Editors Note: To be sure I represented his views fairly, I did ask Dr. Coulson to review this post before it published and correct any mistakes I made.
Editorial update: When we reviewed this book something felt off. Dr. Jake Hebert from ICR has recently written an article we reprinted that explains what is off.
I recently obtained a copy of a newly published book by Dr. Kenneth Coulson. Entitled Creation Unfolding: A New Perspective on Ex Nihilo, I was intrigued by the possibility of a fresh look at the Genesis account as Dr. Coulson’s name is not one commonly mentioned in young-earth creationist circles. In this expectation, I was not disappointed. The perspective Dr. Coulson brings to the table is truly unique, one I had heard nowhere else. Unique is not always good, however, and Creation Unfolding is a mixture of refreshing new ideas and inaccurate arguments.
I want to emphasize upfront that what I say about this book is not a reflection on Dr. Coulson as a man. I spoke with him on the phone for nearly an hour as I attempted to understand where his book was going. He was very kind and considerate in answering all of my questions. I believe he is a sincerely committed young-earth creationist who is attempting to advance a scientific model for creation science. We simply disagree on some issues. Our disagreements are partially theological and partially related to scientific methodology. There is no reason as Christian brothers we cannot have a dialogue about those issues.
Supernatural Formative Processes
Dr. Coulson presents a case for a mature creation of the universe. This is not a new idea. It was one of the original ideas presented to explain the earth’s origin from a creationist perspective. However, what is presented is a fresh perspective on this idea which is highly intriguing. He puts forward an idea which he terms the Supernatural Formative Process theory (SFP). The SFP puts forward the idea that God’s creative processes were the same or very similar to the processes we observe today. However, during the first six days of creation, they were accelerated in proportion to one another. In other words, if one process is faster than a related process in the present, the ratio those processes have in the present would be the same as it was at creation week, even if the speeds were faster during the creation. This may be a little tough to grasp but basically, the speeds were always at the same ratio to one another, even though the speeds were much faster during creation.
In order to support this SFP model, Dr. Coulson appeals to numerous examples of miracles throughout Scripture. His argument is that when Jesus turned water into wine, healed the man with the withered hand and so on, in each case, this exemplifies a Supernatural Formative Process. This SFP leaves behind a history that appears to be unspectacular. A scientist examining the wine Jesus made would have found nothing different or out of the ordinary. Without human witnesses to tell him, he would assume it came about naturally, like any other wine. Dr. Coulson even speculates that analysis might be able to determine the kind of grapes and region the wine came from. He then relates these SFPs back to the creation and infers that a supernatural creation would leave little to no evidence, outside of divine revelation.
An interesting aspect of this model is that, if all processes were accelerated, there should be no anomalies. All data should point back to a uniform result. Unfortunately, this is where the model breaks down. There are anomalies all over creation, such as radiometric dates that do not give correct ages, or the earth’s magnetic field. Dr. Coulson admits in the book that the earth’s magnetic field is an anomaly. I asked him about this and his response was that it was a model and no model is ever perfect. He said the model needed some refinement. While I agree that we should not trash a model just because of a few aberrant data points unless we have a better model with which to replace it, the fact that the SFP theory starts with aberrant data points already on the board is a bit concerning.
While I applaud Dr. Coulson for thinking outside the box, I’m not certain this inference is accurate for a few reasons. First, there is a vast difference between miracles that occurred post-fall and creative processes pre-fall. The post-fall miracles all involved something pre-existing either being restored to a whole state, made into something else, or multiplied beyond what should have been possible. While it is probably accurate to say that they would have been mistaken for something created if the miracle was not observed, it seems a false equivalence to equate God taking an existing thing and turning it into something else with God creating ex nihilo. Further, SFP assumes that processes in the present were what God used to create the universe. While I think it is possible that some of these processes may have contributed, I’m not certain we can make the inference that all processes God used to create are ongoing. In fact, given we have no known process that creates something from nothing, I think we can say that some aspects of the creative process are not ongoing. This could also mean that certain laws were not put into place until after the creation as well.
This concept gets very tricky. Dr. Coulson points out that the Bible tells us that the redemption plan was ordained before the world. He then builds a chain of logic back from that to argue that the entire universe must have been conceptualized in the mind of God before He ever created it. The logic is sound and well thought out. However, where he goes with this idea is novel. He argues that the reason we have, for lack of a better phrase, the appearance of age in the universe, is that God matured the universe in a conceptual state, then moved pieces over from the conceptual state into time and space in the order described in the book of Genesis. In other words, God matured the universe in His mind, then took the pieces that were ready, and brought them from His mind and placed them in the newly created physical universe. In Dr. Coulson’s view, this explains why the secularists appeal to the Big Bang. It is possible that God conceptualized the Big Bang, matured the universe that way in His mind, then brought the parts over to the physical universe as described in Genesis 1 and 2.
If you’re struggling to wrap your brain around that, you are not alone. It took close to an hour of a phone conversation for Dr. Coulson to make that make sense in my head. Basically, the argument can be boiled down to something like this: processes which supposedly took millions of years, such as the Big Bang, may be true. However, they did not take place in the physical universe. They took place in God’s conceptual universe and left traces in the physical universe when God moved them from the conceptual realm, where there is no time, to the physical realm where time exists. Thus the reason the secularists promote an idea such as the Big Bang is not because of their bias against God. Instead, they are simply following the trail of evidence that they are misinterpreting because they do not accept the Gospel and thus do not accept the supernatural creation.
Dr. Coulson freely admits in his book that this idea is highly speculative. I appreciate the candor. However, this is where he loses me because of a couple of key points. First, using the Big Bang as an example, much, if not all of the evidence for the Big Bang is in the zone of overlap between the Big Bang and other models, including creationist ones. Expansion of the universe and the cosmic microwave background both make perfect sense inside creationist models. Further, the Big Bang model has a multiplicity of issues that render it worthless as a cosmological model. While Dr. Coulson is not tied to the Big Bang in any way, he simply used it as an example, most processes which give the millions of years dates have similar issues.
A second major issue, which really undergirds most of the book, is the assumption that scientists are largely unbiased. Dr. Coulson does point out that everyone operates with presuppositions, which is good, but it does not seem to make an impact on his view of the models and data they collect. This mystifies me because the evolutionists themselves will admit their bias in published works. Writing of systematics, Dr. Mary Pickford Windsor said “We all have our biases. The wonder is that any of us do come close to the truth about the past instead of just constructing a plausible story.”
This bias was on full display a number of years ago when a group of Chinese scientists published a paper in PLOS One on the human hand which had the audacity to talk of the hand as “designed”. The evolutionary world erupted with anger. People threatened to withhold reviews, withhold manuscripts, and verbally abused the publishing editor of PLOS One for permitting the paper to be published. PLOS One retracted the paper, which never mentioned God or a designer, simply used the word “design”. This apoplectic response to even the hint of design, as well as a recent study which confirmed an overall bias against Evangelical Christians in the sciences, is not the reaction of a group of reasonable individuals, let alone unbiased ones. It is the reaction of what Dr. Jonathan Sarfati calls “misotheists” or “haters of God”.
Undoubtedly not everyone within the scientific community is a misotheist, but they do make up a sizeable majority and wield an even greater amount of influence because of their passion. Thus accepting secular ideas uncritically, without thoroughly searching for their bias, is unwise. Therefore models such as the Dynamo Theory of earth’s magnetic field which Dr. Coulson uses as an example should be heavily scrutinized, not accepted out of hand.
Historical and Operational Science
This topic does not come up in the book but it is something that bears addressing briefly. Dr. Coulson treats both historical and empirical science as the same thing. However, this is far from true, something evolutionists themselves have frequently admitted. Dr. Jonathan Losos, a herpetologist and textbook author who teaches at Harvard, wrote in his book Improbable Destinies: “But evolutionary biology is a historical science. Like astronomers and geologists, we evolutionary biologists try to figure out what happened in the past. And like historians, we are bedeviled by the asymmetry of time’s arrow-we can’t go back in time to see what happened. ” Note that Dr. Losos included both astronomy and geology, the sciences frequently alluded to demonstrate the age of the earth, in his comment about historical sciences.
Historical sciences, for those who are unclear, are anything that cannot be observed, tested and repeated in the present. Origins sciences, like nearly the whole field of astronomy, much of geology, the origin of life sections of chemistry, and any comments on either creation or evolution are historical by nature. They are unobservable, largely untestable, and, as such, largely unrepeatable. Empirical science is that which can be done in the lab. It produces our cell phones, the internet, space stations, and computers. Creationists and evolutionists can get along quite well when performing empirical science because both use the same techniques. The battle is fought over the question of the origins which is not empirical.
This is one area where I can largely commend Dr. Coulson. He stands strongly on a young earth view of Genesis. He writes very critically of theistic evolutionists, calling them modern-day Gnostics, and points out the impossibility of reading the Genesis 1 text as anything other than six literal twenty-four hour days. This is excellent and is very much a strength of the book.
I do have a theological quibble with him, however. He argues that God built ambiguity into creation, giving room for unbelief. His key passage for this is 1 Corinthians 1:21 which reads ” For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” He argues that the wisdom of the world, their science, cannot lead them to God. It only leads them to a naturalistic view of the world. Instead, they must accept the foolishness of the Gospel to be saved. Amen to that. Man is not saved by science, he is saved by the Gospel of Christ.
The issue I have however is with his understanding of ambiguity. Reading Romans 1:19-20 I find these words: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” In other words, no one has an excuse not to believe in God. While Dr. Coulson acknowledges that God certainly can be known through nature, I think he and I have a slightly different understanding of this passage. Dr. Coulson seems to think there is ambiguity about the existence of God in men’s hearts because God did not make an explicit statement in nature. In his example. this would be stamping a “made by” statement on the anatomy of His creation. I would argue, He already did this, in the incredible designs of organisms on the planet, including humanity. I’m sure Dr. Coulson acknowledges this design, it just seems his bar for what would be a divine statement of design is higher than mine, which explains our differing views of this passage.
This book is a tricky one. I want to like it because it went outside the box and made me think about things in a way that I had not done so before. I also applaud the courage Dr. Coulson exemplified by exposing himself to criticism from every angle, including within his own camp, myself included, by publishing this book. While I don’t think the model is entirely accurate or final as yet, science advances by proposing ideas and working through them to figure out what is good and bad. This book thus represents a step, however small or large, on the ladder of progress within the creation science community, and that is a good thing.
This book is not for someone trying to get introduced to the creationist movement. It delves into theory and modeling which will only confuse someone trying to learn the basics. However, if you are a creation researcher who wants to expand your mind, this book could be useful for that purpose. Working knowledge of earth sciences is recommended as Dr. Coulson, who specializes in stromatolites, draws heavily from earth science examples to make his case. Bearing that in mind I can recommend this book to the researcher. If you are reading this post the day it goes live, Creation Unfolding: A New Perspective on Ex Nihilo is going to be available for free on Kindle and $5.99 in paperback form on Amazon Friday, April 10th. If what you have read intrigues you, check that out. Just hang on to your hat. Your brain will be bent in ways you probably have never experienced before.
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