This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Story of Evolution, Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2004
First Web Paper
On Serendip

Exploring the Validity of Natural Theology

Perrin Braun

The thought processes that underlie Creationism and Evolution are undoubtedly very different. The fundamentalists of the former school of thought adhere to the Biblical tenet that divine creation in six days is responsible for environmental diversity, whereas evolutionists have repeatedly stated that the universe was created billions of years ago and is in a constant state of fluctuation. At first glance, these accounts of life on Earth seem incompatible—the creationists base their beliefs purely on faith and explain their surroundings based on that conclusion, while scientists work in the opposite direction by asking questions first and make systematic observations that have resulted from their propositions (Moore 5-6). Ernst Mayr claims that "the beliefs of creationism are in conflict with the findings of science," but the founders of Natural Theology have managed to unite the principles of Genesis with those of evolution (qtd. in Mayr 4). There are strict purists who claim that it is not viable to combine the two ideologies, but it is possible to incorporate the concept of G-d into scientific fact.
Although there are several variations on the concept of Natural Theology, its advocates generally accept evolution. Whereas strict creationists reject the notion that the Earth was formed billions of years ago, natural theists accept the scientific evidence for the age of the Earth with one large discrepancy: organisms could have only originated with the aid of divine intervention. However, it is acknowledged that there is no concrete evidence to substantiate the belief that the Earth was created a mere few thousand years ago, just as there isn't any geological confirmation that a global flood engulfed the entire planet (Science and Creationism). This liberal interpretation of Genesis and cautious acceptance of evolution allows for some flexibility with previously undisputed Biblical notions, such as the idea that the creation of the world was completed within six twenty-four hour periods. Those six days have been construed to signify as a literary device by the author of the Bible, six days separated by long time periods, or as six days from the perspective of an ageless G-d (Commission on Creation). Thus, the essence of Natural Theory is that an omnipotent creator fashioned the physical processes that set evolution in motion and these processes resulted in the creation of life.
This theory appears to be logical, except for the notion that some aspects of life are so complex that they completely transcend human understanding and are thereby the work of an Intelligent Designer. This idea would have been more logical in previous centuries where the scope of science was very limited or nonexistent altogether, but we have since gained the knowledge of the cell—the basic unit of life—and have thus learned of the complexities of the even the smallest micro-organisms. It would appear that in modern times, there is very little that is (or will ever be) completely unknowable to the formidable scope of science, but at the end of the nineteenth century, such a conclusion would have been unreasonable. For example, the discovery of radioactivity provided scientists with an accurate geological clock that enabled them to determine a close approximation of the Earth's age, which led many creationists to re-evaluate their belief that world was merely thousands of years old (Moore 180). Essentially, what we do not know today we may discover tomorrow; the only genuinely improvable concept being the existence and nature of G-d.
Science and Creationism do not completely make sense on their own accords, so the concept of a higher being can be incorporated into evolutionary thought. Faith is not necessarily only for the closed-minded—it is the few vocal fundamentalists who give religion a negative reputation in the eyes of logical thinkers. The question of the Creationists is certainly valid: how can inanimate matter suddenly become life and how did that matter even come to be created? A
strict interpretation of the Bible states that G-d created the universe in all of its entirety in a mere six days, but this explanation of our existence does not correlate with proven facts regarding the age of the Earth. Science cannot prove the existence of a G-d or other supernatural occurrences because science is involved with the natural world and there are no such tools that have been developed to prove in the reality of an omnipotent force. Conversely, Genesis contains no scientific evidence nor provides an explanation of the diversity of life and the universality of cellular biochemistry in living organisms (Moore 52). The Natural Theology solution: G-d created evolution.
Like Creationism and evolution, Natural Theology has its flaws. In particular, the issue of whether Adam and Eve were the first humans or whether Man evolved from a common ancestor. The Natural Theologians adhere to the belief that humans were created by G-d, who used a body plan that was reminiscent of the apes (Commission on Creation). Those who adopt this belief argue that evolution is a progression to a more complex form of organism and it is the ultimate goal of perfection that incites development. Although there no such internal genetic drive has been discovered, the word 'perfection' is certainly open to debate. That word is used quite frequently in the diction of Natural Theology, for eighteenth century theologians believed that the world was created as a perfect realm, and that even when it was subsequently discovered that some aspects of it were not quite ideal, it was believed that G-d's laws would ultimately lead to perfection (Mayr 213-15). However, this idea proves to be very problematic for two reasons; the first being that this view is conflicted by the Bible. If it is believed that the Messiah will come to Earth to repair and bring peace to the world, then it could not have been perfect at the onset. The second is that the physical world is far from perfect; it is a brutal and disorganized place in which many resources are wasted (Mayr 148). Therefore, the word 'perfection' is much too finalistic to
be credible.
Although there is no tangible scientific proof that an omnipotent deity exists, the story of evolution does leave many questions unanswered; chiefly, how does inanimate matter suddenly become life and how did that matter come to originate? Although modern technology has disproved many literal interpretations of the Bible, religion and science aren't necessarily incompatible. With flexible analyses of both, it is quite feasible to believe that a god created the world, complete with evolution.

Works Cited

Commission on Creation. Aug. 2000. American Scientific Affiliation. 17 Feb. 2004.

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Moore, John A. From Genesis to Genetics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

Science and Creationism. Aug. 1999. National Academy of Sciences. 17 Feb. 2004.

| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:51 CDT