The meaning of "create"

(Jon Garvey) #1

Here’s an exercise.

What do you understand by the word “create”?

I’m not after dictionary definitions, Hebrew interpretations, and the like. Definitely I don’t want to know what you think Creationists mean by “create”.

No, I’m interested in how you would use the word yourself. What’s the range of understanding, I wonder?

(Reggie O'Donoghue) #2

To make something, not necessarily from nothing.

(Mark D.) #3

I think this is the gist of what “create” means except I can’t think of any occasion when the creation would be “from nothing”. I can imagine someone might describe their choosing a form or image to create that isn’t directly taken from an external source as “from nothing”; but to my mind that generally makes it more “creative” while I might describe the deliberate making of of an external object as “fashioning” or “crafting” it rather than “creating” it. But the representation itself, that which we create, is never composed of nothing. There is alway matter involved whether in pigment or clay or wood or what have you. We require materials even to create representations of the immaterial.

This is a slippery subject.

(Phil) #4

I would say the idea that something new arises is integral to creating , be it music, poetry, cooking, or automotive design. As such evolution does not create, but modifies incrementally, though in the long picture, can be the mechanism though which creation occurs. Which leads to another characteristic of creating: that it implies a creator.

(Randy) #5

In C S Lewis’ essay on finding God, he said that we find God in creation as one finds Shakespeare in a play…not as part of it Himself, but with his mark. So to create would be to endow with evidence of the author, perhaps?

(Christy Hemphill) #6

I think creating is envisioning or imagining something, making the necessary preparations or plans, and then executing that vision in a way that is novel or somehow individually expressive.

(GJDS) #7

The term “create” is used directly when we speak of human creation, and analogically when we speak of God creating. Human creation results in something new and unexpected, and from this we may obtain a meaning of the created thing, and a sense of the activity or talent of the artist. The material and setting are supplied, so this act of creativity is limited because we as humans create in a context.

God creating is total and the created thing does not define God as something standing next to the created being - God is not a superior being amongst beings, nor is the essence of God found in the created thing. Thus the creation by God is from nothing and not by necessity. The creation thus is by and through the power of the Word of God and the meaning is that Word, revealed to us in Scripture. We do not have a mechanism (or the how) of the creation by the Word.

(Mark D.) #8

This seems like an art-inspired definition and is in line with the way I tend to look at it, though I recognize there are other contexts.

(John Dalton) #9

I also find it hard to imagine. It seems to me, in whatever way God could be said to have made his creation, he drew upon resources available to him to do it, exactly as an artist does. Even if those resources pre-existed matter itself, I still don’t see how they could be “nothing”.

(GJDS) #10

This subject has been discussed over centuries and I think many would share your puzzlement. My suggestion is that we should not commence our reasoning from how “things are made”, and instead how we may understand the phrase, “God creates ….”

(Jon Garvey) #11

I’d like to try and summarise the replies so far (not to draw a conclusion, but to point out themes), before proceeding to ask your participation in a second stage.

Unsurprisingly, the idea of making things predominated in your comments. This is not trivial, since it suggests some final result to be the thing actually created, an “artifact”, or its analogical equivalent.

Also prominent was a discussion of the separation of a “conception” in the creator’s mind, and its execution. So Mark_D spoke of a “form or image” preceding its physical crafting; Christy similarly takes the process through from imagining to preparation to execution; GJDS unites the whole thing in divine terms, but conceptually still separates its origin in God and its execution through the Word. Common to all these, I think, is some idea that the physical result is the same as was originally planned - ie there is an inevitable teleology in the idea of “idea -> execution”. Does the faithfulness of the “artifact” to the “mental conception” say anything about the ability of the creator?

The novelty inherent in the creative act was another theme for Christy and JPM, and was also hinted at by Randy’s allusion to Shakespeare. JPM raised an interesting link to evolution - “it does not create”, presumably because “modification” is not the same as “innovation.”

So JPM nudges us towards my secondary question, because he sees the necessity of a creator providing innovations that, if I read him right, evolution per se (as he describes it) cannot - I’d just want to point out that incremental modification, if it is not itself “creative”, will not become so even in the long term, raising the question of how the implied creator innovates through a “non-innovative” mechanism. Is the evolutionary mechanism a tool like a paintbrush or a computer program, or a delegated assistant following instructions or working autonomously, or what? But let’s move on.

A couple of people pointed out how the creator is to be seen through his work, whilst I think all of these stressed that the creator himself is not revealed, but only his “mark” (Randy), his “individual expression” (Christy), “not his essence” (GJDS). What does a creator (eg Shakespeare) reveal of himself/herself in their work… or alternatively, is creation ever so un-linked to the mind of the creator as to reveal nothing?

Lastly, a couple of people balked at the idea that creation could occur ex nihilo. MarkD rightly questioned whether an original idea in the mind actually comes from nothing, and with John Dalton seemed to suggest that any creator must use existing materials. It’s worth pointing out that to suggest that to suggest that God, as creator, used pre-existing materials is dualistic - reality would then consist of God and an independently eternal “material”. That seems not to be the historic Christian teaching on God as the One Eternal Being, the source of all things “visible and invisible”, but that doesn’t actually affect my maybe all-too-predictable follow up question.

And that question isthis. Based on the concept of “create” simpliciter you have formed (or your conclusions from what others have written on the thread), what do you take “Evolutionary Creation” actually to be? To base this on the usual formulation of EC, “God creates through evolution,” what would this entail, and what would it exclude, to be consistent with your definition of “create”?

(Mark D.) #12

First off I don’t assume that what “Evolutionary Creation” means will be subsumed by the musings we produced in response to your original question:

Since “evolutionary creation” is a Christian concept it can’t be surprising that it should not align with what we come up with when invited to muse on the general application of the word “create”, especially in light of that part of your guidance which I’ve bolded. Why should anyone expect that creation in a general sense would dictate the form this religious application takes?


Even though as you said, most people aren’t talking about “ex nihilo” when they think of the word “create,” I imagine most who accept “evolutionary creationism” accept that creation happened ex nihilo in the beginning, but since then has evolved to our present point. I suppose in some ways, EC is just a giant recycling program (stardust, plate tectonics, decomposition), in a similar way as human creativity is, in that we produce things that can be very original but are never completely new, material-wise. Perhaps the imago dei is an act of creation different from all others, but I don’t know how that fits in a scientific view of EC.

I think for me, the term is more just a fitting way to describe what I believe that includes the supernatural element of God’s ex nihilo creation and planning (with “creation” being the noun rather than the adjective) but includes evolution to distinguish itself from a YEC view.

So in that sense, yes, God creates through evolution – but also plate tectonics, the water cycle, and other natural phenomena that wouldn’t get categorized as “evolution.”


Yes God does create some truly beautiful mountains using plate tectonics.

(Phil) #15

You could even say figuratively that the Rocky Mountains evolved, but I guess around here we have a preponderance of literalist evolutionists.


An exothermic reaction creates heat.
When water vapor moves into an area of low pressure it creates clouds.
Driving a car creates air pollution.
A painter creates art.
Shyness can create awkward silences.

In my usage, “create” is used to denote a cause/effect relationship.


When we talk about God creating something, we need to take in to account God’s eternal character. His point of view is not human like ours is. He knows everything, past, present and future all at once. His thoughts include everything that is or ever could be. He created all of the laws of nature.
We cannot say that God plans things and then does them like people do who are caught up in time and space. What He does exactly when He creates, we cannot know. We need to have an idea, a plan and building materials to “create” anything. But we can’t say that about God. God can do anything He wants to do. Science proves that evolution happened, not that God could no have done something else.

(Jon Garvey) #18

OK - 5 days have passed, so maybe it’s time to sum up this “part 2” of the thread. It’s interesting that far fewer people have been willing to comment on how “creation” applies to “evolution” in “Evolutionary Creation”.

And of those, there seems little clarity on the linkage between the two.

@Elle speaks of the creation of the material of the universe ex nihilo, but of evolution as a “recycling operation” analogous to our making of new stuff from old materials. But how does the human “creating” new stuff using old materials correspond to God’s “creating” through evolution (which she takes broadly to include other natural processes, as does @Bill_II, and to a degree @jpm)? So if the Rocky Mountains were created through “evolutionary plate tectonics,” do they correspond to an Albert Bierstadt painting of the Rockies in meeting the creator’s precise intentions? If they are partly the result of something else (such as “chance”), then were God’s purposes far vaguer than Bierstadt’s, or is he a lesser artist?

And are plate tectonics a sufficiently compliant “paint brush” to exceute those intentions? @Ramona points out that God is quite unlike the “human recycler” in many ways, and that he can do anything he wants to. That, of course, includes “creating through evolution” - but if he chooses to use that physical process alone, then he has inevitably limited himself to its natural limitations as a secondary cause. However great an artist Bierstadt was, he could not paint his desired landscape using a shotgun instead of a paintbrush.

Over at Peaceful Science, Ken Keathley, who has previously written for BioLogos, suggests that Evolutionary Creation requires a more rigorous treatment than it has so far presented of how the two fit together, if it is to be taken seriously as a “theological theory.” He writes:

Most popular Darwinists (both historical and current) have been infamously anti-teleological. One doesn’t have to embrace some of the more ham-handed versions of design in order to affirm purpose and intent. Perhaps more attention should be given to biological fine-tuning.

Well, one can affirm purpose and intent in evolution, but if one wishes to say that this is a better view than evolution without purpose and intent, then one needs to be able to argue how that is so, or (as even on this thread by @T_aquaticus) “Evolutionary Creation” could simply mean “Evolution involving cause and effect relationships,” which is just to say “Evolution” with an extra redundant word.

So is it not possible to give a coherent account of Evolutionary Creation, beyond asserting that both “creation” and “evolution” happen somewhere and somehow? Such an account would not be scientific, of course - that’s the “evolution” part, that’s done quite adequately in millions of scientific papers and seems to have no need of either purpose or creator. It would need to be a theological and philosophical account that attempts to relate “creation” to “evolution” intelligibly, starting with clear ideas of what each word means.

Otherwise, the criticism of ID that it cannot say what it means by “design” and relate its role in evolution will be mirrored almost exactly by Evolutionary Creation, ie that it cannot say what it means by “creation” and relate its role in evolution. Both camps could, I suppose, give the answer, “It’s a divine mystery,” but then there’s a danger that one’s “position” is just a belief without any foundation.

(Mark D.) #19

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

If ones position is faith based, then the foundation must be less certain epistemically than for things well seen. Faith seems like a precarious position. Tip too far in one direction and you lose belief altogether. Tip too far in the other and your belief becomes concretized, uncritical and strident. Yet everyone says faith is necessary, so maintaining balance must also be required. To fall into certainty is also to fall out of faith.


I just knew there was some kind agenda behind this seemingly innocuous “discussion.”