Sunday, 4 July 2010

Kids and the Future of T.E.

Every Friday when I am at home during term time (which is sadly not often any more) I help run a youth group for kids aged approximately 11-14 at the local baptist church. By "help run" I actually mean I hang about with the kids, chat, play pool, doodle pictures, play some other games. On the way to the group on Friday I bumped into the baptist minister and chatted on the way there. He mentioned to me that himself and the vicar of the Anglican church often do assemblies in school and would like my participation in one. Unsurprisingly the topic is creation and they would like me to talk about my own beliefs. Provided I can fit it in, I will of course do it. I actually feel like the perfect person for the job as I am local, I am less than ten years older than the kids I will be talking to, I study a relevant field of science and am a Christian.

I will try my best to keep my responses short and memorable, after all, it is not the simplest of topics. I will also try not to give any definitive statements on certain topics, but instead will try to represent the range of beliefs held by theistic evolutionists, which leads me onto my next topic.

When I discuss theistic evolution it is mostly with creationists, which at times is stifling. I would far prefer the intellectually gratifying arena of in-depth discussion with other theistic evolutionists, though it rarely occurs. Reading Scientists as Theologians by John Polkinghorne was particularly useful in this aspect. I once wrote about a variety of beliefs within theistic evolution a long time ago, see here, though I did not make my own views clear on all issues, which I shall do now (plus, my beliefs have become more refined since then).

With regards to Genesis I quite strongly regard concordist views as mistaken. Some theistic evolutionists do try to align the narrative in Genesis 1 with science and consider them both to be accurate. I see Genesis as containing the scientific view of the time and so cannot be turned to for scientific answers. I also see it as containing polemical aspects and fitting in with the temple narrative idea. Overall it has an allegorical or mythical feel and so does not fit with the concordist view of some theistic evolutionists. I once covered some of these views here but did not touch on the temple narrative.

Concerning God's action, the views I reject are the deistic and the interventionalist. I do not see the idea that God set the ball rolling and only sustains as showing the full picture, though it is a valid view in terms of creation (of course, God changing His mode of action when humans arise seems to be a necessary addition to this view). I also do not like theistic evolution views which stray too close to Intelligent Design; I have met many who have claimed that they accept evolution but do not believe it could have achieved so much without God. It is never stated what it is that God does though. God "guiding the mutations" is another view which I find unnecessary but cannot completely reject, for who am I to limit God? It does, however, seem unnecessary for God to have used evolution and then do it all Himself.

Panentheism is one way to explain God's action, though there are a variety of views. I reject the process theology panentheism as it makes God seem like a Cosmic Tempter, unable to direct things with complete control (God is both the system and something independent of it). A more orthodox form of panentheism posits that God expresses Himself from within whilst also being transcendent of creation. In this sense God's actions are a constant expression of love from within creation and God is intimately involved in all creative acts (this raises issues for theodicy which I will not address here).

I find panentheism very appealing, especially the idea of God expressing His love from within, and accepted that view myself for a while. I believe there are two views which most adequately explain God's acts of creation and the choice between the two is almost completely faith based. The aforementioned panentheistic view is one, a more kenotic  approach is another, whereby God limits Himself and gives creation space to be. These two views are not completely mutually exclusive, though they do have some areas of incompatibility. Personally I see panentheism as eschatological fulfilment, though also valid for how God is acting now. For a bit more insight into panentheism see here. For a couple of posts which discuss kenotic approaches, see here and here.

The subject of death and suffering has understandably been one which has elicited a variety of responses. For the record, I do not believe we will ever have the complete answer, but that we can still try to find some comfort. I reject views which wave away the issue completely, though some do have merit when combined with other arguments. Suffering is relative and sometimes death can be seen as good, such as when we enjoy eating meat. This on its own is not a strong answer, but can be combined with others. I reject largely outdated views that only human suffering matters as creation is important to God. As I take a kenotic view of the creative acts, creation has freedom to act according to its nature and so this can be a comfort. I see some merit in the views that God created things which frustrate His purposes and that suffering can lead to greatness. I also see some merit in the views that death can be seen as a tool, though many Christians do not like this idea.

Ultimately I think all attempts at "evolutionary theodicy" should allow for the idea of God suffering along with creation and that all will be redeemed in the end. Two views which I do not accept are that creation, due to Satan, is in rebellion against God; and the view that the Fall, just like Salvation, extends through all moments in time, both past and future, and is responsible for death and suffering (the latter is often dismissed without thought sadly).

A more scientific question which has bearing on theistic evolution is the question of whether or not the history of life is governed more by contingency or convergence. In other words, is it ateleological or teleological? I feel that both are compatible with Christian belief, the former suggesting more openness and freedom in creation, the latter suggesting God set up the universe to result in humans. I believe we should not push for the latter view over the former and that this question must be addressed by science. I am undecided on this one and feel that the answer may be somewhere between the two extremes.

The soul is an important question when addressing evolution. I do not take the view that Adam and Eve were created in the Garden and then put in the middle of an evolving Earth as some TEs occasionally do (an admittedly rare view). I used to take the view of the Catholic Church and believed that God "stepped in" to endow mankind with a soul. When I started exploring what the soul is I rejected this view in favour of monism, which I see as more compatible (it should be noticed that the soul did not simply evolve, but to explain this an understanding of theistic monism is needed, see here).

Concerning Adam, I take the archetypal view where Adam is symbolic of a truth about humanity. Another view I see merit in is that an "Adam" existed as the first sinner, so he is theologically the first human but not scientifically so, see here. I reject the view that Adam and Eve were Neolithic farmers and as already mentioned I reject the view that they occupied a literal garden; both views are unnecessarily concordist.

I take an orthodox view of Christ and reject the view that he is a "new emergent" as I believe it emphasises his humanity and neglects his divinity. Admittedly, this is not a view I have ever encountered when talking to other theistic evolutionists, though it has apparently been discussed amongst liberal theologians.

Hopefully in the future more focus will be on theistic evolution than debating with creationists. Here in England that is more likely to be the case, but in America such a change will likely take a long time.


deh said...

Jason, that is really good that the Pastors are going to have you give such a presentation. I do hope that they get someone to present the other view on this as well.

The Palaeobabbler said...

I'm not completely sure what will happen. They simply said that they will be doing an assembly about creation and want to show that there is a range of views within Christianity, so I will represent theistic evolution (I think my area of study is part of that reason). It is possible that they will show other views, though also they might just show me off haha. They did say they will ask me a few questions about my background and beliefs.

I feel that in America there is tension and divide between the differing creation beliefs, whereas in England people tend to be more relaxed about having a range of views.