In this final chapter of my series, theistic evolution and the theology behind it will be explored. When evolution is accepted as the best and most influential model and the creation narratives in Genesis are found to be mythical, where does one go from there? How does this influence your theology?
The first section (this post) will be an introduction to theistic evolution. The next section examines the relationship between science and theology, looking at early acceptance of evolution, different approaches to the issue, and the rejection of evolution. The third post will look at anti-religious evolutionists, and the synthesis of science and theology. The fourth section looks at meaning in the forms of teleology, human uniqueness, and finding meaning. The fifth section inspects the role of God, asking whether evolution is really godless, examining untraditional views of God, and investigating panentheism. The sixth section looks at the problem of suffering, especially the “only way” argument, the place of divine intervention, and God as the suffering God. The seventh section considers ethics as an evolved aspect and as specifically Christian ethics. The eighth section looks at salvation within an evolutionary framework and the eight section contemplates eschatology.
Philosopher Robert Pennock defines theistic evolution as “theists who accept the scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution,” and who, “even though they believe in God,” are frequently “under attack by creationists.” Within the paradigm of evolution, one has to think differently about certain aspects of theology. Celia Deane-Drummond, plant physiologist and theologian, states that “the full range of possibilities inherent in working through the implications of the biological sciences on theology in its broadest sense needs to be taken into account.” The science and implications of evolution simply cannot be ignored by theology. The theory of evolution can open up new possibilities in a number of aspects of theology and these ought to be pursued for the enrichment of the Christian understanding of the world. Jesuit theologian Jack Mahoney asserts the observation of John Durant, which states that the theological issues on the forefront when it comes to evolution are focused on three main concerns: “the interpretation of scripture, the relationship between God and nature in terms of creation and providence, and the status of human beings.” Although these concerns are by no means light, one can be positive about theology in light of the new paradigm that evolution gives us. Christopher Southgate is optimistic about the influence of Darwinism on theology: “In respect of key elements of Christian theology, especially the doctrine of creation, the area of theological anthropology, and the ever-present problem of theodicy, Darwinism provides one of the most important rational elements informing a contemporary hermeneutic.” Michael Ruse echoes the approach of Southgate when he says that “although, like all good science, Darwinism challenges religion, Christianity specifically, it can and should provide a positive and creative stimulus for religious people to think about their faith and move forward in a richer and deeper way.” We cannot ignore evolutionary science, but we should not be afraid of it.
Keith Ward states that “[a]s a theologian I renounce all rights to make any authoritative statements about matters of natural science. … I take it that it is an established fact of science that human beings have descended by a process of mutation and adaptation, from other and simpler forms of organic life over millions of years.” Other theologians are not as accepting of science. Larry Witham, in his 2002 book, Where Darwin Meets the Bible, writes the following about what it entails to accept the theory of evolution:
Evolutionists will only accept a material or natural basis of life and its development. The following propositions must be then accepted: first, there is or has been no supernatural intervention in nature; second, there can be no interruption in the regularity of natural law, that is, no miracles; third, there is no ultimate teleology, that is, design; fourth, there are no preordained “types” in biological life; and, fifth, one must either reject the idea of a God or see no role for him in the origin and development of life. Theistic evolutionists usually do not understand these restrictions; they frequently hold that God is only a first cause who got the universe started. Of course, the pure evolutionist rejects even that.
Robert Pollack states two aspects of the natural process of evolution that can be enriching: “First, we find that all life is related. Second, we find that our lives – every human life – is lived best in relationship with others, and that whether or not two persons think they are related, they are. These two aspects of Natural Design, though they do not relieve us of the burden of mortality, do point us in an unexpectedly liberating way, to a life of meaning.” It’s about relationships between humans and also between our species and all the other species with which we share our home planet. This notion is not alien to the Bible, nor the creation narratives. Simon Conway Morris writes that “we need to re-examine how science reveals unexpected depths to Creation while religion informs us what on earth (literally) we are going to do about it.”
Dean-Drummond, C 2005. Theology and the biological sciences. In: Ford, D F & Muers, R (eds). 2005. The modern theologians: An introduction to Christian theology since 1918. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing: 357-369.
Durant, J (ed). 1985. Darwinism and divinity: Essays on evolution and religious belief. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Mahoney, J. 2011. Christianity in evolution: An exploration. Washington: Georgetown University 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.
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
Zimmerman, P A. 2009. Darwin at 200 and the challenge of intelligent design. CTQ 73: 61-75.