Did God Design or Craft Us?

Continuing the discussion from Natural Theology vs. Design Arguments vs.ID:

An agnostic mathematician brings a very interesting insight into theology of creation. Is “design” or “crafting” a better way of understanding God’s act of creation? Perhaps crafting is better than design.

Considering the imagery and language of Scripture, “crafting” seems to correspond much closer than “design” to creation:

  1. In Genesis 2, Yahweh forming Adam from the dust.

  2. Jeremiah’s view of the potter forming clay.

  3. Psalms, God knitting us in our mothers’ womb.

In all these cases, the imagery is of crafting, not of “designing” per se. Of course God does “plan” things for us and has “designed” us, but this might be more about our “purpose” than “creation.” Though certainly God created us for a purpose. Perhaps it is more salient to say “God crafted us for a purpose.”

There is much to be engaged on this. What are your thoughts @jongarvey, @Philosurfer, @deuteroKJ?

I don’t see a value to intentionally changing the word.

Perhaps it is better way of explaining or understanding. There has been much confusion caused with the equivocation “design = create” and this helps understand what is lost by this equivocation. Craft seems to be more true than design.

ID does not assert humans are any less crafted than designed.

The mental model in ID is often that of engineering, which is nearly de novo from knowledge (see the software programmer analogy here: Winston Ewert: The Dependency Graph of Life). While ID would certainly call crafting a type of design, it seems that crafting has a different “sense” to it than writing a piece of software.

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I agree tgat is tge mental model cultivated…

But it is not how it manifests itself theologically.

Maybe Designed-&-Crafted is better still?

At the moment, playing with thew new language, “crafted for a purpose” seems much closer to the theology of creation than “designed”.

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I can agree… as long as we say “Crafted” is BIGGER than “Designed” could ever be!

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My initial question is: are we moving too quickly from phenomenological description (e.g., word pictures) to ontology? As C.S. Lewis noted so well, scientific descriptions are so full of analogies and metaphors that we sometimes forget we are using such figurative language. Even more so when considering theological language. So, while I think it’s right to remind ourselves of both the usefulness and limitations of words (like “design”), I’m not sure switching to a word like “cafting” improves the discussion. Perhaps I’m wrong. Craftsmanship language also fits God’s spiritual work: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).


I’m not sure I’m going to ontology.

I’m just exploring the linguistic nuances of those two words, wondering which one is closest to the language of Scripture and theology of creation.


When did the focus on “design” arise? Does it go back to Christian adoption of Plato and Aristotle, or was it ramped up more with natural theology? (Sorry if this was addressed on the other thread…I haven’t read it all.)

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I think we see talk of design with Paley’s watchmaker analogy and also with Boyle, whom @TedDavis calls the father of design.

It seems the forms of Plato and Aristotle are better captured by the antecedants to design: the forms of Lineas (right?) and even the notions of the Image of God that cast it somewhat like an ideal platonic form.

If that’s right it might be historically linked with the reductionist vision of scientific and enlightenment that imagines life (and everything else) as mechanisms and machinery.


The two predominant ideas of creation in the Bible seem to be “speaking” and “making.” Though both are exceedingly rich (especially speech, as it has so many other ramifications) I think we need to bear in mind that they cover pretty well all the creative options of ancient times.

A great man who commands, from the wisdom of his conception, is one idea (think of the work of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes).

But an artisan is both a designer, artist and craftsman - like Bezalel and Oholiab who did all the work on the tabernacle.

I don’t like “craftsman” so much because it has the connotation in our culture of a skilled workman only, like a carpenter. Like George I don’t think we shoukd get precious about words simply because somebody we disagree with uses them. Though I tend to keep in mind the potter/skilled artisan/word of power images from the Bible, I’m OK with the common analogies like architect (despite the Freemasons), design (despite ID), artist, musician, or even engineer - I suspect the Bible would have used any of those if the roles had existed in Israelite society.

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Artisan is similar to craftsman in my mind. I’m not sure that I see the engineering concept in Scripture though…

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No - it would be anachronistic if you did, which is a large part of my point. But take the account of the Tabernacle, in which there is a conscious echo in Bezalel and Oholiab, filled with God’s Spirit to make the tabernacle, with God creating his cosmic temple in Gen 1 (see Greg Beale on this).

Amongst other things, they were responsible for the design and casting of the bronze furnishings of the temple, such as the laver. Later, Hiram did castings on a much grander scale for Solomon’s Temple - remember the two large pillars Boaz and Jachin. Today, such metalwork would be regarded as engineering, and the decorative work as “art” - but then it was just artisanship.

But the point is that all those “making” analogies, authorised by Scripture, still treat creation as an “artifact”, recognising that we will intuit that it is more than that. (In my last post I should also have added that the “speech” analogy, as well as being a royal image, also covers the bard, weaving organic worlds of imagination that can change how we see things: there’s a closer analogy).

Paley, I think, gets a bad deal nowadays - most critics haven’t read him (I reviewed him [here](Natural Theology – Paley and Darwin | The Hump of the Camel .) For a start, although he begins with his watch analogy, and deals with biology according to the mechanical anatomy of the time, he also deals with astronomy, the nature of the elements and (as I mention in my piece) fine tuning of laws, such as the inverse square law. But he was doing apologetics with the concepts of his time, as you rightly say:

Bacon and Descartes championed “the mechanical philosophy”, right? And as you say, Boyle was its chief prophet. You can’t get more mechanistic than that. Descartes regarded animals as mere automata, directly leading to the interest in mechanical automata in Paley’s own century. He responded to people where they were at the time.

But that mechanistic view has, surely, only continued in our time in the molecular biology conception of life. Biology has seen organisms as molecular machines - and the whole evolutionary concept of altering the parts of living things piecemeal through mutation of the manufacturing program (DNA) is a wholly mechanical, engineering concept. So it is not surprising that ID as an apologetics movement should begin there, as Paley began with his watch.

The very label “Intelligent Design” was a direct reaction to the prevalent idea of evolution as “design without intelligence” in the Blind Watchmaker. In fact, though, I’ve seen more questioning of such metaphors by ID writers (and those they champion such as the systems biologists and structuralists) than I have in the EC community.

And that includes a number of writers espousing A_T philosophy, including Vincent Torley, Michael Chaberek and others. I believe you’re right that to get a more rounded conception we have to go back to Aristotle and Plato. Before Bacon and Co, the world was seen not as a machine, but more like an holistic being - and of course, organisms were substantial forms, created as understood by Aquinas) not as disparate parts but as integrated wholes.

It’s the congruence of that with the biblical concept of creation, and the recognition of the deeply integrated nature of living things, that has helped a resurgence in A_T kinds of thinking amongst philosophers like Ed Feser and Tom Nagel, physicists like Heisenberg and Hump poster Ian Thompson, and biologists in fields like systems biology and physiology (such as Denis Noble).

In theology, N T Wright has sharply summed it up as a worldview conflict between one currently dominant ancient philsopohy - Epicureanism - and the more biblical, slightly less ancient philosophies that included final and formal causation in their schemes (which seem essential if we are to escape from narrowly mechanistic views).

But as I’ve been saying in the beginnings of my theology of nature series on The Hump, if one wants to go in that direction, something will have to give in ones approach to biological science, which is currently completely Epicurean.

Specifically, if orgainsms are not machines, but substantial forms, is piecemeal evolution a plausible mechanism to explain their transformations?

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I’m sure biology is not epicurian.

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Why would an omniscient God need to use a “trial and error” process?
Craftsman do it because of limitations connected to cognition.

What could be more Epicurean than the chance alterations of molecules as the basis for the origin of species? What is more mechanistic than the substitution of genes into mitochondria in order to correct diseases? What is more Epicurean than the invocation of near-infinite time so that accidents might accumulate gradually into significant changes, without requiring formal causation?

Neutral theory is Epicurus on steroids.


Biology doesn’t claim chance is ontological chance, just chance from a human point of view.

That’s not the point - it’s the mechanistic nature of evolution, whether produced by ontological randomness or by individual acts of God - that distances it from Aristotle and Plato. It is hard to square substantial forms with gradual changes in a linear genetic code conceived as a template for phenotype…

Besides, “random with respect to fitness” is a denial of final causation respecting those changes.