Creation Science Information & Links!

Click for: CSSHS Archive Main Page

Kathy Lynn Hutson


Metaphor has become the Cinderella of literary analysis—a rather dramatic and self-consciously metaphorical summation, perhaps, but nevertheless true in light of metaphor’s increasing dominance in studies ranging from literary criticism to the philosophical realms of epistemology and ontology. This previously unheralded figure of speech has increasingly been recognized as a central element in literature, especially poetry, as reflected in C. Day Lewis’s remark that “metaphor remains the life-principle of poetry, the poet’s chief test and glory.” 1 But what has made the transformation of this Cinderella so “magical” is its rise and dominance as a principle of language and thought. In this broader view, metaphor is used as a synonym for figurative thought processes. Men have long understood and explained newly-perceived objects in terms of previously-known objects. And they have sought consistently for higher truths, the unseen reality, the noumenal, within the framework of the earthly, the seen, the phenomenal. “Metaphor is as ultimate as speech itself,” writes John Middleton Murry, “and speech as ultimate as thought.” 2 Rhetoricians and philosophers alike have begun to uncover the complexity and significance of metaphor as a common but heretofore underestimated element of man’s thought and expression. I.A. Richards has called metaphor the “omnipresent principle of language.” 3 Indeed, poets breathe it; philosophers grudgingly fall back on it: politicians and propagandists abuse it; and the man on the street brandishes it freely, sometimes faultily, and often unknowingly.

What is this universal element of literature and principle of language, the complexity of which is only now being realized? What does this figure of speech say about the mind of man? Is metaphor merely a linguistic mirage, a poetic plaything, or is it a reliable key to acquiring more knowledge of the phenomenal and true knowledge of the noumenal? Is it reasonable that a facet of the art and thought of man so complex could arise as a product of matter, chance selection, and time? The existence of such a rich aspect of human language, of which man himself has largely been unaware, is a testimony to an intelligent and personal Creator. The metaphorical nature of men’s art and thought is an element in the design of the creature called man.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that metaphor, both as an element of literature and as a principle of language and thought, is an evidence from design of the creation model of origins. The method of this study will he to first define metaphor and examine the major views of its nature and purpose. A brief treatment of the creation model and the term “evidence from design” will follow. Finally, metaphor’s role as an evidence from design of the creation model as against the evolution model can be displayed. This portion of the paper will include a presentation of the creation model of the origin of language and metaphor, and will conclude with some practical applications of the results of the study.


Most high school grammar students learn of simile and metaphor as comparison, the former using “like” or “as” in a direct statement of resemblance, and the latter being indirect by virtue of omitting the overt connective. This treatment of metaphor is useful for some purposes, but the term has been both more accurately defined as a figure of speech and more broadly applied as a principle of language and thought.


Metaphor is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a figure of speech in which a name or descriptive term is transferred to some object different from but analogous to that to which it is properly applicable.”4 There are at least three essential parts of metaphor revealed in this definition; two ideas or objects and their analogous relationship when used figuratively. Unfortunately, students of metaphor have not established a standard terminology for these parts of a metaphor, a fact which has produced confusion but which also reflects the variety of their views of the nature of metaphorical expression. A brief survey of these views will be helpful in understanding the complexity of metaphor as a figure of speech and in getting acquainted with its various aspects.

It is traditional to begin with the Poetics of Aristotle as the first writings which deal systematically with metaphor. Of his view, which has been labeled the “analogy view” of metaphor, he writes:

Metaphor by analogy means this: when B is to A as D is to C, then instead of B the poet will say D and B instead of D... For instance old age is to life as evening is to day; so he will call the evening “day’s old age”...and old age he will call “the evening of life” or “life’s setting sun.” 5

Thus, for Aristotle and for writers centuries afterward, metaphor was simply an artistic analogy.

One must then come all the way to the modern period to find a significant development of metaphorical theory. Stephen Brown dealt extensively in the 1920’s with the then-undeveloped theory of metaphor. He defined metaphor “as an attempt to express in terms of experience thoughts lying beyond experience, to express the abstract in terms of the concrete, to express insensuous thought by sensuous terms.”6 Here, Brown describes the element of metaphor which makes more clear in concrete terms what may be unclear in abstract terms. The familiar phrase “no man is an island,” as a kind of negative metaphor, is an example of Brown’s view. The abstract idea that a man is not isolated from the rest of humanity is transferred to the concrete image of an island. In Brown’s terminology “man” is labeled the main idea of the metaphor; “island,” the imported image; and the relationship of the two, the scope of the resemblance.7 To restate the metaphor positively in terms of Aristotle’s analogy view would be to say “man is to humanity what a part of the continent is to the continent as a whole.” Brown’s view expanded the analogy view into an overall scheme of resemblances, which allowed for greater clarity and impact.

Ten years later I.A. Richards coined the term “interaction” as a description of metaphor. “In the simplest formulation,” he states, “when we use a metaphor we have two thoughts of different things active together and supported by a single word or phrase, whose meaning is a resultant of their interaction.” 8 Richards’ work has had great impact on the modern view of metaphor and has been employed by many modern critics and educators. 9 To discuss Richards’ terms it will be useful to use Max Black’s example “man is a wolf.” “Man,” according to Richards, is the tenor of the metaphor; and “wolf,” the vehicle. These are the “two thoughts of different things” which then interact to produce the “resultant meaning.” 10 Richards’ main contribution is that the interaction involved is not between two words, but between thoughts, “a transaction between contexts,” which affects the meaning of both elements. 11

Max Black, a prominent contemporary scholar, has embraced Richards’ interaction theory with some qualifications and useful elaborations. For reasons not suitable to this discussion, Black renamed the tenor the “principal subject” and called the vehicle the “subsidiary subject”; but more importantly, he added the concept of “a system of associated commonplaces.” 12 Black explains that in order to understand the metaphor “man is a wolf,” the reader must know not only the dictionary definition of wolf, but also a whole complex of ideas that are commonly associated with wolves. It is when this system of associated commonplaces surrounding the subsidiary subject (wolf) is applied to the principal subject (man) that the intent of the metaphorical expression is realized. Black also points out that any part of speech can be used metaphorically, a fact which many definitions leave unclear. 13

Another useful contribution made by Black is his categorization of the various views of metaphor. The “comparison view,” according to Black, holds that a metaphor simply presents an underlying comparison or analogy, that it is, in effect, a condensed simile. Aristotle would fit into this category. Brown would be an example of the “substitution view” of metaphor, which holds that the metaphor is used in place of some equivalent literal expression; i.e., Brown’s “concrete” would be substituted for the “abstract.” The third class of metaphor is the “interaction view” which is best defined by Richards’ definition above. Black considers it the comprehensive and superior view, but criticizes Richards for sometimes lapsing into aspects of the comparison view. 14

A central aspect of metaphor which has not yet been emphasized is the disparate nature of the two subjects, “the two different things” of Richards’ definition. In the metaphor above “man,” the principal subject, is categorically different from “wolf,” the subsidiary subject.

This is what Douglas Berggren has called the “semantic transgression” necessary to metaphor. 15 According to Berggren, a metaphor is a bringing together of two subjects from completely different linguistic categories. i.e., an unexpected association. In Aristotle’s example, to associate a man’s life with the progress of a literal day is to cross the semantic boundaries that separate the two. Of course this “semantic transgression,” or “semantic motion,” as Wheelwright has called it, 16 must be recognized as such, or the reader will mistake the metaphor for a literal assertion. Thus, Jack Deere has defined metaphor as “a deliberate transgression of semantic boundaries which is meaningful, but cannot be construed literally.” 17

Some other considerations in understanding metaphor are the broader use of the term and the different kinds of metaphor that have developed. First, metaphor has been used broadly as a term for figurative language as a whole, including simile, personification, metonymy and synechdochc. 18 As such, it has expanded application to figurative thinking, as well as language, which will be discussed later. Second, some broad categories of metaphor are useful in realizing the predominance of metaphor in language. For simplicity, there are three basic kinds: 1) dead, 2) radical or necessary, and 3) poetical. “Dead” metaphor is the name applied to those figures which have been used until the metaphoric nature of their origin is forgotten or not readily recognized by the speaker. 19 An amazing number of words in the English language in regular literal usage are actually dead or dying metaphors, so much so that Michel Breal labeled the average vocabulary a “metaphor museum.” 20 For example, when someone says the “leg of the table” or the “hood of a car” he is seldom conscious, nor is his listener, that the phrases were originally metaphorical and are now considered dead metaphors. Dead metaphors are frequently classed as idioms. Some metaphors are born because there is no literal expression available for their meaning. These have been called “radical” metaphors, or some have suggested “necessary,” because they are truly necessary to express the thought. 21 This kind of metaphor has interesting philosophic implications which will be viewed in section three. Finally, “poetic” metaphor is the title given the most familiar category of metaphor, that which is “the life-principle of poetry.” One can hardly find a poem in which some type of metaphor has not been employed. As Quintillian has asserted, poets may find metaphor valuable for any number of purposes: for explanation (intellectual value), for impact (emotional value), for ornament (aesthetic value), or for all three. 22

To sum up, metaphor can be viewed as a complex element of literature, the definition and influence of which is ever-broadening. In light of this, Max Black’s categorization of the definitions of metaphor into comparison, substitution and interaction views is a useful means to see this development and to relate these views. However, it is not so much necessary in this discussion to decide the relative merits of these definitions and classifications as it is to see them as a development of men’s awareness of the various aspects of the metaphors they use. In other words, theories of metaphor are having to grow to encompass the sophistication of the metaphors in use. This points up the complexity of metaphor simply as a figure of speech, a complexity of which rhetoricians are only now becoming aware. Richards sums this up beautifully.

To improve the theory of metaphor we must take more note of the skill in thought which we possess and are intermittently aware of already. We must translate more of our skill into discussable science. Reflect better upon what we do already so cleverly. 23


As well as being an element in literature, metaphor, as Murry put it, “is as ultimate as speech itself.” Brown speaks of metaphor as “leading us to the very roots of language”; 24 and Richards, as the “omnipresent principle of language.” “A compendium of figurative language,” writes Weller Embler, “would include very nearly all words.” 25 But language is married to thought, and thus Brown can rightfully conclude that a thorough examination of metaphor would constitute an investigation of the very genesis of thought. 26 As seen in the previous section, metaphor is basically analogical, in the sense that it is the “repetition of the same fundamental pattern in two different contexts. 27 By realizing that metaphorical thinking is actually analogical thinking, it becomes more apparent how much of man’s thought, as both rhetoricians and philosophers are discovering, boils down to metaphor. From words describing metaphysical theories and explanations of unseen realities all the way to everyday words for unseen experiences, most are based on analogies with sensory data, the concrete, the phenomenal; they are metaphorical. Wheelwright, whose Metaphor and Reality reveals the over-arching influence of metaphor, has asserted that the basic archetypal symbols of history are extensions of metaphoric activity, and that language and thought are utterly dependent on it. 28 And it is Wheelwright, among rhetoricians, who then peers even further into the philosophical ramifications and concludes that metaphorical or poetic language “partly creates and partly discloses certain hitherto unknown, unguessed aspects of What Is.” 29 The study of What Is, or ontology, has long been a study of metaphysicians and even of a school of metaphysical poets, but these assertions of the dependence of ontology on language constitute a controversial proclamation. Richards states it another way:

Language, well-used, is a completion, and does what the intuition of sensations cannot do. Words are ... the occasion and the means of that growth which is the mind’s endless endeavor to order itself. This is why we have language. … They [T.E. Hulme and others] think the [sensory] image fills in the meaning of the word; it is rather ... the word which brings in the meaning which the image and its original perception lack. 30

And Wheelwright adds, “Semantics and ontology are inseparable; the first is superficial without the second, which in turn is unintelligible without the first.” 31

However, the controversy lies in that there is a simultaneous fear among thinkers of the conclusions which derive from this ontological dependence. Black, in fact, begins one of his books by implying that philosophers consider it a commandment, “Thou shalt not commit metaphor,” and assume that metaphor is incompatible with philosophical conclusions. 32 An interesting note, however, is that language historians have long taught that words or descriptions of intellectual operations have all been taken, by metaphor, from a description of some physical happening, as Richards points out. “Only Jeremy Bentham,” he writes, “as successor to Bacon and Hobbes, insisted upon one inference that might be drawn (from this intellectual dependence upon metaphor); namely, that the mind and all its doings are fictions.” 33 This fear, that there is no ultimate correlation between man’s metaphorical language and reality, between semantics and ontology, between the truth derived from metaphor and the Truth, is best summarized by C. S. Lewis.

I said at the outset that the truth we won by metaphor could not be greater than the truth of the metaphor itself; and we have seen since that all our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor. And thence, I confess, it does follow that if our thinking is ever true, then the metaphors by which we think must have been good metaphors. It does follow that if those original equations, between good and light, or evil and dark, between breath and soul and all the others, were from the beginning arbitrary and fanciful - if there is not, in fact, a kind of psycho-physical parallelism (or more) in the universe - then all our thinking is nonsensical. 34

In addition, then, to the complexity of metaphor as merely a figure of speech, it has figured as the prominent principle of language that makes language a master, rather than a servant, of thought. While rhetoricians, by and large, have understandably embraced this centrality of metaphor because it exalts language, philosophers have been wary of the ontological conclusions it leaves in its wake. Does human language have any true correlation with What Is. the true nature of reality? Is there a “psycho-physical parallelism” in the universe, or are “the mind and all its doings fictions?” The answers to these questions will be discussed in Section III as indicative of the teleological role of metaphor.


Before proceeding further into the implications of metaphor in a discussion of origins, it is necessary to briefly define the creation model and the concept of “evidence from design,” or teleology.


One of the leading creation scientists, Henry Morris. describes a “model” as a conceptual framework, an orderly system of thought, within which one tries to correlate observable data, and even to predict data.” 35 He adds that two models, in this case the creation and the evolution model, can be compared on the basis of which one can better correlate the data. 36

The creation model, as a scientific model, has seven basic characteristics, as described by Morris: 37
1) supernaturalistic
2) externally directed (allowing for catastrophism)
3) completed
4) purposive
5) directional (downward. not upward)
6) irreversible
7) universal

To these he adds that God’s special creation was followed by “processes of conservation” which are designed to maintain the “basic systems” He had created. 38 For this discussion, Morris’s three summary characteristics and their evolution model counterparts will be helpful in organizing a view of language’s relationship to origins. His summary includes:

1) Completed supernatural origin (in contrast to evolution’s continuing naturalism)
2) Net present decrease in complexity (in contrast to evolution’s increase in complexity)
3) Earth history dominated by catastrophism (specific evidences of the “externally directed” aspect of creation in contrast to the self-contained uniformitarianism of the evolution model)39

These three principles can and will be applied to the problems and significance of the metaphoric nature of language.

The question of whether metaphor can then be considered an evidence from design of the creation model requires an understanding also of what constitutes an “evidence from design.” An earlier creation scientist, Paul Zimmerman, and many others, simply state that the complex phenomena of nature are so well-designed that it is more reasonable to presume an intelligent Creator than a slow development guided by chance. 40

Viewing nature as an evidence of intelligent creatorship has a long history among thinkers, both scientist and non-scientist. Its earliest evidences are found in the teleological approach of Aristotle and continue to the modern period in the writings of William Paley (1743-1805), who pointed to the complexity of body organs as surpassing that of man-made precision instruments, the former no more capable of evolving than the latter. 41

However, as presuppositional apologetics points out, the force of the classical view of “evidence from design” works only because the universe is what the Word of God says it is. Evidence from design by itself, therefore, cannot prove the creation model, strictly speaking; it can only illustrate the glory of God in His creation and put pressure on adherents of the evolution model to view the alternative that God’s Word declares the truth in this area and to reconsider their own interpretations

One final note regards the legitimacy of considering metaphor as an element of design at all. Some might object that, as a part of language, metaphor is a creation of man, and thus could no more be an evidence from design than a skyscraper. However, the statement that language and all its parts are the creation of man is itself a presupposition—a presupposition which is not based upon empirical data such as historic records or archeological data, but upon a belief in the evolution model, and is not supported by presently available linguistic data. The creation model’s presupposition is that language is a product of the Creator, a presupposition based on belief in the creation model but supported by historic eyewitness records and undisputed by presently available linguistic data. These assertions will be explained in Section III.

(We will feature the conclusion of this article in the winter issue of the CSSHS Quarterly.)


1 Philip Wheelwright, Metaphor and Reality (Bloomington; Indiana University Press, 1967), p. 67.
2 Ibid., p. 69.
3 I.A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936), p. 92.
4 Oxford English Dictionary.
5 Aristotle, Poetics, 21. 11-14
6 Stephen J. Brown, The World of Imagery (New York: Russell and Russell, 1927), p.33.
7 Ibid., p. 48.
8 Richards, op.cit., p. 93
9 Richards’ terminology appears frequently in modern textbooks, such as the college creative writing text Three Genres by Stephen Minot.
10 Richards, op. cit., p. 96.
11 Ibid., p. 94.
12 Max Black, Models and Metaphors (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 1962), p.44.
13 Ibid., p. 28.
14 Ibid., p. 31.
15 Douglas Charles Berggren, “An Analysis of Metaphorical Meaning and Truth” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 1959), p. 574.
16 Wheelwright, op. cit., p. 71-72.
17 Jack S. Deere, “Metaphor in the Song of Songs” (Th.M thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1975), p.14.
18 Brown, op. cit., p.26 and Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary.
19 Brown (op. cit., p.38) has called this a “fossil metaphor”; Brinkman, and “incarnate metaphor”: and others, “frozen metaphor” (Deere, p. 22)
20 Brown, op. cit., p.38.
21 Max Muller, cited in Brown, p. 19.
22 As cited in Brown, p.58.
23 Richards, op. cit., p. 94.
24 Brown, p. 26.
25 Weller Embler, Metaphor and Meaning (DeLand. FA: Everett/Edwards, Inc., 1966), p. 37.
26 Brown, p.12.
27 Dorothy M. Emmett, The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (London: MacMillan and Co., LTD., 1953) p.6.
28 Wheelwright, p. 127-128.
29 Ibid., p. 51.
30 Richards, p. 130-131.
31 Wheelwright, p.20.
32 Black, p. 25.
33 Richards, p.91.
34 C. S. Lewis, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” The Importance of Language. ed. Max Black (Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Ic., 1962), p. 50.
35 Henry M. Morris, Scientfic Creationism (San Diego, CA: Creation Life Publishers, 1974), p.9.
36 ibid.
37 Ibid., p. II.
38 Ibid.
39 Ibid., p. 12.
40 Paul A. Zimmerman, Darwin, Evolution, and Creation (Concordia Publishing House; St. Louis, MO, 1959). p. 83.
41 Ibid., p.S, 17.
42 Percy Bysshe Shelley, cited in Wheelwright, p.82.

Go to
Go to CSSHS Archives - Main Page