Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Harmony of God and an Evolving Creation - Part II

From the Genesis accounts of creation we can easily find some information which can help us to understand creation, despite many claiming such an endeavour as futile unless taken literally. One such example is that the Bible insists that the process of creation was one with intent, one with elegance; more on that to come. The account in Genesis 1 presents something which science affirms, that creation has an order to it, resulting in interconnectedness. With reference to Genesis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation.” Such a statement can be intimately coupled with the prevalent scientific theories of the universe’s development, not least evolution, which teaches us that all life on earth has deep connections.

Many creationists recoil in horror at the concept of man being ‘just an animal’ and coming from a process such as abiogenesis, yet we can find answers to this in Genesis two. Going back to Genesis one, where the earth brought forth living creatures (evolution?), we see that God created animals on the same day as creating humankind – we don’t even have our own day! Then in Genesis 2 we see that God created Adam from the dust of the ground, could there be any lower than that? We also see that god brought the animals to Adam as prospective partners; God Himself showed us not to be something far superior in the way many try to claim, as He saw it all as good. To round off this brief mention of Genesis 2, Keith Ward stated, “The second account is more concerned with seeing human nature as both material and relational, as the point at which the material is capable of being raised to the spiritual within a relationship of love.”

As I have already mentioned, Genesis teaches us that there is intent and elegance at work, something which many see as difficult to reconcile with a process such as evolution. One thing we should strive to emphasise is that the universe is one which is being allowed by God to make itself. In the words of John Polkinghorne, “Doubtless, God could have produced a ready-made world, but he has done something cleverer than that in allowing creation’s history to be the exploration and realization of its God-given fruitfulness.” Science can help us to understand that creation does not follow a specific script, but has an element of improvisation; a hard point for some to take in. This gives an appropriate degree of independence to creation coming from a kenotic act of self-limitation by a loving God who is the sustainer of all processes.

Evolution seems too random to be considered ‘good’ by many Christians, yet it contains two key elements which creationists espouse in other areas. Accepting Jacques Monod’s lead here, these are chance and necessity. It is with chance that many see red flags, but this is unnecessary. In evolution, chance applies to the unpredictability of specific genetic mutations – it provides the necessary novelties for evolution to work. It is also something found in a theistic world-view which contains elements of freedom. In evolution these genetic novelties are sorted in a non-random manner by natural constraints. Both chance and necessity are key features of a created world which follows a plan yet contains elements of freedom.

This solves the issue of straying either into the view that the path of life is perfectly planned by a puppet-master of divine proportions, or the view of the deistic creator sitting and watching life unfold. Arthur Peacocke described God as ‘an Improviser of unsurpassed ingenuity’. Polkinghorne summed up this view by stating that “The role of chance can be seen as a signal of the Creator’s allowing his creation to make itself; the role of necessity can be seen as a signal of the Creator’s beneficent purposes for his creation.” To further emphasise this point, he also said, “We may expect the creation of the God who is both loving and faithful to display characteristics of both openness and regularity, such as are in fact reflected in the physical interplay of chance and necessity in the process of the world.”

Understanding natural processes properly can also be ancillary to our theodicy. When discussing suffering many Christians readily turn to a free-will argument, yet fall short by not applying this to all creation. We are intimately connected with all creation, and just as we are free to act according to our natures, so does the creation from which we emerged. Evolutionary theory shows that the same processes which produce abundant variation and diversity are also processes which produce cancers, disabilities and disease. Only a universe in which both spontaneity and reliability exist can show both God’s love and desires along with our own free will. W.H.Vanstone deserves quoting here, “The activity of God in creation must be precarious. It must proceed by no assured programme. Its progress, like every progress of love, must be an angular process – in which each step is a precarious step into the unknown; in which each triumph contains a new potential of tragedy, and each tragedy may be redeemed into a wider triumph.”

Keith Ward asserted that God created things which could frustrate His purposes – the tree of knowledge and the serpent for example. He also aptly pondered, “Perhaps it is only by conflict and competition that more developed forms of life can come to exist, and only by striving against opposition can excellence be achieved.” We live in a universe where disorder is necessary, the 2nd law of thermodynamics helps give time meaning; decay of atoms allow more complex substances to form; from stellar explosions we get carbon, necessary to life; and from mutation and extinction we get evolutionary progression.

In summation, evolutionary theory and Genesis are in agreement about the interconnectedness of life, and the evolutionary principles of chance and necessity are both intrinsic qualities of a creation by a loving Father; accepting this can then help us to explain the presence of physical evil in creation and shows the complementary possibility of theism and the theory of evolution.

The Desmond Tutu quote is from ‘God Has a Dream’; all Keith Ward quotes are from ‘What the Bible Really Teaches’; and I took all J. Polkinghorne, A. Peacocke and W. H. Vanstone quotes from ‘Scientists as Theologians’ by Polkinghorne.

The Harmony of God and an Evolving Creation - Part I

I posted this originally in a discussion board and think it will be well suited to this blog. It is in two parts which I will keep separate. The discussion board can be viewed here but got sidetracked by creationist irrelevance. Here is part one:

All too often Christians make mistakes when discussing God’s relationship with Creation, despite the creation myth being one of the most discussed topics due to the modern rise in young earth creationism. These mistakes include seeing creation as a one off historical event, seeing God as purely transcendent, and seeing creation as completely ex nihilo.

Creation is often discussed in the pas tense by both followers of a literal Genesis and theistic evolutionists (not ignoring all those in between). This is through no real fault of our own as in Genesis it clearly states ‘In the beginning God created’, but this view can be very misleading at times. It leads to a deistic view of God as creator, one whose intervention is both blatantly obvious and punctuated; which we know from science cannot be true. This is often a stumbling block for creationists (and even theistic evolutionists) trying to understand theistic evolution, as it makes God appear absent rather than being the Divine sustainer. This view gives the idea that God created 13.5 billion years ago and sat back, leaving creation to go about its business until He felt like intervening again. We should instead say that God is creating the world, that He is the constant source and sustainer of all being.

To make more sense of God as source and sustainer t is appropriate to assess the mistake of over-emphasising God’s transcendence. Many Christian thinkers have envisaged God as external to creation, likening God to an architect or watchmaker, with the universe as an artefact. This approach is overly deistic and emphasises God’s transcendence whilst ignoring His immanence. According to Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware, “If the doctrine of creation is to mean anything at all, it must surely signify that God is on the inside of everything, not on the outside. Creation is not something upon which God acts from the exterior, but something through which God expresses God’s self from within.” This view helps us to understand how God works through natural laws, yet does not require Him to depend on them due to His transcendence. It also allows for His omnipresence, His continual creation and the dependence of creation on Him.

God’s transcendence and immanence were understood as Logos and logoi by Maximos the Confessor, with Logos being Christ the creator and logoi being a characteristic logos implanted in every created thing by the Logos; its source is the Logos. Gregory Palamas understood them as ousia and energeiai. Ousia is God’s transcendent essence, the unknowable aspects of God. Energeiai are God’s energies or operations, inseparable from God’s essence as they are God’s self in action, maintaining all of creation. This view clears up many of the mistakes Christians make with regards to God’s relation to creation.

The statement that God created ‘ex nihilo’ is one that is rarely questioned, yet mildly inaccurate and only appears in the Apocrypha and early Christian writings. It is another way of over-asserting God’s transcendence, though it does put emphasis in at least one correct place: His freedom and choice in creating. The phrase ‘ex nihilo’ is not inherently wrong, but it does take on a negative form which can be misleading. It would be better to say that God created ‘out of love’.

These are all simple errors (and perhaps error is the wrong word) made by Christians, yet deeply ingrained in Christian thought. My main concern here is that if Christians cannot grasp some of these views of God’s relationship with creation then they cannot grasp the concept of theistic evolution without being intellectually unsatisfied. Thus leading to clinging to a view which requires warping of reality and distrust of legitimate scientific discovery; two things which Christianity does not need.

I owe much of this post to Kallistos Ware’s essay ‘The Environment from a Christian Perspective’ which can be found in ‘Abraham’s Children: Jews, Christians and Muslims in Conversation.’

Comical Design theory.

This was once my brainchild. I don't think I need to explain where the idea came from, simply read what I posted and join the facebook group:

What is Comical Design?
The theory of Comical Design (CD theory) holds that certain amusing features of the universe, of living things and even the mechanical world are best explained by a cause with a sense of humour, not by natural means. Through the study and analysis of an entity’s appearance, a CD theorist is able to determine whether various natural entities are the product of chance, natural law, comical design, or some combination thereof. Such research involves observing the types of laughter produced when comical agents are viewed. Comical design has applied this scientific method to detect design in irreducibly hilarious biological structures, with prime examples in nature being the infamous duck-billed platypus of the animal kingdom and natural organic phallic entities (NOPEs) such as trees shaped like penises. In the mechanical world the same applies, with the Robin Reliant being undeniably irreducibly hilarious.

Is comical design a scientific theory?
Yes. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. Comical design begins with the observation that hysterical agents produce complex and specified humour (CASH). CD theorists hypothesize that if a natural or mechanical object was comically designed, it will contain high levels of CASH. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon these objects to determine if they contain complex and specified humour. One easily testable form of CASH is irreducible hilarity, which can be discovered by experimentally watching the aforementioned entities and other observers to see if any form of side-splitting takes place. When CD researchers find irreducible hilarity in biology or machinery, they conclude that such structures were designed.

Who supports CD theory?
Here at the centre of comical knowledge (COCK) we are looking for scientists to aid in our research. A PhD is not necessary, nor a Masters or any form of degree or qualification. Break away from the fear of supporting the obviously flawed and humourless Darwinism. This group has been created to spread the theory of comical design so that all may become aware of the hilarity which is so obviously caused only by design. Donations in the form of pictures or videos pertaining to entities befitting of the descriptions above will be appreciated muchly.


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Let's get started.

I'm new to blogging, but recently decided to make the effort to start one and this is my introduction to it (I also have little worthy of posting yet).

The desire to start this blog came about mostly because I spend an inordinate, almost indecent, amount of time on Facebook discussion boards discussing evolution. It is getting to the point now where I wish I could answer every inane point with a single word, but sadly that is impossible (until I get some psychic superpowers). My original plan to get myself out of having to say much was to follow the footsteps of Whit Grey, who made the leap onto Youtube making videos teaching about evolution and debunking creationist nonsense under the name DonExodus2. This felt like the natural route for me to take, as I have much experience in film production, enough to make some flashy videos at least. Sadly though, I have no computer of my own (this is my sister's) and no camera.

Fortunately I love writing and intend to do as much as I can, so here I get to practice. I will continue to discuss on Facebook for inspiration, allowing me to be reminded of things which need clearing up. I could use other people's words, but I like my own. I will address creationist misconceptions about evolution, sometimes debunking their arguments; I will discuss how evolution works, though I promise to try to be original; I will blog on some random things (who doesn't?); I will discuss religion, mostly with regards to its relationship with science, but also other topics; and I will possibly post some creative writing too.

I hope you enjoy and I hope I stick to my plan.