Theistic Evolution Pt. 9 – Salvation & Eschatology

This will be the final chapter in the blog series which began in February 2014. It dragged on longer than it should have since I completely lost motivation to continue with it, but recently decided to get back in the saddle and complete what I had started.

Onwards to salvation and eschatology!

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Salvation

Mark Isaak mentions the views of Heber J Grant and Henry M Morris who argue that without a literal Fall (discussed here), there is no need for redemption and thus no need for Jesus or for Christianity at all. It is reductionist to see the purpose of Christ as simply atoning for original sin. The death and resurrection of Jesus is better seen as, in the words of Jack Mahoney, a “cosmic achievement for humanity” which rescues us from “the evolutionary destiny of individual death.” Karl Rahner makes an important point when he says that the Incarnation is “no fresh attempt on God’s part in which he strives once more to achieve as redeemer in the world what he failed to achieve as creator of it.”  God did not need to fix a botched attempt at making a cosmos with human beings.

There are different views of salvation and Karl E. Peters makes a distinction between what he calls the “linear-dichotomous” and the “systems-relational” views of salvation. The linear-dichotomous view states that salvation means changing one’s ways from one direction to the opposite direction. Peters refers to the example of John Hick where salvation is seen as turning away from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness or God-centeredness. The systems-relational view starts from the premise that human beings are social creatures. Salvation works on a relational level and has “mutually enhancing relationships” expressed as “ever-widening, mutually supportive communities of humans, nature, and God” as its goal (Peters). The goal is reconciliation. This reconciliation is possible with or without a literal Fall event.

Peters writes that “a major event in the evolution of evolution or of the immanence of God as Spirit and Word took place about two thousand years ago.” This major event is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This event is not dependent upon God’s creative action in designing the universe or in intervening in the path of evolution. Rudolph Brun states that from “an orthodox Christian perspective, God’s plan of salvation is executed not by his fine-tuning the Big Bang or intervening to bring forth life or human beings but through the death and resurrection of Jesus.” Peters refers to the words of Gordon Kaufman to illustrate this major event: “this radical love of Jesus was a new and transformative development of the creativity that underlies the evolution of the universe in all its emergent phases.” This love and example of Jesus provides “a new cultural selection criterion for human behaviour” and “the Spirit created new opportunities for mutually supportive relationships not only among a small group of original followers of Jesus but among all peoples” (Peters). This allows people to go beyond themselves and put others first.

Jesus Christ provides a new way of life for this world. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin spoke of an “Omega Point,” where the cosmos is consummated in Jesus Christ. The view of Teilhard de Chardin is conveyed by John Haught as follows:

Christianity, Teilhard is convinced, provides a coherent alternative to materialism’s misreading of evolution. The wellspring of evolution is the incarnation of God in Christ. The God who is coming and who takes flesh in Jesus is the foundation on which the universe leans “as its sole support.” What is really going on in evolution, therefore, is that God is becoming increasingly more incarnate in the world, and the world is “exploding upward into God.” Beneath the surface of nature, about which science speaks analytically and reductively, what is going on is the eternal drama of God’s creativity, descent into the world, and promise of final renewal.

The words of the Apostle Paul come to mind once again, where the whole of creation is groaning in anticipation of the consummation in Christ. Christopher Southgate points to the Orthodox insight of the eucharist as having a cosmic significance: “it is in eucharist that this human freedom is seen at its most characteristic. In the power of the Spirit, the self is offered, utterly, back to God whose Word made possible all selving, and in doing so the self is caught up in the life of the Trinity whose essence is self-giving.” Denis Edwards insists that the Cross is not a necessary outcome of the creation of the universe:

The Cross is an unpredictable and contingent event. Christian theology needs to insist on the contingency of the cross for two reasons. First, the whole Christ-Event is to be seen as a totally gratuitous act of God. And second, the brutal act of crucifying Jesus ought not to be seen as simply the following out of a preordained divine plan, but more as God bringing life out of what was in itself a sinful and destructive act.

It is important to emphasise the choice that was made with regard to the Cross. It was not an inescapable, fixed event that was bound to happen. It was something God chose to do, knowing the horrific act of crucifixion and death.

1504424137_10-excruciating-medical-facts-about-the-crucifixion-of-christ

Eschatology

Southgate states that “[t]he notion of a future hope for the organisms of the planet is likewise one on which Darwinism can make no comment, because Darwinism is an explanation of processes and phenomena, not an account of hopes or values.” Any such notions are beyond the field of evolutionary science and can only be pondered theologically. John Polkinghorne imagines the world of the eschaton as follows:

The “matter” of that resurrected world will be the transformed matter of this dying universe, transmuted by God in his faithful action of cosmic resurrection. It will have new properties, consistent with the end of transience, death, and suffering, because it will be part of a new creation, now no longer standing apart from it(s) Creator as the “other,” and so paying the necessary cost of an evolutionary world’s making of itself, but fully integrated with the divine life through the universal reconciliation brought about by the Cosmic Christ.

The transformed matter will be free from the cost of this world, which includes a great amount of suffering and waste. This is possible through Jesus Christ. Southgate states that because the Christ-event “takes all creaturely experience into the life of God in a new way,” it “thereby makes possible the transformed life of creaturely selves at the eschaton.” The bodily resurrection of Christ is the first hint of this transformed life. Diverse theologians such as John Wesley, Keith Ward, John of the Cross and Paul Tillich believe that animals will also participate in some form of redemption. RJ Russell also agrees that all life on earth will be part of the new creation with the Cosmic Christ. Southgate provides three reasons for considering that animals would also take part in the redeemed creation:

  1. There are a few enigmatic texts in the Bible that point in that direction.
  2. In the Bible, humans are always visualized in the context of creation.
  3. A conviction as to the goodness of God requires it.

Jürgen Moltmann has strong convictions regarding the victims of evolution and their redemption:

Christus evolutor without Christus redemptor is nothing other than a cruel, unfeeling Christus selector, a historical world-judge without compassion for the weak, and a breeder of life uninterested in the victims. … Not even the best of all possible stages of evolution justifies acquiescence in evolution’s victims. … There is therefore no meaningful hope for the future of creation unless “the tears are wiped from every eye.” But they can only be wiped away when the dead are raised, and when the victims of evolution experience justice through the resurrection of nature. Evolution in its ambiguity has no such redemptive efficacy and therefore no salvific significance either. If Christ is to be thought of in conjugation with evolution, he must become evolution’s redeemer.

In his Goshen lectures, Polkinghorne states that “the suffering of prehuman life must not be justified as a ‘means-end’ to humanity. There is no way to justify the notion of the suffering of nature, by claiming that it’s somehow worth it because we got here.” Justifying suffering as a means to the end of the evolution of our species does not address the suffering of our own species, nor that of species having nothing to do with our evolutionary path. Again, the words of Ann Pederson are important: “We must reject universal categories of suffering that wipe out the pain of individuals who suffer.”

Several ideas regarding the immortality of species and individual creatures have been set forth. “Objective immortality” states that all creatures are taken up into the perfect life of God. John Haught states that “somehow every perishing life and every past event is preserved eternally in God.” The question is whether being remembered is enough. Jay McDaniel doubts that this remembrance does justice to the suffering. McDaniel explains that “[t]he problem is not death, it is incompleteness.”

Denis Edward posits four possibilities of immortality:

  1. Universal resurrection, which is the view of Moltmann.
  2. Objective immortality, as described by Haught.
  3. A modification of objective immortality to include subjective existence at the eschaton.
  4. Material inscription, an idea put forth by Ernst Conradie. The history of the cosmos is in some way inscribed in the eschaton, where nothing is lost and that history can be transformed.

I want to insert an excerpt from Christpher Southgate’s 2002 article, God and evolutionary evil: Theodicy in the light of Darwinism, pg 280:

There is an important further dimension to consider. An ongoing process of redemption, inaugurated at the Cross, does not wipe the tears from the eyes of evolution’s myriad past victims. We also need to postulate what Jay McDaniel called “pelican heaven”—that sphere in which those victims are able to fulfil their being:

If the [insurance pelican] chick does continue in some way (after death), and if God is immanent within him as a lure toward fulfilment in that state just as God was immanent before, it becomes imaginable that, in time, the pelican would experience his own fulfilment of needs and interests, his own redemption. The risk taken by God in luring the world into life, which set the stage for pelican life, was then worth it, even for this chick. (McDaniel 1989, 47)

I endorse this insight as to the importance of “pelican heaven”—agreeing with Moltmann that God does not abandon the victims of evolution or merely remember their lives (as Haught says) but offers them recreated life, fulfillment in company with the divine life. (Where I would differ from McDaniel is in seeing this notion of pelican heaven as necessary to postulate because of the teleological character of this creation. Otherwise, the question of why God did not simply create pelican heaven becomes a problem for the theodicist.)

Summary of the Proposal. This proposal of mine, then, mounts a defense of teleological creation using a combination of theological resources:

  • I acknowledge the pain, suffering, death, and extinction that has been intrinsic to the evolution of creation.
  • I affirm God’s co-suffering with every sentient being in creation.
  • I take the Cross to be indicative of this compassion and to inaugurate the transformation of creation.

Edward sees the Holy Spirit as the one who inscribes the history of the cosmos in the divine life and he agrees with McDaniel that redemption for each creature will be “in a form appropriate to that creature. While for some creatures that may be a subjective immortality, for others it may be that of being held in the eternal life of the Trinity and the communion of saints.” Perhaps the most definite answer that can be given regarding the eschaton is, in the words of Thomas Sieger Derr: “hope without details.”

In reaction to and because of being deeply touched by the notion of pelican heaven, I made a photomanipulation:

pelican_heaven_by_theogoth-d5gc59x

Conclusion:

From the various sections in this chapter it is obvious that the theory of evolution has bearing on a great many aspects of theology. Each one of these aspects can be explored in depth and can yield many positive and meaningful contributions to theology. The question regarding suffering is where a religion stands or falls. The views of theistic evolution makes sense of suffering and provides satisfactory answers to the very difficult questions. It does not provide all the answers, but no theology can. As Bram van de Beek states, the Bible does not give us all the answers, but it does illuminate the questions. It is the same with theistic evolution.

 

Sources:

Brun R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown     University Press.

Pederson, A M. 2009. All God’s critters: A feminist reflection on Darwin and species. Word & World 29(1): 47-55.

Peters, K E. 2007. Toward an evolutionary Christian theology. Zygon, 42(1): 49-63.

Russell, R J 2008. Cosmology from alpha to omega: The creative mutual interaction of theology and science. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Southgate, C. 2002. God and evolutionary evil: Theodicy in the light of Darwinism, Zygon 37(4): 801-824.

______2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

 

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Theistic Evolution Pt. 8 – Ethics

In this section ethics in the light of evolution will be explored. The first section looks at the evolved character of ethics and the second section deals with a Christian ethic that is rooted in an understanding of evolution.

 

Evolved Ethics

For Charles Darwin, ethics had evolved in early humanity and had at its roots the positive feelings that individuals have for the good of others and their company. However, an individual may still be controlled by selfish behaviour (something we all have experienced). Altruism can be found in other creatures as well, especially those that live in social groups. One might think of elephants or apes. Inclusive fitness is the term used for acts of altruism that may result in the death of an individual, but which is beneficial for the bigger group of the same species. Natural selection through inclusive fitness is termed kin selection. Bees and ants are good examples of this. Reciprocal altruism refers to instances where one organism or species helping another results in positive gains for the one that helps. Indirect altruism is directed at individuals who cannot repay the altruist, but the reward for such altruism comes from others observing the act of altruism. This kind of altruism is rare in nonhuman creatures and results in a higher social standing for the altruist.

Humans are social creatures, and a kind of morality or altruism that would serve the community would result in the community surviving in the process of natural selection. Humans necessarily had to learn to cooperate in order to survive. Darwin sees the standard of human morality as rising higher and higher and thus including altruisms that have nothing to do with the interests of the group.

Jesuit theologian Jack Mahoney states that “[w]e are entirely the product of divine altruism, the effect of the sheer creative generosity of the Supreme Being.” John Haught states that “[m]orality, then, is both an outcome of natural evolutionary factors and a response to the divine.” Craig Nessan makes the important observation that “[t]he human animal is no longer innocent in its quest for survival. Because now there exists the additional possibility of recognising the other as a self with a claim to survival equal to one’s own. … Animal innocence gives way to human guilt.” With self-consciousness and self-reflection comes the knowledge that one acts selfishly.

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Christian Ethics

There are those who argue that evolution rids the world of ethics and morality. Mark Isaak refers to Arthur Rendle-Short who argues that “[e]volution teaches that people are animals. We should not be surprised when people who are taught evolution start behaving like animals.” Isaak points out that animals behave in many different ways, that “evolution teaches that people behave like humans,” and that even in a Creationist view, human beings are designed like animals. We are made of the same components as animals, we have the same biological processes as animals. Isaak goes on to make an interesting remark about the morality of some creationist proponents by listing several indications of less than moral actions taken by some creationists:

  • Using quotes out of context.
  • Bogus credentials.
  • Fraudulent claims.
  • Repeatedly using claims that have already been refuted (eg. planetary dust infall, Paluxy mantracks) discussed in this post
  • Vilifying their opponents, eg. comparing them to mass murderers.

The Christian religion calls for Christian ethics to be acted out in day-to-day life. It is a way of life, not just a way of belief. Christianity is not only focused on the hereafter, but also on the here and now. Haught states the ethical challenge and a resolution for it clearly in the following passage:

Evolution allows us to realise that human beings are invited to participate in the great work of creation. If we fail to keep this evolutionary perspective alive, our sense of ethical obligation – and for the Christian, the following of Christ – is in danger of being reduced to blind obedience to arbitrary imperatives and divine commands, or perhaps simply to seeking reward in the hereafter. In that case, ethical life becomes, in Teilhard’s own words, a matter of “killing time,” and redemption becomes a matter of “harvesting souls” from a pointless universe. After Darwin, Christian theology can do better than this.

It is not straight forward to develop evolutionary ethics, as Stanley Rice points to an example: “Thomas Henry Huxley said that evolutionary ethics consisted of resisting the violence of evolution; his grandson said that evolutionary ethics consisted of embracing the cooperation that evolution produces”. Because the history of evolution is so varied, there can be views that focus on opposites, such as the views of Huxley and his grandson. Thomas Henry Huxley states the following regarding the struggle for existence and ethics:

The practice of that which is ethically best – what we call goodness or virtue – involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence.

Christopher Southgate adds to the sentiment of Huxley when he states that humans need to cultivate “ethical kenosis,” which is an emptying of the self and putting other humans and creatures above our own selfish aims. The first step is “kenosis of aspiration,” meaning that we won’t aspire too high, to a status which will be detrimental to others. The next step is the “kenosis of appetite,” which basically comes down to not taking more than your share. This second step applies not only to appetites that may take from other people, but also to the exploitation of the natural world. The third step is the “kenosis of acquisitiveness,” which means we shouldn’t hoard up material possessions. A culture that is materialistic and based on consumerism is a good example of a culture that has failed in this regard. These steps of kenosis is only half of the moral imperative that Southgate identifies, the other half is “the desire, on the part of anyone who truly loves, that the other, the beloved, should flourish in his/her/its otherness.”

To see the complete explanation of these three kenotic ethics, see the PDF article God’s Creation Wild and Violent, and Our Care for Other Animals, page 250 (pg 6 of 9).

Keeping in mind the kenotic ethics of Southgate, we can also turn to Arthur Peacocke, who proposes seven roles that humanity should play in its proper relation with the cosmos:

  1. Priest of creation
  2. Symbiont
  3. Interpreter
  4. Prophet
  5. Lover
  6. Trustee and preserver
  7. Co-creator, co-worker, or co-explorer with God the Creator.

Southgate explains the role of priests of creation by saying that we are “the species that offers up creation’s praise to God.” Systematic theologian Philip Hefner defines our status as co-creator as follows: “Human beings are God’s created co-creators whose purpose is to be the agency, acting in freedom, to birth the future that is most wholesome for the nature that has birthed us.” We have a responsibility to act in nature in symbiosis and with love. Our responsibilities as trustees and preservers of the environment do not arise from our Darwinian understanding of it, but “out of our sense of the value of God’s creatures.”  Because all the earth belongs to God, we ought to look after it. If we claim to love God, we should take care of God’s universe. As human beings, we are stewards of God’s cosmos and Wentzel van Huyssteen refers to the work of Richard Middleton, who envisages the imago Dei as a “prism refracting God’s presence though a multitude of sociocultural responsibilities and activities.” This implies an ethic pertaining to practices that include both interpersonal and ecological spheres. Pope claims that we, as human beings, are “naturally primed to give and receive love,” but that we need training and education in order to extend this love to its full expression, which is to love beyond the circle of family and friends. Loving beyond the circle of family and friends also entails loving beyond the confines of our own species. In the words of Ann Pederson: “We are created through the relationships with all the critters in the world, becoming who we are through our relationships with all the entangled, muddled bodies of this world. Consequently, how we get together and get along with the creatures around us will determine our future well-being.”

Gloria Schaab proposes a model for the role of humanity: “that of the midwife in the process of procreation.” This midwife model encourages us to be attentive to choices that promote healthy growth and to be vigilant against the spread of that which is deleterious to the well-being of creation. The midwife model supports those attitudes towards creation that are nurturing and gentle, which results in treating creation and creatures with respect, working against attitudes that trigger destruction and exploitation of the biosphere. She concludes on the ethical approach by saying: “As Christians grow to contemplate and emulate the God who embraces, permeates, and suffers with both human and cosmic being, action for restoration, transformation, and liberation will extend to not only the abused and violated persons, but also to the abused and violated cosmos itself.” Van de Beek makes the poignant observation that taking in a controlling stance toward the rest of creation is simply another way to promote the self. At this point we converge again with ethical kenosis: taking proper care of the world in which we live is a form of self-emptying and ethical kenosis, where the self is not the primary goal of one’s action.

As conclusion, the words from Mahoney sum up the Christian stance on ethics in light of the evolutionary history:

We can find the defining shape of Christian ethics as a response of whole-hearted generosity in which altruism, agape, and love are synonymous, which can theretofore be seen from an evolutionary point of view as the core ethical attitude to be incalculated and expressed in all human behaviour in an infinite variety of ways, leading individuals into community, or fellowship (koinonia), with the risen Christ. … Altruism is seen, then, as the cosmic, connecting link between the initiative of God, the self-surrender of Christ, and the ethical call to evolving humanity to transcend itself in imitation of both God and Christ and, as the church, to enter into fuller communion with both.

 

The next blog post will look at salvation and eschatology in light of evolution. That will also be the last post in this series which has been quite a journey.

 

Sources:

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Haught, J F. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown     University Press.

Pederson, A M. 2009. All God’s critters: A feminist reflection on Darwin and species. Word & World 29(1): 47-55.

Rice, S A. 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.

Ruse, M. 2000. Can a Darwinian be a Christian? The relationship between science and religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schaab, G L 2006. A procreative paradigm of the creative suffering of the Triune God:     Implications of Arthur Peacocke’s evolutionary theology. Theological Studies 67: 542-      566.

Southgate, C. 2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

Van Huyssteen, J W. 2006. Alone in the world? Human uniqueness in science and theology.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

 

Theistic Evolution Pt. 7 – The Suffering God

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The Suffering God

Platonic formulations insist that God must be unmovable in order to be self-determining and constant. The God of the Bible is a God who is spoken of as being responsive. God grieves, delights, and experiences anger. Alfred Whitehead develops the concept of a “dipolar deity,” which entails that God is affected by the experience of other beings, but that God is also constant as the ground of order and novelty in the universe. Bram van de Beek adds a Christological meaning to God as the ground of all that is by saying that the Logos is the ground of all that is.

Terence Nichols states that Christianity has more resources than other religions to make sense of the suffering in evolutionary history: “theologically, the tragedy, death, and subsequent creative transcendence of evolutionary history is the same pattern that is manifested in the life and death of Jesus: cross, death, and resurrection.” Arthur Peacocke states that “for any concept of God to be morally acceptable and coherent … we can not but tentatively propose that God suffers in, with, and under the creative processes of the world with their costly unfolding in time.” This calls to the mind the passage in Romans 8:19-22 where Paul speaks of the whole of creation groaning as if in labour pains. The suffering of God is an active suffering with all of creation, not a passive suffering, which cannot really be called suffering at all. Here it is imperative to mention what Bram van de Beek also emphatically states: We cannot speak about God as if we have knowledge of the full extent of the mystery of God, but we can speak in symbolic language about how God is revealed primarily through Scripture and secondarily through the world and our experiences.

Gloria Schaab states that in the context of God suffering with the cosmos, one can think of God in terms of female imagery (which is not alien to the Bible), where God nurtures new life within Godself. Elizabeth Johnson continues with the female imagery when she speaks of God as “She Who Is” and describes the creative suffering as “the pain of childbirth … accompanied by a powerful sense of creativity and … joy.” Through the pain and suffering there is joy when things go well. In creativity itself joy is to be found and with the wonders of nature there is also much joy in simply taking in the myriad of forms of life. The labour of creation is an ongoing labour, for the whole process will only be completed in eschatological time, with the new creation in which there will be no suffering. The term Shekhinah (שכינה), which is a feminine form derived from the Hebrew shakan, which means presence, can be used for the divine suffering in the cosmos. It is interesting to note what Schaab shares regarding the history of this term: “Countless tracts from the rabbinic and kabbalist traditions affirm that Shekhinah shares the joys and afflictions of both the community and the individual person of Israel to the extent that the Divine feels the pain of the human.” Thus the idea of God being present and suffering with creation is not just a modern Christian notion.

After Shekinah, Schaab turns to the term Sophia (σοφία), which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew hokmah (חָכְמָה) and the Latin sapientia, meaning “wisdom.” Sophia is a feminine form in all three these languages and although Sophia means “wisdom,” the purview is that of creativity. Wisdom was there since the beginning and delighted in the cosmos and the creatures of the earth, as is written in Prov 8: 27-31. “Nonetheless, the processes through which such creativity is accomplished do not always manifest power, order, and delight. The continuous creativity of the cosmos identified with the immanent creativity of Sophia involves fits and starts, cul-de-sacs and dead ends, trials and error, pain and death” (Schaab). This is also the picture we gain from science. Peacocke notes that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is “’peculiarly consonant’ with that scientific perspective of the cosmos as emergent, that is, ‘of a cosmos in which creativity is ever-present’ through a ‘directing agency’ that leads to the emergence of humanity. In addition to creativity, there is also hope, as the message of Sophia is one of life: “life that endures in the face of suffering, that emerges through the travail of suffering, and that wells up in the midst of suffering through the creative dynamism of Sophia-God.” Schaab identifies three distinctions within the experiential reality of human suffering: sympathetic, empathetic, and protopathetic. When one distinguishes these three modes of suffering within the triune God, human beings can identify their own suffering with the distinctive sufferings of God. For Peacocke, God not only suffers with humans, but also “in, with and under every element of the evolutionary process.”

For Schaab, it is the suffering of God, which “characterizes the Divine as trustworthy and efficacious in the face of the existential reality of suffering in human and nonhuman creation. Such a theology of the suffering triune God does not leave the sufferer with theodicy’s dilemma of whether God can arbitrarily intervene but refuses to do so for some reason known only to God.” Thus God is not seen as the source of suffering, but rather as a co-sufferer. Schaab concludes by saying that “By sharing the suffering of creation, the triune God demonstrates that suffering itself is not redemptive and salvific. Rather, it is the love, creativity, and infinite possibility within the Divine that is redemptive through continuous creativity, unconditional presence, and freely offered grace.”

In process theology, God experiences what happens in the world and lures it towards love, creativity, and fulfillment. Evil results from different entities longing for self-actualization and God allows this, while retaining “their experiences in God’s eternal memory.” One of the biggest questions regarding this train of thought is whether memory is enough. Is it enough to know that everything is contained within the vast memory of God? Southgate goes further and asks what it matters to the suffering creature that God suffers with it. Even if God suffers, that does not take away the suffering of creatures, nor the fact that countless creatures seem to know little else than suffering. Here, the suggestion of Ann Pederson is important: “We must reject universal categories of suffering that wipe out the pain of individuals who suffer.” Southgate states that “[i]t is from the love of the Father for the world, and for the glory of the Son, that other selves gain their existence, beauty, and meaning, that which prevents them from reverting to nothingness.” To “selve” is to be perfectly oneself, not just as a member of a certain species, but also as an individual. This can be seen as creaturely praise of God, which is a concept known from Scripture. In the course of evolution, many creatures never selve. One might think of the turtle hatchlings scrambling to reach the ocean, but instead are pecked up by birds and never even reach the sea. Southgate mentions different states of living creatures in regard to selving:

  • Fulfilled: when the creature is fully being itself, in an ecosystem in which it flourishes.
  • Growing toward fulfillment: the creature still has the possibility to attain fulfillment.
  • Frustrated: the creature is held back from reaching fulfillment. Factors include predation, sickness, old age, and disability.
  • Transcending itself: this happens when the creature transcends itself through some new pattern of behaviour.

seaturtle

 

Sources:

Nichols, T L. 2002. Evolution: Journey or random walk? Zygon 37(1): 193-210.

Schaab, G L 2006. A procreative paradigm of the creative suffering of the Triune God:     Implications of Arthur Peacocke’s evolutionary theology. Theological Studies 67: 542-      566.

Pederson, A M. 2009. All God’s critters: A feminist reflection on Darwin and species. Word & World 29(1): 47-55.

Southgate, C. 2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

 

 

Theistic Evolution Pt. 6 – Suffering, the Only Way, and Divine Intervention

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The Problem of Suffering

Stanley Rice says the following: “Many people thought of the natural world as God’s vast and orderly garden, full of life. Darwin showed the natural world to be violent and full of death.”  Physicist Pascal Roux illustrates the great weight of theodicy, when he says that “[a]mong the questions which beset our age, that of evil in all its forms is perhaps the most painful and sometimes even the most obsessive.” To “interpret any facts which they find morally difficult as results of the fall” is an easy avenue for Christians to take (Christopher Southgate). This is an avenue that brings no solace when faced with the findings of science which prove that suffering, death, disease, and pain were present from the very beginning of life on earth. Southgate states that in light of theological anthropology and the problem of suffering, “Darwinism provides one of the most important rational elements informing a contemporary hermeneutic.”

In light of this, the following sections will explore the following: firstly, the “only way” argument, which states that this world is the only way which God could have made it; secondly, divine intervention; and thirdly, the suffering God, which has already been touched on in the previous section.

The Only Way

According to the view held by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, evil is a secondary effect, a by-product of evolution. William Pollard and Christopher Southgate agree that the randomness and suffering in the natural world is unavoidable. Pollard states that “all must be allowed to result, whether by the wrong human choice or by truly random occurrence, because to allow any to be preventable by pre-determining human choice, would still be to gut the purpose of the Creation.” He goes on to mention a remark made by Rabbi Steinsaltz: “The Lord says, ‘Get me a thinking creature, I don’t care how.” As Southgate states: “I hold that the sort of universe we have, in which complexity emerges in a process governed by thermodynamic necessity and Darwinian natural selection, and therefore by death, pain, predation, and self-assertion, is the only sort of universe that could give rise to the range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures the Earth has produced.” Natural selection would play the role of a natural mechanism to achieve this end. Natural selection is a costly mechanism. Arthur Peacocke asks whether there was not another way to reach the same ends and states that “there are inherent constraints on how even an omnipotent Creator could bring about the existence of a law-like creation that is to be a cosmos not a chaos, and thus an arena for the free action of self-conscious, reproducing complex entities and for the coming of the fecund variety of living organisms whose existence the Creator delights in.” The possibilities are not endless. There are physical constraints that cannot be passed over. Jack Mahoney explains that “God could do no other than accept the intrinsic characteristics of matter once he has decided to create it in the first place,” and quotes Gerard J. Hughes who has a similar view: “[I]n creating anything physical, as we understand that term, God inevitably creates limited, finite things which have the natures they do, rather than different things altogether. A world containing such limited things is a world in which not everything is still possible. To create is inevitably to decide. The laws of physics do not limit God’s power: they are simply a way of describing the limitations of the universe which God has chosen to create.” By creating, God chooses a certain set of constraints to be put into action.

It is not just recently that theologians have grappled with these kinds of questions. Thomas Aquinas wrestled with the same questions regarding suffering and came to a theodicy which speaks about the balance between good and harm: “Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe.” In this view, the good outbalances the harms. This approach is called a good-harm analysis and may be formulated in three ways:

  1. Property-consequence: a consequence of the existence of good is that there is a possibility of it causing harms.
  2. Developmental: the good can only develop through a process that involves harm as either a possibility or necessity.
  3. Constitutive: the existence of a good is inherently and constitutively inseparable from the experience of harm.

With regard to harm caused by people, the property-consequence approach is used most often, whereas with evolutionary theodicies, the developmental approach is used most often. However, suffering is not just as a result of the natural processes, but also arises through human free will. Animals do not have the same capacities as humans do, and cannot exercise the same amount of free will. In spite of their more limited capacities, animals also experience suffering and pay for the cost of living. Conor Cunningham quotes biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who states that: “Death was the consequence of the multicellular condition; pain the price of nervous integration; anxiety the price of consciousness.” In this way the whole of life has its part in the ubiquitous experience known as suffering. Southgate points to a concern raised by Wesley Wildman, which is that heaven would then be the best of all possible worlds, so why did God not create heaven and be done with it? The answer given by Southgate is that “though heaven can eternally preserve those selves, subsisting in suffering-free relationship, it could not give rise to them in the first place. Precisely this kind of universe is needed in order for life to evolve and become what it has become thus far.

Divine Intervention

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Charles Darwin did not see the hand of God in designing creatures, and neither did he see it in events. His explanation of his stance, in a letter to his friend Asa Gray, states that:

One word more on ‘designed laws’ and ‘undesigned results.’ I see a bird which I want for food, take my gun and kill it, I do this designedly. An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe (and I really should like to hear) that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this; I can’t and don’t. If you believe so, do you believe that when a swallow snaps up a gnat that God designed that that particular swallow should snap up that particular gnat at that particular instant? I believe that the man and the gnat are in the same predicament. If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed.

With regard to the immense suffering and pain within the world, theologian and philosopher Austin Farrer poses the question: “Poor limping world, why does not your kind Creator pull the thorn out of your paw?” With regard to the role of chance in the mechanism of evolution, one might see God as:

the master of chance, intervening in a supernatural way, at times of his choosing, to restart, correct, reorientate creation and history when they parted company with his plans. This perspective is still compatible with the emergence of free beings at the heart of creation, but if we push it to extremes, we may end up with the image of a capricious God, and ultimately make creation unintelligible and all human action pointless (Plateaux & Godinot).

Seeing God as the Master of Chance becomes problematic in that it raises serious questions, e.g. why was one person struck by lightning, but another survived? It does make God seem capricious, like an unstable micro manager that might decide to flood a city for no apparent reason. If disasters are not seen as God’s work, the problem still remains as to why God didn’t prevent the disaster or somehow make sure all the people get out safely.  Rudolph Brun states rather unambiguously that:

I cannot agree with any interventions of the Creator into the process of cosmogenesis, not for the origin of human beings, the emergence of life, or even during a few milliseconds at the beginning of the universe, because such supernatural interventions would jeopardize freedom. If God intervened in the creative process, God would also be responsible for not intervening – for accidents, catastrophes, indeed any conceivable evil. If there is manipulation by the Creator at any time during the process of cosmogenesis, then God is to blame for how creation has turned out.

Within theology, there are many different opinions about how God interacts with reality and has interacted in the process of evolution. There are those theologians, like Robert Russell and Nancey Murphy who maintain that God acts at the quantum level, using quantum indeterminacy to steer mutations in a specific direction. Arthur Peacocke sees the action of God as “whole-part constraint” where “the whole constrains the action of the part without violating any natural laws.” Terence L. Nichols proposes “contextual causality” in which that being influenced is the information content by the context of the part being influenced. For him, the ultimate context of the universe is God and the Spirit works by “catalyzing one form of development rather than another” instead of “specifying evolution in all the details”. Theoretical physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne made the following conclusion from the chaos theory: that the processes of the universe are open and thus God can work within them without violating natural laws. Aubrey Moore, Anglo-Catholic priest and one of the first Christian followers of Darwinism, makes the important observation that a theory of God’s occasional intervention implies God’s “ordinary absence.” If God intervenes only occasionally, what is God doing the rest of the time? Why are certain occasions seen as deserving intervention when others are not? Moore goes on to say that “[s]cience has pushed the deist’s God further and further away, and at the moment when it seemed as if he would be thrust out all together, Darwinism appeared, and, under the disguise of a foe, did the work of a friend. … Either God is everywhere present in nature, or he is nowhere.” The observation made by Christopher Southgate is significant here: “…this intervening God inserts modules of complexity into the natural order, but does not seem to intervene to mitigate suffering.” Why, if God can direct evolution, does He/She not direct it in such a way to eliminate the suffering and waste of so many organisms? Why allow something like the ebola virus to evolve? Wesley Wildman seeks to reconcile this apparent dichotomy by arguing that God is the ground of being and can be traced not only in the beauty, but also in the violence of the natural world. Wildman’s God is undeterminable and suffering in nature is “neither evil nor the byproduct of good. It is part of the wellspring of divine creativity in nature, flowing up and out of the abysmal divine depths like molten rock from the yawning mouth of a volcano.” Southgate  rejects Wildman’s option on the ground that God is knowable in Jesus. Bram van de Beek agrees with Southgate when he says that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ is “central” and that all other revelations are orientated around this centre.

The issue of divine intervention comes back to that of the world as an other and God allowing it to be an other, as was touched upon in the section about panentheism. John Haught puts it simply: “genuine love risks allowing plenty of room for the spontaneity of the beloved.” A loved one who is coerced or forced to love is not a real partner in a relationship. If a man keeps his wife chained up in the house so she can’t leave, that isn’t love. She isn’t staying with him because she wants to, she’s staying with him because she has no choice. In the words of Jeffrey Korsmeyer: “God has all the power that a God could have who created a world with creatures who are really free.”

However, there is one event where God did intervene in the natural world, an event in which God stepped “down” into creation. Southgate speaks of the Incarnation as “the event by which God takes this presence and solidarity with creaturely existence to its utmost, and thus ‘takes responsibility’ for all the evil in creation – both the humanly wrought evil and the harms to all creatures.” According to Wolfhart Pannenberg, there is one event that proves that God truly is God and that is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

In the next installment we’ll look at The Suffering God.

 

Sources:

Brun R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Darwin, C. 1989. Autobiography in Darwin, F (ed.), The life and letters of Charles Darwin. Vol I. New York: D Appleton and Company. 25-86.

Durant, J (ed). 1985. Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford:   Basil Blackwell.

Haught, J F. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown     University Press.

Montenat, C, Plateaux, L & Roux, P. (eds) 1985. How to read the world: Creation in evolution. London: SCM Press.

Nichols, T L. 2002. Evolution: Journey or random walk? Zygon 37(1): 193-210.

Peacocke, A. 1985. Biological evolution and Christian theology – Yesterday and today in Durant, J (ed). Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford:   Basil Blackwell. 101-130

Peters, K E. 2007. Toward an evolutionary Christian theology. Zygon, 42(1): 49-63.

Plateaux, L. & Godinot M. 1985. The origin of life in Montenat, C, Plateaux, L & Roux, P. (eds) How to read the world: Creation in evolution. London: SCM Press. 19-36.

Rice, S A. 2007. Encyclopedia of evolution. New York: Facts on File.

Schaab, G L 2006. A procreative paradigm of the creative suffering of the Triune God:     Implications of Arthur Peacocke’s evolutionary theology. Theological Studies 67: 542-      566.

Southgate, C. 2002. God and evolutionary evil: Theodicy in the light of Darwinism, Zygon 37(4): 01-824.

______2008. The groaning of creation: God, evolution, and the problem of evil. London: Westminster John Knox Press.

______2011. Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job: A Christian response to Darwinism, Zygon 46(2): 370-395.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

Theistic Evolution Pt. 5 – The Role of God

In this post the role of God in relation to evolution will be examined. Firstly, the question of evolution as atheistic and godless will be addressed. Secondly, an untraditional view of God is delved into in light of what we have come to know about the universe. Thirdly, the concept of panentheism is explored.

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Atheistic, godless evolution?

Paul Zimmerman states that pure chance has replaced the Creator. From this it may be concluded that, since there is no more need for a creator, then there is no more need for God and that the idea of God can, and perhaps should, be discarded.

Biochemist Thomas Gray counters this view: “Evolutionary explanations of natural history are no more necessarily atheistic than are physical explanations of planetary motions or physical-chemical explanations of atomic and molecular structure.” It is not just the theory of evolution that excludes God as the cause of what it describes. Many other sciences also do not include God in their theories and explanations. Philosopher Robert Pennock brings the argument closer to home with more everyday examples: “It is misleading for creationists to characterise science in general and to define evolution in particular as ‘godless.’ Science is godless in the same way that plumbing is godless. Evolutionary science is no more or less based on a ‘dogmatic philosophy’ of naturalism than are medicine and farming.” Is farming godless because we don’t include God as one of the factors in the growth of crops or because we understand weather phenomena and don’t see it as God micromanaging the weather?

The random chance in evolution is necessary for creativity and regarding the kind chance found in evolution, Pennock explains that “it is not that mutation has no cause (deterministic or indeterministic) but that the cause is not aimed at producing a particular desirable or advantageous result.” Furthermore, this chance is governed by statistical and deterministic laws. Therefore, chance is not completely random. The scientific understanding of chance events are slightly different from the colloquial understanding. Geologist Keith Miller states that “[c]hance or random processes are often seen as antithetical to God’s action. Many people understand “chance” as implying a purposeless, meaningless, and accidental event. However, scientifically, chance events are simply those whose occurrence cannot be predicted based on initial conditions and known natural laws.” Chance occurrences were not caused by the organism itself and the term has more to do with predictability (or in this case, unpredictability) than with causation.

Evolution has not and cannot disprove the existence of God. Science has shown that the creation narratives in Genesis are not factual, but the activity of God within the world is something that has to be thought of theologically and not scientifically. Leaving God out of scientific exploits does not deny the existence of God, but the fields of science are aimed toward that which can be measured, examined, experimented with, and described in concrete ways.

 

An Untraditional God

An evolutionary understanding of the universe calls for a shift from the traditional Christian ideas of God as omnipotent, unchangeable, and unaffected by anything that happens. Theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke inferred several characteristics of the being of God in light of what is known about the cosmos:

  • The presence of unity and diversity points to a God who is both one and “unfathomably rich.”
  • The inherent order and regularity of natural laws points to rationality.
  • The continuous change inherent in the life of the universe means that God is active and ever-creating.
  • The vast diversity suggests a God “at play in the universe who takes joy and delight in creation.”
  • In view of human beings, God “must be at least personal or suprapersonal in nature.”
  • The presence of both natural law and chance suggests that God is the Source of both.
  • Perhaps the most important characteristic with regard to the traditional views of God is that, since chance is unpredictable, God is not unconditionally omnipotent, but self-limited.

These untraditional views of Peacocke find resonance in what is called process theology. John Haught explains process theology as follows:

In reaction to a God considered supreme, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, totally perfect, immutable, and infinite in all the divine attributes, and as such immune to any possibility of change, which was the classical Christian view of God that owed much to Greek reflection as it influenced scholastic philosophy and theology, the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) viewed all of reality as in the process of becoming and in tension between what has been and what could come to be; it envisaged that process as shared in some respects by God too. … It stresses the immanence of God involved in the continuing process of the world and in loving interaction with creatures, as distinct from the divine omnipotence and timeless transcendence and impassability of a traditional Hellenistic deity.

For Peacocke, God can be considered in Being (who God is in Godself) and also in becoming, which is God expressing the divine purpose in the cosmos. God’s self-limitation implies that God is “a vulnerable God who is self-emptying and self-giving in love. …the attributes associated with God in Divine Becoming – self-limitation, vulnerability, and temporality – stand in contrast to classical theology and require a model of God more in keeping with a dynamic worldview” (Schaab). God’s self-limitation is not just in terms of power, but also in terms of knowledge. This self-limitation or self-emptying of God is called kenotic theology, or kenosis, after the text in Philippians 6-7 where Christ is said to have emptied Himself (ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen).

 

Panentheism

Peacocke adopted the model of panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism). Gloria Schaab summarises Peacocke’s definition of panentheism as “the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole of creation, so that every part of creation exists in God, but that God’s Being is more than, and is not exhausted by, creation.” God is greater than creation, yet the cosmos exists within the unity of God. In a panentheistic view, there is no distance between the aspects of God and the relationship of God with the world. Traditional theism sees God as existing in a different place than the world and this implies a sense of detachment.

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Rudolph Brun argues against the panentheist view, his reason being that the biblical revelation regarding God’s relationship with creation states that God is not dependent upon creation. He continues to say that the world cannot exist in God and that God is not immanent in nor transcending over the world, because “God is essentially other.  The relationship between God and creation is not one of immanence or transcendence but of absolute otherness.” He continues to say that the relationship between God and creation is one of “unity in diversity” with the “analogy of love” at the centre. This analogy of love is mutual affirmation and enjoyment of the otherness that exists between God and creation. Here, one can think of the term perichoresis, as mentioned in Reading Genesis 1-3 Pt. 5 – Imago Dei and Conclusion.

Whilst keeping Brun’s concerns in mind, it does seem that panentheism is the best paradigm to use. The otherness of the world is not lost within panentheism and this model deals with suffering with adequate seriousness and concern. Schaab states that this panentheist concept “of a God who is familiar with suffering and who bears cosmic grief challenges a classical theology that envisions God as unrelated, unaffected, and unmoved by creation and its creatures. Nevertheless, it is entirely consistent with a Christian theology of cross and resurrection.” Within this panentheism, God has restricted His/Her omnipotence in order to let the universe truly be an Other. Arthur Peacocke stated poetically how God created the universe as an Other: “There was God. And God was All-That-Was. God’s Love overflowed and God said: ‘Let Other be. And let it have the capacity to become what it might be – and let it explore its potentialities.’ And there was Other in God, a field of energy … and with one intensely hot surge of energy – a hot Big bang – this Other exploded as the universe.”  Schaab explains it as follows: “For Peacocke, the panentheistic paradigm effectively integrates into one cohesive model the evolutionary and quantum insights disclosed through the sciences and the Christian concept of the trinity of God as transcendent, incarnate, and immanent.” Theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist John Cobb also accepts a panentheistic view of God, where God is present in all things, but yet God transcends all things.

In his Hymn of the Universe, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin puts into poetic form the view of panentheism:

Glorious lord Christ: the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, “In truth you are my Lord and my God”.

Nothing, Lord Jesus, can subsist outside of your flesh; so that even those who have been cast out from your love are still, unhappily for them, the beneficiaries of your presence upholding them in existence. All of us, inescapably, exist in you, the universal milieu in which and through which all things live and have their being.

 

And on that note, we end this post.

The next one will return to theodicy, or the question of suffering.

 

Sources:

Brun, R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

de Chardin, P T. 1961. Hymn of the universe. New York: Harper & Row.

Gray, T M. 2003. Biochemistry and evolution. In: Miller, K B (ed). Perspectives on an     evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 256-287.

Haarsma, L. 2003. Does science exclude God? In: Miller, K B. (ed). Perspectives on an    evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans: 72-94.

Haught, J F. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown     University Press.

Miller, K B. (ed.) 2003a. Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids: William B  Eerdmans.

Pennock, R T. 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge:       MIT Press.

Russell, R J. 2003. Special providence and genetic mutation: A new defence of theistic     evolution. In: Miller, K B (ed). Perspectives on an evolving creation. Grand Rapids:        William B. Eerdmans: 335-369.

Schaab, G L 2006. A procreative paradigm of the creative suffering of the Triune God:     Implications of Arthur Peacocke’s evolutionary theology. Theological Studies 67: 542-      566.

______2008. Honoring Arthur Peacocke: 1924-2006. Evolutionary theory and theology: A    mutually illuminative dialogue. Zygon 43(1): 9-18.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

Zimmerman, P A. 2009. Darwin at 200 and the challenge of intelligent design. CTQ 73: 61-75.

Theistic Evolution Pt. 4 – Meaning and Human Uniqueness

This is a longer post, so make yourself comfortable.

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One of the objections against evolution is that if humankind arose from random chance, then life has no meaning. Young earth creationist and engineer Henry Morris states that “If man arose by chance, life would have no purpose or meaning.”

Teleological views of evolution were popular at the beginning of the formulation and investigation of evolution. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck saw evolution as a straight line of development, Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin) saw evolution as moving from simplicity to complexity and eventually culminating in humans, and Herbert Spencer saw evolution and progress as being almost synonymous. Lamarck and Spencer saw the drive for progress as some kind of striving inherent in nature. Charles Darwin also espoused an idea of progress where human beings and especially Victorian humanity was the culmination of the long process of evolution. The agent of progress for Darwin was natural selection.

In modern times such ideas of progress or teleology have been dismissed. In the natural sciences it has been seen that sometimes organisms retrogress, that is, “revert to simplified conditions of specialization.” This retrogression is common among parasites, but also occurs in humans, with regard to our need to ingest vitamin C. Biochemist Jacques Monod stated that one can no longer speak of teleology, but rather teleonomy. This term was coined by evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr. Teleonomy means that although evolution has no goal, “evolutionary biology was concerned with identifying and clarifying the mechanisms underlying the evolutionary process.”  Conor Cunningham offers three possible reasons for the rejection of a view of progress: the first is that such ideas have been co-opted in the past by supporters of political agendas such as eugenics and fascism, the second reason is that the idea has theological connotations, and the third is that it is too difficult to establish the criteria for progress. From a scientific standpoint it is unacceptable to impose a priori ideas of causes and goals upon evolution, but one may, in retrospect, infer a kind of teleology as an a posteriori observation. Niels Gregersen states that “a teleonomy is workable as a highly generalised model saying that all that happens in the history of the universe lies within the possibility space created and selected by God’s creation,” which is a far cry from the imposed a priori concept of teleology.

Palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould used the image of a branching bush to describe the evolutionary process:  the branches spread out to fill available niches and we originated from “a tiny twig on an improbable branch of a contingent limb of a fortunate tree.” For Gould, all evolutionary branches are contingent and if one were to play the tape of evolution again, it would be completely different.  Jacques Monod also argues that humankind is an accident, that our existence is entirely contingent. This is because random chance plays a role in evolution. In disagreement with Gould, another palaeontologist,  Simon Conway Morris argues that, because of convergent evolution, it is likely that evolution would give rise to intelligent beings. When the tape is played again and again, certain trends would be noticed and sentient beings would not be as accidental as Gould thought. Cunningham points out that Gould’s idea presupposes that each step in evolution is dependent and that is not how it works. Simon Conway Morris points out that “the view that evolution is open-ended, without predictabilities and indeterminate in terms of outcomes is negated by the ubiquity of evolutionary convergence … this provides not only a degree of predictability but also more intriguingly points to a deeper structure to life, a metaphorical landscape across which evolution must necessarily navigate.” Convergent evolution is brought into the scenario again. There are many instances of convergent evolution and even intelligence emerged in different species and contexts. As examples, Morris mentions the intelligence of primates, dolphins, and crows. The brain structure in these examples differs greatly, yet they have the same kind of intelligence. Wentzel van Huyssteen states the fact simply: “There are not an unlimited number of ways of doing something. For all its exuberance, the forms of life are restricted and channelled.” Natural selection is constrained by a number of factors, which results in some adaptations being almost inevitable. Alistair McGrath uses the example of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle to illustrate this point. If the Beagle had been lost and Darwin perished before even thinking of natural selection, the theory of evolution would have been discovered by someone else eventually. With regard to replaying the tape of evolution, evolutionary biologist Leigh van Valen states that one should “[p]lay the tape a few more times, though. We see similar melodic elements appearing in each, and the overall structure may be quite similar. … When we take a broader view, the role of contingency diminishes. Look at the tape as a whole. It resembles in some ways a symphony, although its orchestration is internal and caused largely by the interactions of many melodic strands.”

By playing and replaying the figurative tape, a form of relative progress can be deduced. This relative progress can also be construed from the history of evolution. Stuart Kauffman proposed that self-organization is a mechanism of evolution. This would mean that evolution tends to progress from less organized to more organized systems. On average the trend is towards more complex organisms. Although evolution cannot be seen as a teleological process, Rudolph B Brun states that it can be seen as a teleomorphic process: “Teleomorphic processes are oriented toward the generation of increasingly complex patterns the organization of which cannot be predicted.” Increasing complexity does not necessarily imply progress, but the “drive to increase complexity [is] integrating elements into new wholes.” On the basis of the tendency for increased complexity, Brun argues that “the history of the universe is thus neither predetermined (teleological) nor random.”

Cunningham reminds us that an increase in complexity is not without cost and risk: “…such progress involves more intense, acute pain, suffering, and so on. A stone doesn’t cry or scream. This wonderful adventure in mortality is forever accompanied by an increasing potential for destruction: the more sophisticated and refined the limb, the more broken it can become.”

 

Human Uniqueness

Wolfhart Pannenberg reminds us that one cannot really know the purpose of a process as a whole before that process has not been completed. It is too narrow in scope to think that the whole aim of evolution was to produce human beings or other intelligent life forms. Both in Genesis 1 and in the doctrine of the Resurrection it is made clear that the whole cosmos is contained in the scope and yet humankind does hold a special place in the cosmos.

For some, the theory of evolution and especially the evolution of our own species seems to rob humankind from the special place appointed to us in the Bible. Raymond Surburg wrote the following in 1959:

The Biblical account of man’s creation militates against the evolutionary theory which makes of man a primate, an animal, and nothing more. The philosophy of evolution seeks to rob man of his distinctive character by making him nothing more than a highly developed animal. Instead of regarding man as having been created in righteousness and holiness, with the capability of fellowship with God, evolution holds that man’s moral nature evolved from the law of the jungle.

Brun emphasizes that the human species was not put on Earth from outside, but that we “have emerged through the natural creative process from within creation.” Is it really such a terrible thing to be part of the animal kingdom? Southgate states that our relatedness to other organisms should not be seen as a threat, but rather a cause for celebration. We are part of the whole ecological sphere on Earth and we are dependent on many things, e.g. the bacteria in our bodies that help our digestion of food, the plants that photosynthesise oxygen, the organisms we use for food, etc. Cunningham states that finding repulsion in regard to our shared ancestry with other animals has more to do with ontological pride than Darwinism. It has more to do with our low regard of other organisms and “mere” matter. Jane Bennett states that “[t]he problem of meaninglessness arises only if ‘matter’ is conceived as inert, only as long as science deploys materialism whose physics is basically Newtonian. …matter has a liveliness, resilience, unpredictability, or recalcitrance that is itself a source of wonder for us.” When one sees the wonder of all that is, the knowledge that we are part of this great cosmos is not a negative idea, but a positive one. Bram van de Beek observes that it seems to have been a bigger shock that humans became animals than that God became human, as if there is a bigger distance between human and animal than between human and God. It is as if people regarded the difference between the human creature and all other creatures as greater than the difference between God and creatures. Van de Beek also states that we are bound to the cosmos with every fibre in our body and that it is as a human creature, which is a creature that cannot be separated from all other creatures, which God chose to come to Earth as.

We are part of the natural world and this does not destroy the doctrine that human beings were created in the image of God and that this has given humanity a unique place among all other forms of life. Jack Mahoney states that the doctrine doesn’t necessarily depend upon “revelation or on the immediate creation of every individual soul by God, as tradition has explained it.” Pope argues that we can accept that “the evolutionary process generated the development of important and distinctive human capacities, notably to understand and to love, that constitute the natural basis for the affirmation that we are made in God’s image.” We have more developed capacities than other creatures and that already sets us apart. It should be noted that no single capacity should be taken as the definitive capacity of human uniqueness. Darwin’s idea that the difference between human language and animal language is one of degree rather than kind seems to be correct. This is true for other human characteristics as well. John Haught states that “[n]ature is an emergent rather than a strictly vertical hierarchy, but it is nonetheless a hierarchy.” With humanity a new level of consciousness has emerged. In the words of geneticist and evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky: “A new level or dimension has been reached. … The transcendence does not mean that a new force or energy has arrived from nowhere. … No component of the humanum can any longer be denied to animals, although the human constellation of these components certainly can.” Southgate notes that the special significance of the human species is affirmed by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, “that it was as a human that God, in the words of the Gospel of John, took flesh and dwelt among us.”

The evolutionary history of our lineage can serve to add insight into the uniqueness of human beings. From paleoanthropology and archaeology, it has been revealed that our predecessors have “symbolizing minds,” which are linked to spoken language, mental symbols, thinking, feeling, reasoning, imagining, and planning ahead. The emergence of consciousness and symbolic behaviour in our lineage has been linked to the emergence of religious consciousness. Van Huyssteen states that an “imaginative, embodied interpretation of the imago Dei specifically directs us toward recognising that our very human disposition or ability for ultimate religious meaning is deeply imbedded in our species’ symbolic, imaginative behaviour, specifically in religious ritual as that specific embodiment of discourse with God and with one another.” This view of human uniqueness should be holistic. Van Huyssteen states that a “responsible Christian theological perspective on human uniqueness requires a distinct move away from esoteric and overly abstract notions of human uniqueness and a return to embodied notions of humanness where our embodied imagination, sexuality, and moral awareness are directly linked to the fully embodied self-transcendence of believers who are in a relationship with God.”

 

Finding Meaning

One of the biggest issues that creationists have with evolution is that “then the only basis for value, the only source of purpose, the only foundation for meaningfulness would be lost” (Robert Pennock). Social psycholigists Stefan Schulz-Hardt and Dieter Frey suggest three main reasons for the importance and universality of the human quest for meaning:

  1. Meaning gives stability to existence, allowing humans to orientate themselves.
  2. Meaning offers a defense against the threat of meaninglessness.
  3. Meaning can be seen as the subjective response to an objective reality. It is part of the attempts of an individual to align their internal, subjective world to the deeper order of things, which is objective reality.

John Haught, using the analogy of words printed on a page, illustrates the point that one cannot deduct meaning from scientific investigation alone (my emphasis):

Just as a purely chemical analysis of this page cannot possibly detect the influence of the author’s intention in the specific arrangement of words and sentences, so also evolutionary biology and biochemistry could never by themselves discover any possible meaning inscribed in the cosmic story or in life’s unfolding. Meaning or purpose simply cannot show up at the level of scientific analysis. … My point is that every process or set of events can be read at different levels of comprehension, and each reading level leaves out content that others include.

While meaning might be absent when looking at one level, it might be found when one reads on a different level. Mark Isaak states that having a purpose is not dependent upon origins, e.g. the North Star arose by random chance, but people have used it for a purpose for ages. Origins and history are not the only places to seek meaning. Robert Pollack states that there is meaning to be found in free will: “the fact that we find within ourselves the capacity to choose – on any grounds at all, but especially on irrational grounds, against judgement, against data, against survival, against reason, even against death – to learn, remember, teach and act in this way and not another, returns meaningfulness to us.”

Haught provides four aspects in which a Christian theology can find meaning within the process of evolution:

Without in any way contradicting biology, a theology of evolution may take note, first, of the fact that the general drift of life has been in the direction of increasing complexity, consciousness, and freedom. And the movement of evolution toward such outcomes has occurred without any suspension of the set of “grammatical constraints” that go by the name of “natural selection.” Second, theology may attest that in its overall advance, what this drama is about is the liberation of nature from an endless imprisonment in lifeless and mindless determinism. Third, since the God of boundless love revealed in Jesus influences nature by way of attraction rather than force, a Christian theology of evolution may assume that God enlivens and gives meaning to the world not by pushing it forward from the past, but by calling it into the freshness of an always new future. And fourth, the “purpose” of the evolutionary drama consists, at the very minimum, of the intensification of creation’s beauty, a beauty that, to Christian faith, is everlastingly sustained and patterned anew within the life of God.

These four aspects of meaning exemplify the multi-layeredness of the interpretation of reality.

 

Sources:

Brun R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Haught, J F. 2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Isaak, M. 2007. The counter-creationism handbook. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown     University Press.

McGrath, A E. 2009. A fine-tuned universe: The quest for God in science and theology.    Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Morris, S C. 2006. The Boyle lecture 2005: Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18(1): 5-22.

Nichols, T L. 2002. Evolution: Journey or random walk? Zygon 37(1): 193-210.

Pennock, R T. 2002. Tower of Babel: The evidence against the new creationism. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Pollack, R. 2007. “Intelligent Design,” natural design, and the problem of meaning in the natural world. Crosscurrents, 125-135.

Ruse, M. 2006. Darwinism and its discontents. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Southgate, C. 2011. Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job: A Christian response to Darwinism, Zygon 46(2): 370-395.

Van de Beek, B. 2005. Toeval of schlepping? Scheppingstheologie in de context van het modern denken. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.

Van Huyssteen, J W. 2006. Alone in the world? Human uniqueness in science and theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.

Zimmerman, P A. 2009. Darwin at 200 and the challenge of intelligent design. CTQ 73: 61-75.

Theistic Evolution Pt. 3 – The Rejection of Evolution, the Anti-Religious Evolutionists, and the Synthesis of Science and Technology

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During the 19th century it was commonly believed that science would prove that human values and judgements have a deterministic character. It was also believed that human beings are basically determined mechanisms. Evolution seemed to strengthen the deterministic views and thus those who opposed these views were motivated to deny evolution as such. Other popular views that seemed to be supported by evolution were that of racism (specifically European superiority) and eugenics. Those who opposed such ideas were lead to be pitted against the theory of evolution. Evolution was tied up with the advancement of socialism and atheism by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which also resulted in theologians rejecting the whole package. In contemporary times, the conflation of evolution and philosophical materialism adds another reason for creationists and Intelligent Design proponents to reject the theory of evolution.

Jonathan Clatworthy makes the following observations, ending off with an appeal:

After 1859, catastrophists were losing the scientific arguments so they concentrated instead on presenting the Bible as an alternative source of scientific facts. Their successors today look for scientific evidence against evolution, while being committed to their own view of the Bible as a source of scientific facts. Like many sectarians, they often claim that they are the only true Christians and anyone who disagrees with them isn’t a true Christian at all even if they think they are.

Ranged against them are the anti-religious campaigners who take them at their word and treat them as the only true Christians, but reach the opposite conclusion that all religious belief is anti-scientific, anti-rational and based on unjustifiable dogmas.

These two groups are in many ways mirror images of each other. They are both committed to that late 19th century positivism which makes a sharp distinction between facts, known as absolute certainty, and on the other hand, beliefs and faith.

… Finally, these two groups are equally committed to discounting all the religious believers who accept evolution and all the scientists who believe in God.

… We need to reaffirm the value of science not just in order to produce new technologies, but so that we may appreciate and explore the richness of the world around us, how we ought to relate to it, what is the point of all this life, and who if anyone gave us that point.

It is important to see how Clatworthy points out how the two extremes are actually only two side of the same coin. The creationists and the anti-religious evolutionists are the same, except for the fact that they support opposing teams. With regard to the anti-religious campaigners, John Haught makes the interesting observation that they play the role of “cryptotheologians… They may think they are moving beyond theology; but by placing a scientific account in a place previously held by theology, they reveal that they too are still theologians at heart.” Conor Cunningham states that to see religion as a failed attempt at explaining the world is akin to, in the words of Terry Eagleton, “seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for the bus.” They are not the same thing. It’s like comparing apples and pears.

Haught goes on in the same vein to say that:

 If science and theology are supposed to be addressing entirely different sets of questions, it makes no sense that one has defeated the other. … By trading in theology directly for science, many evolutionists today are also making another kind of blunder, the underside of the first. They are assuming that theology has for centuries been nothing more than a primitive attempt to do science in a prescientific age, and that it must now give way to a more reliable kind of science, especially Darwinian biology.  Here again the fundamental assumption is that science and theology are playing the same game, trying to provide information about the natural world, and that modern science has proved to be much better at it than traditional theology. This false assumption, one that Dawkins shares with the literalist creationists he loathes, has been the dominant theme in his well-known fulminations against religion. However, by shoving Darwinian explanations into the same explanatory slot that theology had previously inhabited, Dawkins is still assigning evolutionary science the task of being a worldview or a whole new belief system. He is still playing his game in a theological arena, even if he insists that theologians must be disqualified from appearing there.

Here the creationists and ultra-Darwinists again share a common misconception about theology as being a scientific way to understand the world. Both of these camps can be described as fundamentalist. Cunningham points out that one cannot take a fundamentalist position as the representative of a worldview and that “[t]hinking atheism and thinking religion alike must conduct their various discussions in a manner that leaves the vulgar rants of all modes of fundamentalist thinking behind.” He goes on to say that just as creationists make a caricature of evolution in order to refute it, so atheists set up a caricature of religion. Religion is often seen in very reductionist terms, e.g. As something that was once useful in the evolution of homo sapiens, but which can, and ought to be discarded. Wentzel van Huyssteen states that to see religion simply as a phylogenetic memory, such as the fear of snakes and spiders, is to take a reductionist stance with regard to the human predisposition to religion as well as religious faith itself. To illustrate how science and religion can work together, Cunningham paints a picture of science and religion in terms of lovers:

Such activities of the mind as religion and science can be thought of as lovers – it is their difference that allows for desire while at the same time providing more sense of union. For both converge on the truth, just as both are moved by a desire for the truth. But scientism and religious fundamentalism refuse such enabling difference and produce a world of narcissistic masturbation, for all they see is themselves, so that love for the world is impossible – in fact, there is no world left.

 

Synthesis of Science and Theology

Molecular biologist Kenneth Miller addressed the perceived dichotomy between reason and faith in the following way (my own emphasis added):

I think that faith and reason are both gifts from God. And if God is real, then faith and reason should complement each other rather than be in conflict. Science is the child of reason. Reason has given us the ability to establish the scientific method to investigate the world around us, and to show that the world and the universe in which we live are far vaster and far more complex and infinitely more wonderful, than anyone could have imagined 1,000 or 2,000 years ago.

Does that mean that scientific reason, by taking some of the mystery out of nature, has taken away faith? I don’t think so. I think by revealing a world which is infinitely more complex and infinitely more varied and creative than we had ever believed before, in a way it deepens our faith and our appreciation for the author of that nature, the author of that physical universe. And to people of faith, that author is God.

Instead of being the enemy of faith, science can be enriching and point out new wonders and new understanding. Daniel J Fairbanks, a Latter Day Saints biologist, states the following:

Those who sincerely seek both scientific and spiritual understanding would do well to abandon the dichotomy. Denying the evidence of evolution, including human evolution, is honest only in ignorance. The incredible diversity of life on Earth, the many fossils unearthed, the varied yet similar anatomical features among species, the obvious hierarchical arrangement of life, and the literally millions of ancestral relics in our DNA – all undeniably attest to our common evolutionary origin with the rest of life. … Indeed, we can find wonder, even comfort, in embracing our biological relationship with all living things. As Darwin understood, ‘[T]here is grandeur in this view of life.

Faith does not requires us to turn a blind eye to the evidence for evolution, but rather the opposite. Rudolph B Brun states that the church should be interested in what science can teach us, because “[w]ithout integrating these insights into its teachings, the church cannot proclaim the Christian message in a credible way today.” The credibility and honesty of those who proclaim Christ are at stake. David Bailey concludes that it is not only futile to fight against science, but that it is also unnecessary. There is no real reason to fight against science as if it is the enemy of religion and theology. Christopher Southgate explains that “theories about the origins of religion, or its neurophysical basis, can never evacuate religious faith of its truth claims. Believers do not offer objective, falsifiable scientific evidence for God, and their claim to the authenticity of their experience of divine revelation cannot be falsified by science.” Brun continues in the same line of thought when he states that “[j]ust as there is no saving plan that can be detected by historical research into the life and death of Jesus Christ, so the history of creation told by science cannot document any plan of a creator.” He also points out three contributions made by science that are essential to a deepening of the Christian faith:

  1. The teleomorphic process of evolution is always the same.
  2. Synthesis never destroys.
  3. Evolution works by integrating diversity into unity.

What these three contributions mean to theology is that the “incarnated Word of God creatively transforms nothingness into creation step by step, letting creation become itself” (Brun). This creative transformation elevates the old into the new by means of the grace of God. The grace of God allows the universe to become, to adapt, to be an entity and an other.

The evolutionary history of religion cannot be denied and can also bring new and deeper insight to theology. According to Wentzel van Huyssteen, religion was an important part in evolution, a catalyst in human consciousness. “Put theologically, this could be seen as a hint that responding to God’s calling helped to form the self-consciousness of the modern human, and hence gave rise to an enhanced potential to respond in self-giving love – ultimately for Christians that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”

 

In the next blog post we will look at the search for meaning. Is there a teleology in the process of evolution? Human uniqueness will be explored and the notion of meaning. Does evolution make life meaningless and completely arbitrary or is there still some meaning to be found or made?

 

Sources:

Bailey, D H. 2010. Creationism and intelligent design: Scientific and theological difficulties. Dialogue: A journal of Mormon thought 43(3): 62-81.

Brun R B. 2002. Cosmology, cosmic evolution, and sacramental reality: A Christian         contribution. Zygon 37(1): 175-192.

Cunningham, C. 2010. Darwin’s pious idea: Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans.

Haught, J F. 2009. Theology, evolution, and the human mind: How much can biology explain? Zygon 44(4): 921-931.

______2010. Making sense of evolution: Darwin, God, and the drama of life. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Lacey, A.R. & Proudfoot, M. 2010. The Routledge Dictionary of Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

Peacocke, A. 1985. Biological evolution and Christian theology – Yesterday and today in Durant, J (ed). Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford:   Basil Blackwell. 101-130

Southgate, C. 2011. Re-reading Genesis, John, and Job: A Christian response to Darwinism, Zygon 46(2): 370-395.