Ideologies of Origins
This article seeks to define the primary worldview frameworks for cosmological origins in order to provide a basis for other articles to be published. It does not seek to perform critical analysis on any of these constructs.
There are, broadly speaking, four primary worldviews held when it comes to modern beliefs about origins of the universe and the life it contains. Covering the spectrum from natural to super-natural causation these would be as follows:
- Naturalistic Evolution.
- Theistic Evolution.
- Old-Earth Creation.
- Young-Earth Creation.
There are, of course, many nuances and variations within this spectrum, but these four represent the general position of the majority of people in modern, developed, educated countries. More importantly, these represent polarizing focus points to which individuals in our society gravitate.
I quite deliberately describe each of these belief systems as exactly that, belief systems. Despite protestations to the contrary from proponents of each system, there exist no unequivocal facts proving any of these systems beyond reasonable doubt, only theories with various observational data and philosophical arguments underpinning or undermining each one. Indeed, in each system there are foundational philosophical premises which, by definition, are not testable from within our space/time dimensions. Always bear in mind that proponents of each system are all, quite understandably, prone to interpreting the data according to their philosophical bias, myself included.
The first three systems generally accept some form of “big-bang” cosmology which stipulates that the material universe of space and time had a beginning at a “singularity”, before which the space-time dimensions and the material/energy content of our universe did not exist. That is, the dimensions of space, time and physicality that we experience can be traced backward in time to a point where they were not. Not merely that there was a time when the matter of this universe was not, but also that there was a point before which the space-time dimensions we experience and can measure did not exist. The last system also holds that the universe had a beginning, but that it was not that of the big-bang as described by scientists since the Big-bang Theory is founded on the scientific data for our universe’s origins, not purely biblical data.
In broad terms, evolution holds that the universe progresses from the simple to the complex, and that life does likewise, and that it did so by means of natural processes. It interprets the geologic and fossil records as indicating such progression. However, it should be noted that this is an interpretation imposed on the data, it is not the only, nor even a necessary conclusion to be reached from impartial interpretation of the fossil record.
The evolutionary models have particular explanatory problems with the origin of life from a pre-biotic state as well as explaining how the “information” inherent in biological life arises, and with how “mind” or “sentience” can arise from non-mind (the “emergent mind” problem).
Naturalistic Evolution is the belief that there is no God. The universe, and everything in it arose spontaneously without an external causative agent. Furthermore, life arose spontaneously through random chemical reactions and over time through further random interaction gained ever increasing complexity to arrive at the level of complexity we observe today.
This view demands that all of what we can observe of the universe in which we live can be explained by purely naturalistic processes and that none of it requires an explanation which is ultimately untestable (though testing certain parts of a given model may be beyond our current technology).
A fundamental and inescapable consequence of naturalistic evolutionary is that human beings are nothing more that highly evolved animals; they are, therefore, bereft of any innate dignity or value beyond being the dominant and sentient animal on the planet (something of a “might makes right” perspective of value).
If one is perfectly honest, this view or something similar to it is the only view which can be philosophically acceptable to anyone who claims to be either agnostic or atheistic.
Proponents of naturalistic evolution have been forced through sheer weight of scientific data to accept the prevailing model of Inflationary Big-Bang Cosmology despite its implications of a beginning which cannot be explained naturalistically. Some will, therefore, postulate ideas which attempt to either dismiss the beginning, such as the Hartle-Hawking State theory or to make the beginning simply one of an infinite number of beginnings, such as various multiverse theories, such that any one beginning is inherently insignificant. It must be noted that since these theories deal with conditions beyond our space-time dimensions, they must forever remain theories since they are inherently largely untestable. Such ideas of ultimate origins are as much a matter of faith for naturalists as those who believe that God created the universe. By definition, when taken to its logical conclusion, naturalism demands that the universe is eternal, or if it is not, then an eternal sequence of universes is birthed and dies in turn (or even at once).
A specific point of note is that naturalists will inevitably propose some kind of eternally existing “brute reality”; the multiverse, or the physical laws of nature themselves. For example, Steven Hawking makes that claim that:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
However, I wonder how this can be when there was nothing on which the said law could operate. Then too it must be pointed out that this elevates the physical laws from descriptive to proscriptive. In any case, in the final analysis, this is then no different from theists or deists, except we call our eternal “brute reality” God.
Theistic Evolution (TE) essentially holds that some extrinsic being, whom we refer to as God, was the cause of the big-bang. However, he created in a way that preloaded the system with everything it needed to arrive at the point that it is at today without requiring any further involvement on his part. Some forms of Theistic Evolution hold that God intervened one more or more times, particularly to initiate life, perhaps to create mankind, but that life, for the most part, evolved in the manner described by Naturalistic Evolution to the level of complexity we see today.
Note that Theistic evolution has a personal God actively involved in creation; a slight variation wherein God is fully transcendent and uninvolved is known as Deistic evolution. This distinction is something of a fine point and not relevant to the overall philosophy.
Theistic evolution suffers from the same practical problems as does naturalistic evolution, but it can circumvent the “singularity” problems (the inception of the universe, the inception of life, the existence of mind) by invoking God. However, it suffers from the same problems, though to a lessor degree, arising from needing to increase complexity and information within the system over time.
Unlike the naturalistic counterpart a theist can postulate that God has chosen to imbue evolved human beings with dignity and value beyond the rest of the animals. One commonly held idea is that, while human beings evolved from lower animals, God selected one couple that we refer to as Adam and Eve and breathed spirit into them, transforming them into spiritual beings.
Proponents of TE are beginning to refer to this position as Evolutionary Creationism in an effort to emphasize the involvement of God and, perhaps to a lessor degree, to take some of the focus off the process of evolution.
Creation holds that this universe and everything within it, including and particularly life, is the product of a supernatural being or beings. For Biblical systems, this is a singular, personal, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God. From my (limited) understanding of Islamic creation teaching, it too falls for all practical purposes under the heading of creation (though the Islamic concept is a fully transcendent God).
A fundamental consequence of a creation understanding is that human beings are much more than merely highly evolved animals; they are in fact the pinnacle of God’s creation, specifically made in his image, spiritual and created with innate dignity and value, and therefore superior to the rest of creation.
Old-Earth Creation (OEC) accepts the observational data for the age of the universe as seen via modern scientific means as being generally accurate. It holds that God created the universe as described in the various creation accounts found in the Bible, provided those Biblical accounts are interpreted in a manner such that they are non-contradictory with each other and not contradictory with emperical, well-established observational data. This view would hold that the correct interpretation of the days of Genesis is that they are ages, and that the Genesis accounts accurately describes the actual events of the creation of the universe. Since these ages are indefinite periods of time OEC is unaffected by changing scientific estimates of the age of the universe, since the specific amount of time is immaterial to the view’s interpretation of scripture.
This view holds that since God created everything and the Bible is the inerrant word of God, we must expect that what God has revealed in creation and what he has revealed in his word are consistent. This is imperative, for God cannot lie, which would be contrary to his nature. Furthermore, the scripture explicitly states that one purpose of creation is to testify to God and his attributes, therefore to the extent that scripture disagrees with science, one or the other is being misinterpreted.
OEC generally understands the Noahic flood to be geographically localized and not one of global proportions, affecting and wiping out all mankind except Noah and his family. The animals taken on the ark were those necessary to rapidly repopulate the affected area primarily for the benefit of mankind and the reemergent civilization.
OEC holds that while scripture is the final authority, observational science can inform our understanding of scripture such that the two harmonize. Note that this does not require that there be no supernatural explanation of any phenomena; quite the contrary, many things are best understood as God stepping in and doing something beyond the laws and physics of this universe. It certainly does not seek to “explain away” the miracles described in the Bible – it would be expected that such a personal God as is described in the scriptures would intervene supernaturally from time to time. When God does perform a miracle, it is generally expected that he leaves behind clear evidence of that supernatural intervention.
OEC sub-divides into a broad spectrum of Biblical interpretation, including Day-age Creation (Hugh Ross; this is also called Progressive Creation), Analogical Day Creation (C. John Collins), Cosmic Time Theory (Gerald Schroeder), Cataclysmic Gap Theory, Old-universe/Young-earth Gap Theory, the Framework Hypothesis and others.
Young-Earth Creation (YEC) holds that the creation of the universe happened over the course of six 24 hour days, as measured by earth-time. It holds, too, that God created the universe as described in the various creation accounts found in the Bible, but tends to focus almost exclusively on the Genesis account, often to the exclusion of the others.
YEC holds that scripture is the only authority. Observational science can confirm but not alter our interpretation of scripture; any conflict or contradiction is a failing on the part of science, not theology. It rejects the observational data for an old universe, holding that the science for it is either gravely flawed, that the individual scientists are either hopelessly biased or deliberately deceitful (the former failing on the part of scientists being considered perhaps a philosophical failing, more so than necessarily born of malicious intent).
Therefore, in this view, all appearance of age beyond a few thousand years is either illusory, or the result of imposing mistaken presuppositions on the data, or the result of fundamentally flawed scientific measurements, or the result of deliberate deception designed to further an atheistic agenda or some combination thereof. As a consequence, most proponents hold that scientific endeavors hold little to no value in understanding our origins, but rather, that the Christian scripture provides the only real means to such knowledge.
In this view, the geologic record reflects a catastrophic global flood, and not ages of planetary formation, and may also indicate short-term catastrophic plate tectonic activity. The Noahic flood was global and the animals taken in the ark were all those needed to repopulate the entire planet with all the land-dwelling and avian species which we see today. I have never encountered an explanation for the global co-mingling of fresh and salt water and the effect it would have on the aquatic life requiring one or the other type of environment, so I do not know how that is explained.
As with OEC, instances of the super-natural recorded in scripture are accepted at face-value and as such there is no need for any naturalistic explanation of such phenomena.
To be reasonably complete, we must make mention of the various mythological accounts that come down from ancient civilizations. They vary in the degree of fanciful components, but as a whole have a poor record when compared to what we have learned about the cosmos over the past few hundred years. As a group, they stand out in stark contrast to the Bible account (when interpreted from an old-creation worldview) in nearly all key areas, despite the claims of atheists that the Biblical creation account is “just another creation myth”.
Perhaps the biggest contrast between these and the Judeo/Christian scripture is that in the former, imperfect God(s) are depicted within space-time with the likeness, nature and failings of man, while in the latter, man is created in the image of a perfect God who is transcendent of space-time. In other words, in pagan mythology, God bears the image of man, but in Judeo-Christian scripture, man bears the image of God.
Like various flood legends found in ancient cultures, similar creation legends with varying levels of corruption are remarkable in being exactly what we would expect if the human race was in fact descended from one parent couple as is described in the Bible and still retained a common memory of actual events via stories passed down from generation to generation.
- Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard, The Grand Design (2010).