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.

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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:

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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. 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. 2 – Science and Theology

In this post we will look at the Christian acceptance of evolution and the different approaches to science and theology.

The history of science and theology and their relationship with each other at times seems to place them at odds with each other. Science and theology are often posed as direct opposites where one has to choose either one or the other. In this post, that relationship will be examined.

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Christian Acceptance of Evolution

Cardinal Newman, who was a contemporary of Darwin, had the following to say regarding Darwin’s theory: “First, is Darwin’s theory against the distinct teaching of the inspired text. For myself … I don’t see that it does contradict it. Second, is it against Theism. … I don’t see how it can be. … If second causes are conceivable at all, an Almighty Agent being supposed, I don’t see why the series should not last for millions of years as well as thousands.” The Anglican Reverend Charles Kingsley was one of those who accepted Darwin’s theory at its arrival.  In the Church of England, Darwin’s theory was assimilated quite readily after the 1860’s. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many liberal Protestants accepted and preached evolution, but, as Jim Moore notes, they “were captivated by an evolutionary and biologistic vision of a progressive social order, a vision that owed more, directly or indirectly, to [Herbert] Spencer’s philosophy than to any other single source.”

It was not only after the publications of Darwin that theologians entertained the thought of a gradual development of the natural world. Augustine of Hippo had the idea that God allows nature to unfold or evolve according to certain rationes seminales, or causal principles, which were placed in creation and would bring forth the potential unfolding in the right time. One could also call them seedlike principles that would, in time, germinate and grow into their full potential. Gregory of Nissa echoed Augustine’s notion of primordial potential.

 

Different Approaches to Science and Theology

The idea of a conflict between science and religion, or faith and reason, only became an issue at the end of the 19th century. In 1874, at the British Association, the Irish physicist John Tyndall claimed that religion had subdued science and that in time, science will provide completely materialistic explanations for everything in the physical world. In 1875 and 1876 respectively, John William Draper (scientist, philosopher, physician, chemist, historian and photographer) and Andrew Dickson White (historian and educator) wrote books that painted Christian history as being opposed to science.  In the time of Darwin, it was understandable to be sceptic of his theory, because genes had not been discovered yet, many fossils were still undiscovered, and the earth was thought to be younger than we now found it to be. Gregor Mendel published his work with pea plants in 1866 and it was rediscovered in 1900.  By 1925 the Mendelian model of genetics was widely accepted. Conor Cunningham states that the so-called clash of science and religion was more a clash of legitimately different opinions and class. He also states that it is “wholly disingenuous to pretend, after the fact, that there was a genuine clash involving the opposition of religion to scientific discovery.”

New Testament scholar Nicholas Thomas Wright identifies four models regarding the relation between science and the Bible:

  1. Concordism, where the Bible has some information that can be harmonised with science.
  2. Substitutionism, where the Bible enjoys priority over science.
  3. Compartmentalism, where the Bible and science are kept apart as two distinct realms of knowledge.
  4. Complementarism, where the Bible and science are complementary.

In the same vein, Jonathan Clatworthy delineates four positions within the science-religion debate. These positions are:

  1. That the Bible is fact and science is mere human theory.
  2. That science is factual and the Bible is sheer belief.
  3. That science is factual about science and the Bible is factual about religion.
  4. That neither science nor religion are able to provide exhaustive facts.

The first three of Clatworthy’s positions have a shared view of positivism when it comes to facts. With positivism one encounters three more views regarding the physical world: materialism, reductionism, and determinism. Materialism states that everything is physical matter or is based upon physical matter. Eliminative materialism is the harsher option, stating that physical matter is all that exists and concepts like mind and spirit are mere illusions. Reductive materialism, which is a more widely held view, states that everything can be reduced to physical matter. Reductionism states that everything can be reduced to atoms and laws of nature. Determinism states that nothing is random or free, but that everything has physical causes.

Karl E. Peters follows the third approach to science and religion, namely, that science is factual about science and the Bible is factual about religion. According to him, science explains how things happen using nonpersonal models. Science seeks knowledge, disregarding the well-being of humans and knowledge is valued for its own sake. Religion, on the other hand, explains how things that really matter happened, focusing on values and ultimate importance. Nonpersonal models are also used, but the dominant model used is personal. Knowledge is sought for the sake of human well-being. Thus there is a difference in how these two disciplines go about explaining things that happen and also in their focus. Science cares only about knowledge. Religion cares about human well-being. Peters argues that the “Word of God represents the underlying laws that govern the evolution of the universe, and the Spirit represents random fluctuations or variations in existing states. When the Spirit ‘blows where it wills’ creating new variations, some new variations are selected to continue in accord with the ever-present Word.” In his view, the Spirit takes the role of random mutations and other changes, where the Word takes over the role of natural selection, favouring certain variations above others.

Probing further into the two realms of science and theology, Gloria Schaab mentions four distinctions or obstacles:

  • Science is concerned with the observable reality and theology is concerned with the unfathomable reality.
  • Science should focus on natural phenomena and theology should focus on supernatural phenomena.
  • Science seeks prediction and control while theology seeks commitment and moral purpose.
  • Each has its own language which makes communication between the two problematic.

Theologian and biochemist Arthur Peacocke brought to light things which science and theology have in common:

  • Both use observation and experience for the claims they make.
  • Both claim to concern reality.
  • Both can refer to their realities, but neither can describe these realities literally and thus both employ imagery, models, metaphors, and analogies.

Theoretical physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne and systematic theologian Michael Welker state that another similarity between science and theology is that both speak of things unseen. One example of the unseen objects spoken of by science is the dark companion of Sirius, known only from its gravitational action on Sirius. Another example is from quantum physics, where particles such as quarks and gluons are inferred, but will never be seen. From the obstacles and similarities it is clear that the relationship between science and theology is one of both continuity and discontinuity. Both scientists and theologians seek a clearer understanding of the reality in question.

Peacocke sought to preserve the integrity of both science and theology and thus saw their relationship as a mutually illuminative one: “Science illuminates the mysteries of creation, thereby deepening and expanding what creation discloses about the Creator. Theology illuminates the mysteries of meaning and existence that lie beyond the scope of scientific exploration.” Theologian and botanist Bram van de Beek continues in the same vein when he says that science is a fruitful source for a richer and deeper understanding of faith. It is important for dialogue that, as Polkinghorne and Welker state, “both sides should demonstrate their advocacy of truth, showing that this is not a simple task, but one that must contend with many vague and simplistic answers offered from both sides.” As a concluding remark, the words of Wentzel van Huyssteen should be heeded: “We are obliged neither to commit to some form of universal rationality nor to plunge into a sea of relativism where many rationalities proliferate.”

 

Sources:

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

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

Mathews, K A. 1996. The new American commentary: Genesis 1-11:26. Volume 1A. Nashville:   Broadman & Holman.

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

Polkinghorne, J & Welker, M (eds). 2000. The end of the world and the ends of God: Science  and theology on eschatology. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International.

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.

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_genetics

Theistic Evolution Pt. 1 – Introduction

evolution

Theistic Evolution

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.

 

Introduction

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.”

 

Sources:

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.

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 4 – The Question of Suffering

This post will look at how creationism and Intelligent Design falls short when it comes to the question of suffering. In my mind, the question of suffering is one of the most fundamental questions in theology.

What makes the creationism and Intelligent Design most problematic in a theological sense is the question of suffering. Within the Christian tradition, there is no place for a kind of demiurge or designer other than God. Thus, the only Creator or Intelligent Designer could be the Christian God. In order for God to create by means of evolution, it follows that God would use “the suffering of very many creatures.” The question then follows: If God can intervene to introduce certain elements of complexity, why could God not intervene in the suffering of a myriad of creatures? The philosopher David Hume was brutally direct in stating the problem: “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?” Michael Ruse makes a similar point:

Many vile afflictions are caused by minor changes at the molecular level. The effects multiply, bringing on lifelong pain and suffering. If the designer is around to make the very complex, why doesn’t he take a little time to repair the simple but broken? Either he cannot, in which case wonders how powerful he really is and if he truly has designed the very complex; or he does not, in which case one wonders about his intentions toward the world of life, including humans. Either way, the designer seems not to be something that can be identified with the Christian God, which is the underlying aim of the Intelligent Design theorists.

Biologist Robert Pollack points out that Intelligent Design reduces the suffering in this world to “but a preamble for a world to come, in which a totally new Intelligent Design will provide all the solace, peace, and love of which nature seems so severely depleted.” This reduction does not provide satisfactory answers to the question of suffering. Pollack goes on to say that this view keeps us from acting to do good in the world:

This is why as an article of faith, ‘intelligent design’ is truly powerful, and deeply troubling. As science, it is meaningless: nothing in nature supports it; nothing in nature demands it; nothing we can do will either prove or disprove it. But as a belief, it distracts us from all acts that we – as individuals but more important as families, faiths, nations, and even as a species – can perform in this world, to diminish the catastrophic consequences of natural disasters and human cruelties.

A famous example of the problem of suffering and Intelligent Design is the ichneumonidae wasps that lay their eggs in a living caterpillar. In South Africa there are four genii of the family Ichneumonidae. Osprynchotus species parasite the nests of other wasp species that build nests with mud. Enicospilus species parasite the larvae of noctuid moths. Gabunia species parasite the larvae of long-horn beetles (family Cerambycidae). Theronia species parasitize the larvae and pupae of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), Coleoptera (beetles), Diptera (flies), Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, and bees), and Neuroptera (lacewings and antlions). Charles Darwin referred to this specific instance of endoparasitism in a letter to his friend Asa Gray: “There seems to be too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars…”

I have been (un)fortunate enough to witness the eruption of parasitic wasp larvae (Apanteles acraea from the family Braconidae) with my own eyes. The wasp larvae eat the caterpillar from the inside until they are ready for pupation, at which moment they eat their way out of the still living caterpillar and begin spinning their cocoons on the surface. I have recently began the hobby of caterpillar rearing, where one rears caterpillars, documenting their life history, and then send the results off to a lepidopterist for research. It is an interesting and mostly rewarding hobby with the added value that it benefits science. A cucullia inaequalis caterpillar that I was busy rearing had been parasited without my knowledge and great was the shock when I checked up on it only to find a large number of writhing wasp larvae that were starting to spin their cocoons on the outside of the caterpillar. Their poor host was alive and not paralysed throughout the entire ordeal. You can view the video here and see a photo album here. After they had spun their cocoons, the caterpillar somehow got itself free from under them and started walking around with gaping holes in its soft body. It died a few hours later.

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The Pteromalus puparum wasps from the family Pteromalidae parasite final instar caterpillars and then live and pupate within the larva and pupal form of the butterfly or moth. The adult wasp then emerges from the pupa via a small exit hole. Parasitism is almost never immediately fatal to the host, because the parasite requires the host to be alive for as long as it is needed. Most parasite species are highly specialised.

The biologist David Hull states that “The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.” This is the kind of God that can be deduced from evolution, which, as Hull describes, is “rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror…” David H Bailey adds to this, pointing out the difficulties of creationism and Intelligent Design when it comes to “the many troublesome features of nature, such as pain, disease, violence, and the millions of species that have become extinct.”

The Catholic biologist Francisco Ayala states that “As floods and drought were a necessary consequence of the fabric of the physical world, predators and parasites, dysfunctions and diseases were a consequence of the evolution of life. They were not a result of deficient or malevolent design.” Ayala also states that “I do not attribute all this misery, cruelty, and destruction to the specific design of the Creator. … I rather see it as a consequence of the clumsy ways of the evolutionary process.” He claims that it will be good for people who have faith to accept natural selection as being responsible for “the design of organisms, as well as for the dysfunctions, oddities, cruelties, and sadism that pervade the world of life.”

 

Conclusion

From the previous sections it can be seen that, theologically speaking, creationism and Intelligent Design has certain pitfalls. The two main pitfalls are dishonesty on the part of God and the problem of suffering, which weighs the heavier of the two. The dubious use of the Bible is also a point of concern and the bad science coupled with bad theology is a pock mark on the face of Christianity.

 

Also See:

10 Astonishing Examples of Bizarre Parasitic Life Cycles

10 Disturbingly Weird Parasites

Parasitism in Forest Ecology

 

And now something light-hearted…

200

 

Sources:

Ayala, F J. 2009. Charles Darwin: Friend or foe? Word & World 29/1, 19-29.

Daintith, J & Martin, E. (eds.) 2010. Oxford dictionary of science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Darwin, F. (ed). 1898. The life and letters of Charles Darwin. Vol I. New York:  D Appleton and Company.

Griffiths, C, Picker, M & Weaving, A. 2004. Field guide to insects of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Nature.

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

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 3 – Unintelligent Design and God of the Gaps

In this post we will look at some “design flaws” in nature. This is really interesting and there are many instances. I will only touch on some of these. At the end I will briefly look at the God of the Gaps argument.

 

Unintelligent Design

Michael Ruse, philosopher of biology, states the problem plainly: “There is far too much wrong with the world – too many instances of malfunction – to think that a designer has been directly involved with making organisms.” Conor Cunningham makes the observation that to equate God with the mechanism of natural selection comes to an immediate problem: “Now, an immediate problem with this was the confusing paths developed by evolution, for they appeared random, and even contradictory. Many of these paths came to a dead end – hence extinction. If a God were involved in this sometime-successful chaos, one might think it to be a rather odd God.” That is the picture seen from a view when one steps back and takes in evolutionary history in general. In the big picture there are many dead ends. When it comes to specific species, there are more specific examples of unintelligent design., which will be discussed below.

There are several instances where the apparent design of organisms does not seem to be very intelligent, even downright dumb or wasteful. One of these examples is the detour taken by the laryngeal nerve in mammals, expressed in its most extended form in the giraffe. This nerve stretches from the brain, loops around the ductus arteriosus (near the heart), and then makes its way back up towards the larynx. In a human being, the detour is several centimetres, but in a fully grown giraffe the detour can be up to over 4.5 metres. Why? What a waste of nerve fibres. There is no functional reason for the detour made by this nerve and as Richard Dawkins writes: “Any intelligent designer would have hived off the laryngeal nerve on its way down, replacing a journey of many meters by one of a few centimetres.”

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Such “design flaws” are evidence for evolution. Robert Pennock explains that “[t]he reason that odd arrangements and makeshift adaptations are evidence for evolution is that these constitute a kind of pattern that is an expected effect of evolutionary processes, which must work at any given moment within the constraints imposed by previous evolutionary development.” Evolution can only work with what it has and thus has no way of working around the detour and making a direct route for the laryngeal nerve. An evolutionary explanation states that in fish the nerves and blood vessels serve gills that are neatly in sequence. With the gradual steps toward mammals, these nerves and blood vessels became stretched as, for example, the neck became longer. There was no way for natural selection to fix the nerve looping over the ductus arteriosus.

laryngealtransition

Another example, which is closer to home, is that of the male human’s vas deferens. The vas deferens is a tube that conveys sperm from the testes to the penis. The starting point and end destination are rather close together, but the vas deferens takes its own detour, looping around the ureter and then descending down to the penis. Ruse explains the detour with an everyday example when he says that “the sperm duct is rather like a garden hose that takes an unneeded loop around a distant tree, on its way from tap to nearby flower bed.” Why would an intelligent designer make such a useless loop? Once again the evolutionary explanation makes sense of the detour: The testes were originally in the abdomen, but descended lower, probably due to temperature issues. The vas deferens got hooked over the ureter and the process of evolution simply kept on lengthening the vas deferens.

vas-deferens-images

David H Bailey adds more examples to the list of human design flaws. Due to our upright stance, humans are prone to back ailments and while most mammals are able to generate their own vitamin C, we have lost the ability. Our sense of smell is poor, because about 30% of the genes related to our sense of smell are made void by accumulated mutations. Even though our eyesight is very good, humans have a blind spot which is caused by the optic nerves that originate at the front of the retina and then travel to the back of the retina. The eyes of molluscs are better “designed” with nerve connections at the back of the retina which results in eliminating the blind spot. Former Dominican priest and evolutionary biologist Francisco J Ayala poses a thought-provoking, yet tongue-in-cheek question: “Did the Designer have a greater love for squids than for humans and, thus, exhibit greater care in designing their eyes than ours?”

738px-evolution_eye_2-svg

In vertebrate eyes, the nerve fibers route before the retina, blocking some light and creating a blind spot where the fibers pass through the retina and out of the eye. In octopus eyes, the nerve fibers route behind the retina, and do not block light or disrupt the retina. In the example, 4 denotes the vertebrate blind spot, which is notably absent in the octopus eye. In both images, 1 denotes the retina and 2 the nerve fibers, including the optic disc (3). (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evolution_eye_2.svg

As conclusion, Bailey writes that “[e]ach of these examples makes perfect sense from evolutionary history, but they are inexplicable as the product of meticulous design by a transcendent Being.” Palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris states that the God of Intelligent Design would not be “encumbered with a customary cliché of bearing a large white beard, but … the very model of scientific efficiency and so don a very large white coat. ID [Intelligent Design] is surely the deist’s option, and one that turns its back not only on the richness and beauty of creation, but also, and as importantly, on its limitless possibilities. It is a theology for control freaks.” At first glance, Intelligent Design seems to bring theology and evolution closer together, but this is a misapprehension.

 

God of the Gaps

god-of-the-gaps

Many creationist and Intelligent Design arguments lead to what is known as the “God of the gaps.” This argument, in short, places the activity and influence of God in the gaps left by science. Basically a “we don’t know, therefore God” stance. For Haught, this type of argument is not only bad theology, but also bad science, as it is to “shrivel what infinitely transcends nature into something small enough for mathematical equations to capture.” Mark Isaak explains that arguments from incredulity (e.g. irreducible complexity) create a God of the gaps. God is used as a convenient excuse and not the ground of all that is. Bailey mentions that it has been called theological suicide, because the gaps get smaller and smaller as scientific knowledge expands. It is indeed a dangerous path for theology to take, because God is pushed more and more to the side and eventually there will be no more room for God in the picture of the universe.

 

Sources:

Ayala, F J. 2009. Charles Darwin: Friend or foe? Word & World 29/1, 19-29.

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

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

Dawkins, R. 2009. The greatest show on earth: The evidence for evolution. London: Bantam Press.

Haught, J F. 2008. God after Darwin: A theology of evolution. Second edition. Boulder:   Westview Press.

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

Theological Problems with Creationism Pt. 1 – General

For the next couple of posts we’ll look at the theological problems raised by the creationist and Intelligent Design views. This one will be a general look at creationism. This is were the theological muscles get flexed after the science and socio-historic criticism has been dealt out. Firstly, we look at criticism of creationism. This includes scientific ignorance, the ludicrous claims made by creationists, the unethical ploys adopted, and the disregard of proper exegesis.

creationist

Robert Cornwall states that taking the Genesis creation accounts literally makes it look like Christianity “has been left behind intellectually.” Conor Cunningham echoes this sentiment when he says that “the advent and rise of creationism and its understanding of the Bible represent a lapse into intellectual barbarism, a complete desertion of the Christian tradition.” St Augustine’s words are just as applicable today as when he wrote them between AD 397 and 400 in Book 11 of his Confessions: “It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.” This scorn of the unbelievers is called irrisio infidelium. Augustine explained the serious ramifications of irrisio infidelium:

The shame is not so much that an ignorant person is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full off falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books.

 

Part of the ignorance found within creationism is the ridiculous claims made to support the creationist stance. Mark Isaak states that “the invalid ‘proofs’ necessary to support antievolution, a global flood, and a young earth have pushed people away from Christianity.” Bram van de Beek agrees that attempting to make science fit with the literal interpretation of the Bible results in pseudoscience. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pseudoscience as “a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.” Pseudoscience is a cause of mockery and may prevent others from taking any Christian claims or communications seriously. Robert T. Pennock provides an example of absurdity invoked to defend the creationist account against evolution: “To defend the scientific plausibility of Noah’s Ark, ICR creation-scientist John Woodmorappe provides a book-length feasibility study and finds himself arguing that Noah solved the problem of animal waste management by training the animals to urinate and defecate upon command as someone held a bucket behind them.” Perhaps the most ridiculous claim was the one made by Accelerated Christian Education, which states that the Loch Ness Monster is proof against evolution (see the Top 5 Lies Taught by Accelerated Christian Education). After some unwanted publicity about the inclusion of Nessie in a science curriculum, Accelerated Christian Education has decided to leave Nessie and a “sea monster” caught by a Japanese fishing trailer out of the new editions. I actually did that science PACE and mostly forgot about it until I read Jonny Scaramanga‘s blog about the lies taught by ACE.

 

loch-ness-monster

In addition to ridiculous claims, sometimes unethical means are utilized to argue for creationism. There are those in the creationist camp that choose to demonize the perceived enemy by arguments such as the following by Henry Morris: “Satan invented the evolutionary concept and is using it as his vehicle to deceive the nations and to turn men away from God.” Robert Cornwall adds an interesting observation: “…the voices that yell the loudest are the most extreme. It is either the militant fundamentalist or the militant secularist… These two extremes agree on one thing: that literalism is the only legitimate religious voice, which means that one must choose between God and evolution.”

 

Besides simply being bad science and at times using unethical arguments, creationism also fails to take the interpretation of Scripture seriously. Christopher Southgate states that “creationism both fails to take science seriously, and uses a very dubious method of interpreting Scripture.” Creationism tends to take a literal stance to Scripture and see the Bible as absolutely inerrant. As Van de Beek states, creationism fails to take into regard the osmosis between context and theology. The stance of inerrancy ignores textual criticism, source criticism, syncretism, and the values of the authors. Basically, the approach used by Biblical literalism does not do the text justice. Isaak lists several examples of factual errors and contradictions in the Bible that shows how the literal, inerrant reading of the Bible does not treat the Bible properly:

  • Lev 11: 6 states rabbits chew the cud.
  • Lev 11: 20-23 speaks of four-legged insects, including grasshoppers as four-legged insects.
  • I Chron 16: 30 and Ps 93: 1 both state that the earth is immobile.
  • In Gen 1, God creates Adam after all the other animals, but in Gen 2, Adam is created before the animals.
  • Matt 1: 16 and Luke 3: 23 differ over the genealogy of Jesus. According to Matthew, the grandfather of Jesus was Jacob, but according to Luke he was Heli.
  • Mark 14: 72 differs from Matt 26: 74-75, Luke 22: 60-61, and John 18: 27 about the number of times the cock crowed. According to Mark the cock crowed twice and according to the others it crowed three times.
  • II Sam 24: 1 and I Chron 21: 1 differ over who incited David to count the people. II Sam states that it was God and I Chron states that it was Satan.
  • I Sam 17: 23, 50 and II Sam 21: 19 differ regarding who killed Goliath. In I Sam it was David and in II Sam it seems to have been Elhanan.
  • I Sam 31: 4 and II Sam 1: 8-10 differ regarding who killed Saul. According to I Sam, Saulorder his armourbearer to killhim, but the armourbearer refused and Saul fell upon his own sword. In II Sam, Saul asked an Amalekite to kill him and the man agreed.
  • The details of the death and resurrection of Jesus is different in each of the four gospels. Matt 27: 37, Mark 15: 26, Luke 23: 38, and John 19: 19 have different inscriptions on the cross. Matthew cites the inscription as THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS, Mark cites it as THE KING OF THE JEWS, Luke cites it as THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS, and John cites it as JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. These are not major differences, but all four cannot be literally factual.
  • Matt 27: 5-8 and Acts 1: 18-19 differ over Judas’s death. According to Matthew he gave back the blood money and hanged himself. According to Acts, he fell in the field he bought with the money and burst.
  • Gen 9: 3 and Lev 11: 4 differ regarding what may be eaten. Genesis states that one may eat everything that lives, whereas Leviticus states that the following may not be eaten: any animals that chew the cud but do not have cloven hooves and any animals that have cloven hooves but do not chew the cud.
  • Rom 3: 20-28 and James 2: 24 differ regarding faith and deeds. Romans focuses on faith, whereas James emphasizes that faith without deeds is dead.
  • Ex 20: 5, Num 14: 18, and Deut 5: 9 state that sons inherit sins from their fathers, whereas Ezek 18: 4, 19-20 and John 9: 3 state that sons do not inherit sins from their fathers.

 

Only with proper exegesis can one make sense of these contradictions. The process of exegesis includes several forms of criticism, these are:

  • Textual criticism, which seeks the earliest or original wording of a text.
  • Historical criticism, which seeks to understand the historical, geographical, and cultural setting of the text. Questions regarding the author and the intended readers and their social norms and structures are investigated.
  • Grammatical criticism looks at the morphology and syntax of the text. Grammatical rules are investigated.
  • Literary criticism looks at the broader literary context. Questions regarding the relation to other texts, composition, structure, and rhetorical style are addressed.
  • Form criticism looks at the passage of text itself. Form, genre, and the life situation are examined.
  • Tradition criticism investigates the earlier stages of development a text has undergone before its present form.
  • Redaction criticism focuses on the final form of the passage and seeks to find out the intention of the author and/or final editor.

From these forms of criticisms it is clear that biblical interpretations is by no means an easy undertaking. The literal reading of the text ignores the rich background behind it and leads to an impoverished view.

 

Also see:

Creation Harms Christianity – Sacerdotus

The Simple Truth about Biblical Literalism and the Fundamentalists who Promote it – Sean McElwee

 

Sources:

Cornwall, R. 2007. Charles Darwin goes to church: A literature guide to the evolution versus intelligent design debate. Congregations, 35-38.

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

Hayes, J H & Holladay, C R. 1982. Biblical exegesis: A beginner’s handbook. London: SCM        Press.

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

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

Scaramanga, J 2012a. How the Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution. [Online]. Available:             http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/2012/05/23/how-the-loch-ness-monster-disproves-evolution/ [Accessed 29 July 2016]

______2012b. Top 5 lies taught by Accelerated Christian Education. [Online]. Available:             http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/2012/05/07/top-5-lies-told-by-accelerated-christian-education/ [Accessed 29 July 2016]

______2013. No more Nessie for Accelerated Christian Education. [Online]. Available:             http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/2013/07/23/no-more-nessie-for-accelerated-christian-education/ [Accessed 29 July 2016]

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.