Reasons to Believe

Exploring Archetype Design

Darwinian evolution provides a broad framework for scientists to interpret the history of life. Without this organizing principle, scientists would struggle to interpret their data.

This is why RTB’s scholars emphasize that the first step to undermining common descent begins with developing an alternative framework, or testable model, which they have been developing for years. The scientific community will not abandon the evolutionary paradigm without a robust replacement to turn to. As a result, Christians will not make meaningful inroads into the scientific community, either in academia or in evangelism.

The common strategy used by design proponents to argue against Darwinian evolution is to search for a structure’s function. This teleological approach has yielded great success, including a reconsideration of such structures as the inverted retina and socalled junk DNA. That which was once thought to be purposeless, or the result of discarded relics of common descent, is now seen as having meaningful function.

In his article, Fazale Rana outlines another aspect of RTB’s testable creation model. Rana challenges design advocates to go beyond their search for function and to consider an organism’s form as well. Sir Richard Owen’s archetype approach offers an alternative paradigm for understanding the biological record. Rather than showing evidence of common descent, the similar physical structures (homologies) between species reflect a common design existing in the mind of a transcendent Cause.

That said, the theological foundation for Owen’s ideas is thin. Although Owen was a theist, it’s difficult to discern to what degree biblical ideas influenced his thinking. Scholars in his day believed Owen’s idea of the archetype relied heavily on Platonic forms (Owen denied this), which was waning in light of the rise of Modernism. Even so, I think there is room for Christian philosophers to explore potential connections between Owen’s transcendent archetype that exists in the mind of the Creator and the ancient Logos doctrine of the early church. Christian philosopher and apologist Ronald Nash has laid some good groundwork in this area that could be developed by new minds. Nash says that the patterns of particular things (such as body plans or DNA structure) are grounded in the mind of God.

The forms or divine ideas are archetypal forms of created reality. Like Plato, Augustine argues that before an architect builds an edifice, he must first have a model of what he intends to build. Similarly, God had a plan before He created the universe. His creation is patterned or copied after the divine ideas. Therefore, because the divine forms are the exemplary cause of everything that exists, they are the basic foundation of all created reality.1

Rana’s efforts to reexamine Owen’s archetype paradigm offers Christian apologists an opportunity to understand the record of nature from the standpoint of function and form. Both are needed in order to more robustly understand the Creator’s work.

Subjects: General Apologetics

1. Ronald Nash, The Light of the Mind (Lima, OH: Academic Renewal Press, 2003), 6–7.