This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.


Dr. Craig,

I’m curious if we sometimes press this concept too hard: ‘God actively creates every human being.’

So many of the intellectual struggles with God’s sovereignty and human free will (or lack of free will) seem to be based on the concept that God is choosing to create every human being, one by one, knowing many will ultimately be condemned.

Am I missing something obvious in Scripture that would prevent the concept that God simply instructed Adam and Eve (and then Noah) to multiply and fill the earth but he has now fully turned that process over to humanity?

In other words, what if God is allowing the human reproductive process (that he initiated but stepped away from) to continue producing humans based solely on free-will procreation, and then he works their subsequent actions toward his goals?

If this is feasible, would it alleviate the problem of God “choosing to create” someone He knows will reject Him?”

It’s very possible I’m missing something obvious that you can point out for me.

Thank you for your consideration and for all you do!



I appreciate getting a question related to my current work on the Doctrine of Man!

Now obviously everything that exists other than God is created by God in some sense. But you are asking a more pointed question about whether God specially creates each human being or whether he simply lets people procreate as they wish.

I do not think that this is an important question, as you suppose, for the problem of God’s creating people who he knows will reject him and so separate themselves from him forever. That problem is adequately addressed by a Molinist view of divine providence, based on middle knowledge.[1]

But the question does have relevance to the question of the origin of the soul. Given that the Bible teaches the reality of the human soul, the question arises as to where souls come from. Here three sorts of answers present themselves: creationism, traducianism, and emergentism.

The most popular traditional alternative concerning the origin of souls is that God specially creates each individual soul at some point in the course of human development. Given the soul’s distinction from the body, such an answer seems quite instinctive on a theistic worldview. The beginning of each human soul is a special miracle wrought by God. But creationism is confronted with the problem you raise. For on this view, God specially creates every human soul and, hence, every human being. That is not incompatible with people’s freely procreating. But one may feel rather uncomfortable, for example, about developmental biologists’ forcing God’s hand to create souls by endlessly multiplying fertilized embryos through artificial means in laboratories around the world and keeping them in cold storage only to be destroyed later. The creationist might reply that the soul is created only at a later point in fetal development and that, in any case, God’s hand is not being forced by such laboratory events because such experiments are foreseen and therefore allowed by God in his providential plan for humanity. After all, God also creates souls of persons who are conceived as a result of adultery or rape or wanton promiscuity, contrary to his perfect will.[2]

A second view, prima facie attractive in that it avoids a surfeit of divine interventions, is emergentism. Defended by contemporary dualists like Richard Swinburne and William Hasker, this view hypothesizes that when the central nervous system of a living organism reaches a certain level of complexity and organization, both in the evolutionary process and developmentally, a spiritual substance, the soul, emerges into being. In contrast to the creationist, Hasker affirms that “the human mind is produced by the human brain and is not a separate element ‘added to’ the brain from outside.[3] On this view, God is not constantly intervening to create new souls, but they emerge naturally. Unfortunately, Hasker admits, “There is only one major cost involved in the the­ory, but some will find that cost to be pretty steep. The theory requires us to maintain, along with the materialists, that the potentiality for con­scious life and experience really does exist in the nature of matter itself. And at the same time we have to admit … that we have no insight whatever into how this is the case.”[4] Emergent dualism cannot therefore commend itself for its ability to explain the origin of the soul, which is our present concern, and therefore it “must rather commend itself in virtue of its inherent advantages over both materialism and Cartesian dualism [i.e., creationism].”[5] At the end of the day, there is really only one substantial advantage to emergent dualism over creationism: it does not require constant and widespread divine interventions to create conscious organisms. At the same time, as previously indicated, the problem for the creationist should not be exaggerated.

A third view, propounded by the early Church Father Tertullian, is traducianism. It represents a view of the soul’s origin in terms of purely natural, if non-physical, causes and in that respect enjoys the same advantage as emergentism over creationism with its extravagant divine interventions. As its name suggests, traducianism holds that each new soul is in some way generated by the organism’s parents via sexual reproduction. Although Augustine opposed Tertullian’s materialistic traducianism as a “perverse” and “wild idea,” he remained tolerant of a spiritual traducianism (Letter 190.14-15; cf. Letter 166.8), thereby creating an opening in the West for traducian doctrine in opposition to the prevailing creationist view of the soul. Traducians often commended their view as a more plausible explanation than creationism of the corruption of the soul through original sin (see QoW #878). Though repudiated by the medieval scholastic theologians and Reformed theologians,[6] traducianism could not be scripturally disproved and so stubbornly continued to resurface. Still, as Augustine saw, articulating a plausible version of traducianism is a challenge, which perhaps helps to explain its scarcity on the contemporary scene.[7] In contrast to customary emergentism, traducianism emphasizes the role played by the parents in the production of a new soul. J. P. Moreland has sought to articulate a credible version of traducianism by supplementing the strictly physical conditions involved in sexual reproduction with what he calls “soulish potentialities” carried by egg and sperm to produce a new soul. If the soulish potentialities carried by the egg and sperm are spiritual rather than physical in nature, then traducianism further differences itself in that respect from customary emergentist views. Indeed, it seems to foster a natural relationship with creationism: God created initially souls of varying potentialities in the evolutionary history of life, and biological organisms have taken over the responsibility since then. Interestingly, if we adopt the position of Aquinas, we can maintain creationism for human souls but traducianism for animal souls.

So I think you can see, Kyle, that there are a variety of answers to your question and that it is difficult to decide between them!


[1] https://www.reasonablefaith.or...

[2] “Now just as God continues to cooperate regularly and faithfully with laws of nature in general, so God continues faithfully and regularly to create souls when the normal P[hysical] R[eproductive] conditions obtain regardless of the pathway used to reach PR conditions. Thus, if PR conditions obtain via cloning or twinning, God still honors his commitment to why he created those conditions in the first place, namely, to be the body of a soul” (J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 222).

[3] William Hasker, The Emergent Self (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999), p. 189; cf. Richard Swinburne, Are We Bodies or Souls?, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 171 on fetal development.

[4] Hasker, Emergent Self, p. 194.

[5] Hasker, Emergent Self, p. 192.

[6] E.g., Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae 1a.90.2-3; 1a.118.2; John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion I.15.5. Aquinas held that since the merely sensitive soul is not a substance, the souls of animals can be produced by their parents; but a rational soul is subsistent and so must be created immediately by God alone. Thus, Aquinas was a sort of traducian with respect to non-human souls and a creationist with respect to human souls.

[7] Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul, p. 221.