The Teleology of Creation

Many considerations of creation, both religious and scientific,
lack a legitimate sense of the purpose of the created order.

©1998 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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The Teleology of Creation

   The English word "teleology" is derived from two Greek words: telos meaning "end," and logos meaning "word," but linguistically extended to mean "logical considerations of." Teleology therefore pertains to the "logical considerations of the end" of creation. By "end" we do not mean the "termination", "elimination" or "cessation" of creation, although the Greek word telos could have such a meaning, but we are using it in the other sense in which the word was used, to refer to the end-purpose, the end-objective, the end-goal. We are referring to the logical-end rather than the chronological-end.

   Back in the fifth century, Augustine (354-430 AD) proposed to prove God's existence. One of his logical "proofs" was the "teleological argument" for the existence of God, by which he argued that the design of the universe implies a purpose or direction behind it. The universe does not exhibit random chaos and purposelessness. The design of the universe demands a Designer. Despite the fact that it is not possible to "prove God" logically, and the "natural theology" based on such logic and observation does not bring one to a personal knowledge of God, there is still an element of truth in what Augustine presented about the teleology of creation.

   Popular cosmological considerations today often lack any concept of teleology. Consider these adaptations of a verse of Scripture which will demonstrate the illogic of two philosophical systems, naturalism and nihilism, and their absence of teleology.

   Naturalism might explain that "from nature and through nature and unto nature are all things. To nature be the glory forever."

   "From nature," out of nature, ex natura, would be to imply that the derivative source and origin of all things is "nature." That requires "nature" to be before all things, and requires "nature" to be infinite and eternal, to have always existed, to be self-existent. Such a thesis deifies "nature" with a capital "N," usually personifying "Nature" as "Mother Nature."

   "Through nature" might imply that all things became what they are through nature. They evolved into their present forms through natural processes alone. The personified and deified "Nature" made the selections of "natural selection" to allow the fittest and highest forms to survive. "Nature" is thus presented as self-generative and self-actualizing. Such an idea is inherent in the evolutionism that is part of the naturalistic scientism advocated by many today.

   "Unto nature" implies that everything is proceeding toward a continued natural state. Everything recycles. Everything reincarnates. What goes around, comes around. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." The direction and destination of everything is "back to nature."

   "To nature be the glory forever." Having deified "nature" in this ideological system of exclusive naturalism, "nature" is considered as infinite and eternal, forever. The natural product worships its natural source. Nature worship.

   Consider this point. The "unto" is determined by the "out of." The significance is determined by the source. The operation and objective is determined by the origin. The direction and destination is determined by the derivation. If everything starts with an infinite, eternal "nature" operating by natural processes, then it all ends up "back to nature." What is the purpose? What is the objective? Where is the meaning? Exclusive naturalism lacks a telos, an end-goal. Everything just goes around and around monotonously but naturally.

   Consider another adaptation of the Biblical verse, the thesis of nihilism: "From nothing and through nothing and unto nothing are all things. To nothing be the glory forever."

   "From nothing," out of nothing, ex nihilo. This has been the traditional explanation of creative commencement by dualistic theology through the centuries. Since both the Greek preposition ek and the Latin preposition ex have a root meaning of "out of, from within," implying derivative source and origin, this explanation becomes illogical. You do not get something, or anything, or "all things" from nothing. To make sense of the "out of nothing" doctrine, men's thought processes have made the "nothing" into "something" called "nothing." It is still illogical for the derivative source of all things to be "nothing."

   "Through nothing" implies an operational process utilizing nothing. This would be a totally random process of chance circumstances.

   "Unto nothing." Is there no purpose and objective to all things? Is everything purposeless, meaningless, hopeless? Such is the basis of the philosophy of nihilism, which asserts that existence is senseless and useless. It is going nowhere. This is Buddhist ateleology. The ultimate objective in Buddhism is "nothingness," nirvana, the extinguishing of existence in oblivion, the negation of existence.

   "To nothing be the glory forever." Nihilism indicates that there is nothing glorious about this existence. "Stop the reincarnation wheel." "Stop the world; I want to get off!" There is no purpose to continue to exist.

   Notice again, that the source determines the significance, the origin determines the objective, the derivation determines the direction and destiny. If all things are "out of nothing" and "though nothing," then it all ends up meaning nothing, "unto nothing." Nihilism lacks a telos. It is ateleological or antiteleological.

   Now we shall consider the verse as Paul wrote it in Romans 11:36, the creative thesis of Christianity. "For from Him (God) and through Him (God) and unto Him (God) are all things. To Him (God) be the glory forever."

   "From Him," out of God, ek theos, implies that the derivative source and origin of all things is God. The invariant, immutable God, who is self-existent, self-generative, self-sustaining, eternal, infinite, autonomous, independent and non-contingent is the source and origin of all things. The greater can create the lesser. Therefore the Living God could create all lesser forms of living things (Neh. 9:6). The Infinite could create the finite. The Supernatural could create the natural. The Spiritual could create the physical. The invisible Existent One, God, could create visible, as well as invisible, existence lesser than Himself.

   "Through Him," by means of His omnipotence and sovereignty, all the created order is sustained, held together (Col. 1:17). "Though Him" the operational processes of the universe function as constant and dependable order. God is the faithful invariant that allows science to see the dependable design and function of the cosmos, which they call the "laws of nature." Through God, the divine and personal "selector," the natural world has unrolled, evolved, in accord with His purposes. God is the agent through Whom all has developed as it has developed in the universe.

   "Unto Him," implies that the end-objective toward which all things are directed is God. The telos is theos! This is not to say that everything "becomes God." Everything does not turn "into" God, but is directed "unto" God, in terms of its purpose and goal. The teleology of creation, the objective and purpose of creation, is to glorify God. "To Him be the glory forever. Amen."

   Notice again that the beginning determines the end. Etiology determines teleology. Derivation determines direction and destiny. Origin determines operation and objective. Source determines sustenance and significance. What the universe is derived "out of" determines the purpose that it proceeds "unto." The ek determines the eis. If you know where it comes from, you can know where its going.

   A brief history of how Christian theology has emphasized the teleology of creation should be beneficial. We have already noted that Augustine, in the fifth century, proposed the "teleological argument" for God's existence, explaining that "design demands a Designer." Thomas Aquinas amplified the "teleological argument" in his writings. Western schools of philosophy even established an educational discipline in the universities called "teleology," the study of the design and purpose in nature.

   Though there was a dualistic tendency inherent in such teleological arguments for God's existence, the argument of design and purpose remained as one of the major tenets of "natural theology," being the church's "stock-in-trade" explanation of cosmological considerations at least through the nineteenth century. It was in the eighteenth century that William Paley wrote his famous book on Natural Theology, using the teleological argument as a major tenet of his thesis.

   In the nineteenth century, after Charles Darwin wrote his book On The Origin of Species (1859), the major argument in response to Darwin by the theologians, was that "evolutionism" as a theory to explain all natural causes, lacked teleology. The naturalism of evolutionism does not have anything to give it purpose, to explain the direction which it is going, to provide any sense of significance and destiny.

   American theologian, Charles Hodge (1797-1878) explained that in evolutionism the selection of natural causes is "without design, being conducted by unintelligent causes."1 He concluded that "the ateleological explanation of evolution is atheistic."2 Scottish theologian, James Orr (1844-1913), likewise objected to the "antiteleological bias in Darwin's theory."3 P.T. Forsyth (1848-1921), another Scottish theologian, wrote that

"everything turns on the kind of teleology. ...There is nothing in evolution fatal to the great moral and spiritual teleology of Christianity. ...It is not in nature at all that we find nature's end. ...In Jesus Christ we have the final cause of history, and the incarnation of that kingdom which is the only teleology large enough for the whole world."4

   Christian theologians in the half century following Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species, recognized that to overstate evolution in the exclusivistic natural selection premises of evolutionism, was to deny the teleology of God's purposeful selective action. The earliest Christian protagonists against evolutionism saw that the teleological issue was the foremost issue.

   From the second decade of the twentieth century and the popularizing of fundamentalism and creationism, the arguments used by Christians to refute evolutionism have become increasingly less cogent. They have blurred the issue. Instead of using the teleology of God's purpose and design in creation, the evangelical reactions to evolutionism have evolved into a defense of the Bible, a defense of ideological epistemology, and a defense of morality.

   Whereas naturalism or evolutionism is ateleological or antiteleological (having no purpose or contrary to purpose), the popular arguments of fundamentalists and creationists are misteleological or dysteleological (mistaken and distorted as to purpose). In the writings of fundamentalistic creationists the purposes of understanding creation in accord with their interpretations are often explained as (1) the upholding of the absolute, infallibility of the Bible as the "Word of God," (2) the preserving of the Christian belief-system, and (3) the affirmation of moral absolutes of behavior. These religious tenets comprise an invalid, even idolatrous, teleological direction. The purpose of recognizing God in the origin and operation of the universe is not to assert the absoluteness of particular interpretations of the Bible, nor the absoluteness of a particular doctrinal belief-system, nor the absoluteness of a particularly defined morality. Rather, we want to recognize the exclusive absoluteness of God Himself as Creator and Sustainer, allowing no other alleged "absolutes" to be substituted and deified by the absolutism of religion in place of God. We must not allow God's divine purposes for the universe to be substituted and undermined by man's religious purposes.

   The only meaningful explanation of the teleological purpose of creation is that of historic Christianity which recognizes the contingency of creation upon the Creator, and allows for God's purposeful selective actions in the development of the cosmos and the continuing natural processes of the universe. God has acted, and is acting, in the primal origins, the procedural operations and the purposeful objective of the universe. The origin of all created things is "out of God" (ek theos). The operation of all created things is "though God" (dia theos). The objective of all created things is "unto God" (eis theos). To God be the glory forever! (Romans 11:36).

   Therein we discover the purpose, the teleology of creation. "To God be the glory forever!" "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11).

   Misconceptions abound as to God's teleological purpose in creating the world. Most of them are based on the fallacious premise that God had a "need" that was fulfilled by the creation. Variations of this premise include the explanations that (1) God had a "need" for creation to be contingent upon Him, an authority-need or a control-need, a need to "lord it over" something lesser than Himself. (2) God had a "need" for fellowship and socialization with other personal beings. He was lonely, so He created mankind with which to have personal relationships. (3) God had a "need" to express His love. "God is love" (I John 4:8,16), and such unselfish love requires active expression unto others, so He created other personal beings who could be the recipients of His love. (4) God had a "need" to be glorified, a need for ego-satisfaction in expressing Himself and having the created order recognize who He is. All of these explanations make God contingent upon His creation. If there were anything or anyone on whom God's well-being was contingent or dependent, then such would supersede God, for the lesser is usually dependent on the greater. God is uncontingent, complete in Himself, self-sufficient, lacks nothing and has no "needs." A complete and perfect fellowship of love existed in the inter-relations of the Tri-une Godhead, and did not necessitate creation to fulfill such.

   The purpose of God's creating is not based on any necessity or need that God has. He did not create in order that He might be fulfilled, perfected, socialized, or to become functional in expression of His character. Creation was not forced upon Him. He did not have to create. God is absolutely self-determinative. "What His soul desires that He does" (Job 23:13). "He does whatever He pleases" (Psalm 115:1). What He does is always consistent with His perfect character, for He cannot contradict or misrepresent Himself.

   God's character is glorious. He is the absolutely all-glorious One. There is no greater end or objective for God than to manifest Himself, communicate Himself, express Himself. In so doing He is glorified by His all-glorious character expressed through His creation. Acting "out of Himself," ek theos, God acts "for His own sake." "For My own sake, For My own sake, I will act: for how can My name be profaned?" (Isaiah 48:11). There is no ego-centricity in such an expression of His character, for He is merely acting as who He is. There is no self-orientation in God, therefore the expression of His character is not an empty exhibition or show of pride, just a glorious expression of His glorious character.

   God's character is expressed throughout the natural universe. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). He has "displayed His splendor above the heavens" (Psalm 8:1). "The glory of the Lord is revealed" (Isa. 40:5); "the work of His Hands, that He might be glorified" (Isa. 60:21). "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Romans 1:20).

   God's glorious character is expressed in all of creation, but even more particularly in mankind. Man, being the crown of creation, can serve God's purpose in ways that no other part of creation can do. As a personal being, man can express features of God's character behaviorally, which the rest of creation cannot. God intended that His character of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23), might be expressed through the behavior of man. Through Isaiah, God refers to "everyone...whom I have created for My glory" (Isa. 43:7).

   It is important to recognize, though, that the expression of God's glorious character by which He is glorified is never distinct from, detached from, or external of Himself. He is glorified only by the expression of His own glorious character. It is not any alleged self-generated actions or "works" of man that glorify God, but only His action of expressing His own character in the actions of man unto His own glory. "I am the Lord, that is My Name; I will not give My glory to another" (Isa. 42:8). "My glory I will not give to another" (Isa. 48:11). Glorification, the on-going purpose of creation, requires the ontological presence of God, His Being expressing His character.

   By the "singularity" of God's redemptive activity in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have the revelation of the ultimate teleological fulfillment of creation. To remedy the sin consequence of alienation between man and God, Jesus Christ became man in order to take the death consequences so that He might re-impart the ontological presence of divine life in the spirit of man, thereby giving man the provision to fulfill the purpose for which he was created. This Christological re-creative act issues forth in a spiritual "new creation" (Gal. 6:15) as men become "new creatures in Christ" (II Cor. 5:17) by receiving the Spirit of Christ in faith.

   Jesus Christ, "the beginning and the end," telos, (Rev. 21:6; 22:13), personally indwells the Christian with His "divine nature" (II Peter 1:4), the ontological provision for the expression of God's glorious character. The Christian is "created in righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24), "created in Christ Jesus for good works" (Eph. 2:10). Such behavioral expression is always and only the result of man's contingency upon God by the receptivity of faith that allows His character to be expressed in our behavior. Thus we are encouraged to "glorify God in our body" (I Cor. 6:20), and to "do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31).

   Christian worship is the recognition of the "worth-ship" of the worthy and glorious character of God in Christ. We may sing "praises to His glory" (Eph. 1:6,12), but the foremost expression of worship for Christians today is the behavioral lifestyle that evidences the all-glorious character of God unto His glory day-by-day and moment-by-moment.

   The "end," the teleology of creation, gives meaning and purpose to our existence today. As we understand the derivation of creation, we understand the direction and destiny of creation, inclusive of our own created being. Even science is being forced to consider the "why" questions and the "who" questions; the "why" of relativity and design and dependability, and the "who" of an ontological Designer with an "anthropic principle" pointing to the teleology of creation.

   The ultimate ontological and teleological bases of God's creation will only be found in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the "new creation" available by His presence and activity. Creation is derived "out of" God and proceeds "unto" God. The telos for all of creation, and particularly for the Christian is the glorious expression of the character of God. The eternal extension of that expression of glory is experienced by the Christian in the derived immortality from the One "who alone possesses immortality" (I Timothy 6:15).

"To God be the glory forever. Amen!"


1    Hodge, Charles, What is Darwinism? New York: Scribner's. 1874.
2    Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology. Vol. II. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons. 1874. pgs. 15-17.
3    Orr, James, God's Image in Man and its Defacement in the Light of Modern Denials. Grand Rapids:
       Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., pgs. 90-97.
4    Forsyth, P.T., "Some Christian Aspects of Evolution," The London Quarterly Review. October, 1905.
       pgs. 217-219, as quoted by Livingstone, David N., Darwin's Forgotten Defenders. Grand Rapids:
       Wm. B. Eerdmans. 1987. pg. 145.