for innumerable variations that have made possible the emergence of new varieties and new species. As the number of favorably variable genes increases, and the number of forms of these genes likewise increases, the frequency of change in these forms is likely to grow at the expense of other variations. The frequency in a large natural population may be very small in a generation but increases in effect over several generations. It has been demonstrated mathematically that "there is a direct correlation between the amount of genetic variation and the rate of evolutionary change by natural selection" (Ayala 36, 37).

Gene flow and genetic drift: One factor that enhances selection is known as gene flow. The "flow" takes place when some individuals migrate from one population of the same species to another and interbreed, thus changing the genetic makeup of the other population. Another factor is called genetic drift, i.e., changes in gene frequency that occur when small groups of individuals are separated from or leave a larger population. Genetic drift may account for changes in a smaller population that becomes isolated from other populations of the same species, such as a small group of migrants that colonize an island or lake, that eventually result in new species.

Changes in gene frequency, gene flow, and genetic drift by themselves do not ensure evolutionary change, for these processes are random with respect to adaptation. Natural selection, which selects for beneficial over harmful mutations, provides the directionality for such genetic changes. Not only does it make possible the survival and improvement of the organization of living beings, it also makes possible their diversity (Ayala 40). This sustained directional selection leads to major changes in the forms of living things and their ways of life, with some changes occurring with greater rapidity than others, over long periods of geologic time, that is, time calculated in millions of years. These processes illustrate a convention often expressed by biologists: "natural selection works by converting variation within populations to differences among populations" (Gould, 2002, 748).

The origin of species

Given these genetic phenomena and the action of natural selection upon them, how do they account for the origin of new species? In other words, how does microevolution lead to macroevolution? First, let us define what a species is. While evolutionary biologists differ in their views about the concept of species, and in practice it is not always easy to determine whether various individuals belong to the same species, this definition is a widely accepted one:

Species are groups of interbreeding natural populations that have become reproductively isolated from other such groups and thus lose the ability to interbreed (Ayala 43).

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Reproductive isolation: there exist a number of biological conditions that may keep populations of the same species from interbreeding. These conditions are called reproductive isolating mechanisms (RIMs). Genetic divergences appear between different populations of the same species. Cross breeding between such populations may occur naturally when they are in close proximity or as the result of breeding experimentations. However, when reproductive isolation is sufficient to keep their increasingly divergent genetic constitutions separated and preclude mating, over time different species result. Those RIMs that take effect prior to fertilization (prezygotic) and thus prevent the possibility of mating include ecological barriers (e.g., differences between rocky coasts and sand barrens), temporal barriers (e.g., differences in nocturnal vs. diurnal habits), ethological or behavior barriers (e.g., differences in mating rituals), and physiological barriers (e.g., differences in the morphology of sex organs). Other kinds of RIMs take effect after fertilization between species (postzygotic), whether the latter is attempted through artificial insemination or, less commonly, happens in nature. Hybrid inviability ensures that the hybrid embryo resulting from fertilization dies before birth if an animal or does not germinate or dies shortly after germination if a plant seed. Hybrid sterility occurs when two species (e.g., a horse and a donkey) mate and produce a sterile offspring (a mule). Thus, isolation combined with natural selection acting on accumulated genetic changes eventually makes interbreeding impossible (Ayala 44-46; ThinkQuest).

Adaptive radiation: Migrations of species to new environments and their resulting reproductive isolation have led to spurts of evolutionary development at different periods of life's history. The species that migrated from the oceans to land evolved from amphibians to reptiles some 340 mya. From them radiated the great number of reptilians forms, from the ancient "-saurs" (T-Rex & Co.) to modern crocodiles, lizards, snakes, geckos, and others. When the early mammals that arose in the Triassic period (248 to 206 mya) no longer needed to compete with the giant reptiles for habitat and survival, a rapid (in geological terms) radiation of various lineages emerged over time. The species of bats, rodents, whales, elephants, horses, rabbits, moles, and great apes living today are the present ends of lineages that radiated out over the lands, and some from there to the seas, from the earliest mammals of the Cretaceous Period (over 65 mya) (Price 137-143).

The Hawaiian Islands have proved to be an excellent natural laboratory for the study of adaptive radiation. A huge number of species existing there and nowhere else can be accounted for by the migration of ancestor plants and animals to these volcanic islands. There, thriving and free from natural predators, the newcomers quickly moved into new niches and populated the islands with a large number of new species found nowhere else. About two-dozen species of honeycreepers radiated from a single immigrant pair. More than 90% of the native species of flowering plants, insects, and 71 species of birds evolved in these islands and appear in no other place on earth (Ayala 46).

Punctuated Equilibrium

There is, however, an observation of nature that has called into question gradualist explanations for evolutionary change. It is evident throughout the fossil record that most species in the past have experienced extended periods, in the millions of years, in which little variation appears in their forms. This phenomenon, called stasis, was the object of considerable study by Darwin's contemporary Hugh Falconer (1808-1865), one of the most admired paleontologists of his day. Subsequent studies of the fossil record have established that many of the changes leading to new species occur with relative rapidity during shorter periods of geological time after such long periods of stasis. The evidence led Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) and Niles Eldridge in 1972 to propose the theory of punctuated equilibrium. In Gould's own words, "punctuated equilibrium holds that the great majority of species, as evidenced by their anatomical and geographical histories in the fossil record, originate in geological moments (punctuations) and then persist in stasis throughout their long duration" (Gould, 2002, 766).

Let me be clear: these rapid changes that lead to new species do not take place in anything like human terms of time. They are measured in tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years, not in weeks. Geologic time is a kind of "deep" time that cannot be calibrated in human terms. Punctuated equilibrium also folds microevolution into its parameters; it notes the minor variations that may occur during stasis, but it claims, strongly, that these changes tend not to accumulate over stasis; the fossil species at extinction hardly differs from the initial form that appears in the fossil record (ibid 767).

Since its introduction thirty years ago, punctuated equilibrium (nicknamed "punk eek") has generated considerable discussion and debate among evolutionary theorists. It has not replaced the Modern Synthesis as the dominant explanation for macroevolutionary change, since the current imperfections in the fossil record mean that different explanations continue to have their exponents. Still, punctuated equilibrium has remained a player in the ongoing discussions about how evolution takes place.

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When I took college biology courses back in the Dark Ages, the great panoply of life was divided largely into the plant and animal kingdoms (now usually referred to as "domains"), though by that time biologists already had recognized that fungi, protists, and bacteria didn't fit into these categories. Much has changed in the decades since. When I audited an evolutionary biology course in the fall of 2001, forty-three years later, I learned that the 2,000,000 known and named species of living things past and present are now classified into five kingdoms: Monera, Protista, Fungi, Animals and Plants. Moreover, the relationships between these domains have been established in the past few decades through molecular biology, thanks to the DNA and protein sequences that have been identified, and reinforced by comparative studies of both fossils and living organisms.

Taxonomists, those who seek to classify living forms and determine their evolutionary relationships, look at two processes. One, anagenesis, has to do with the changes that occur within a lineage, such as the increases in the size of the human brain or the reduction in the number of toes in the lineage of the horse. The other, cladogenesis, looks at the splits in a lineage that lead to the development of new lineages and speciation. Cladogenic evolution traces the development over time of the amazing variety of phyla, classes, families, genera, and species of living things, and is best conveyed by the image of a branching tree (Ayala 47).

Within the field of evolutionary biology called systematics, the cladists are busy reconstructing pathways from the most ancient forms of life to those living in the present. The clades, or lineages of different phyla, classes, etc., have not been definitively worked out, but considerable progress has been made. A phylogenetic tree based on the similarities evident from a particular ribosomal RNA sequence offers one hypothetical reconstruction. The earliest and most numerous life forms, the prokaryotes, microbial organisms that lack a nucleus, constitute the domain Monera. Out of the Monera came the Archebacteria (recently renamed Archea); the Eubacteria or "true" Bacteria; and the Eukaryota (the first life forms composed of a living cell). From the eukaryotes arose all of the other kingdoms. A large number of separate lineages constituting the Protista (e.g., slime molds and algae) branched off from the eukaryote lineage, and then from some of the latter, separately branching, came Plants, Animals and Fungi. The last three produced their own numerous lineages of phyla in which are classified all species in their domains from morel mushrooms to orchids to the now-extinct saber-tooth tigers. This model and others of the branching tree illustrate in detail the interconnectedness over time and space of all of life (Price 128, 154).


I hope it has become apparent to the reader from even this brief exposition that evolution is as well-established an explanation for the origin of species and the descent of living forms through space and time as any other web of facts and theories in the natural sciences. I invite the Christian reader to see this fact not as a threat to Christian faith but as an invitation to think differently about the relationship between God, creation and evolution. There is nothing in the biblical proclamations of creation (essay I) when properly understood that conflicts with the theological notion that God has chosen to create through evolutionary processes. As I shall show in a subsequent essay, numerous thinkers from both evangelical and non-evangelical traditions are developing theologies of an evolving creation that argue just that.

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Further Reading

Ayala, Francisco, "The Evolution of Life: An Overview," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology. Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. by J. R. Russell, W. R. Stoeger, SJ, and F. Ayala. Vatican City State, 1998, p. 21-57.

Collins, Francis, "Faith and the Human Genome," in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 65 (2003), p. 142-153.

Gray, Terry, "Biochemistry and Evolution," in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. by Keith B. Miller. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003, p. 256-287.

Gould, Stephen J., "Evolution as Fact and Theory," in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes. New York: W. W. Norton, 1983, p. 253-262.

Gould, Stephen J., The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2002.

Johnson, Phillip E., An Easy-to-Understand Guide for Defeating Darwinism and Opening Minds. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Lamoureaux, Denis O., "Evangelicals Inheriting the Wind: The Phillip E. Johnson Phenomenon," in Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate on Biological Origins. Vancouver, BC: Regent Press, 1994, p.

Miller, Keith B., "Common Descent, Transitional Forms, and the Fossil Record," in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, p. 152-181.

Miller, Keith B., "Design and Purpose within an Evolving Creation," in Darwinism Defeated?, p. 109-120.

National Academy of Sciences, Science and Creationism. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999.

Price, Peter W., Biological Evolution. Forth Worth: Saunders College Publishing, 1995.

ThinkQuest: Evolution Revolution (

Weims, Roger, "Radioactive Dating: A Christian Perspective" (


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