A while back, I took a stab at writing about the classic problem of reconciling the existence of suffering and death with an all-good and all-powerful God. This is the second part in that (obviously rather occasional) series.
The other day I ran across a post in which the author said: "I can't quite see the reasonableness of a faith that has no trouble dealing with, say, gravity as a non-divine process but has trouble with evolution."
Now, this is hardly the first time I've heard such a sentiment expressed, but it's as good an example as any of a problem that I find in much thinking (both secular and Christian) about what it means to say that God "created" the world.
In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram, is a simple enough statement, yet it is perhaps a rather hard concept for people to truly wrap their minds around. Most specifically, what we seem to have difficulty grasping is the traditional Christian understanding that God did not merely assemble or form the universe and everything in it, but that he created it ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Razib has mentioned in a number of posts the tendency of humans to state belief in abstract philosophical or theological beliefs, but when asked to provide a narrative example, to fall back on describing something rather more like a human with super powers. This tendency seems to be especially at play when it comes to the question of God's creative power.
As Christians we believe that God created everything out of nothing, and that he holds the universe in existence by his active will. The ordering and function of the universe is thus a product of the order and rationality of God's mind. This is not merely an attempt to complete the sentence "God is soooo big that..." but rather the result of long contemplation on the "ex nihilo" aspect of "creavit Deus". If there was truly nothing before God's initial act of creation, if there was no previously existent substance on which He acted, then the existence of the universe relies upon God's will and upon nothing else.
This is a kind of creation which none of us have any personal experience with, and which it is quite difficult for us to wrap our minds around. (Some would say this is because it's a figment of our imaginations, others that this is because we're limited by having an inside looking out view.) Thus, it's all too common for people (believers and otherwise) to think of the concept of God creating the universe as similar to some giant member of the United Auto Workers building a Buick.
This Buick mentality strikes me as being very much at the root of the Intelligent Design movement, which attempts to shore up belief in God by 'scientifically proving' that God must have intervened in the creation of specific biological structures and systems. Yet this division of things into those which are clearly divinely designed and those which are 'merely natural'.
If God created the world in the sense that we traditionally understand it as Christians, then gravity, evolution, and the weak nuclear force are all equally 'divine' and equally 'natural'. A snowflake, a puddle of mud, and a butterfly are all equally 'designed'. And evolution is 'theistic' not because God reaches in and tweaks something once in a while, or because God guides it, but because everything it relies upon to function, every particle and wave of matter in the universe exists because and only because God wills it to do so.
If we accept this, as we claim to by our name as Christians, then it seems odd to worry that the patterns and laws according to which life grows and changes either prove or disprove God's creative power.
UPDATE: I've been remiss in my blog-reading lately, so I'd missed this great post from Scott Carson the other day touching on the same principle of continuous creation.
Fortnightly Book, March 29
2 hours ago