The Creator-Creation Distinction

What I’d say, is that science is tasked with understanding Creation in the terms of Creation.

We do not do science for the purpose of understanding the Creator, but for the purpose of understanding Creation.

After doing that scientific work, we certainly do sit back and reflect, and might understand something of the Creator too. This effort is much more like art appreciation. We wonder about the character and message of an artist by looking at the art she (or he) produces.

Two major thoughts in reply. The first is that though “creation” and “Creator” is a clear distinction, it does not correspond closely to the science/non-science distinction. Science understands certain aspects of creation in terms of themselves. But as I said before, it does not begin to address the spiritual creation - angels, souls, possibly minds - the last being arguably the most significant and primary aspect of the creation. Nor does it deal with universals within creation such as mathematics, metaphysics, meaningful information, ethics, aesthetics etc, etc, etc, etc. These things are not God, but created things - yet they are not, in their very essence, amenable to science, either. God’s people should be concerned with Creation, not just bits of creation.

So “creation” needs qualifying in your distinction about science in some way… maybe “physical” or “material” creation would help delimitation - but then what happens when the very concept of matter breaks down in quantum physics? If the physicists are right in saying that quantum reality is dependant on the mind of the observer (and by scaling up, perhaps the whole of reality) then we’re perhaps verging on the realm of angels anyway.

My second point is on our “theological disagreement”:

That’s a very encultured view, actually, which depends on the modern (late nineteenth century) hiving off of “science” from “natural philosophy.” Given the modern definition, I admit it’s trivially true.

And I do thoroughly agree that one aspect of science since Bacon and even before has been to understand the relations within nature, particularly with the practical, God-given aim of “governing creation”. The physical causes of disease are understood in order to ameliorate disease, properly without reference to God. The monk inventing the clock, though his efforts were directed at accurately determining the proper hours for worship, directed his scientific concentration to pure mechanics… as he prayed for success and meditated on St Bede’s work on the divine origin of time.

But historically that practical concern has not affected theology, nor even science in its aspect of “natural philosophy.” I’ve quoted Calvin twice recently (once here, once on the Hump) linking the studies of science directly to the higher appreciation of God’s wisdom and glory, and someone else here here (can’t remember where) recently listed a bunch of key scientists whose work was closely integrated with their worship. Kepler’s concept that he was “thinking God’s thoughts after him” sums them up, and the attitude extends to Michael Faraday’s lectures and Alfred Russel Wallace’s later books, who insisted strongly that the theistic conclusions of his study of evolution were “scientific”, not “religious.” They may have lost out to history, but they prove that science can be done with reference to God (and for our time, read Ian Thompson’s work).

The theologians for two thousand years (many of whom were trained in natural philosophy both in the classical period and in European universities) were agreed in seeing creation as, even primarily, God’s self-revelation - I did a very brief survey here.

So if you can define science closely enough, by all means use the Creator-Creation distinction within science. But to extend that strict demarcation beyond the academic and professional bounds of science, through a theology that denies that God reveals himself through creation (albeit it in the limited way scriptures like Rom 1:20) actually runs counter to the vast majority of Christian thinkers since antiquity, so I’m not convinced by it. And it certainly cannot be argued to be core Chrstian teaching.

What that means to me is that ID may well be wrong in saying that Science™ can do God. That would be a cultural conclusion, and would not have been considered true by Wallace, Kepler, Newton - or John Calvin. But it’s as true today as the fact that you can’t get a grant without a PhD, unlike Charles Darwin’s day.

But the science-faith conversation is not confined to science, by definition. I, for example, write from a background of clinical medicine, theology, a lifelong interest in palaeontology, music, pastoral ministry, etc etc. It is Garvey the man who is seeking to understand God and his relationship to Creation, and released from professional commitments I can, and should, think holistically. How absurd it would be to limit my thinking to what the disciplines of music allow me to say about God!

Except for working scientists like yourselves, within their professional life, there is no reason that I can see why the question should ever be “Can science discern God through Creation?”, but “Can people discern God through Creation?” And even scientists are people first.


I really hope and believe, though I myself may not be up to it, that there is a way to refine and synthesize your two (@swamidass and @jongarvey ) positions. I can’t help but think you each have your hands on different parts of the elephant, and as you move around, explore, and work it through it can connect together.

On the one hand, I have often said “Evidence is a mirror” so that what we can see in science is to some extent an artifact of how we choose to view what we learn from it. I think this quote from a Nobel Prize winner back from when the culture was different illustrates that.

On the other hand even though I do think we can learn something about God and His nature through creation, the distinction between Creator and creation is real and theologically important and sharp enough to where the kind of borders Joshua is talking about can be drawn and even should be drawn. This may be so even if the finer distinctions on what those borders are is still somewhat unclear.

For example, though creation is the handywork of God, it was also subjected to futility (before the fall of Adam BTW). Therefore if we study how futility acts out in creation we are not learning anything about the nature of God because that trait does not apply to Him. It is something He has temporarily imposed on creation. Thus, as with the Christ-Centered Framework for Early Genesis, there is a distinction between Creator and creation even in that creation has trouble doing God’s will. It is not something that happens smoothly and quickly as it does in the kingdom of heaven. In that place all of Jon’s points about their being no real distinction between the natural and the supernatural will be 100% validated. It is just that we are here now.

The theological importance of understanding that there is a distinction between Creator and creation is well-expressed in the work of Dr. Peter Jones and his “Oneism vs. Twoism” talk.

And if that is the case (which is trivially true), that is a great way to describe what science is doing. It avoids all the problems of MN demarcation.

Exactly, that is the “true name” of science. What it really is.

From my point of view, this is merely:

You have not yet demonstrated that any of those cases were anything more than sitting back and reflecting, to understanding something of the Creator, but not actually “within” the role of being a scientist. Just look at me too, @jongarvey, I’m reflecting all the time on what science is telling us, in light of theology. I’m a complete person, more than merely a cog in science, but a scientist too, who sees the world from multiple points of view.

I disagree. “Creation” is the best way to put it. Science can study minds, ethics (the negotiation of rules, distinct from right and wrong), aesthetics, numbers, information, design and more. However, it is going to only present a wooden reduced view of these things. It is too limited to give us a complete account.

Instead of saying what is inside and outside the line (other than the Creator), it is better to emphasize that science, even when it is correct, is not complete. That solves the problems you are raising, and obviates the need to qualify the domain.

I know, and that was Bacon’s innovation, to point-out that this view hindered progress in understanding creation. He argued correctly that Creation was worth understanding independent of theological concerns. It was worth understanding for its own sake. That is the theological correction that lays the foundation for modern science, and I am not going to give that up. He was a deviation from the norm, but it was the correct deviation.

I did not say that God does not reveal himself through creation. Rather, I’m arguing that the purpose of science, which is merely one way of studying nature, is not concerned with revealing God. Because it puts us in close contact with Nature, God will certainly be revealed. But the activity of science diligently avoids that direct aim, by definition.

Of course, philosophers, poets, theologians, and even scientists, should engage further to see how God is revealed in nature, but this effort is outside science’s scope, and is therefore outside science. By Definition.

@jongarvey, listing to what I’m saying. I am agreeing with you there. The issue is demarcation. We just acknowledge that this is something out side science, and the argument with people like @Patrick just evaporates. No one has a problem with Christians wondering about the meaning about scientific findings in theology. The problem is when we try and import those theological reflections into science itself, which is not concerned with such things, and is meant to be neutral.

This is well established, even though its controversial and does not describe you. The reason why ID wants this to be considered part of professional life is because they want to put ID into science curriculums, and that is why so many non-scientists care about this. That is specifically the problem that needs to be addressed.

People can discern God through Creation. Scientists are people too. Scientists can discern God through Creation, when they holistically look at Nature. However this is not part of their professional life. Making part of their professional life will get them kicked out, because they are flouting Bacon’s rule, risking heretical religion and fantastical science.

The point is that even scientists have no reason to press that "science can discern God through Creation;” rather, they should say "I as a scientist, beyond the scientific process, do discern God through Creation.” That is the critical and consequential difference between ID and myself. You, in principle, should have no problem with my position. If you can join me here, and help explain it, you will do a great deal of good for us in America. Remember, we are constantly embroiled in curriculum wars over precisely this issue.

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I think its possible. Though, I’m dealing with stone cold realities as science professor in the US. @jongarvey has a “free hand” here to take some liberties that I do not. That is the where to discord lies. I’m pointing out that some of the liberties he takes are not ultimately necessary for his larger goals. If we can come to a closer place, that enables a clearer light forward on how we can peacefully engage with science.

I would be greatly surprised if the postings on this particular thread affected the @swamidass scenarios one way or the other.

He is the one who should know though, moreso than any of us.

I want to “like” your post for the hope of synthesis expressed but am saddened at the thought that inquiry may be hindered by the science establishment. If the church starts to take heed of what we are exploring here then religion and “science” may exchange places vis-a-vi entertaining controversial questions.

I’m not bothered by this. I agree with the rules, and we are entertaining @jongarvey’s questions. Rather the point is more germaine. How can we be a faithful presence within science as we find it? The fact that the rules of science are motivated Christian theology is a good thing, which can only be an encouragement to come to peace with it.

Joshua, if everyone in science comes to agree with you, that’s fine. A demarcated science along the lines we have been discussing solves a lot of problems, by cicumscribing science as merely the professional aspect of what scientists do qua scientists.

But all the scientific names I gave were people working within the tradition started by Bacon (largely, but not, remember, exclusively: Descartes etc had a hand) and their interpretation of their own tradition/profession was that they could freely discuss the theological implications of their science within their scientific works. The work of quoting Newton, Kepler, Wallace etc to that effect doesn’t belong here, but is easy enough to document. These are not merely aberrant workers, but the “saints” of science. One would think they have as much say as to what science is as anybody else.

And this seems to imply that Bacon was the appointed apostle of the gospel of science, whose word defined all that science was to be thereafter. Crucial as he was, it would be hard to maintain such a position of authority for him, especially when the Royal Society was founded to “accept nothing on authority.”

But likewise, as in practice early scientists would have seen the boundary between their “science” and their “reflection” as a distinction without a difference, so in practice many modern scientists are happy to blur the boundary between their science and their materialist “reflections” on it, and don’t get called out on it because that’s just the way science is.

If you and me and everybody managed, somehow, to put an end to that, it would be just as marked a change to “science as it actually is” as allowing an equal platform to theistic as to materialist “reflection.” Likewise, even the fact that science, defined our way, has such strict limits is not going to be taken lying down by an establishment that, unlike the philosophers of science, often has the unstated maxim that science, given enough time, will discover everything. Even on this board, there has been some dgree of disdain for the philosophers of science - and since defining science is, by definition, philosophy of science (a non-scientific reflection on science!) it may be rather an uphill task.

That doesn’t make the effort useless, but it does mean that it’s not simply an affirmation of what science “as she is spoke” already is, but an effort to change it, or (in Baconian terms) to call for a Reformation to the true apostolic path.

Worrying about ID is a minor distraction to that discussion, in my view. If the whole world comes to your view (perhaps we ought to have a shorthand neologism for that, like “strictly delineated science”) then ID’s quest for design becomes universally agreed to be philosophy, but philosophy will have also have gained a huge place at the table of “reflection on science.” So they won’t mind, because nobody will be suggesting any more that “science disproves design” or other extra-scientific truth claims, such as that “there is no physical evidence for non-physical realities.”

As it is, everyone’s still arguing about the boundaries of science - well-credentialled metaphysical naturalists other than Dawkins insist their materialism is part of science, and be viewed as scientists rather than amateur philosophers or theologians. So it’s inevitable that ID will call foul and say “we’re just as scientific as they are.” However, I’ve heard many ID people say, “forget the customary demarcations of science or philosophy - what matters is whether our inference to design is true.” So they’d be up for a science of more modest compass, too.

So as I said science cannot, indeed, be defined along the lines of “the study of creation rather than God”, for there are many other legitimate and essential ways to study Creation apart from God - or including God, that go beyond the wooden and reduced view. And I still don’t think you’ve given any idea of how one can study angels (or ghosts, to use a C S Lewis category) scientifically.

We are agreed, I think, on what science could most usefully be, and how it would solve most of the problems of scientism, the free-ride that materialism seems to get in our culture, AND the credentials of ID as well. I even agree that science done that way, purposefully divorced from metaphysics, cannot, in principle, “find God”, because, as I’ve been saying for many years, even the most the most blatant miracle is formally indistinguishable from epicurean chance - choosing between them is a metaphysical reflection beyond science.

Where I disagree still is:
(a) That your view of what science ought to be is, in practice, what it is agreed to be either by scientists or by society - you, me and Bacon do not constitute a majority.

(b) That it is in practice posible to do science without metaphysical assumptions - the whole of the enterprise depends on reflection on the meaning of data, and theories arise from metaphysical convictions. We choose between theories on non-scientific bases of plausibility: Venema thinks an ancient human bottleneck is implausible, despite the scientific arguments of yourself and Buggs - an atheist anthropologist would be even more unpersuaded, and whoever got the final say at Wikipedia likewise.

So in my case of the unique miracle of Christ’s resurrection, given its fact, materialism might legitimately invoke mere chance, at a vanishingly low probability, to retain it as a scientifically tractable phenomenon. The alternative removes the event from science - but the point is that the choice between them is not a scientific one, but a metaphysical one.


@swamidass or @jongarvey,

Could either of you summarize in 2 sentences or so why I should even care about this topic?

It’s an endless topic… all by itself… and if there is even a hint that it has to be resolved before Peaceful
Science can promote it’s education, then we will never be able to promote.

Lots of people come here thinking this is their chance to discuss their favorite hob-goblins of
religion or philosophy.

I resist that notion.

The reason why is that is, perhaps, the primary conflict between ID and mainstream science.

So why don’t we work towards that together? That is an achievable goal.

Except we are already allowed to call them out on it. That is the rules right now, if we call them out on it, we are just asking them to play fair.

I’m not sure I agree. I’m allowed to have Christian reflections. I think most Christians do not know that this allowed, and what it is that breaks the rules and doesn’t.

It would not be as marked as change as you think. Rather, it would be making the rules that already exist more clear, and endorsing htme.

I think we do agree.

I’d say that the rules are not clear, but they are the rules. The majority of scientists absolutely play by these rules, however the majority of scientists int he public square are not playing by these rules in the public square on origins. We are in a strong position, therefore, to insist they play by the existing rules.

That is true, which is why we used established metaphysical assumptions. Do not mistake Venema’s work for quality science (sorry). He has not published a scientific study in a very long time, and I’ve had no push back from practicing scientists that read my work. My atheist colleagues are much less theologically motivated than Venema, and that makes it much easier to deal with them. Venema is deviating from the standards we all hold ourselves too.

Look @jongarvey, I’m actually in the scientific world, engaging the iceberg under the water that you cannot see. Wouldn’t it be great if I’m right on this?

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Thank you @TedDavis. @jongarvey, relevant to this conversation…

@jongarvey I’d just suggest there is a lot here to exhume to make sense of this. It is an unfinished historical project here.


I encourage you to let someone else finish the historical project.

The project you have is obviously not of this category: we are mixing faith-based principles with a pile of natural evidence. However, invoking a proxy for Natural Methodology to assure fellow scientists that you are not using science to prove de novo creation of Adam/Eve, would always be a good thing.

It is the scientists who will most accept this terminology (even if only awkwardly conceived) … and it is the scientist community that will benefit from the use of the term when it comes to your project.

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Quite so - I’ll wave a flag from the stands, but I can’t even get BioLogians to agree with me, let alone the silent majority of scientists.

Paging Ted Davis…

One interesting complication is that Bacon was hopeful, in the longer term, of using his methodology to find the patterns of God’s providential actions. There’s a kind of logic to that - after all, there’s likely to be method in his personal dealings as well as his lawlike ones.

However, it does make the “natural/supernatural” divide even harder to maintain than it is already. Providence is supernatural, but involves the natural… how much simpler to translate “natural” as “repeatable” and keep out of theology!

You can have a real impact if you pick one side of the argument. You can’t simultaneously argue:

  1. Science should be neutral; keep metaphysical atheism out of science, in the same way we keep religion out.
  2. Metaphysical atheism is allowed in science, so why not ID?

Arguing both is not tenable. It is not consistent, and allows ID to be opportunistic with your claims, and atheists rightly feel it is not fair.

How about just arguing alongside me for #1?


Excellent observation! And this is exactly why I so effortlessly reject the I.D. belief that God’s involvement in nature can be detected by science! Science cannot trace divine intentions. It can only detect, at the most, whether the rain that falls on the arid farmland was a natural phenomenon or not.

The dinosaur-killing asteroid can be determined to be natural … but Science cannot tell whether it was “poofed” into existence just beyond Jupiter … or if it was incipient at the very moment of creation!

If God promotes evolution by making massive changes in the Earth’s ecosystems, at the right time for the right amount of time, how would we ever know that? A branch of hominids is known to have emerged to exploit the increasing gaps in open land between giant pockets of forest or jungle.

Without neighboring trees for brachiation, hominids had to develop other ways of finding food and defending against predators - - for there were no nearby trees always at the ready for refuge… or for lunch. I would say that this was a specific part of God’s plans for future humanity - - descending from these brave hominids.

But I will never think that Science could prove that it was God’s plan.

‘Repeatable’ is not a necessary criterion for science.