Creation, Thomistic Philosophy, and the Natural Sciences


As the title suggests, this thread will involve interpreting Holy Scripture, particularly the Genesis 1 and 2 creation narratives, utilizing and integrating Thomistic philosophy and metaphysics and the discoveries of the modern natural sciences. Magisterial teaching and documents, the writings of the Church Fathers, doctors, saints, biblical scholarship, and other sources old or new may also be used that are related to the subject. The main theme of the discussion will center around a theology of creation called ‘progressive creationism.’

I’ll look forward to your comments. Have a happy and meaningful discussion :smiley:



To begin with, the following is a post I made recently on another thread:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters (Gen. 1: 1-2)

Creation involves the production of being out of nothing which can only be done by God so Gen. 1:1 involves the instantaneous creation of the totality of the matter of the physical universe (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, the general teaching of the scholastic theologians, St Augustine) represented by the heavens and the earth of verse 1 and the waters of verse 2. Formless matter or prime matter which can only come about by creation from God does not exist without form so the substance of the heavens, what is called space today, is made and formed from some kind of matter we are not familiar with, an aether like matter, and the earth and waters are elemental substances (composites of form and matter, hylemorphism) from times past, but today we think of the elements such as on the periodic table.

However, the elements on the periodic table appear to be composed of yet simpler elements even some that can exist apart from the elements on the periodic table such as electrons, protons, photons, and possibly neutrons but I understand the neutrons are quite unstable. Some of the parts of either the protons or nuetrons such as quarks or bosons I believe are not found apart from the protons or neutrons in the real world. Electrons, protons, and photons are elemental substances I believe composed of substantial form and prime matter (and accidents such as their charges and energies) when existing apart from the elements they form a part of on the periodic table

Accordingly, the first substances God created out of nothing besides the substance of the heavens were the elements (in their totality though they are capable of substantial change into one another) we are familiar with such as individual electrons, protons, neutrons, possibly photons, and possibly though this may have been later in the work of the ‘days’ at least some of the elements formed out of electrons, protons, and neutrons on the periodic table such as hydrogen and helium which according to the present science amounts to 98% of the elemental substances found in the universe on the periodic table



Although modern science says our solar system is about 4.5 billion years old, it is not out of the question that God in this initial act of creation (v.1) did create the earth and the waters appearing to cover the earth, indeed this is what the scripture says, but the earth as v. 2 says in some fashion formless, i.e., God created the elements out of which the earth was later going to be further formed such as on day 3. The elements I’m talking about here are individual protons, nuetrons, and electrons and possibly ‘elements’ formed from these in some fashion such as oxygen and nitrogen, silicon, etc. (and even the compound ‘water’), but not the earth as we know it today or its formed state such as day 3 and the completed state of the world on day 7; in as yet a formless state and the waters too. There were no radioactive isotopes or elements in this unformed stage of the earth at least ones we know about. Our sun, moon, and planets also could have been created in this initial act of creation (certainly their matter was even if it was in some other substance) but they too in a formless state. Since the earth, our sun, moon, and solar system was going to be the home of mankind, God had a special eye on it

‘And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light’. This I believe involved the beginning of the formation of the galaxies if that wasn’t already done in some fashion in v.1, and the stars by God as well as the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (more on the CMBR in another post). This ‘day’ from the present science lasted billions of years so not all the stars and galaxies had to be created and formed by God at the same time or around the same time although probably a majority of them were which I believe is what the present science says. Whether stars can form by natural processes, I don’t know, astronomers have star formation theories. I believe all the galaxies and most of the stars if not all of them were created and formed by God himself out of the material, the ‘elements’, he initially created in verse 1.


I strongly suggest you utilize this resource created by Thomist Scholar-Priests:


Perhaps we can start with the Summa.


On the contrary, It is written (Sirach 17:1): “God created man out of the earth.”

I answer that, The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God. Some, indeed, supposed that the forms which are in corporeal matter are derived from some immaterial forms; but the Philosopher refutes this opinion (Metaph. vii), for the reason that forms cannot be made in themselves, but only in the composite, as we have explained (I:65:4; and because the agent must be like its effect, it is not fitting that a pure form, not existing in matter, should produce a form which is in matter, and which form is only made by the fact that the composite is made. So a form which is in matter can only be the cause of another form that is in matter, according as composite is made by composite. Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form. For this reason the angels cannot transform a body except by making use of something in the nature of a seed, as Augustine says (De Trin. iii, 19). Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God.


I need to think a bit on what exactly to post in this thread. Admittedly, Richca’s knowledge in this area exceeds mine greatly.

The timelines, i.e. chronology of Genesis compared to modern scientific notions of time and creation (a 13.7 billion year old universe) are arbitrary because God is outside of time. Therefore I see no interruption of God’s initial act of creating formless matter and the subsequent coalescence and design of that matter into the universe, planets, etc.

I also hold that design is inherent in the way certain elements combine to form certain molecules and substances. It is God’s design and not chance that hydrogen and oxygen just happen to form water. It is also God’s design and his providence that certain elements such as gold were made for trade, beauty, and industry. Others are essential for human life, for not the least reason that we are indeed made of the dust of the earth. God’s ultimate creation is man, and the rest of creation would be senseless without man to discover and care for it. Aside from God, man is the only being aware of creation. In the timeline according to modern science, man came into being only a blink of an eye ago. But up until that point, creation existed unaware of itself and known only to God. The sensory organs of animals, obviously including man, were designed for he benefit of life, survival, creativity, knowledge, human interaction and the discovery of creation. For if one holds the proposition that unguided natural processes have formed life, then one must presume that inanimate chemical compositions somehow knew that sounds and sights existed for which to produce organs able to see and hear. So I think I am mostly in agreement with your (@richca) posts thus far in that, even positing the instantaneous creation of the totality of matter at the beginning of time, that matter was imbued with providential design and purpose.


We need an Aristotle or St Thomas to get to the heart of the matter.

I would say that charge and mass are aspects of the substance of electrons and neutrons, what they are-and-do. The number of electrons or photons in a beam of energy would be an accident.

To my way of thinking carbon is a different substance than hydrogen. They would not be accidents of a primary atomic substance which is behind any element and all molecular structures since they have different specific qualities that make them what they are. I prefer to think of them as different forms of being. It is the tetrahedral structure of carbon for example that allows for the complexity of organic molecules such as sugars, fats, proteins and DNA.

The elements began in the interior of suns, where electromagnetic radiation is emitted as hydrogen atoms undergo nuclear fusion.

While this is true it must be remembered that it appears that 80% of the universe’s mass is dark matter, which I believe current thinking favours its being weakly interacting massive particles. Their mass is considered to be have ten to a hundred times that of protons. They would only weakly interact with the matter we know, making them difficult to detect.

It appears to me that Genesis is in accordance to the understanding of the world at the time it was written. It reads like what one would see when a volcanic island appears and is gradually filled with life. An immense dome can be “seen” above us, but we have to try since most of us automatically “perceive” Hubble images when we gaze into the sky. What is clear is that God created the universe in a step-wise fashion. According to modern scientific understanding, from an initial plasma, He formed elementary particles, which He brought together creating Hydrogen atoms, of which all the material substances He went on to create were composed. We were the final step in the creative process.


I am currently reading:


Yes, thank you. This quote is from the Summa Theologica Pt. I, Q. 91,art.2. There is quite a bit in this quote alone concerning St Thomas’ metaphysics and principles of nature such as form and matter and the composite of form and matter which is what primarily exists or is a being, the composite that is or the substance. In material beings, form and matter are said to be incomplete beings because neither exists without the other, the special case in the material world is the human soul which can exist without the body because of its spirituality. Prime matter’s potentiality is first of all to the substantial form which form gives matter being, forms are the act of matter. Thus, in the material/physical world, there is no matter that exists without a substantial form, that isn’t a substance of some kind, a composite of form and matter. Accidental forms modify the substance in some manner and they only have being because of the substance, they inhere in the substance. Form and matter were simultaneously concreated together by God such as in the beginning, the bodies of the heavens, the earth, and the waters (Gen. 1: 1-2).


So, here’s the thing. I get it that you’re attempting to use this to prove that evolution is false, but that’s not what the text is saying. A theory of evolution wasn’t in play in Aquinas’ day, so he can’t be arguing what you’d like him to be arguing.

Let’s look at his argument again: it doesn’t attempt to say that a material form cannot have made a human. Instead, it’s arguing against the proposition that some other immaterial form created humans. That’s what Aquinas is arguing against. (In fact, he implicitly assents to the principle that, at a later date, scientists argued: “a form which is in matter can only be the cause of another form that is in matter, according as composite is made by composite”. That’s an argument for evolution! (Although I wouldn’t claim that Aquinas isn’t arguing evolution, but is unwittingly providing the grounds from which one can argue for evolution!))

So, Aquinas is simply pointing out that no other immaterial form created the first human being from which another human could be generated, and therefore, the creation of man belongs to God alone.


[quote=“bobperk, post:7, topic:491411, full:true”]

I need to think a bit on what exactly to post in this thread. Admittedly, Richca’s knowledge in this area exceeds mine greatly.

The timelines, i.e. chronology of Genesis compared to modern scientific notions of time and creation (a 13.7 billion year old universe) are arbitrary because God is outside of time. Therefore I see no interruption of God’s initial act of creating formless matter and the subsequent coalescence and design of that matter into the universe, planets, etc.

I’m not sure, bob, what exactly you are saying here or trying to say but I think it involves some pretty deep theology such as God’s eternity in contrast to time, God considered as pure act, and the ideas of eternity and pure act in relation to God’s act of creation.

St Augustine seems to have grappled with this to some extent as can be seen in his works such as his book on the Trinity, The City of God, and his three works on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis. Augustine was a deeply profound thinker as well as a very profound interpreter of Holy Scripture. His knowledge of Holy Scripture , connecting the Old Testament with the New Testament, interpreting parts of Scripture in relation to the whole or the whole catholic faith, was as I said very profound and when I read his works I sometimes feel like I’m reading the mind of the sacred writer himself or the Holy Spirit, the principle author of Sacred Scripture. Still, Augustine wasn’t infallible in all what he wrote.

Back to your comment. I see it resembling in some manner St Augustine’s Literal Interpretation of Genesis. For he held that the ‘days’ of the Genesis 1-2:3 creation narrative and the various works, creation and distinction of the various creatures, were simultaneous and that these works of God divided into days meant an order of nature and not of time. For example, before there can be plants or animals on earth there needs to be an earth first, or before one can have animals in the seas there must be seas first, or before the sun, moon, and stars there must be the place of the heavens to set them in. So, he interpreted the ‘days’ as an order of nature but not that of time. In fact, he conceived of God’s act of creation of the universe as creating all things together, simultaneously, from the beginning to the end of time. Even those beings who would appear in there own time such as the generation of animals, plants, human beings such as you and I, from their ‘parents’ so to speak, were all created together in that initial act of creation but in potentiality or ‘seminal reasons’ as he called them. It is not to easy precisely how he conceived of the seminal reasons and I don’t want to get into that momentarily.



The point I’m attempting to make is that Augustine’s conception that all things were created simultaneously together in the beginning, some in act or actually existing and others in potentiality later to come into existence, appears to derive from his conception of the eternity of God in some manner, some philosophical reasons, as well as to a few passages of Scripture which he had at hand that do not necessarily mean what he interpreted it to mean or that were faulty translations in some manner of the original scriptures.

In the Summa Theological on creation and the work of the six days, St Thomas Aquinas presents the views of the various church fathers’ interpretation of the Genesis 1 and 2 creation narratives, particularly the Genesis 1-2:3 seven day narrative. Essentially or summarily, he writes, two traditions or interpretations were passed on down to the Church from the fathers, namely, the Augustinian one and the other from fathers such as St Ambrose and St Basil which was the more common opinion and interpretation. The Ambrosian or Basilian interpretation kept to not only an order of nature such as Augustine did but also to an order of time or duration, i.e., the ‘days’ involved successive as it were creative acts of God. For example, on day 5 God created the marine animals and birds than on the next day he created the land animals. St Thomas presents both opinions sometimes sided with the one and sometimes sided with the other it seems.
To the question whether all the days were one day (Augustine’s interpretation) ST,Pt.I,Q.74,art.2, here Aquinas answers in the negative seemingly to side with the Ambrosian/Basilian interpretation and in the body of the article presents both views and offers some explanation to them.

The main point I want to make is this, Aquinas sees no problem in the Ambrosian/Basilian interpretation of successive days in time and God’s creative activity following day upon day. If God can make a beginning to the world by a creative act of his power, what is to prevent him from making another creative act? If God is pure act, pure active power, can he not use that power whenever he so wills? Either to create or by that same power preserve things in existence and govern the world by his providence in which he is the first mover and first efficient cause of all the actions of his creatures as the CCC#308 says? We also believe that God immediately creates the soul of every human being at the person’s conception. This is an act of creation that from the beginning of our first parents, Adam and Eve, God has been constantly doing for every human being til now.



The difficulty lies in our understanding I think of how to conceive seemingly successive acts of creation by God who is pure act, in eternity and not of time, and absolutely unchangable. Presently, I’m just going to conclude that God who is pure actuality can will to act whenever he wants, he is not bound to a single act as it were of creation for if he can make one act of creation, why couldn’t he make two, three, or four as it were? At the same time, our conception of seemingly successive acts of God’s will is not appropriate or applicable to God as if God can or does change.

The creation of light on day one and then the next day, some time has past, God creates the firmament does not involve change in him but rather change in the creature from not-being to being. It’s kind of a difficult concept to grasp and without being God but creatures it is possibly something we’ll never understand fully but in heaven we’ll see this more clearly. For now, God’s eternity, unchangability, and act or ‘acts’ of creation we must hold by not only by faith but also by sound philosophy and reason even though we may not fully grasp or comprehend it.


Ooh, I’ve been thinking about getting that book. How is it in your opinion?


Actually it was. It was not called evolution theory, though.


[quote="Aloysium, post:8]

Aloysium: The elements began in the interior of suns, where electromagnetic radiation is emitted as hydrogen atoms undergo nuclear fusion.

So the theory goes. I’m saying that the first substances besides the heavens that God created were the simple elements from which he would later form more complex creatures, mixed bodies, from. These elements were electrons, protons, neutrons, possibly photons, and their parts if any but not necessarily with accidents such as electrical charges, the strong and weak nuclear forces, gravity (?), as of yet. This may have come later such as in the formation of the elements on the periodic table. I’m not sure whether the elements on the periodic table or at least some of them were created together with the electrons, protons, and neutrons in the initial act of creation. If so, God would have created at least some of the electrons, protons, and neutrons with their active and passive qualities. What I do hold is that prime matter can only come about by creation and it was concreated with the various elemental forms such as I’ve been speaking of. This was the initial act of creation, the production of the whole elementary substances, matter and form, out of nothing in their entirety, i.e., the entire elementary matter and forms of the corporeal universe. The substance of the heavens was also created in this initial act of creation and probably a cloudlike elementary mixture of the earth and waters or seas.

Stars do not form and burn without the element hydrogen at least initially. So I believe this element God himself created in the initial act of creation or formed himself later such as on day one. Apparently, God also formed the helium element in the early universe or in the initial act of creation. I don’t hold that only the stars produced the rest of the elements although it appears from the present scientific theory that hydrogen undergoes substantial change into helium in the star burning process, and helium into another element and so on up to iron. I hold that many if not all of the elements on the periodic table God himself formed (though not all necessarily at the same time nor in their present quantity as the elements can undergo substantial change into one another naturally) and with them formed many of the stars that are found with a variety of elements in them. The stars I believe were formed by God himself either all of them or most of them. I’m not convinced that either stars or planets can form by natural processes of nature in the heavens and even if they could, I presently believe that God formed the majority of them himself and all the galaxies. The scripture says on day 4 that 'He made the stars too." And since nobody was around to see what was happening millions and billions of years ago and nobody knows for sure that stars can naturally form in the heavens (neither am I saying it is impossible, I don’t know), than I presently simply believe that God created and formed them all especially that of our own sun and planet earth.


You also may like reading the following dissertation by Stanley F. Grove for his Phd. in philosophy. I believe he teaches at Wyoming Catholic College now. Its a very interesting read though quite long, 329 pages. The title is ‘Quantum Theory and Aquinas’s Doctrine on Matter’

Another book of interest, I’ve read some of it but not all of it yet is titled ‘The Modeling of Nature’ by Rev. William A. Wallace O.P.


I just started, but so far, so good. I have Kindle Unlimited so it was “free.” But it is written in laymen’s terms, so I’m not having to backtrack or consult additional materials to clarify anything.


I suggest you join the New Saint Thomas Institute and ask these questions on the forums there with Dr Taylor Marshall.

You can also call into the Patrick Madrid Show on Relevant Radio. I’m sure Patrick would have an answer for you.

Samething with Catholic Answers Live radio show when Trent Horn or Jimmy Akin are on.

God Bless

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