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.

 

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.

kenosis-self-emptying-love-image

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.