Q&A: Did God Create New Species Out of Thin Air?

On the off chance that I ever come to question Christianity, I find it hard to think I would abandon my conviction that a Creator played a role in the origin and design of life. It’s hard to conclude anything else in the face of (1) the scientific challenges facing chemical evolution, and (2) the elegant and sophisticated architecture and operation of biochemical systems—which, in and of itself, powerfully evinces design.

Based on my experience, many scientists are quick to agree with me. They observe no viable explanation for an evolutionary origin of life and the designs of biochemical systems are, indeed, remarkable. Yet, despite these points of agreement, many nontheistic scientists eschew the idea that life stems from a Creator’s handiwork, and they hold out hope for an evolutionary explanation.

Commitment to Methodological Naturalism
No single reason exists for their reluctance. Still, there are a few shared objections. One I often hear arises out of the scientific community’s demand for mechanistic (underlying natural cause) explanations. Their obsession with mechanism stems from their commitment to methodological naturalism—the philosophical position which holds that the only legitimate explanations for the universe and phenomena contained within it must be based on mechanistic, natural processes. Period. Because of this deep-seated commitment, some scientists will not permit any appeals to the supernatural or to agency as part of contemporary science.

To put it another way, according to the tenets of methodological naturalism, every scientific explanation requires a mechanism—if it is to be considered valid. Scientists struggle to accept any explanation sans a mechanism. So, when I (or some other Christian apologist) claim that scientific evidence points to a Creator’s role, say, in the origin and design of biochemical systems, they are quick to ask: “What’s the mechanism God used to create life?”

This query serves as a “gotcha” question. For many scientists, if there is no mechanism, it isn’t a viable scientific explanation. And they have no interest in giving that claim any hearing after that point. They simply dismiss it out of hand.

I’m sympathetic to this concern. An integral part of evaluating any scientific idea is to assess whether or not the mechanism(s) thought to be at play can actually account for the feature(s) or process(es) under consideration. In fact, this is the line of reasoning I used to conclude that chemical evolutionary processes can’t explain the origin of life. So, without a mechanism at work to study, scientists don’t know how they can truly evaluate a claim like the one that posits a Creator engineered the origin of life. Therefore, they have no interest in pursuing the possibility any further—because they don’t know how.

As a case in point, in response to an article I posted on social media in which I presented scientific evidence for a Creator, one of my skeptical Facebook friends, Jim, raised this very issue:

There’s one question that I tried to get [well-known ID advocate] to answer. I know you’re not him and may have different opinions: His theory on the Cambrian explosion implies that new creatures formed out of thin air. Or in other words didn’t have mommies and daddies, which I find very unlikely. I guess if you believe in a creator god anything goes, but I find it highly doubtful that this would be the answer to the Cambrian explosion . . . I guess it’s a god of the gaps explanation which he probably wants to avoid as a “scientist.” Any thoughts?

So, what are my thoughts?

Modes of Divine Action
As I noted, a strong scientific case exists for a Creator who played a role in the origin of life and the design of biochemical systems. (I wrote four books that collectively make the case: Origins of Life, The Cell’s Design, Creating Life in the Lab, and Fit for a Purpose.) The doubts of many in the scientific community notwithstanding, this conclusion stands whether or not we know the mechanism the Creator used to bring about Earth’s first life. This inference is no less valid than the one arrived at by crime scene investigators when they discover a dead body and draw the conclusion that the victim’s death was a homicide, even if they don’t know how or why the murder was committed or who the perpetrator might be. Of course, having the “how” and “why” information strengthens the crime scene detectives’ case. But it’s not needed to conclude that the deceased person was murdered.

In other words, Did God create? and How did God create? are two distinct queries. We can know the answer to the first question without knowing the answer to the second. The mechanism the Creator used to bring about life’s origin is a question about the mode of divine action. We don’t need to know how the Creator effected his creative purposes to know that he did.

It is quite possible that God could have created by “zapping” things into existence. Or, another way to say it is that God could have created through supernatural means. If so, there would be no natural process mechanism(s) to study. It doesn’t make the conclusion that God created any less valid or certain.

But he also could have created through natural processes.

An examination of the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 reveals several distinct verbs employed in the original Hebrew to describe God’s creative acts:

  • bara, which describes God creating supernaturally, originating something that did not previously exist.
  • asah, which describes God creating supernaturally, originating something new from previously existing materials.
  • yatsar, which carries the same connotation as asah.
  • banah, which means to rebuild, to redesign.
  • haya, which implies divine superintendence of a process.
  • desha, which implies origination through a process.

The biblical text indicates that God has created both supernaturally and naturally as he brought the universe into being, transformed the earth to make it suitable for life, and populated our planet with different life-forms throughout life’s history. If God creates through process, then scientists should be able to propose and study mechanisms that drive those processes. And when they do, it is reasonable to think that they should also discover a clear indication of the Creator’s fingerprints in the mechanisms that undergird those processes.

Two Possible Divine Mechanisms
As I’ve considered scientists’ challenge about the need for mechanisms, I recently presented two theistic approaches to the origin-of-life question. These modes make it possible to entertain a role for divine agency while providing the means to investigate the origin-of-life question in a way that conforms to the spirit of the scientific method.1

These two approaches hold the possibility of establishing rapprochement between scientists and those who advocate for some type of creationism. One approach is based on the concept of hypernaturalism and the other stems from a teleologically rich version of chemical and biological evolution called process structuralism.

The concept of hypernaturalism has been proposed by Old Testament scholar Daniel J. Dyke and physicist Hugh Henry.2 Like most scientists, Dyke and Henry eschew the concept of supernaturalism, which they argue has the Creator operating outside the laws of nature. Why would God violate the laws that he put in place to govern the universe when he engages in his creative acts? In contradistinction, while Dyke and Henry leave a place for God occasionally creating supernaturally, they argue that God primarily operates within the laws and phenomena of nature when he creates. God’s work can be recognized because the just-right event happens at the just-right time with the just-right magnitude. The just-right, improbable nature of the outcome of these processes connotes a Creator’s involvement and constitutes a miracle.

With the concept of hypernaturalism in play, the dichotomy between natural process chemical evolution and the reliance on divine agency largely disappears. Instead, the origin of life can be understood to arise via hypernatural processes in which God made use of physicochemical mechanisms to effect life’s origin. In this schema, the origin of life does not arise via the suspension of the laws and processes of nature but through them. Life’s origin is a miracle, but one by which God intervenes within the created laws of nature. Applying hypernaturalism to the origin-of-life scenario makes it possible to find common ground with research scientists who hold to methodological naturalism. By regarding life’s origin as the result of God’s hypernatural action, it’s possible for scientists to investigate the origin-of-life question within the framework of modern-day science, even if life’s emergence is understood to be a “miracle.”

In essence, when origin-of-life researchers perform prebiotic simulation experiments, they operate in a hypernatural way. They control the experimental setup and laboratory conditions to bring about extraordinary circumstances—within the confines of the laws of nature and natural processes—that allow key steps in the pathway to the origin of life to transpire. Could it be that God worked as a divine organic chemist to bring life into existence? It’s intriguing that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures describe humans as made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). If such is the case, then when we create—or when humans step into the laboratory to run a chemical reaction—are we mimicking, though imperfectly, the Creator?

Process Structuralism
According to process structuralism, evolutionary outcomes aren’t shaped by an unguided, undirected historically contingent process under the control of natural selection, which is the way that most evolutionary biologists conceive of the evolutionary process. Instead, evolutionary outcomes are constrained and fundamentally prescribed by the laws of nature.

On this view, physical forces supersede natural selection altogether and shape the development of biochemical and biological systems. Some structuralists go so far as to claim that the basic forms of the natural world—“the types”—are immanent in nature and determined by a set of special natural biological laws, the so-called “laws of form.”

This view of the evolutionary process reintroduces teleology (design, purpose) into biology. When viewed as a historically contingent process, evolution is unguided and undirected. It has no purpose. It has no end goal. On the other hand, if structuralism is valid—as the evidence increasingly suggests—then the evolutionary process proceeds to predetermined ends and teleology perfuses life’s evolutionary history.

One implication that arises if process structuralism accounts for life’s history is that a divine Mind rigged the universe in such a way that biochemical and biological systems are inevitable and intended by the Creator. The outcomes are the only ones that could ever emerge from evolutionary processes because these processes were designed to yield only those creatures God desired. Thinking of the origin-of-life as the result of an evolutionary process that has been rigged at the get-go to arrive at predetermined endpoints allows scientists to study the process, view it mechanistically, and still embrace the conclusion that “God did it.”

Open to Options
When Christian apologists conclude from the scientific evidence that a Creator played a role in the origin, design, and history of life, we have options concerning the mode of divine action. It’s common to perceive that “God did it” means that God “zapped” things into existence. But this perception doesn’t reflect what Scripture teaches. Concluding that “God did it” doesn’t mean that we can’t develop some insight into how God achieved his creative work through mechanistic processes that bear his signature.

God could create (1) supernaturally, (2) hypernaturally, or (3) through a divinely designed process—such as process structuralism—that doesn’t require his direct and immediate intervention. By examining the details surrounding, say, the origin of life, we can discover clues on how God may have achieved his goal, with two of the options undergirded by mechanisms that scientists can investigate.

If a genuine discontinuity in nature characterizes the origin of life, it seems reasonable to conclude tentatively that God created life supernaturally, outside the laws of nature. Toward this end, life’s origin does appear to be discontinuous. First life appears early and suddenly in life’s history and appears to be remarkably complex at its onset.

Still, I hesitate to conclude that God created life supernaturally. Instead, I favor the idea that God created Earth’s first life hypernaturally. Origin-of-life researchers have identified numerous chemical and physical processes that could—in principle—contribute to a chemical evolutionary origin of life. However, I question how these processes could practically generate life on early Earth. Virtually all of the identified processes depend upon exacting laboratory conditions. That is, these processes take place only through human intervention. As a rule, these processes would be unproductive on early Earth, because they require chemically pristine conditions, unrealistically high concentrations of reactants, carefully controlled order of additions, carefully regulated temperature, pH, salinity levels, etc. In effect, decades of work in prebiotic chemistry indicate that the steps necessary for chemical evolution to transform disparate molecules on early Earth into the first cells can occur only if laboratory workers hypernaturally manipulate the laws of physics and chemistry to create highly improbable just-right effects. This conclusion naturally lends itself to speculate that perhaps God created life in the same way.

I’m also open to the possibility that a type of chemical evolutionary version of process structuralism could explain the origin-of-life through an evolutionary process that the Creator rigged to exclusively produce the just-right molecular systems needed for life. Biochemists and origin-of-life investigators have made interesting discoveries that lend support for this idea. (See the articles listed in the Resources section under the heading, The Origin of Life: Anthropic Principle.) This version of chemical evolution is quite distinct from the versions proposed by most origin-of-life scientists. It has God’s fingerprints all over it.

In answer to my skeptical Facebook friend, I don’t know how God created first life on Earth. I’m open to follow the evidence where it leads. But I am confident that God did create life and that it’s possible to investigate how he did it scientifically.



Hypernaturalism: Integrating the Bible and Science” by Hugh Henry and Daniel J. Dyke (article)

Hypernaturalism: The Improbable Reveals God’s Handiwork” by Hugh Henry and Daniel J.  Dyke (article)

A Hypernatural Miracle: Elijah and the Fire from Heaven” by Hugh Henry and Daniel J. Dyke (article)

How Did God Create the First Life on Earth?” by Fazale Rana (article)

Hypernaturalism and the Origin of Life” by Fazale “Fuz” R. Rana, Hugh Henry, and Daniel J. Dyke

Process Structuralism

Just-Right RNA Structure Points to Intentional Design” by Fazale Rana (article)

What If . . . ? Convergence Strengthens the Case for Creation?” by Fazale Rana (article)

The Origin of Life: Earth’s Early Life

What Does the Discovery of Earth’s Oldest Fossils Mean for Evolutionary Models?” by Fazale Rana (article)

LUCA’s Complexity Challenges Evolutionary Origin of Life” by Fazale Rana (article)

The Origin of Life: Unwarranted Researcher Involvement

Prebiotic Chemistry and the Hand of God” by Fazale Rana (article)

The Origin of Life: Anthropic Principle

Have Researchers Developed a Computer Algorithm That Explains the Origin of Life?” by Fazale Rana (article)

Krebs Cycle Origin Brings the Case for Creation Full Circle” by Fazale Rana (article)

Evidence That the Cell’s Metabolism Is Planned” by Fazale Rana (article)

Just-Right RNA Structure Points to Intentional Design” by Fazale Rana (article)

Is the Optimal Set of Protein Amino Acids Purposed by a Mind?” by Fazale Rana (article)


  1. Fazale R. Rana, “Materialistic and Theistic Perspectives on the Origin of Life,” in Science and Faith in Dialogue, Reformed Theology in Africa Series, vol. 10, ed. Frederik van Niekerk and Nico Vorster (Cape Town, South Africa: AOSIS Publishing, 2022), 125–148.
  2. Hugh Henry and Daniel J. Dyke, Hypernaturalism: Integrating the Bible and Science (Chicago: Independently Published, 2018).