In a video entitled “Questions no Christians Can Answer! An Atheist Creator’s Collection” from the Non Sequitur Show, fifteen atheists and agnostics presented questions they believed to be challenging to Christians. A group of Christians answered these questions in this blog at https://christian-apologist.com/2018/05/06/christians-answer-questions-atheists-say-christians-cant-answer/
Heather Marie Schuldt has answered the first question below. Heather is a master’s degree candidate at the Southern Evangelical Seminary.
Q1: If God is posited as an explanation for human existence, what mechanisms did he use? (Question from Steve McRae)
We know that it was God who created man in His own image, in the image of God He created Adam and Eve, male and female He created man and woman (Gen. 1:27). Now the question is how did God make them?
I propose that the way God made Adam is not exactly the same way in which God made Eve. We get only a slightly closer look at the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 2. It says the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Adam became a living creature when God did at least those two things (Gen. 2:7). We find out that Adam was made first, and we also find out that Adam existed for a period of time before God made Eve. In addition, we find out that the Lord God made every beast of the field and every bird of the air out of the ground (Gen.2:19). Some Christians often ignore “out of the ground” and “breathed into his nostrils,” but many Christians say God made humans from nothing (ex nihilo). Eve, on the other hand, was not made in the same way as Adam. God took a rib from Adam while Adam was in a deep sleep, and God made Eve from Adam’s rib (Gen. 2:21-23). Since I do not consider “dust” or a “rib” or “breathing” to be equivalent to “nothing,” it is not sufficient to say that God made Adam and Eve from nothing (ex nihilo) unless one explains what is meant by that act in its literal expression. Ex nihilo can be imagined as popped into existence or it can mean a miraculous change in the elements or some kind of mixture of both.
Still, no one today can perform anything close to what God performed. At best, robotics such as Sophia Hanson from Hanson Robotics has been programmed by a human programmer to talk and answer questions, but Sophia the robot does not have the breath of life. In essence, she does not have “personal human free will.” Even though some programmers eagerly say that robots are “brought to life,” the robots have not really been “brought to life,” since the robots are not breathing. These robots are not living creatures nor are they ever really brought to life.
Let us continue to examine the question, “How did God make Adam and Eve?” This reminds me of the person at a magic show, sitting in the audience wanting to know how the magician pulled the rabbit out of the hat. What we can observe is that the magician performed a trick to deceive the audience. However, it is not the same for God because God did not create Adam and Eve in a way to deceive the viewer. The difference here, though, is that no human was around to see Adam or Eve being created. However, we do know that angels shouted for joy when God created Earth (Job 38:4-7). It is possible, but I do not know for sure, that the angels saw God make Adam and Eve. The bottom line is that acts that are performed in order to deceive the viewer are not divine acts. When Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus was not deceiving the crowd. Since we do not know the “mechanisms” Jesus used to multiply food, we often say that act was a miracle. These types of miracles are performed in order to affirm a divine messenger who has a divine message. In the case of Adam and Eve, the creation affirms the one who performed the act (God) and the fact that God had a divine message for them, and He has one for us, too.
Phenomenon is not a good category for the act of God making Adam and Eve. We know that certain other phenomenon type of acts have natural explanations such as the sun “seeming” to “move” in the sky, but the sun is not really moving. Earth is moving. The act of God making Adam and Eve does not fit in the category of a phenomenon mostly because the creation was not observed. Rather, the act of God making Adam and Eve fits best in the category of a divine act. Next, we will find out why the creation of Adam and Eve must be considered a divine act and not a natural act.
Let us quickly revisit the question, “By what mechanisms did God make Adam and Eve?” So far, we know that 1.) Adam and Eve were not made in the exact same way, 2.) God is the agent who made them, and 3.) God at least used “dust” for Adam and Adam’s “rib” for Eve. Any scientist will end up mind-boggled, trying to imagine, figure out, or hypothesize how God performed these acts. I am certain Steve McRae still wants to know “by what mechanisms” did God perform these acts? “Dust” and a “ rib” are probably incomplete answers, according to Steve, and I would agree. In order to further answer his question, I will present Aristotle’s causal relationship in order to understand that there are different kinds of causes.
The principle of causality only applies to things that begin, things that are finite, things that are contingent, and things that are dependent. Adam and Eve began. A fundamental principle of reason is as follows: every finite thing needs a cause. Adam and Eve were finite. They were contingent. They were dependent beings. Thus, Adam and Eve must have a cause. We already established Adam and Eve’s cause mentioned in Genesis, but now we can affirm it according to Aristotle’s principle of causality. Aristotle identified specifically an efficient cause, which he referred to as the agent of the thing. This is why we can say the agent who made Adam and Eve must have been eternal, infinite, wise, and personal. Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image…” The agent sounds plural, but the agent is also one. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Aristotle also identified three other types of causes: a final cause, a formal cause, and a material cause.
1.) A final cause is the purpose of the thing. One of Adam’s purposes was to name all the animals. Eve was made to be Adam’s helper. Is that their only purposes? No. Both Adam and Eve were made to eat plants and fruit and live a lifelong marriage as husband and wife (Matt. 19:4-6). They were both made to follow God’s two rules of not eating from one tree and being allowed to eat from the tree of life. God wanted to make Adam and Eve because God knew it is good. The nature of human beings includes dignity, sanctity, intellectual likeness, moral likeness, a free will to choose what God calls good, a body and soul, and a desire for fellowship.
2.) A formal cause is what makes the thing one kind of thing rather than something else. A human is not just a collection of cells. It is a human body that has properties and functions in a particular arrangement doing certain things. A formal cause could instead be an exemplary cause, which is the plan in someone’s mind that gave rise to the thing. It could be a blue print. It could be the will of a designer.
3.) A material cause is what something is made out of. However, some people divide material causes into prime matter and proximate matter. Proximate matter has some properties such as cells whereas prime matter has no properties at all. Aristotle did not believe in prime matter.
In the case of Steve’s inquiry, I am guessing Steve is most concerned with the actual act of the agent. Take for instance, a chocolate chip cookie or vanilla bean ice cream. We can look at them and ask who made them and how were they made? If all we have is the cookie and ice cream, and no one saw how they were made, then we need to look at what we can observe and apply Aristotle’s four causes. The material cause is what the cookie is made out of – flour, baking soda, salt, butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and the chocolate chips. Now if I told you that I made the chocolate chip cookies from dust, then what will you ask next? How did the dust turn into those specific ingredients? At least three things are possible.
1.) The “dust” supernaturally changed into other specific ingredients or the dust was used to supernaturally cause something new to come into being from nothing (ex nihilo) or both.
2.) The word “dust” is used in place of the actual ingredients used by the agent.
3.) The “dust” was actually some other kind of elements other than the elements we find today.
For example, if I told you a cookie is made from “ingredients,” but I did not give you the specific ingredients, then you would need to find out for yourself what the cookie is made out of. We all know that in order to make a cookie from scratch, you need to have a list of ingredients as well as the directions. Steve probably wants to know both. As for a human being, according to livescience.com, 96% of a human body is made up of four main elements: oxygen (65%), carbon (18%), hydrogen (10%), and nitrogen (3%). The remaining 4 % includes about 56 chemical elements including calcium (1.5%), phosphorus (1%), potassium (0.25%), sulfur (0.15%), sodium (0.15%), chlorine (0.15%), magnesium (0.05%), iron (0.006%), fluorine (0.0037%), zinc (0.0032%), copper (0.0001%), iodine (0.000016%), and others such as selenium, chromium, manganese, molybdenum, and cobalt. Hear this: we still do not know what all of the chemical elements are doing inside the human body. I realize a cookie in no way compares to a human being, but once you know the ingredients for a cookie, all you need then are the directions. My guess is that Steve wants the directions for making a human being. What would a human being actually do with such knowledge?
Many believers from orthodox Judaism, Islam, and Christianity will agree with possibility 1: a divine act must have occurred. This “change” in elements can be called a miracle. If you think long enough about the way in which a finite human body is literally changed into an immortal physical-type of body (a glorified body), there must be a supernatural change involved in order to go from finite decaying cells to an immortal physical-body. So it was with dust, according to possibility 1, that God supernaturally changed dust into other specific elements. One could even say the dust was changed from “nothing,” that is, ex nihilo, but it sounds contradictory to call dust “nothing,” yet it is somewhat proper to say Adam was made by God ex nihilo. We just need to know what we mean by that. I am certain that some theists will pick a bone with me because as tradition goes, God made Adam and Eve out of nothing (ex nihilo). Creation out of nothing is an orthodox view held by many great Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. I would respond to them by asking, Why do some theists overlook the fact that dust somehow changed into specific elements? Why do theists overlook the fact that God made living creatures “from the ground”? One theist told me that when God changed dust into other specific elements, he did so from nothing. Just as water turned into wine, so too, dust turned into another element. His point reinforces my point, though. Water is not “nothing.” Water is something, and a change in elements did occur. This change can be further described as a supernatural change. Ancient theologians agree that Adam was made from nothing but not by nothing. Even the phrase “from nothing” is ambiguous because somehow a new finite thing came into existence after another finite thing had already been in existence by God who is eternal. This might be one reason why “ex nihilo” gets a bad rap, meaning “ex nihilo” is not honored in the way it really should be honored by some people.
Other believers who explore a more natural act will look to possibility 2: God did not use actual dust, but the word dust is used to represent the actual ingredients we find today. Somehow, God was able to use those natural ingredients to put Adam together from head to toe. We still don’t know how God put those actual ingredients together in possibility 2. Some evolutionists will posit that Adam came from an ape. However, Genesis 2:7 says God made Adam from the dust of the ground, not from an ape. In order to find out where God went in order to get a hold of those natural materials, some people look to the elements in outer space that already existed. According to platonism, God made Adam and Eve out of preexisting matter, that is, God formed preexisting matter into specific things. However, finite matter must have a cause. Any attempt to posit “eternal matter” (ex materia) as a possibility, such as the belief of material-pantheism does, is making a contradictory claim since matter is finite. It would be like saying, “Please fill up the swimming pool with solid water.” Spirit-pantheism stems from a dream world where matter is only an illusion and only mind or spirits exist. Clearly, however, matter does exist, not just a dream-consciousness that humans can experience when sleeping.
Other believers will present possibility 3: God made Adam in such a way that Adam was not made out of the exact same elements like any person we find today. This could also extend to Eve and even extend to a number of other humans who lived during the pre-flood days. As for the “breathing into Adam’s nostrils,” we can observe newborns taking their first breath of life once he is outside the womb. Adam’s first breath of life and a newborn’s first breath of life must have differences, though, due to completely different circumstances. With possibilities 1-3, we are getting closer to identifying the material cause of Adam and Eve, but we still do not know exactly how God put their bodies together, one from dust, the other from a rib. As a matter of fact, we still do not know how God put any living creature together. What we can observe in a microscope, though, is the development of a fertilized egg and strands of DNA. We can observe that human beings, as we know them to be, are created beings, finite in nature, temporal, contingent, growing creatures, made up of many different elements, and changing from infancy to adulthood. The Creator, in contrast, is uncreated, infinite, eternal, necessary, and changeless.
Scripture gives us other clues as to how God made Adam and Eve. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Jesus upholds the universe by “his powerful word.” Genesis 1:2 immediately directs us to the Spirit of God, and Genesis 1:3 clearly describes God’s Word directing the development of creation. In Genesis 1, we hear “And God said,” eight times. The method of making Adam required God’s infinite power, His powerful word, and His own free will. In other words, God did not have to made Adam. God wanted to make Adam, and so He did. In order to know how God made Adam by changing dust into a complete human being, God would have to be the one who reveals the actual act to us. If God wanted us to know how water can change to wine and how a finite human body can change into an immortal body, then He might let us know how. One day, we might actually learn how a supernatural change of elements occurs or how something new comes into existence from nothing by a divine being called God. Adam and Eve could very well have been created in a divine instant. They could have been supernaturally created ex nihilo or changed somehow from existing matter into a completely new being. Either way, Adam and Eve were brought into existence just like theistic tradition has been teaching for centuries. We can know some things about how God made Adam and Eve, but we do not know all the details yet. We can be sure that something divine happened if we take possibility 1 as literal.
“The Chemistry of Life: the Human Body” by Michael Schirber, April 16, 2009, LiveScience.com, accessed May 8, 2018.
By: Heather Marie Schuldt
Connect with Heather on Twitter @hmschuldt or visit her blog: Ladyapologist.com.
2 Replies to “A Christian Answers A Question An Agnostic Said Could Not Be Answered”
Of course, one must first make sense of Aristotle’s causes …and even if that were possible, you still have no explanatory mechanism for divine ‘action’.
I guess that’s where the miracle comes in, if a miracle means something which is inexplicable in principle.