Barefoot in the wilderness
in search of understanding

The ID debate - moving forward (III)

With our ground rules in place and the issues of metaphor outlined, I now lay out my own thoughts about how we can better think about the relationship between Creator and Creation. Fundamentally, I want to avoid the pitfalls of the common descriptions – reductionism, concern primarily with malfunction, one-dimensionality and the subordination of the Creator.

As I mentioned in the previous article in this series, one metaphor that I believe to be very useful in thinking about our own life is the idea of journey. However, this idea can be applied much more widely than simply on an individual level. Indeed, I believe that it can be applied very successfully to Creation as a whole.

That is, just as each of is on a journey from birth to death, so is Creation itself. Indeed, we can say more than that. For, just as each Christian journeys with God (with God in our hearts, we might say), so does Creation journey with God. Not only is Creation made and sustained by God but God dwells in its heart. For we believe in an Incarnate God – a God who came and became an integral, crucial part of this Creation.

We might object that “He came to those who were His own and His own knew Him not”, but we must proclaim that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. If this means anything, it means that eventually every part of Creation will confess the Lordship of Christ. Creation itself will be redeemed. That is, Creation itself (no less than we human beings) is on a journey of salvation.

But I want to add still one more dimension to this picture – landscape. For, if we journey, we must journey across a landscape. There must be roads, hills, valleys, briars, swamps. The landscape is the world of possibilities that we follow or discard with each choice made. Do we turn right or left? Do we take the easy road or the hard one? Do we follow Christ or our own desires?

And this landscape of possibilities is itself created by God. It must be, for the possibilities that are open to anyone (to Creation itself) are implicit in where it starts its journey and what capabilities it has. And the paths that we can take are determined also by the obstacles in our way and the encounters we have along the way.

So, God creates us, starts us on a journey of discovery. We travel and make choices, left or right, up or down. And yet the roads we journey are determined by God at the Creation of the world. The starting place and destination are set out beforehand – for we may turn left and yet find that the road turns to the right.

That is, we may have real choices with real implications, and yet the final destination may not differ. Only the path we take differs. (For the moment, I’m leaving open the question of whether we may affect our ultimate destination at all – this picture works equally well in either case, for any destination is implicit in the landscape God creates. So, even if we end up at the “wrong” place, it is only because God created that possibility.)

Creation and design
This may seem OK for individuals but for Creation itself? How can we talk of Creation making choices or taking different paths? Now, I want to draw a little on some modern science, possibly the most famous aspect of Physics: quantum mechanics. (Don’t be scared, only a little bit!) At the centre of QM is the idea of uncertainty, of alternative possibilities. The particle can be here or there, the radioactive atom can decay or not, the cat can be dead or alive. And these choices are random – they are intrinsically unpredictable.

So, there are many roads that Creation could take, even discounting human choice. With each atom that decays, the Universe turns left or right. The implications of each path are different. And, when it comes to living things, they get even more complicated, because living things are probably the most complicated things there are.

This is where we get into “Intelligent Design” :-) For I do not believe the position put forward by ID: that God (the Designer is never formally admitted, but for Christians it is implicit) interfered with the development of Creation in order that certain features of living things might appear; and that these features could not have appeared by evolution in the normal sense.

As I’ve said, the position that these things were “impossible” (or effectively so) for evolution has no formal scientific justification. It is based on assertion only. If, however, we stop looking only at the path that Creation has taken and think about the landscape across which it has travelled, we get a different picture. God did not have to interfere in the “natural” journey of Creation in order for God’s designs to come to pass – such a picture suggests that God is not completely in control! Rather, every path that could have been taken would lead eventually to the same place.

God did not create a singular set of rails along which Creation has trundled, never deviating from God’s intentions. Nor are there sets of rails that Creation travels along, only to be shunted from one to another every so often by God (as “design events” are required). Rather, I believe, God created a landscape of possibilities across which Creation and Creator have travelled together (remember, Creation has Christ at its centre). Whichever turns Creation makes, the roads eventually lead to the same places. Evolution may be driven by “natural forces” only, but the roads towards which those forces push us are determined by the way God created the Universe. We were inevitable, because God wanted us to be – not because God controls every choice made but because God created the world in such a way that all roads led to us.

Compare and contrast
This picture has important differences from most other stories about Creation that I have come across. Unlike Intelligent Design, it does not posit interference in the journey that Creation takes. Unlike Guided Evolution, it does not posit control over the path that Creation took. Instead, it suggests that God created a world that is genuinely capable of taking many paths, and yet a world that will absolutely arrive at the destination(s) that God desires.

Unlike the Creationist, we do not have to suggest that Creation lies to us about how it was made and the journey it has taken.
Unlike the predestinationist, we do not have to suggest that God controls every event within Creation, leaving no true freedom for any creature.
Unlike the ID advocate, we do not have to suggest that Creation wandered from the path God desired, or was incapable itself of following that path.
Unlike the materialist, we do not have to claim that there is no divine control of Creation.

Rather, we can occupy a middle ground. We can claim that God truly controls the destinations of Creation itself, and of every creature within it. We can also claim that Creation and every creature are nonetheless free to make real choices with real consequences. We can claim that Creation’s journey may surprise God but yet that God cannot be truly surprised, for every possibility is determined by God. We can claim that God dwells at the heart of Creation and at the heart of the believer.

Ground rules revisited
So, with this picture in place, what do we make of the ground rules I suggested in the first part of this series? The first few are trivial – God created the Universe and called it Good, God has plans that will ultimately come to pass, God and Creation are distinct, God truly dwells within Creation as well as outside. The last few are trivial, too – the methods of science tell us truly about the nature of the Universe and the paths that it has taken, the body of knowledge within science is a fair representation of that nature and history. For, in this landscape picture, we are relying on the way Creation was made, on its integrity, for it to make its journey. Christ is at the centre of Creation – how, then, can we suggest that Creation itself is fundamentally inadequate and incoherent?

So, if there are no problem ground rules, how do we go forward? First, I think that this offers a better picture of how “design” and “Creation” are related. The design happens first, and Creation lives out that design. Second, I think that this offers insight into how divine predestination of the individual is related to individual freedom and choice. For we here have a picture in which the landscape for each individual (complete with destination[s]) was set in place before the Universe was made, and yet a Universe within which each person is really free to make the choices that lie before them.

One might protest that this freedom is partial, for we can only choose between the options presented to us. But this has always been the case. I cannot “choose” to jump to the moon, or to swim to the bottom of the sea, or to grow a new arm. We have always known that our choices are contingent and limited. However, those choices that we are presented with are nonetheless genuine choices. Without the ability to choose, we could never grow to maturity.

One final point I want to make is about miracles, about God acting within Creation. From what I’ve said so far, we might think that this picture is fundamentally materialist – that “natural law” is all that there is. But this is not true. For, if Christ is at the centre of Creation, Christ is part of the journey of Creation. The distinction is, we might say, between signs and designs. When God acts within Creation, it is always as a sign. The action isn’t about itself but about the sign of God that is conveyed. Hence Jesus’ harsh words for those who demanded miracles and wonders before they would believe – it’s not about power but about God’s message. We should listen to the message, not look for demonstrations of power. The whole of Creation declares God’s glory. We need not look for “proofs” of that glory in individual structures, for the whole Universe makes it known.

So, the path of Creation will be affected by acts of God, by events that do not arise from “natural law”. But these events are part of the salvation story, part of the self-revelation of God within Creation. They are not, if you like, part of the walker but part of the path. Creation, the journeyer, meets God as it travels and is changed by the meeting. The distinction lies in the meaning of the meeting.

The end
So, there we go. That’s a metaphor I currently find useful for picturing the relationship between Creation and design, freedom and sovereignty. This is its first time in the wide world, so I’d appreciate help removing the rough edges and correcting any errors. Even demonstrations that it’s wrong, provided you’re gentle :-)

pax et bonum