Posted by: crewsnr | April 14, 2009

Evolution’s Effect on the Concept of God

God's Creative WorkThis post was sparked by the excellent question Joey presented in his post “God’s Role in Creation”:  What is God’s role in Creation?  This is one of the main questions I have been wrestling with in the last couple weeks as I write my paper.  I have been reading a lot about Theistic Evolution and other integrative belief systems that attempt to harmonize science and religion.  I do not completely agree with Theistic Evolution, but it has really peaked my interest because it has some very innovative ideas outside of the box of traditional Christianity.  Yet, I believe that Theistic Evolution is one of the best approaches to explaining the beginning of the cosmos. 

 

Supporting the theory of evolution, Theistic Evolution claims that our rational skills, logical deductions, and other mental capabilities (that cannot be ignored) lead us to believe in the veracity of scientific endeavors.  Therefore, how do we integrate this scientific truth into our theological beliefs?  We know that the world is self-sustaining and self-maintaining, so where does God fit in? 

Theistic Evolution proposes that God is the reason that there is something instead of nothing and created by moving the first movement.  This idea builds off Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover idea, yet is much deeper. This notion should also not be confused with a “God of the Gaps” explanation that simply attempts to place God in every hole in the scientific evidence.  This God of Theistic Evolution is a God who created the world and set things in motion, but then allowed the world to regulate and organize itself.  This may outwardly seem like the God of Deism, but it is much different.  Theistic Evolution suggests that this Creator God is a God of abounding love and relationship.  This God willingly limits his own dealings in the world because he wants to offer free will to all his creation.  He does not want to rule over or manipulate his creation; he desires for his creation to live life to the fullest which means living freely.  However, God still works within the Cosmos from within his creation.  Each entity of creation bears the mark of the Creator, which is manifested through its interactions with the universe.  Humans are endowed with a Spirit that yearns to know God, to understand God’s truth, and to be in relation with God and with others.  Therefore, God is standing outside of time in the future calling his creation to himself. 

I think that these concepts of God found within Theistic Evolution are a step in the right direction to finding an integrated idea of God based on theology and science.  Importantly, this is a relational, loving, self-sacrificing God who resembles the God we find in Scripture and Christianity.  God is much more than the laws that govern the universe.  God is much more than the God of Deism.  The Creator God is a loving, mysterious God that lives within all of his Creation, calling them into relation with himself.      

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Responses

  1. I agree that this does seem to be a step in the right direction, as it gives an account of God’s interaction with the universe while allowing it some fluidity for self-determination. It can help explain the sufferings that exist outside of human influence, like evolution and natural disasters. One question that I do have is about the self-sustainability aspect. I don’t have all the facts in front of me- which means I need to talk to my source on this topic again- but it is my understanding that quatum physics sheds light on how the universe is self-sustainable; specifically, it has always been such and there is no need for an unmoved mover to start the process. Have you looked into or heard any thing like this? While I am mindful that quantum physics is mostly theoretic and subject to major changes, I fear that making God the unmoved mover may unintentionally (and unfortunately) formulate a “God of the Gaps” interpretation. And once again it appears that science may be dictating a major part of our religious understanding. While this is shaping up to be a good foundation, I still wonder how we can understand God’s existence as something other than the “potter and clay” scenario.

  2. Nick – I can’t believe I didn’t think of this when we were talking earlier, but I see one big problem in the idea that God chose to create through the process of evolution. According to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve (and really, according to the foundation of Christianity), it was humans that chose to disobey God, and it was therefore humans that allowed sin and death to enter the world. God never “intended” for His creation to die and so how could He have intended to create through the process of evolution, which requires death in order for natural selection to “select”? And furthermore, if humans were the reason for the entry of sin and death into the world, then there is a BIG problem in that humans would never have been created. If death is necessary for evolution to occur, then how could humans, the end result of evolution, have come about if sin/death did not exist before their entry into the world…?

    Perhaps I am way off, or perhaps these questions have already been answered in your research, but I was just wondering how theologians reconcile this fact into their attempts to reconcile evolution with the Genesis account of creation. If I am on some sort of reasonable track, however, this would mean theistic evolution also has humongous implications for Christianity’s understanding of sin and the condition of mankind, right?

  3. I think when considering such questions we have to consider what the New Atheists base their atheism off of: we do not and cannot have concrete, material, physical evidence for God. We are His creation; He is not ours. The problem I personally have with the mass quest to fit science and religion together is that we lose sight of much of what religion has to offer. In many realms Christians have accepted the fact that we cannot define God. We do not know how he works. But especially in matters of science we try so hard to understand how God does it and why God does it and in what way he participates. Does knowing His participation in evolution change how it works? No. Does understanding His original intention change God for us? I don’t think it should. I am not saying that looking for God in science is wrong, but I do not think it is something that is within our ability to grasp. God created science. Science does not change God. God gifted us the capacity to gain knowledge, scientific and other. But God himself is not scientific. I think that sometimes there is too much emphasis on making science and God cohesive ideas that we lose sight of the point. Science does not change the salvific power of Christ’s death on the cross. Science does not change how God works, God changes how science works. The greatest problem of the idea of “God of the gaps” is not a problem with God, but a problem with the human understanding which is then projected onto God. I think such a deduction is more a reflection of our lack of understanding in certain realms of science. God revealed Himself to us so that we may know Him, not so that we may understand Him or understand Him in such a way that we may one day take His place. If we could completely understand how and why and when God works then essentially God would be obsolete.
    It is interesting to think, why are we not content with just understanding the science of evolution? Why must we complicate it and ask unanswerable questions? Just because we do not understand does not mean God is lacking, it means we are. Yet because we do not understand we assume that there is something wrong with how God is relating to humanity. To me, proving that science does not negate the existence of God does not require explaining how God exists.

  4. Catherine, I think you make some excellent points about the relationship between science and religion. I completely agree that we, as Christians, must be sure never to diminish or lose sight of the theological ideas of the Salvific Work of our Savior Christ Jesus and God’s Revelation to us. As truth seekers, humans are created with an innate desire to know our Creator, to be in relation with him, and to understand his Creation. To gain understanding, we search for truth in all disciplines: natural sciences, social sciences, theology, philosophy, etc. We gather knowledge and understanding from all sources and should be hesitant to separate or to compartmentalize these fields into an ontological hierarchy. Consequently, our scientific knowledge should naturally influence our philosophical notions and our theological beliefs and vice versa in one continuous spectrum of truth. The theory of evolution when taken seriously can have enormous consequences on theological beliefs. Does evolution contradict theology? No. Does science change God? No. Does evolution define God? No.

    But, science and evolution can change our human understandings of and notions about God. God is a mysterious Being that we will never be able to fully understand or to comprehend, yet that does stop us from trying. Christians have been arguing about God’s nature from the very beginning of the Christian movement. I believe that humans should employ all of their understanding, including their emotional experiences and their scientific knowledge, in their attempt to know God. If we don’t allow science to affect our understanding of God, then we miss an opportunity to learn about our Creator and draw nearer to Him.

  5. In response to Rae’s question, I believe this too can best be addressed in the context of the ancient Hebrew tradition. The Hebrews had many uses for the word “death,” all of which were linked by a common factor: loss of relationship. Death for them was anything that removed an individual from relationship with the community, and more severely, from relationship with God. This included things like adultery, murder, and stealing (basically insert any violation of the 10 Commandments or other Mosaic Laws here). Physical death was so devastating because it removed one from both the community and from God as he/she passed into Sheol. The Genesis account could include either one of these meanings. In my experience it is often interpreted using the former, whereby Adam and Eve fall out of right relationship with God and only the eternal sacrifice of Jesus can renew this relationship (although this is one of many atonement explanations). Most importantly, death in this context could not correctly explain the physical death of animals. While animals are part of God’s creation, they do not have the relationship with God that humans do. Thus, physical death of animals or plant life during the process of evolution before humans could have taken place.

    To recap:

    Death- physical, biological end of life- could have existed before Adam and Eve.

    Death- falling out of relationship- came with and after humans.


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