I’m going to be commenting on a post by JD Walters:
A charge frequently leveled at theistic evolutionists is that of the inconsistency between accepting both the uniformitarian geological and biological evidence for the age of the Earth and the miracles performed by Jesus and other biblical figures. In the latter presumably God acted by divine fiat, bypassing or overriding the usual creaturely processes by which objects are linked by cause and effect with other objects. Now if-so goes the objection-the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes involved the creation ex nihilo of fully formed loaves and fishes, presumably such that if a person were to examine them without knowledge of their miraculous origin they would seem to be completely normal loaves and fishes, how can we trust the appearance of age and the natural unfolding of Earth's long history that science presents? Can we indeed rule out the possibility, daringly put forward by Philip Gosse, that creation ex nihilo implies a similar scenario to the loves and fishes, except for the entire Universe? Perhaps this world is like a novel in God's mind, where we can enter the story in medias res right from the first chapter, with its world stretching back into the past and on into the future by projecting from the context of that chapter, but with that world only existing as the context of the actual story laid out in the pages of the novel, and nothing more.
That’s a pretty fair statement of the position he’s about to critique. And I’ll be revisiting this statement momentarily.
What, then, is the conclusion of the matter? And what does this have to do with the challenge of ex nihilo to theistic evolutionism? Simply this: although God is indeed all-powerful and can dispose of his creation as easily as we can blow out a candle, the Bible teaches that God is not fickle in his attitude towards creation: once God creates something, even if that something deviates from his purpose and obstructs his will, God does not simply toss it out and start over. This motif of God working with and through creation, together with God's promise that the rhythms of the world would no longer be disrupted as long as the world lasted, allows us to affirm a substantial amount of creaturely autonomy and uniformity. God does not create and destroy things in the blink of an eye, and creation is not just a story in God's mind. God has chosen to make creation both real and good. Even though he is omnipotent, God has chosen to give creation its own 'firmness' or 'solidity' over against his all-powerful will.
i) There is nothing in the theory of mature creation or full-blown Omphalism to suggest that God zeros out the status quo and starts over from scratch.
ii) JD commits a level-confusion. Mature creation and/or Omphalism don’t mean that creation is “just a story in God’s mind.” God embodies his concept of the world in real space and real time. To take JD’s own illustration, if Christ makes a miraculous fish, that fish is still a real fish, and not just an idea in God’s mind.
iii) There is also a direct contradiction between the way JD interprets his supporting material, and the interpretation he is laboring to defend. On the one hand, JD interprets Genesis pretty literally to make his case about God’s “commitment” to creation. On the other hand, JD is attempting to use the conclusion he derives from that interpretation to make room for theistic evolution. However, theistic evolution doesn’t interpret Genesis very literally (to put it mildly).
So JD is using the first hermeneutical approach to justify a second hermeneutical approach which contravenes the first hermeneutical approach. That’s like building the second story atop the first story, then zapping the first story. But in that event, the second story is now resting on thin air. What holds it up? Not the first story. Yet the first story was erected to support the second story.
And the motif does not stop there. In Genesis 3 we have a description of the first humans' disobedience, and God's plan for humans to be his viceroys on earth appears on the verge of collapsing. This would seem to be a good time for God to 'start the level again' in video game parlance, scrapping his creation as a faulty first draft and starting from scratch. After all, what could possibly be gained by continuing to invest in this flawed, disordered creation? Astonishingly, God does continue to invest in his creation and persists in using it to fulfill his purposes. Thus he sets a plan in motion to eventually crush the serpent who incited the first humans to disobedience and restore the humans to a right relationship with him. So much trouble, when God could have wiped everything out and started again! Again we are compelled to ask, why?
When one saves something, one does not destroy it and create something else in its place. Implicit in the very idea of salvation is that what is being saved is preserved. Precisely because of his love of and commitment to his creation, God wanted to save it, this very creation, not throw it away and start again.
Once again, it’s hard to see the relevance of this observation. There is nothing in mature creation or Omphalism to suggest that God is inclined to scrap his creation and go back to the drawing board. The question at issue is what comes before, not what come after. According to mature creation or Omphalism, once the status quo is in place, creation ordinarily continues to operate in cycles. And God ordinarily uses natural processes to work his will.
But the point for now is that the Biblical God is not the sort of God who would create an Omphalos-type world in which things only seem to be what they are, and the reliability of natural processes is constantly in doubt, constantly under siege by the ever-present threat of creation ex nihilo. If there is one thing we know about God from the Bible, it is that once he creates, he commits. Nothing about the creation forces him to commit to it: the initiative and the promise are entirely from the divine side of the relationship, an expression of God's perfect, undeserved love.
Once again, this seems to caricature of the position under review.
i) To use JD’s own example, a miraculous fish doesn’t merely “seem to be” what it is. It really is a fish.
ii) If what JD means is that a miraculous fish seems to be a normal fish, even though it was not the product of a normal process of origination, so what? After all, JD apparently accepts the historicity of that miracle.
iii) How would mature creation or even full-blown Omphalism cast constant doubt over the reliability of natural processes? On this view, creation ex nihilo initiates all of the periodic processes which we subsequently take for granted.
It’s like making a machine that can then make other machines of the same type. The machine-making machine was not, itself, the product of a prior machine. But once the machine-making machine is in place, every subsequent machine is the product of that mechanical process.
iv) JD’s objection also sounds like a sanctified version of Lewontin’s strictures about the “Divine Foot in the door”: “The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”
v) I also don’t know how to square JD’s rather rigid commitment to the uniformity of nature with his personal experience. As he said on another occasion:
I was born into a missionary family with ministry in India and Bangladesh before moving East. My father had a powerful conversion experience on the beaches of Goa, India, in which he encountered Jesus asking him to be his disciple. From then on answered prayers, seemingly miraculous conversions and healings followed us wherever we went. To be sure, they didn't happen every day or even very often, but there were times when the experience was just too powerful to ignore.
Christians in China are heavily persecuted for their faith, but they seem to make up for it with an incredibly tally of reported healings, conversions, miraculous escapes, etc. Many people who experienced God's grace firsthand are still around, serving as Pastors and speakers around the world.
The same applies to Africa. Princeton alumni associated with Princeton Evangelical Fellowship often do missionary work there. Last year we had a couple, the husband an engineer and the wife a trained doctor, describe their experiences with spiritual warfare among the Masai people at a meeting. It was simply astonishing to see these well-educated, calm and collected people describe an exorcism as if it was the most common thing in the world. The exorcism had taken place a year ago, but there was no embellishment, no legendary expansion. They simply told it as it happened. They even showed a good-quality DVD recording of the exorcism, in which a person writhing on the ground in agony can be clearly seen, with people praying over him, until he settles down and becomes coherent again, after the attack. Needless to say the person cured became a Christian, as did the witch doctor who put the death curse on him.
vi) Apropos (v), I assume that when JD has a friend or family member who falls gravely ill, he does two things that most Christians do: (a) he recommends medical treatment; (b) he prays for them.
Now, his prayers can include more “mundane” petitions, viz. he prays to God to give the physician wisdom to correctly diagnose and treat the disease, &c.
However, I assume that, failing natural means, he will also pray to God to miraculously heal his sick friend or relative.
We can trust that creation, after careful and critical study and experimentation, will not deceive us about its character as creation.
Was the miracle at Cana “deceptive”? After all, the wedding guests didn’t see Jesus change the water into wine. So they were in no position to tell what “really” happened. To all appearances, this was normal wine. The product of a normal process.
We can trust the scientific evidence for uniformity and antiquity, because it coheres with the character of God as one who creates by the unfolding of his original creation, as opposed to bringing new things into existence every now and then.
What, exactly, would count as evidence for uniformity and antiquity? To use his own example, if the fish that Jesus multiplied appeared to be ordinary fish, then how do appearances point in one direction or another? Evidence of what? If miraculous fish are indistinguishable from ordinary fish, then what residual features indicate the true source of origin–whether natural or supernatural (as the case may be)? Put another way, if the cause is untraceable from the effect, then what does the effect evidence?