Friday, August 15, 2014

Special Creation and the State of Completion

Some time ago I did an article on the Church's reservations about the theory of evolution pertaining to the concept of immutable substance. In discussions in person and in Catholic forums that followed, the argument came up that evolution simply explains the 'evidence' better than special creation and that affirming special creation would involve too great a divergence between what the science is telling us and what we are affirming as true. To explain the point better, I will reproduce an objection to special creation from one such forum which argues that to affirm special creation involves us in too many conundrums and effectively makes God a liar:

"With evolution, it's much easier to explain that all animals are related to each other, especially when we see the genetic evidence corroborating the degrees of physiological variance from one species to the next. For the critical thinker, accepting special creation as true would require an explanation for the evidence we see that contradicts it. Evolution explains what we are seeing. Special creation contradicts what we are seeing, and on such a grand scale that if it is false evidence, the only thing powerful enough to put it there is God himself. So if special creation is true, one must necessarily come to the conclusion that God has actively placed false evidence in the way to throw us off on the wrong course, presumably as a test to see if we will believe what the Bible says as opposed to what we can objectively measure. But it then begs the question, if God can distort all of reality to test our faith, if He is really willing to lie to us in his creation to get us to have faith, how then can we place any hope in what the Bible says as not being likewise a lie from God? There are just too many logical conundrums for a person to accept that are tied to special creation."

This is a common objection to special creation. In case the argument above is a little obtuse, allow me to provide a concrete example of what I'm talking about:

I was recently debating with friend about this - a good Catholic man who nevertheless has allowed modern ideas to soak in a little too deeply on certain subjects. He was saying that God could not have created the universe by special creation because the light from some of the stars takes billions of years to get to earth, which presumed an evolutionary time-span for the origin and development of the universe. I objected that God could have created the universe instantly with the light en route, such that all the light that was necessary was created exactly where it needed to be without having to actually traverse that distance. My friend countered by saying that this would make God into a "liar" because all our empirical observation suggests that the light has actually traveled that far and that it would be a kind of "false evidence" if the light looked like it traveled millions of light years but in fact was created en route.

Would creating the light "en route" make God into a liar or constitute "false evidence"? It is my contention that it would not. In fact, to say it is begs the question, as we shall see.

As a classic example of this, I always refer back to the creation of Adam and Eve. Tradition and Scripture are unanimous in affirming that Adam and Eve were created as adults; that is, God did not create infants, but a full grown man and woman with all the necessary perfections needed to sustain adult life. I do not know how "old" they were created to be; some Scholastics speculated that Adam was created as a 33 year old man since this was the age of perfection, based on the length of years of our Lord. Who knows. The point is, Adam and Eve were created fully formed, at least according to the Tradition.

However, what would an uninformed spectator assume if he were to encounter Adam? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you were to come walking around a corner and run into Adam only ten minutes after he was created. Having not witnessed his creation, you would look at his stature and presume him to be a man who has been around for several decades. He is tall, he is strong, he has adult teeth and perhaps a full grown beard. Yet in fact he is but ten minutes old.

Furthermore, there is no way to tell the difference. Aside from the accidental fact that the newly created Adam would have not had any imperfections due to years of labor, wrinkles, etc., you would not be able to know one way or another. God created him complete, and that completeness entails every characteristic proper to a full grown man.

Now, my question is this - was God "lying" or providing "false evidence" to you in creating Adam like this? Is the fact that Adam is created full grown a "deception"? Is the fact that when he is one second old he already has adult stature and adult teeth a kind of "distortion of reality"?

Obviously not. It is none of that. Rather, it is simply that God willed to created Adam complete.

The fact that God wills to create him complete means that he looks the same as any other person would who was born of woman. Did God similarly will to create the entire cosmos in some sort of state of completion? Looking at the light in the universe that is constantly bombarding the earth from millions and billions of light years away, can we really tell that it has actually been traveling for billions of years as opposed to being created en route not so long ago? Again, there is no way to tell the difference.

We know that rivers were formed by the cutting away of rock by running water. We know that this can happen slowly over a very long period of time, but we also know that raging waters can carve a gorge over a mile long and 22 feet deep in only a matter of days (don't believe me? See here). If God wanted to create a river in a state of completion, the creative process which brought that river into existence could certainly have been quick and catastrophic, which would leave behind similar physical evidence (carving and erosion) as a slow formed riverbed. We know that God created the universe out of nothing, but we do not know what the act of creation looked like, or the acts of subcreation by which He ordered the raw matter He had brought into existence. Some of these things were created in a state of completion, others not.

Now, we know that the cosmos in totu was not created in a state of total completion; Genesis and Catholic Tradition affirm that there was a sequential creation - certain elements of the world were created first, moving from the more general to the more particular. Water was the primal element of life, and the water creatures came about first, the land creatures following after, and finally, mankind. So the world was not created in a state of total completion. However, the various elements within it were - each created thing was established in a state of completion with its own substance. This was taught definitively at Vatican I:

"If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema" (Vatican I, Session 3, Canon 1:5).

When God creates the light en route, or the river already in place, or the elephant whole according to its substance, we are not seeing God creating "false evidence" as much as God creating these things in a state of completion.

Now you may say that this explanation presupposes a special creation - that it is a form of question begging. Perhaps, but not any more so than the question begging implied in the rejection of the concept. To say that light cannot have been created en route presumes the evolutionary time frame, while saying that it was created en route fits with a special creation. Let us acknowledge that neither argument proves anything in the strict sense, though both offer explanations for what we see in the universe.

Jimmy Akin once attempted to rebut this by stating that, while God had a rationale for creating Adam as an adult - the need for him to be able to make rational decisions and take care of himself - there existed no similar rationale for doing this with the rest of creation, and therefore theories like the light being created en route are unreasonable. But again, this begs the question by assuming that God did not will to create the components of creation in a state of completion. If God did in fact will to do so - which Vatican I seems to suggest - then the same rationale exists for God to create other aspects of the material universe in a state of completion just as He did with Adam and Eve.

I know the "state of completion" argument does not solve every difficulty; no doubt many of you will post examples in the com box that do not fit with the state of completion concept. But my point here is not to argue away or explain every question relating to special creation, but merely to argue the more limited point that special creation does not "contradict what we are seeing" and make God the creator of "false evidence." To create things in a completed state is not to create false evidence any more than creating Adam as a mature adult when he is only ten minutes old is "false evidence." In many cases, we need to ask what assumptions we are bringing when we look at the universe, as well as that there may be multiple explanations for any phenomenon.

Other articles on evolution


Brennan said...

Good post. Plus there's also this begging the question with the idea that the evidence for evolution is so "overwhelming" that if it weren't true it would be tantamount to God "lying" to us by providing all this extremely convincing evidence for evolution.

Then you start to look at all this "overwhelming" evidence and suddenly it is not quite so awe inspiring.

Microevolution, or variation within Kinds? Absolutely.

Macroevolution, the transformation of one Kind, such as lizards into birds over time, not so much. Not in the fossil record, and there certainly isn't a believably adequate mechanism, such as Natural Selection acting on random mutations, or genetic drift, to account for the colossal amount of changes, both on the internal and external level, to go from one Kind to another.

Johannes said...

"If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God;"

The "according to their whole substance" clause has different implications for substances with a spiritual "form" (in the hylemorphic sense), i.e. angels or humans, on one side, and for purely material substances on the other.

The case of angels, who are just a spiritual form, and humans, who have a spiritual form, involve a special creation "out of nothing" of each said form. In the case of angels all at the beginning, while in the case of humans along time, starting 200,000 years ago (or 6,000 if you so prefer).

But the case of material substances is completely different. E.g. the Bible says that the body of Adam was not "produced out of nothing by God", but that "God formed the man of dust from the ground", i.e. from matter that was already existing at that moment. Obviously that matter had its origin in the matter that God had first created "out of nothing".

Boniface said...

Well the Vatican I definition applies to ALL substances in the world. If there is evolution, then there is no substance in the classical sense, simply because there is no "being", only perpetual "becoming."


Matthew said...

The argument that 'special creation makes God a deceiver/liar' rests upon the premise that the empirically observable world is all that we have been given to discern the truth about creation, as though the gift of divine revelation – which specifically dispels misconceptions regarding creation – counts for nothing.

Boniface said...

That is a great point, although I would agree also that revelation cannot contradict what we see in nature in the strict sense, though it should serve as an "interpretive norm" for reading the book of nature.

Mathew said...

Agreed, on both points.

In general, permit me to say that I find your articles on this issue refreshingly Catholic. There are far too few Catholic voices out there supporting the traditional teaching of the Church on these matters. When the topic is raised, it is not uncommon to hear shouts of "anti-intellectualism" and "irrationalism" – even and most disappointingly from institutions claiming to specialize in Catholic apologetics. Your website is one of the few to which faithful Catholics can turn for honest, open and engaging discussion on the issues involved.

Also, I would like to recommend some readings of early Church Fathers which have given me much to consider in regards to these matters. In particular, the following:

- Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum 7,11-13 (A.D. 203)
- Hilary of Poiters, De Trinitate 10,70 (A.D. 356/359)
- Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 32,25-26 (A.D. 379)
- Ambrose, De Fide 1,5,34-42 (A.D. 378/380)
- Ephrem of Syria, Sermones De Fide 2, 91-109; 487-509; 541-545; 557 (A.D. 357/358)
- Zeno of Verona, Tractatus 2,3,1-6 (A.D. 360/380)

Of course, I am not proposing any form of Fideism – which is contrary to the true faith – but rather a renewed investigation of the points of contact between faith and reason in light of the Fathers' experience of the secular 'wisdom' of their day. The rampant intellectual conceit of our age could profit from some classic Catholic counter-culture in this regard. As it is written:

"Better is a man that hath less wisdom, and wanteth understanding, with the fear of God, than he that aboundeth in understanding, and transgresseth the law of the most High." (Ecclus 19:21)

Pax et bonum!

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

for evolution to be true, all that has to happen is for an offspring to be born with one or more organs neither of its parents had

what's so difficult to believe about that?

O, and Adam was The smartest man ever; and there has been a steady descent since then.

The descent of man; not the ascent of man

Boniface said...

Joe, well, from an empirical standpoint, that's a problem, since it has never happened.

Also, evolution claims an ascent, not a descent. Please see here for more on the Church's objections to evolution:

Wenceslas said...

Evolution claims nothing other than change with the most successful reproducers edging out those who are lesser successful. The lay imagination that there is such a thing as an evolutionary ascent or descent are completely wrong.

As for never happening, that's also wrong: If you want a modern example, there's a species of lizard which has undergone rapid phenotypic changes after transplantation to another island. Potentially it may involve epigenetic changes rather than true speciation of course.

Boniface said...


Yawn. Difference between micro and macro evolution. I don't think anybody denies that within a substance there can be a certain elasticity with regards to potential small changes/adaptations over time. This is inherent in the nature of various substances. But for one substance to change into another...well, the only place that happens is at Mass.

Philip said...

Very good post. I might add to your Garden of Eden scenario that the uninformed spectator would also sees trees that appeared to be decades old even though they were just created. The "God would be lying" scenario might have some plausibility except for the fact that God already told us the truth in Genesis. If people won't listen to this and insist, despite the witness of Scripture, on figuring out how He did it by using materialistic assumptions, then it's their own fault if they come up with the wrong answer. In other words they're deceiving themselves.

If the literal sense of Genesis is a problem for theistic evolutionists, what about the case of the Eucharist? In this instance the Church tells us we can't believe the evidence of our own eyes. Is God deceiving us? Clearly not.

Jim J. McCrea said...

There is a problem with the creation of light en-route explanation. Some of the light we are receiving is of events 100s of thousands, millions, or billions of years ago, such as supernovae. If light were created en-route that would include the light of these supposed distant and long ago event. We would not be seeing real things, but only appearances that God put in the light en-route.

Boniface said...

Jim, now that is a good point, although it would not prove light was not created en route, only that it was not created en route recently.