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.

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