There’s a new piece about oxygen on BioLogos by a geobiologist called Mike Tice. He raises again that elusive TE concept, the freedom of nature, under the banner of “co-creation”. Tice, of course, doesn’t speak for BioLogos, any more than I did in my one article for them, but he does give a rather fuller version of what has remained to me, despite many enquiries in the past to Darrel Falk, etc, a ubiquitous but nebulous idea. So let’s see what it consists of.
Tice actually leads up to his view by contrasting it with others:
For instance, some see the evolutionary history of life and the Earth and give that history meaning by elevating chance and necessity to the level of prime actors in their own modern creation account.
This view he attributes to atheists grafting an external “meaning” on to evolution, though to be truthful the “meaning” atheists usually promote is that there is no meaning. Tice’s second group appears to be the Deists:
Others have preferred to see the regularity of the universe as the action of an orderly God. This is an old approach to natural theology that was popular among many early scientists, and saw God as responsible for doing such things as maintaining the planets in consistent paths around the sun.
So chance and necessity do not account for nature, and neither does the activity of an orderly God. But there’s a third possibility:
Still others look for God in the unexplained. This is a newer approach that sees God as acting primarily in short bursts not explainable by the regular, orderly function of the universe…
He clearly has Creationism in mind here, though quite possibly the usual parody of Intelligent Design as well. I would have thought, from looking at theology historically, that there’s been quite a long-term presence for the idea of bursts of creative activity, maybe over six days, but his main thrust is clearly the idea of the miraculous, which is indeed newer because the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” in that sense is quite recent. But one wonders what modalities are left for God to work with, seeing that Tice seems unhappy to grant him chance (atheism), natural law (Deism), or miracle (Creationism and ID). So what is the Secret Weapon that only theistic evolution can supply?
I prefer to see the same history in the light of a God who desires to share aspects of his nature with his creation, notably including his creativity. Just as he has made humans to be creators (with a little ‘c’), he has given the rest of our world the gift of being instrumental in its own creation through the process of evolution. This surely must have been part of what God saw when he described his creation as good!
Ah! The world creates itself. It’s hard to know where to start in critiquing this, but as presented one can start with the general mechanism: all that’s really left after chance, law and miracle are deemed inadequate is libertarian free will. And creation, being by definition an act of will, implies this. That’s fine for humans (but see below re “creators”, but here it’s also being attributed to “the rest of our world”. Is that meant collectively (the world, as an entity like Gaia, has free-will) or individually (each dog, dinosaur, oxygen-producing algae and maybe each river and storm exercises libertarian choice)? Neither are generally accorded free-will.
Tice uses the word “instrumental”, which would explain things if it had been used carefully, but only by demolishing his core idea. If I am “instrumental” in achieving some goal, I have been used by another as an instrument. I have “created” (heavy quotes!) this post by using a computer instrumentally. It may be a good parallel to the complexities of cells at least. But I’m not going to grant my computer any share in the creative process. More specifically, it would be a strange philosopher who suggested that I’ve given it the “gift” of being instrumental in creating this post. Quite frankly, it would be indifferent to any such suggestion. Because it’s just an instrument.
So, taken literally, Tice is simply saying “God uses secondary means”, but that was known long before evolution: God creates more dogs through the intrumental use of dogs’ procreative abilities. Dogs, it appears, enjoy procreating. And bitches enjoy caring for their offspring, which is a joy to behold. But do they have any conception, let alone appreciation, of being “co-creators”? But let’s forget the dogs – the article is about cyanobacteria. How do they enjoy their “instrumental” role? Does it produce a Fatherly glow of pride in their creativity on God’s part?
I think, though, that Tice has more in mind than secondary causation: this is about God “desiring to share aspects of his nature” with creation: creativity is the gift, not instrumentality. Let’s deal with the human element first: “Just as he has made humans to be creators…” As I said in a reply on the thread, that’s not a biblical teaching at all, but something developed through the humanism of the renaissance – another example of the Prometheus myth ousting the more humiliating story of Adam. Why? Well, in Scripture, “creation” (bara) is the bringing of order out of chaos, and it is God’s exclusive role. Indeed, he is protective of his “ownership” of it, and not surpisingly, because Creation is the first mark of deity, and he is the only God. There are no secondary gods, no demiurges, no co-creators. In Acts 17.24 Paul tells the Athenians that God made the world and everything in it. But Isa 42:5,8 is even stronger:
This is what God the Lord says – he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth and all that comes out of it … “I am Yahweh, that is my name! I will not give my glory to another, or my praise to idols.”
The Biblical view overlaps the classical theist view, of course, which defines creation a little differently, yet truthfully: God creates out of nothing, and sustains all existence by his ongoing power and wisdom. So that’s what humans are sharing? Of course not. Men are his viceroys, his servants, his priests, his worshippers, his imitators, even his skilled workers – but never his “co-creators”. Perhaps the most celebrated artisans in the Bible are the lead craftsmen of the Taberncale, Bazalel and Oholiab. And their qualification? Special creativity? No, being filled with the Spirit of God (Ex 31.3ff).
So what shall we think to be told that “the world” (whatever that means) has been gifted by God to be “instrumental in its own creation”? Now Aquinas addresses this in his metaphysics, but I don’t think one needs to be a philosopher to realise that “creating oneself” is a nonsense concept. Nothing can impart what it does not possess, or as they say up north here, “You don’t get ‘owt for ‘nowt”. Charitably, we might replace “world” with, say, “LUCA”, replace “create” with “procreate” and assume a massive degree of frontloading in the genome. But that isn’t what Tice has in mind, and it isn’t creation, even co-creation. It’s just being a creature. And neither the world nor LUCA has free-will, and if he really means that this creativity is just chance and necessity as current evolutionary theory maintains, then that’s not creation either, but merely a world subjected to chance and necessity – one hopes under God’s wise control, as indeed Scripture affirms it to be.
So are we any nearer having a clear concept of what TEs are talking about by “the world’s co-creativity”, “nature’s limited freedom” and however else it may be phrased, without a recourse to Barbour’s process theology or Peacocke’s panentheism? I certainly don’t think Tice’s article gives any indication that there even is a such a clear concept at all.