Origin of the Soul — a Mundane Miracle?

Posted on August 31, 2012 by


Does God create the soul out of nothing, or are children propagated from their parents as whole beings? Those who hold that God specially creates the soul cannot escape the contradiction of turning the miraculous into the mundane. Any time that God creates something out of nothing, it requires the supernatural, miraculous power of God. Such a divine creative act is above and beyond nature. However, if it is held that the soul is created in this way, then this presents the problem of putting what is above and beyond nature into nature itself, incorporating the miraculous into the natural processes that are constantly in operation.

Louis Berkhof was a creationist, and a well-respected Reformed theologian. In his Systematic Theology, he defines miracles:

THE NATURE OF MIRACLES. A distinction is usually made between providentia ordinaria and providentia extraordinaria. In the former God works through second causes in strict accordance with the laws of nature, though He may vary the results by different combinations. But in the latter He works immediately or without the mediation of second causes in their ordinary operation. Says McPherson: “A miracle is something done without recourse to the ordinary means of production, a result called forth directly by the first cause without the mediation, at least in the usual way, of second causes.” The distinctive thing in the miraculous deed is that it results from the exercise of the supernatural power of God. And this means, of course, that it is not brought about by secondary causes that operate according to the laws of nature. If it were, it would not be supernatural (above nature), that is, it would not be a miracle…1

Also, he goes into creationism:

CREATIONISM. This view is to the effect that each individual soul is to be regarded as an immediate creation of God, owing its origin to a direct creative act, of which the time cannot be precisely determined…2

On the same page, he evaluates the following popular objection of traducianists to creationism:

…[Creationism] is not in harmony with God’s present relationship to the world and His manner of working in it, since it teaches a direct creative activity of God, and thus ignores the fact that God now works through secondary causes and ceased from His creative work. This is not a very serious objection for those who do not have a deistic conception of the world. It is a gratuitous assumption that God has ceased from all creative activity in the world.3

I would point out that this objection (as well as the others that he lists) comes from well-respected traducianist theologians who all disagree that they have a deistic conception of the world. Such a characterization is in dispute. Berkhof, not satisfied that his rebuttal of this objection is sufficient, gives some tacit acknowledgement of the validity of the objection, in his concluding thoughts:

…we are convinced that the creative activity of God in originating human souls must be conceived as being most closely connected with the natural process in the generation of new individuals…4

Yet, his attempt to mitigate the extraordinary nature of the providence involved in creating a new soul does not escape his own definition, shown above. The difference between ordinary providence and a miracle is “In the former God works through second causes in strict accordance with the laws of nature, though He may vary the results by different combinations. But in the latter He works immediately or without the mediation of second causes in their ordinary operation.” He acknowledges that that which “is not brought about by secondary causes” is “the exercise of the supernatural power of God.” He defines creationism as the view that the soul is “…an immediate creation of God” and “a direct creative act.” When responding to the objection that creationism “teaches a direct creative activity of God, and thus ignores the fact that God now works through secondary causes,” Berkhof does not deny that creationism teaches a direct creative activity of God, nor does he deny that such a creative activity does not work through secondary causes. Rather, he simply denies that God has ceased from such creative activity.

Even in the creationist view, it must be acknowledged that God performs (or provides) something in human creation that is above and beyond anything else that He does in His mundane sustaining of the world and its creatures. He is just as responsible for the conception of an ape as He is of a man. But as long as one holds to the Biblical view that men are more than physical creaturesmore than mere animalsthen it cannot be denied that God does something profoundly above and beyond in the conception of a man. In every other case in which God creates new members of a species, the new member is created in its entirety by using the preexisting substance of the parentsno new substance is created out of nothing to produce the new member. But when God creates a child (in the creationist position) the child was not created in his entirety from out of the preexisting substance of the parents. God must provide a substance that does not exist until He creates it out of nothingthe soul of the child. Thus, God both works with nature in mediately creating the body and works above nature in immediately creating the soul.

This confusion of the natural with the supernatural strips the supernatural and miraculous of all meaning. Samuel Baird explains:

The creation doctrine is exceptionable in subordinating the divine agency to the control of second causes. It must be admitted, that wherever the second cause is present, generation will take place. The conclusion is, that the creative power of the Almighty must wait in attendance on these finite agencies, to provide souls for the bodies thus produced. It does not obviate this objection to say that the whole matter is subject to the providential ordering and control of God. For however he may be recognised as providentially supreme, yet is his creative omnipotence placed in an attitude of inferiority. In the order of operation, it is supposed to follow and wait upon the action of the finite causes of generation. Again, this theory, by introducing miracles as an ordinary element in the common course of things, and placing them in undistinguishable combination with natural effects, destroys wholly the significance of miraculous occurrences; and thus sweeps away all means of information as to the existence of God and of communication with him…5

God’s supernatural creative power miraculously transcends nature and natural law; but, by the creationists’ argument, God’s supernatural power is incorporated into nature, subordinated to natural laws, and made part of the natural processes. This blurs the line between God’s transcendence and His immanence, and destroys the very concept of the miraculous. Was Christ’s birth miraculous?Every birth is miraculous. Was Christ conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit?Every child is conceived by such power, as God supernaturally creates the spirit within him.

Creationists overlook the law of propagation, which is everywhere evident, and should be obvious from the Scripture. The natural sense of the Genesis account is that God had made man, and every other creature, as propagative beings, able to multiply after their own kind. Like begets like, as is the way of all living creatures from amoeba to man, and God no longer creates them supernaturally out of nothing. This principle and fact of propagation is such a part of our thinking that we miss the significance. God created at the beginning, but He designed into His creatures the abilities and natures necessary to propagate each species and “fill the earth” without any further supernatural creation by God. This is not to say that God withdraws from His creation and remains aloof, but it simply tells us that God’s original creating was all that was necessary to accomplish His creative purposes. Robert Culver points out the plain reading of the Genesis account.

Supported by the natural sense of the Genesis narrative. The creation of mankind climaxes a narrative wherein every living thing in the waters was to reproduce ‘after their kind.’ In each case no one doubts the whole living creature in each offspring was to be completely the procreated offspring of its parents. Creation first of man, male, then of man, female, comes precisely at the climax of that movement of the narrative, with the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ It would be assumed by anyone who reads on that the same would be the case, notice to the contrary lacking. The same fully ‘after their kind’ in every respect would be assumed to be the case when in obedience to the command to be fruitful, it is said ‘And [connecting with previous narrative] Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain’ (Gen. 4:1 KJV). It is plain Eve was aware that God was the effecting power of the procreation (mediate creation), for she said, ‘I have gotten a man from the LORD’ (KJV). Genesis 5:1-3 carries the plain fact further when it says that God created man (generic, adham) ‘in the likeness of God,’ and that they, male and female, were called man (adham, generic man), and then that ‘When Adam had lived for 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness.’ Should we suppose that what Adam and Eve brought forth was half created de novo by God, utterly apart from their own procreative powers implanted in the first place by their Creator, God? I think not.6

There is in Scripture no separate origin for the spirit and the body, unless we go looking for that with the presupposition that there is. In the beginning, God supernaturally created both Adam’s body and his spirit. Scripture establishes that man, originally created by God, is thereafter a propagative beingand this principle of propagation is “borne out” in proven experience and universally understood. Nothing further is needed to justify the inference that man is propagated as a whole, in all his components. Adam’s spirit and body both came from God’s own creative hand; and since man was thereafter propagative, what justification would we have to introduce a distinction of origins, insisting that only the body is propagatedespecially when the Scripture makes no such distinction?

Ken Hamrick

1 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), p. 176:
2 Ibid., p. 199
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid., p. 201
5 Samuel J. Baird, The First Adam and the Second: The Elohim Revealed in the Creation and Redemption of Man, (Phila.: Parry & McMillan, 1860), p. 370
6 Robert Culver, Systematic Theology, (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2006), p. 278