Saturday, 6 February 2010

Christ is the Answer to the Difficult Questions in Christian Theistic Evolution

With any world view there are difficult questions which need answering. For theistic evolutionists many of the difficult questions are theological and considering that Darwin’s theory of evolution is only 150 years old there has been little time dedicated to searching out the answers to those questions when compared to other areas of theology. The first port of call for anyone exploring theology of creation should be to try to understand the phenomena in question in light of Jesus Christ, for he is the centre of Christianity; the Word made flesh; the true light which enlightens everyone.

When discussing the methods of God in creating the world the authority of Scripture is inevitably brought into question. In can sound almost vulgar to suggest that fallible human beings had any hand in recording Holy Scripture to those who hold it as highest authority, men were nothing more than scribes, the amanuenses of God Himself. Yet the fingerprints of man are all over the Bible, affecting not only artistic style, but making the text itself very human. The cry of “heresy” rings out in the minds of the Biblical literalist when it is suggested that man used the ‘science’ of their day when writing the Genesis creation story, yet surely this is what we should expect? These suggestions need clarification, which shall come through understanding Christ Jesus.

The majority of Christians are Trinitarians and have no qualms about stating the paradox that Jesus was both 100% man and 100% God. God submitted Himself to the human condition, subjected to the fallibility of the human body, able to be injured, able to bleed. He put his trust in the human body to be His vessel; He used human languages to spread the good news. If it is possible to hold this view then it should be almost automatic that one would accept Scripture as containing both God’s authoritative message and showing the handiwork of human kind. This very Christ-centric ‘incarnational’ understanding of the Bible should make things clearer to any Christian.

The subject of death is one which turns many Christians away from the acceptance of theistic evolution. Death becomes part of the mechanism through which God creates life, making it easier to caricature God as a profligate designer who relishes in suffering. There are many plausible responses which are not mutually exclusive; however, it is a Christ-centred approach I shall take.

The most recognised symbol of Jesus Christ is the cross, symbolising the most important event in Christian history. The ultimate sacrifice of Jesus should shed light on the role of death in evolution. The death caused by natural selection allows for fruitful diversification of organisms and the continued propagation of genes, redeeming death into new life in a way analogous to the work done by Jesus on the cross. It is worth taking into consideration the words of Jesus himself who said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

The other problem faced with accepting billions of years of death is the necessary acceptance of death before the fall. This is a case where one of the many possible answers should immediately jump out. It is common for Christians, particularly evangelical, to talk about themselves having a new life in Christ and being “born again”. Should we envisage them being biologically reborn from their own mothers again? Such an idea would be written off with glaring red letters reading “preposterous”. So why is pre-fall death always held to be biological by Biblical literalists when its opposite – life in Christ – does not call for it? Again, understanding Jesus can help us understand these issues.

Finally, embracing evolution as a Christian can be tricky, despite the usual emphasis on faith, as it removes what many perceive as a valuable piece of evidence for God’s existence. Science has authority even to those who regularly reject it and scientific evidence would appeal to many. Accepting evolution means accepting secular science, which utilises methodological materialism and therefore cannot comment on God’s existence. God then appears to be absent as He is not made obvious by the very creation which displays His manifold works. This appears to be anti-Biblical and an ostensible look at the life of Jesus can often confirm this view when we consider his miraculous acts which drew the attention of many. Should this understanding of Christ lead us to conclude that God’s creative acts should be ostentatious?

To emphasise the miracles of Jesus is to ignore their context within his whole life. In His incarnation God did not triumphantly enter the world to the sound of fanfare, He came has a feeble child born in a dirty stable to humble peasants. The signs accompanying the birth of the infant were not as obvious as we tend to think. The majority of his life is a mystery, the most popular view being that he learnt the art of carpentry from Joseph and studied Scripture diligently in temple. Perhaps the most telling event is the temptation in the wilderness, during a time when Jesus’ ministry was beginning, important decisions were to be made. He was tempted to announce his arrival with pomp and bombast in a way which none could deny, every knee would surely bow and every tongue confess. As we all know, he chose the path to the cross, an obscure path which caused many to doubt him, even those who loved him.

With the understanding of the humility of Christ, of his kenotic sacrifices, why should we expect creation to definitively demonstrate God’s existence? If anything it suggests that God can be seen at work, but that faith allows us to see this unseen act. In this case we can build a Christ-centred theology which allows science to function without needing to demonstrate God’s existence.

For Christians it is Jesus Christ who is the centre of creation and should be the centre of our theological understanding of the act of creation. Christian theistic evolutionists should embrace the knowledge they have of their Saviour when faced with the difficult questions posed by others, for his light is the true light and will illuminate the truth in creation.

1 comment:

The Palaeobabbler said...

Since writing this I came across the following quote from John Polkinghorne's book "Belief in God in an Age of Science":

The cruciform pattern of life through death is the way the world is, not only in the familiar tale of biological life on Earth but also cosmically.