Wednesday, 8 April 2009

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.’

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