Friday, September 14, 2007

God and Evolution

There is an interesting article in the latest issue of First Things titled "God and Evolution." In it, Avery Cardinal Dulles writes of three categories of Christian belief about evolution: (1) Theistic Evolution - a kind of neo-Darwinism where evolution adequately explains most everything that exists, and where God's presence is not greatly required, (2) Intelligent Design - à la Behe and Johnson - that there are irreducible complexities in creation that require God's hand, and (3) a teleological view of evolution, which believes that God's involvement in evolution is quite present, overseeing and guiding the process in nearness. (Cardinal Dulles also teases out what the Catholic Church does and does not say about evolution - and the freedom of belief within Catholicism.)
     And I've probably slaughtered each view. My apologies. I'm not well-versed in evolutionary beliefs, I confess, growing up as a staunch six-day creationist. I know even less about the philosophies/thought surrounding them, which is, perhaps, why I find this perspective so fascinating.
     I was raised with, and believed in, a literal six-day creation view of the cosmos. This whole concept of evolution still startles me when I read of it in, and the acceptance of it by, the Church. Not that I deny it - that startles me all the more - but belief in a literal six-day creation and a young earth was core-and-foundation sort of stuff for me. At the same time, I understand the creation narratives more broadly, I hope, than I have before and I'm no longer convinced that they need be taken literally. There is a great deal to be said for understanding the literariness of the Scriptures, and the creation narratives certainly are not to be excluded. There is also something to be learned from the Church's past mistakes in regards to science and belief.
     But I'm thinking out loud. I would love to hear your input. What do you think of God and evolution? Or are you a Creationist through and through? I realize this may be a bit of a non-issue for many of you, but beginnings and endings lie quite large on the landscape where I live. It is simply my milieu of belief and the milieu of my family: My father-in-law a conservative pastor, my brother a biologist and very strong defender of a literal six-day creation. (While my becoming a Catholic, for him, may not have quite pushed me into hell, even considering this issue might. ;) )


Scott Lyons said...

"This whole concept of evolution still startles me when I read of it in, and the acceptance of it by, the Church."

Let me clarify by saying the Catholic Church does not teach evolution. But it also does not demand a young-earth creationism. It does demand belief that all creation was from nothing, drawn out by God's word - how He did that the Church leaves open to the realm of science. But God cannot be removed from the creation of the cosmos.

JPII makes the following statements:

"The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe.

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition, and religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes."

truevyne said...

Dear Scott,
I have always had an open mind about how God created the earth. Six days to seven billion is fine with me. He could as He pleased in the blink of an eye.
Since no person was there, I don't understand the dogmatic positions on either side though I must say I try to respect both. What I reject is evolution without God.

paul said...

Interesting post, Scott.

So God created the heavens & the earth, he lets Blind see, Lame walk, Dead are raised, Man & wife become one, Bread and wine become body and blood, Sins are forgiven and We are offered eternal life...honestly, I can't explain a bit of it.

It's all a profound mystery to me.

No, I don't get it. And, actually, I'm getting more and more OK with the fact that I don't get it. But regardless of whether I get it, by God's grace, I can receive it.

How he makes all of it happen, well, that's really just the stuff of arguments, isn't it?

Scott Lyons said...

True, thanks and agreed.

Paul, yes. And He gives us Himself, and He who the universe cannot contain abides in us. Too wonderful. I love what an Orthodox priest, Fr Thomas Hopko, says about knowing God, "It is impossible to know God - but you have to know Him to know that."

Woodward said...

Scott --

Thinking this through for myself, I have started trying to distinguish between evolution, which seems to me to be a reasonable scientific theory, compatible with (though not proven by) empirical evidence like the fossil record; and Darwinism, which seems to me to be an ideological and militantly dogmatic attempt to explain the process of evolution in atheistic terms. Darwinism persists as scientific orthodoxy not because it explains nature so well (it doesn't), but because it explains nature in a way that philosophical materialists need nature to be explained -- as a closed system without God. For a convincing expose of Darwinism's logical deficiencies – by someone who himself had no religious faith and thus no ax to grind – I recommend Darwinian Fairy Tales by David Stove.

I guess you could put me in Cardinal Dulles's category (3). But then, with respect to what dimension of reality is God NOT “quite present, overseeing, and guiding”? Sounds like you might be moving toward category (3) yourself?

Scott Lyons said...

Jeff, thanks for your comment on Darwinism. Evolution, if it was the means of God's creation, is not a mechanistic force that rolls down through the ages fickle as Fortuna. It is not God or evolution, but God and evolution - it is God creating. And as a theory devoid of God, as JPII says, evolution becomes arrogant and idolatrous.

I find myself at Door 3 at this point. But I must qualify that by saying that I've only begun to think about these things.

The first and final cause of creation is God, that's inescapable for me - credo. We are purposed and loved. And therefore His nearness is unavoidable. God is our Father, and fatherhood is intimacy. I look at the cosmos, at the created order, and everything reveals God, everything praises Him. Nothing in creation images God as man and woman - the souls of whom are a special creation. And no one, of course, reveals the Father as Jesus does, the very fullness of God.

Sven said...

Re: Darwin-

It can be argued that modern Darwinism bears only a passing resemblance to the actual beliefs of Charles Darwin himself. Although he spent much of his career exploring a "natural" understanding of species development he did not actively argue against the presence or role of God. He was simply unable to form a satisfactory conclusion. Consider this excerpt from a letter he wrote on the subject in 1873:

"I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty."

While the same may not be true for his present-day advocates, it is not accurate to portray Darwin as an atheist. Rather, his struggle to see the presence of God in the world is similar to that of Mother Theresa as evidenced in her recently published letters.

For more on Darwin, you might find this helpful.

P.S. Happy belated birthday. I just celebrated one too.