The Act of Creation: Bridging Transcendence and Immanence -- By: William A. Dembski
The Act of Creation:
Bridging Transcendence and Immanence
Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture
The Discovery Institute
1402 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
Presented at Millstatt Forum, Strasbourg, France, 10 August 1998
“Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans.” In these opening lines of the Iliad, Homer invokes the Muse. For Homer the act of creating poetry is a divine gift, one that derives from an otherworldly source and is not ultimately reducible to this world. This conception of human creativity as a divine gift pervaded the ancient world, and was also evident among the Hebrews. In Exodus, for instance, we read that God filled the two artisans Bezaleel and Aholiab with wisdom so that they might complete the work of the tabernacle.
The idea that creative activity is a divine gift has largely been lost these days. To ask a cognitive scientist, for instance, what made Mozart a creative genius is unlikely to issue in an appeal to God. If the cognitive scientist embraces neuropsychology, he may suggest that Mozart was blessed with a particularly fortunate collocation of neurons. If he prefers an information processing model of mentality, he may attribute Mozart’s genius to some particularly effective computational modules. If he is taken with Skinner’s behaviorism, he may attribute Mozart’s genius to some particularly effective reinforcement schedules (perhaps imposed early in his life by his father Leopold). And no doubt, in all of these explanations the cognitive scientist will invoke Mozart’s natural genetic endowment. In place of a divine afflatus, the modern cognitive scientist explains human creativity purely in terms of natural processes.
Who’s right, the ancients or the moderns? My own view is that the ancients got it right. An act of creation is always a divine gift and cannot be reduced to purely naturalistic categories. To be sure, creative activity often involves the transformation of natural objects, like the transformation of a slab of marble into Michelangelo’s David. But even when confined to natural objects, creative activity is never naturalistic without remainder. The divine is always present at some level and indispensable.
Invoking the divine to explain an act of creation is, of course, wholly unacceptable to the ruling intellectual elite. Naturalism, the view that nature is the ultimate reality, has become the default position for all serious inquiry among our intellectual elite. From Biblical studies to law to education to science to the arts, inquiry is allowed to proceed only under the supposition that nature is the ultimate reality. Naturalism denies any div...
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