Did the Early Church believe in Evolution or Creation?

…listen to the words I am about to say to you. God, who dwells in the heavens and created out of nothing the things that are, and increased and multiplied them for the sake of his holy church… (The Shepherd of Hermas, I.1)

What would be remarkable if God made the world out of preexistent matter? Even a human artisan, when he obtains material from someone, makes whatever he wishes out of it. Bur the power of God is revealed by his making whatever he wishes out of the nonexistent, just as the ability to give life and motion belongs to no one but God alone. For a man makes an image but cannot give reason or breath or sensation to what he makes, while God has this power greater than his: the ability to make a being that is rational, breathing, and capable of sensation. As in all these instances God is more powerful than man, so he is in his making and having made the existent out of the non-existent’ he made whatever he wished in whatever way he wished. (Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum, II.4)

…God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist. . . They do not believe that God (being powerful, and rich in all resources) created matter itself, inasmuch as they know not how much a spiritual and divine essence can accomplish. . . . While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 10)

Now, with regard to this rule of faith – that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend – it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word… (Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, XIII)

I am fully aware that the contrarian might come along and dispute that these quotes only speak of the initial creation of matter and do not necessarily preclude God using an evolutionary process to guide the progress of creation. They focus on pixels only to ignore the picture.

Theistic evolutionists- whether they hold to the day-age theory, gap theory, literary framework view etc.- wish to impress us with scholarly credentials and argument; the need for cultural relevance; a desire to harmonize, reconcile, correlate science and Scripture. For all of this, they miss the big picture of Scripture:

Elohim is not presented in Genesis 1 as a cosmic sculptor who, in human fashion, with preexisting material, produces a work of art, but as One who merely by speaking, by uttering a word of power, calls all things into being. And with that view the whole of Scripture chimes in. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, p. 417)

You do not have to be a narrow-minded, literalistic, simpleton to read the Bible and come away with the impression that God instantaneously created all things out of nothing by his powerful word. In fact, you have to fight against the Scripture to come away with any other impression.

7 thoughts on “Did the Early Church believe in Evolution or Creation?

  1. You do not have to be a narrow-minded, literalistic, simpleton to read the Bible and come away with the impression that God instantaneously created all things out of nothing by his powerful word. In fact, you have to fight against the Scripture to come away with any other impression.

    Isn’t this what theistic evolutionists also believe? Do any of the non-creationists actually believe that God came up to a pre-existing Universe, or worked with pre-existing matter?

  2. JS,

    I am not quite sure of what your questions are getting at. Perhaps it is due to the lack of clarity in my statement you quote. But I will make an attempt at answering what I think you are asking.

    To your first question I would answer, “No, that is not what theistic evolutionists believe.” Granted most would say that God created matter and the universe. But I think there is a great gulf fixed between the belief that God created the ingredients and the belief that God made the casserole…if you catch my meaning. By my statement, I was attempting to say that an unbiased, “simple”, yea unscientific, reading of Scripture leaves me with the impression that God made all things instantaneously by his powerful word and that he did not just get the process started and/or guide it along for a few billion years. The instantaneous creation over 6 days is not just asserted in Genesis 1-2, the rest of Scripture’s testimony fits it as well.

    As for you second question, I would say, “Yes a great many probably do.” Anyone who accepts Aristotle’s word, ex nihilo nihil fit certainly believes God-if there is such a being-worked with pre-existing matter: be they Gnostics, theosophists, naturalists, pantheists, materialists, or atheists. But perhaps by “non-creationists” you simply meant “theistic evolutionists.” In that case, I would not know as I have not spoken with all of them. But I would not be surprised if some did.

    So how far off was I?

    “See” you at Diss’ place!

  3. OK, it seems like your post is more about asking the question “Did the Early Church believe in Creation ex nihilo. You’re answering in the affirmative (i.e. the early Church believed in creation ex nihilo), and then you’re also saying that people who are not creationists generally do not believe in creation ex nihilo.

    Is that correct?

    I was just expressing surprise that non-creationists (people who reject YEC, OEC) don’t believe in creation ex nihilo. It’s hard for me to see how someone could reject ex nihilo creation and still claim to be a Christian, since it’s part of the Nicene creed. If that describes a large portion of the people who reject OEC/YEC, that’s very significant.

  4. JS,

    Right. The context of the quotes above is one of dispute with those who would believe– in some way or form– in the eternality of matter.

    As for what people who are not creationists believe, I suppose that some might view “the Big Bang” as a creation. But even then, something was there to go bang. So believing in the eternality of matter is really the only other option, I think.

    I have seen Hitchens & Wilson and Dawkins & Lennox debates, but do not recall H or D ever really making a statement about origins. Aside from their ilk, there is not much I would put past those who “claim to be a Christian.”

    But aside from all that, I was doing some slight of hand and drawing out the application to YEC v. OEC.

  5. Yeah, the standard model among atheist scientists is ex nihilo. The big bang describes the event whereby matter and time came into existence; not a process that occurred on any pre-existing substrate.

    There is a recent theory put forth by cosmologist Wun-Yi Shu which argues that the universe has always existed, and that it sort of expands and then shrinks back to a “big bang”, kind of like God breathing. But it is nowhere near mainstream. Currently, ex nihilo is the order of the day.

    I might be confused about what the non-YEC/OEC Christians believe, though, as a result of following the “fine-tuning” debate. You see, Christian philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig point out that the fundamental physical constants that were initialized in the big bang seem remarkably fine-tuned to support life. Whoever or whatever created the big bang must have wanted life to exist, or else it was unimaginably coincidental that life formed. Basically, they are saying, “If we Christians grant, for sake of argument, that the Universe was created ex nihilo in the big bang, based on the apparent fine tuning of the physical constants, your only rational conclusion is that God created the big bang”

    Now, I don’t know if they believe in the big bang, or if they are just saying that belief in God is the logical conclusion of belief in the big bang. But it led me to think that belief in creation ex nihilo was still customary for Christians who are non-YEC/OEC. It’s a topic that rarely comes up, so I would be interested to see a survey or something showing what people actually believe. No doubt there are many among the “emergent” community who would see ex nihilo as being dispensible, but that’s no surprise, given how much other doctrine they’ll happily jettison.

  6. Josh,

    How can scientists believe there was nothing before the big bang? If there was nothing before the big bang, what went “bang.” It is here that Aristotle’s dictum is absolutely right, if there was nothing then there was nothing to explode.

    As to the big bang itself, have you had the chance to read “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews? I think he does a good job of demonstrating how a big bang-type event is supportable by Scripture. That is, he takes the observations that lead to belief in the big bang and show how they “fit” with the biblical record of God speaking and everything coming into being. What I understood if it I really enjoyed! You can get more info from the author’s site http://www.whomadegod.org

  7. I haven’t read the Andrews book, but I think your comment about Andrews answers your first question. Scientists resisted the big bang theory for quite some time, because the big bang theory implies creation ex nihilo. In fact, the “big bang” was first proposed by a Catholic priest, and rejected by the cosmologists of the time, who didn’t want to believe in creation ex nihilo.

    The evidence kept pointing to a moment when everything sprang into existence ex nihilo, and scientists were eventually forced to accept it. The “big bang” is the name given to the point at which space, time, matter, and energy came into being. Scientists believe that some time after that, about 10^-15 seconds later, everything started expanding.

    Note that “big bang” is not an event where some pre-existing thing exploded. The name “big bang” was coined by a guy who did not believe in creation ex nihilo, and who thought the “big bang” was a lot of bunk. He was kind of making fun of the expansion that is supposed to have started at 10^-15 seconds after the creation ex nihilo. The name stuck, since many other scientists were skeptical at the time.

    As you point out, acceptance of the “big bang” raises a huge question that atheists must answer: “Who or what initiated the big bang?” Who or what created space, time, energy, and matter? There are two basic answers — either God did it, or some mindless random multiverse process did it. Alvin Plantinga has some scathing comments for people who believe a mindless multiverse process did it.

    Also, note that none of this says that the “big bang” is true. It’s just saying, if you want to believe the standard cosmologist consensus, you are committed to belief in creation ex nihilo, and you have to explain who or what created the Universe.

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