In discussing creationism, intelligent design theory, and related issues on blog threads and also in some of my scholarly reading (I think I caught a whiff of it in Paul Helm's otherwise very good book on God and time), I have come to the surprising conclusion that too many people think that anything that God does that goes by the name of "creation" has to be different from all other miracles. In particular, there seems to be a pervasive, though sometimes vague, idea that anything called "creation" is subject to some sort of special restrictions, that God always will do it in a certain way or a certain restricted set of ways. (This article, though I haven't read it all, looks like a pretty classic example of the problem.)
For example, sometimes creation is restricted to ex nihilo creation, with the implication being that God creates only ex nihilo and never uses pre-existing materials. Why? Call me naive, but I don't find anywhere in Scripture that this is asserted. To the contrary, Scripture expressly states that God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and formed Eve from Adam's rib.
Maybe that isn't intended to be literal; maybe it is. But prima facie it would seem to argue against any hard and fast prohibition on God's making things in the physical world using pre-existing materials. Scripture, at least, is not at the slightest pains to guard against the alleged mistake of thinking that God would ever create something using pre-existing materials.
Sometimes "creation" is connected with Providence or the continual sustaining of the world plus ex nihilo creation. Nothing else. So, using this set, we can refer to God's making the cosmos out of nothing at the first moment as "creation," and we can refer to God's continual (but invisible), intimate providential connection with the world (whether we are concurrentists, occasionalists, preservationists, or what-not) as "creation."
But the one sort of thing we can't call "creation" is God's forming man out of the dust of the ground! In fact, we have to express a lot of puzzlement about what in the world Scripture could possibly mean by such expressions. Maybe they mean God's invisibly guiding evolution so it looks like man came into existence by natural processes from ape-like ancestors, and then God's silently "ensouling" a pair of ape-like ancestors. Maybe that's what the passage is referring to. But not a situation in which first there's no man there, and then suddenly a man there, sleeping on the ground. That would be so...crude. So the one thing, on this view, that we aren't supposed to think creation could ever look like is what all those Christians through all those centuries very likely thought creation looked like--creatures appearing suddenly on the earth that weren't there before, by miracle, by the word of the Lord.
The first Word is impressive, and we can write theological treatises about it. Light coming out of darkness has all sorts of symbolic meaning. Divine Providence is mysterious and theological. God's just making critters pop into existence is...something we don't want to be associated with anymore. Because reasons.
Funny. Jesus doesn't seem to have been bothered by that sort of worry. He made bread and fish pop into existence out of his hands to feed five thousand people. For real. He made wine (from pre-existing water, no less) where there was no wine before. Poof, voila! Bam! And God made manna appear all over the sands of the desert for His people, morning after morning. (But not on Saturdays.) How crude. Did God make the manna? Should we not even say that God created the manna in some important sense? Why not?
Do I know absolutely and for a fact that no species emerged on this earth by some kind of subtly God-guided semi-evolutionary process? No, I don't know that absolutely for a fact, though I have my layman's scientific doubts as to how widespread any such evolutionary origin of species was.
But there is a gigantic difference between saying that God could have brought species into existence by subtly guided processes and saying that God had to or definitely would have done so only by such subtle processes. Those pushing against Intelligent Design theory constantly conflate these two. One will get a little lecture on how theistic evolution is "compatible" with Christian doctrine, when the real question at issue is whether it is required by some theological considerations, as though all Christians should have believed in naturalistic-looking theistic evolution for almost two thousand years before Darwin was born!
There is absolutely no reason whatsoever, theologically speaking, to think that God wouldn't create creatures on this earth in a sudden way, at different times, miraculously, just like any other miracle, sometimes using some pre-existing matter, sometimes not. There is precisely zero theological restriction that militates against the "crudest" sort of creationism. God could have had this beautiful world all put together as a habitat, with fish in the sea, birds in the air, and other critters wandering about, and then a bunch of dust could have started agitating and bubbling and, when it settled, Adam could have been lying there, miraculously brought into being. And some of the very same atoms that were previously part of the dust could have been incorporated into Adam's physical body by this sudden miracle. And that might have been how God made man. Why not? Theologically speaking, no reason whatsoever. None.
Let me add that this has absolutely nothing to do with a belief in Divine timelessness. That doesn't constrain our options here. A Boethian (one who believes that God is timeless) nonetheless believes that. in terms of human history, there are miracles that happen at particular times. The parting of the Red Sea occurred long after the near-sacrifice of Isaac but long before David's reign, etc. Any view of Divine timelessness that can accommodate all the jillion miracles at different times in the Bible has no extra problem accommodating biological special creation!
The same is true of the doctrine of divine simplicity. If you believe in divine simplicity, this cannot exclude the performance of particular miracles at particular points in time, or you cannot be an orthodox Christian. But if the doctrine of divine simplicity can accommodate manna in the wilderness, water from the rock, and the burning bush (and it'd better be able to), then there is no reason in the world why it cannot accommodate God's making Adam, or hippos, or any other new species, suddenly and miraculously. It is also fairly ridiculous to refuse to call such making "creation," but if you have some sort of weird terminological scruples about calling anything "creation" after the Big Bang, then call it "making." So maybe God made hippos, Adam, and many other things subsequent to the Big Bang. If your doctrine of divine simplicity can't handle that possibility, then you have much bigger problems than intelligent design theory! Much, much bigger. In fact, you've locked yourself into a kind of deism.
I cannot help thinking that everything I have said here would have been perfectly obvious to any educated priest, orthodox clergyman, or layman in the year 1799. I think such Christians would have been completely puzzled at the suggestion that the appearance of the species had to be or had to appear non-miraculous. They would have been astonished at restrictions on divine methods of creation and by confusion over what it could or might mean for God to create man and animals.
So I submit that such confusion is self-evidently the product of a post-Darwinian sensibility. Because people think that Science has told us that all the creatures, including man, appeared to come into existence by natural processes, theology has tagged along and muddied the waters by setting "creation" aside from all the other special, powerful acts of God with which we are familiar from our Bible stories.
Now that neo-Darwinism is coming unraveled at the seams, scientifically speaking, it is sad to see Christians stranded on a theological island and unable to find their way back, finding it incredibly hard even to consider that the creation of creatures and man might just have looked like lots of other miracles look.
I submit that, ironically, we are going to close ourselves to scientific evidence if we take such a pointlessly restrictive theological approach. Christians should not be greeting evidence for God's direct working in creation in the past to bring new types of creatures into being with theological suspicion on the grounds that we wouldn't want to think of God as "a magician with a magic wand" (translation--a God who intervenes). You never know; maybe intervention is pretty much what it looked like. It's what a lot of other miracles looked like. So I suggest that we should eliminate any a priori theological dichotomy between creation and miracles more generally considered and then see, with an unbiased eye, what the evidence points to.
Update: I almost forgot to include this. V.J. Torley has an extensive take-down of Tkacz (whose article I have linked in the first paragraph of this post). If you like take-downs so extensive that there is nothing left but dust at the end (out of which God could create a man), you will love this material by Torley. I couldn't possibly have read it all, but what I have read is devastating. Here is a link to part of it. My favorite part, though, so beautiful that it almost brought tears to my eyes (yes, I have written a fan note to Torley telling him this) was this section, where Torley shows fifteen (!!) places where Tkacz contradicts St. Thomas Aquinas while claiming to speak for Aquinas.