Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 38.4 (Dec. 1986) 244-50.

American Scientific Affiliation 1986 cited with permission.



A Taxonomy of Creation


David L. Wilcox

Biology Department

Eastern College

St. Davids, PA 19087


The spectrum of possible viewpoints on origins is explored and

reclassified on the basis of three levels of questions. First, what is the

relationship of God to the natural world? Second, how might God act

(or not act) to produce novelty and direction? Third, what is the

pattern of appearance?


Few disagreements in modern thought are as confus-

ing as the debate over the relationship of God to the

creation of the natural world. Certainly real issues are

at stake, but one gropes after them, confused by clouds

of rhetorical smoke. The confusion could be much

reduced by clearer definitions from both "sides." Both

"evolutionists" and "creationists" do much categorical

pigeon-holing and give multiple definitions to their

banner words--evolution and creation. For example

(Fig. 1), evolution has been defined as "fact" (observed

change in gene frequency); as "mechanism" (neo-

Darwinian natural selection); as "scenario" (the descent

of species from common ancestors by transformation);

as a "central paradigm" ("Nothing in Biology makes

sense except in the light of evolution"--Dobzhansky,

1973), and as a materialistic "weltanschaung" ("The

whole of reality is evolution, a single process of self-

transformation."--Huxley, 1953). The meaning of the

word "'Creation" has been equally abused in exactly the

same way (see Fig. 2). What seems to be needed for

communication is some new way to classify viewpoints.

The goal of this paper is the beginning of such a

"taxonomy of creation."

David L. Wilcox 244b


The Relationship of God to the Natural World

The first principle of systematics is that some differ-

ences in structure are more important than others. Part

of the fuel for the "origins" debate has been a lack of

insight into which conceptual differences are central

and distinctive, and which are secondary and peripher-

al. I suggest that in such a proposed classification the

world-view is central. In relation to science, the most

important conceptual distinctive in world-views is the

relationship between the cosmos (matter) and Deity. I

will discuss four distinct aspects of this relationship, and

will distinguish a spectrum of five world-views, based

on the presumed degree of autonomy of the natural

order. This classification is summarized in Figures 3

and 4. The dominant world-view of our age among

scientists is materialistic naturalism, which holds the

universe to be completely autonomous in every aspect

of its existence. On the other hand, both the ancient

Hebrews and the early modem scientists (Robert Boyle,

for instance) held a full theism, viewing the universe as

completely dependent in every aspect (see Fig. 3)

(Klaaren, 1977). The three "intermediate" views listed

in Figure 4 hold the cosmos to be autonomous in some

senses, dependent in others. Figure 4 is not intended to

be an exhaustive classification, but is limited to view-

points which consider a Deity (if existing) to be an

eternal, omnipotent spirit other than the cosmos in

essence (i.e., pantheistic views are not considered.)


The first two aspects of reality shown in Figure 4,

origin and intervention, apply to the possibility of

A Taxonomy of Creation 245a


transcendent divine activity, meaning divine activity

which is "ex machina." God acts from outside the

natural order, contra "natural law." These aspects are

the origin of the system (cosmos, matter, etc.) and the

openness of the existing system (cosmos) to outside

intervention or intrusion. The second two aspects,

existence and direction, apply to the possibility of

immanent divine activity; i.e, God acting in concert

with the natural order, through "natural law." These

aspects therefore imply a certain relationship between

"natural law" and God. They concern the continuing

existence and behavior of matter and the possibility of

directive activity taking place through (using) natural

law. In the next few paragraphs, I will briefly explore

the meaning of autonomy versus dependence for each


Few ultimate options exist for the origin of the

cosmos. A truly autonomous origin (Fig. 4; origin) could

only be thought to happen in one way: the material

system must be in some sense cyclic. Either mass/

energy is eternal (presumably oscillating), or energy is

fed backward "past" time (the hyper-dimensional

space-time continuum) to emerge at the "creation."

Neither of these is a commonly held view at present.

Most materialists are simply willing to live with mys-

tery, accepting a universe generating itself ex nihilo via

the laws of nature. The alternative viewpoint, depen-

dent origins, posits that a sufficient cause for the initial

creation of the system must be outside the system. The

Christian view of God is especially satisfying because

He has both the will to act and sufficient power. One

implication of a dependent origin is that the laws

governing the structure of the cosmos are expressions of

His will.

Autonomy of the cosmos from outside intrusion, the

second aspect (Fig. 4; intervention), is a statement that

there can be no "singularities," points where physical

A Taxonomy of Creation 245b


events within the cosmos must be explained in terms of

causes from outside the cosmos. The cosmos is either

considered to be "all there is" or to be somehow closed

to the reality without; or, alternately, the reality with-

out is considered to be of such a nature that it would

never "interfere" with lawful processes of the cosmos.

If the cosmos is considered open to intrusive action,

natural law is not denied, although there is a possibility

of events which can not be explained completely from

causes within the system. In that case, science could

only describe the boundaries of the singularity, rather

like a description of a black hole.

The third aspect of reality, existence (Fig. 4), repre-

sents a watershed in world-views. A cosmos autono-

mous in existence does not need a sustaining Deity in

order to continue in existence. The law governing its

continuance and operation exists directly in its elemen-

tary particles. Such a cosmos can live, though God be

dead. Natural law itself is autonomous. There can be no

doubt that the Biblical writers view "nature" as com-

pletely dependent upon the continuing will and action

of God. In such a viewpoint natural law itself is the

orderly expression of the presently active will of God,

and is therefore exterior to the system, rather than

being "on the particle." If God is dead, or if His "mind

wanders," the universe is non-existent. Due to the

positivistic heritage of the last century, we have an

instinctive feeling that science is only possible if natural

law is an intrinsic characteristic of the particle. How-

ever, Klaaren (1977) has argued cogently that it was the

view that law was contingent to the will of God which

led to the rise of modern science. Science simply

requires law, not a particular sort of law.

The fourth aspect, direction (Fig. 4), looks even

deeper into the concept of natural law, and may be

even more foreign to the contemporary mindset. If law

is considered to be a rigid framework which can not, or

A Taxonomy of Creation 245c


will not, permit directive action on the part of God,

then the universe is autonomous. Even a sustaining law

based on God's active will can be thought of being as

completely deterministic and non-directive as the most

materialistic of viewpoints. Must one hold such a view

if the world is to be made safe for science? Despite the

David L. Wilcox 246a


Materialism Natural

(World-View) The Common Selection

Descent of


Common Ancestry- Changing Gene

Central Paradigm Frequencies


Figure 1. Evolution -- How to not define a word precisely.



Theism Divine Fiat

(World-View) as Directive


Common Ideas Creation

(Ideals) in the of Species Species

Mind of God Stasis



Figure 2. Creation--How to not define a word precisely.


fears of the twentieth century, modern science began

with a world-view which considered the Providential

direction of the events of nature fully acceptable. Nor

was this direction seen as antagonistic to the concept of

secondary causes, but, rather, supportive of them

(Klaaren, 1977). This is the position spelled out in the

Westminster Confession of Faith, for instance. A

dependent universe, in this sense, is one in which God

continuously directs all natural events, without tension,

through natural law. I think it important to remember

that this is no peripheral idea, but one central to the

scriptural picture of Divine lordship. Surely we expect

Him to act in this fashion if we pray requesting Him to

meet specific needs.


David L. Wilcox 246b


How Might Novelty and Direction Be Produced?

Central to the debate concerning biological origins

are the questions of the source of novelty and the source

of direction. Such questions can form a second level of

our "taxonomic hierarchy," as illustrated in Figure 5.

Materialists, as well as deists and theists, differ on these

questions. If true randomness is characteristic of the

movement of atomic particles, such "stochastic" events

may add novelty, and even provide direction. If the

cosmos is truly deterministic, all events and structures

were implicit in the nature of the origin, although

many of these events may look random to our limited

viewpoint. The most popular viewpoint is a hybrid one,

considering novelty to be due to random events (muta-

tion) and direction to be locally deterministic (natural


Full deism may be divided into the same groups as

materialism. If the cosmos is deterministic, then all the

events were programmed at creation to unroll in time.

Both novelty and direction would be fixed by the initial

program. Direction is set by the characteristics of

natural law, and novelty by the initial state of the

cosmos. If the cosmos is stochastic, then God could

program potentials, but could not know how the results

would work out. Although significant novelty and

direction would be implicit from the beginning, the

stochastic openness would contribute to both in deter-

mining outcomes. One unique differentiation for biol-

ogy within full deism would be the mode of species

creation; from nothing, from abiotic matter, or from a

(just) previously created species. In the first two cases,

similarity would be due only to common ideas in God's

mind. In the third, it would also indicate "common

ancestry" (although not due to "natural" processes).

Intrusive deism may also be divided into determinis-

tic and stochastic viewpoints. In the deterministic view,

David L. Wilcox 246c


all events are still programmed for both novelty and

direction. However, instead of all programming being

done at the time of origin, it is also done at many small

intrusive "mini-origins" as time passes. A stochastic

view would tend to view intrusive events as not only

creative and directive, but also as possibly corrective of

"wrong" novelty input from stochastic processes (or

perhaps, free will).

Legal deists will tend to look at the universe in almost

exactly the same ways that the intrusive deists do.

However, they will view intervention in a fundamen-

A Taxonomy of Creation 247a


Transcendence Immanence

(God acting from out- (God acting through)

side "natural law") {inside} "natural law")


Origin Intervention Existence Direction


Biblical Cosmos is dependent upon God for all aspects

(Full Theism)


Materialism Cosmos is autonomous from God for all aspects


Figure 3. Aspects of the Relationship of God to the Natural World

Origin: How did the cosmos come into being?--first origins

Intervention: Is the cosmos open to God's direct acts from


Existence: Can the cosmos exist without God? Law in the


Direction: Does God use natural law to direct events' outcome?


tally different fashion, since they differ in their concept

of natural law. In intrusive intervention, God moves

against the resistance of natural law which continues in

force. The legal deist, however, will view intervention

as local points where natural law is temporarily can-

celled (or changed) in favor of some alternative divine

action. Creation is, of course, that point when God first

began to act in the fashion of natural law.

Full theists are significantly different in their view-

point, since law itself is viewed as an avenue through

which God works directively and continuously. Nov-

elty could therefore arise by programming of the initial

structures, by "guided" deterministic events, by "chos-

en" stochastic events, and by "outside" intervention

(that which appeared to be an intrusive event). Theistic

viewpoints might be distinguished on the basis of which

of these mechanisms are emphasized. It would, how-

ever, be hard in a given instance to distinguish between

A Taxonomy of Creation 247b


God's various modes of operation, since all are God's

hand in action. "Laws" are not seen as a description of

what God has made, but rather of His present and free

actions. His creative Word of command still actively

reverberates from the structure of reality.



Transcendence Immanence

(God acts from with- (God acts from with-

out "natural law) in "natural law)


Origin Intervention Existence Direction


1. Full Theism D D D D

II. Legal Deism D D D A

III. Intrusive Deism D D A A

IV. Full Deism D A A A

V. Materialism A A A A


Figure 4. A Classification--Relationship of God to Natural World

A = Universe is autonomous from God in this aspect of its


D = Universe is dependent upon God for this aspect of its



What Is the Pattern of Appearance?

Given the "phyla" of world-views (what is the rela-

tionship of God to the world?), and the "classes" of

sources of novelty (How does God act upon the world?),

I would suggest that the logical "orders" are the

scenarios of the appearance of novelty (When did He

do it ?). The four most extreme possibilities for what the

fossil record shows would be as follows: 1) all species

appeared suddenly at about the same time, 2) all

species appeared suddenly, but at different times, 3) all

species appeared gradually at different times, and 4) all

A Taxonomy of Creation 247c


species appeared gradually about the same time. Inter-

mediate views are possible, of course, as illustrated in

Figure 6. One may hold any scenario of appearance

with each of the world-views in Figure 4, although

acceptable explanations for the observed phenoma

would vary.

Space will not permit a complete description of all

combinations, but, as a brief illustration, consider the

possible explanations for the sudden appearance of a

species. A materialist might explain it as due to random

events which produced a successfully changed regula-

tory genome, or to deterministic events which reached

David L. Wilcox 248a


Types of Sources Dependent Upon God Autonomous From God


Deterministic: Providential Selection Natural Selection

due to environ- (I) (II, III, IV, V)

mental direction


Deterministic: Providential Creation Directionless Mutation

not due to (I, II) (III, IV, V)




Non-Deterministic Intrusive Creation Stochastic Mutation

causes outside (I, II, III, IV) (III, IV, V)

of natural law



Figure 5. Alternative Sources of Novelty and Direction

World views which might accept each source are indicated

by Roman numerals--following Fig. 4.

I. Full Theism IV. Full Deism

II. Legal Deism V. Materialism

III. Intrusive Deism


a threshold somewhere (in environment or genome)

and caused a sudden change in state. A full deist might

agree, but point out that the species was planned for in

the initial state of the universe, or at least was a

reasonable possibility. An intrusive deist might accept

the above as possibilities, but also suggest that new

programming might have taken place at that point in

geological time. A legal deist would agree, but would

emphasize that new programming could have been

caused by a local change in the laws of nature which

would allow species modification. The theist would

probably admit that all the above are possible explana-

tions, but would point out that in any case we are only

distinguishing between the various overlapping modes

of action which God might use.

David L. Wilcox 248b


Synthesis: Clarifying the Debate

In closing this discussion, I will try to apply the

framework which has been developed to four of the

positions which are most commonly distinguished in

the origins debate (Pun, 1982). These positions (men-

tioned in Fig. 6) are usually entitled Recent (sometimes

called Fiat or Special) Creation(ism), Progressive Cre-

ation(ism), Theistic Evolution(ism), and Atheistic Evo-

lution(ism), and are often characterized as a series

going from the best to the worst. There is, of course, a

difference of opinion concerning which end is "best"

and which end is "worst." You can sometimes tell a

writer's orientation by the end to which he attaches

"ism." In any case, it becomes evident that these terms

do not represent single clear world-views, but hetero-

genous and contradictory assemblages.

Atheistic Evolution(ism), as usually defined, is

merely materialism; i.e., the world-view that the uni-

verse is completely autonomous and therefore God is

not necessary. In the minds of many, it is also identified

exclusively with the continuous appearance scenario,

stochastic novelty formation and deterministic direc-

tion; i.e., the Modern Synthesis as evolutionary mecha-

nism. Such a confusion of categories gives the impres-

sion that the neutral mutation debate, the proposal of

punctuated equilibrium, or "directed panspermia,"

represent covert attempts on the part of certain scien-

tists to subvert or to compromise with a theistic posi-

tion. This simply is not true. These theories of mecha-

nism are alternate scenarios or explanations, equally

derivative from a mechanistic world-view.

Recent Creation(ism), as usually described, is an

assemblage of viewpoints which agree only on a spe-

cific scenario of the timing of creation (a single sudden

appearance), along with a definite rejection of auton-

omy for the cosmos in origin. It is not a cohesive

world-view, however, since supporters can be full,

David L. Wilcox 248c


intrusive, or legal deists, or theists. Currently, their

most popular view of the nature of "created kinds"

admits that change is possible, but only within the

limits of the genetic potentials built into the initial

population. (The original "kinds" are not usually iden-

tified with species by modern "recent creationists," but

most are reluctant to go beyond genera, or perhaps

sub-families, in trying to identify them.) Since God's

present providential activity in the biological world is

not seen as directive and as having purpose, this,

particular concept of the limits to change is a fully

A Taxonomy of Creation 249a




*John Calvin's *Recent Creation

viewpoint R P

a *Panspermia U

G *Adaptive Radiations t N

R e C

A Mode of Appearance T



A h T

L a E

n D


*Theistic Evolution e *Progressive Creation

*The Modern Synthesis *Punctuated Equilibrium



Figure 6. Variation in Scenarios of the Appearance of Novelty

Suggested locations on the co-ordinate system for various



deistic and deterministic concept of the source of

novelty, (although individuals who hold this view in

biology are often "theistic" in other areas of thought.) A

true theist can not accept the idea that any event in any

realm can occur except due to the plan and present

taction of God. The physical source of the new "kind"

might be thought to be new matter, abiotic material, or

a previously created "kind." In any case, the creation

process is held to be initiating, very rapid, non-

reproducable and not due to the laws of nature. An

older concept of species stasis (circa .1840) identified

the limits of change with a "platonic ideal" species

image in the mind of God, and was therefore more

clearly theistic, since God was thought to be continu-

ously acting (via natural law) to bring the (fugitive)

A Taxonomy of Creation 249b


species back to its designed ideal, or to recreate it if it

became extinct.

Progressive creation(ism) also seems to represent a

heterogenous set of world views which are agreed on

the concept that species ("kinds") appear suddenly

(special creation), but at considerable intervals, due to

intrusive divine acts. Progressive creationists include

both intrusive deists, legal deists and full theists. Varia-

tion in view exists regarding the source of novelty, with

the most common view similar to that of the recent

creationist. The "kind" is considered to be initially

programmed with no later modification, a typical

intrusive deistic viewpoint. As in recent creationism,

the physical source of a new "kind" might be thought

to be a new matter, abiotic material, or a previously

created "kind," and the creation process is held to be

interventional, very rapid, and non-reproducable.

A full deist could propose that such a pattern is due to

an initially programmed punctuated equilibrium, or a

theist, that it represents a divinely directed punctuated

equilibrium. Such views would not be included in this

viewpoint (as I understand its proponents, at least),

despite species origins being both sudden and due to

God, because they would still be due to natural law

rather than to intrusive intervention. Such viewpoints

would usually be cast into the next category.

In any inadequate system of classification, some

category must pick up items which do not fit anywhere.

That is probably the most accurate definition of what

people mean by Theistic Evolution(ism). Everyone has

a somewhat different, often pejorative, definition,

depending upon exactly how they define the other

three categories. In general, all concede that "Theistic

Evolutionists" accept both the existence of God, and

"regular evolution." For some, that means a full deism

with an otherwise autonomous cosmos evolving in a

fully materialistic fashion. Others view it as "the God of

A Taxonomy of Creation 249c


the Gaps," a variant of intrusive deism in which

materialistic evolution is occasionally helped along by

divine intervention. Since these views concede auton-

omy of law to the material particle, they ought not to be

called "theistic." Recent creationists often mean by the

term anyone who believes in God (in any sense), yet

questions the sudden appearance model, thereby

including the progressive creationists, who reject evolu-

tion as completely as they do. Materialists may mean

anyone who is "scientist first, religious second." Such a

potpourri is not a position, but a conceptual trash can.

David L. Wilcox 250a


Is a theistic evolutionary scenario, in the real mean-

ing of the words, possible? Not unless one first limits the

meaning of "evolution" to a single concept, for

instance, to the descent of one species from another by

natural law. In this I follow distinctions and definitions

used by Charles Hodge, the well known Princeton

theologian of the last century, as he considered Dar-

win's theories (1874). Anyone who is a fully biblical

theist must consider ordinary processes controlled by

natural law to be as completely and deliberately the

wonderful acts of God as any miracle, equally contin-

gent upon His free and unhindered will. Miracles, after

all, are given as signs, not as demonstrations of God's

normal activities. What then might a "theistic evolu-

tion" look like? One example of a possible theistic

scenario would be this: God designs and produces the

cosmos, and all of life, by immediately and directly

controlled gradual continuous change due to micro-

creation (mutation) and providential direction (natural

selection) using only natural law. (In parallel with two

previous terms, such a view could be called "Continu-

ous Creation" after the scenario of appearance which it

advocates.) It could not be held by any of the three

forms of deism because it depends upon God directing

through natural events. Only a full theist could hold it.

The true "scandal" of theism is not that it concedes too

much to materialism, but that it refuses to concede so

much as the spin of a single electron.



In conclusion, the tension between the materialistic

naturalism of our day, and the theistic viewpoint of the

scripture may be resolved in one of two fashions. Either

one may choose a world-view half-way between the

two, as illustrated in Figure 4; or one may consider

"naturalism " as a special simplified sub-set of theism,

just as Newtonian physics forms a special simplified

David L. Wilcox 250b


sub-set of Einsteinian physics. Materialistic explana-

tions are useful within the limits set by their simplifying

assumptions. These simplifying assumptions are the a

priori framework of twentieth century science. Theistic

or deistic explanations therefore are not acceptable,

which is fine as long as the materialistic model of

explanation (episteme) is recognized as a model. The

value of a model, a simplified representation of reality,

is to allow a more complete exploration of how well the

assumptions of the model match reality. The danger of

any model is the tendency to identify the model with

the reality which it represents.

In this paper, I have been proposing a classification

of "scientific" views or models (interpretations of

nature). Naturally one will choose corresponding scrip-

tural models (interpretations of scripture) (Barnett and

Phillips, 1985). Such models do not show one-for-one

identity, however. Differing models of what scripture

means may be held with the same scientific model, and

people with identical scriptural interpretations may

differ in their scientific models. In general, the Scrip-

tures' proclamations about the nature of God are easier

to understand than its occasional statements about the

specific techniques He used at particular times.

I see two things as critical for this debate. First, the

Scriptures are unalterably theistic, so we have no real

options in world-view. For example, we must not adopt

deistic positions to limit God's possible activities to our

favorite scenario. Second, we need a humble spirit

concerning the correctness of our conclusions-and

exclusions. This paper has presented three levels of

questions which serve to differentiate various positions

on origins, giving as many as one hundred distinctly

different positions which might be (and commonly are)

held on this subject. It is not surprising that the debate

has become rigid and polarized. Complexity bewilders

and discourages. Simplicity has a seductive beauty.

David L. Wilcox 250c


(Un)fortunately, neither God, nor His universe, are as

simple as we are.




Barnett, S. F. and W. G. Phillips. 1985. Genesis and Origins: Focus on

Interpretation. Presbyterian Journal, 44: 5-10.

Dobzhansky, T. 1973. Nothing in biology makes sense except in the

light of evolution. American Biology Teacher, 35:125-129.

Hodge, C. 1874. What is Darwinism?, as quoted in The Princeton

Theology 1812-1921, ed. M. A. Noll. 1983. Presbyterian and

Reformed Publishers, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Huxley, J. S. 1953. Evolution in Action. Harper and Brothers, New


Klaaren, E. M. 1977. Religious Origins of Modern Science. W. B.

Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.

Pun, P. T. 1982. Evolution, Nature and Scripture in Conflict?

Zondervan, Grand Rapids.



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