Friday, September 16, 2011

Evolution as Theology, Part 1

(This is a brief intro to my thoughts about reading Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd)

Accepting evolution within a Christian mindset isn't an easy thing to do.  I have always suspected or believed in some form of evolution, or at the very least would have thought of myself as an Old Earth Creationist or maybe an Intelligent Design sympathizer. I don't think that I ever qualified as a true YEC believer.

I settled on an evolution-as-a-means-to-creation mindset for a while, with humans being perhaps the only spontaneously "created" creatures.

Eventually I had to face facts that, scientifically speaking, that idea didn't have traction.  At this point, the theory of evolution is the best explanation we have for the existence of human beings.  It's what fits the data we have so far.

The theory of evolution presents many problems for the average Christian.  It means reinterpreting Scripture and it's themes, placing all references to creation by God within a mythical realm meant to propose a manner in which the present world could have come to be. It's possible to do that, to sift and measure theological approaches throughout Scripture and take a metaphorical slant; but it always results in trouble with clashing metaphors and themes.

Outside of the Scriptures, evolution presents other theological dilemmas.  While it would be possible to think of evolution as the "how" of existence and Scripture as an attempt to explain the "why" of existence, thereby separating the influence of one over the other, it doesn't quite work.

Why not?

It doesn't work because theology and Scripture are actually based on what the theologian sees in the world around himself. Theology isn't created in a vacuum, meant to explain a non-material, unseen world.  It is meant to explain the world we see around us every day. Whatever we learn about our physical world has to be incorporated into our theological world.  Failing to do so creates a disconnect between what we can see and what we are supposed to believe.  The more we retreat from the physical world, the more elaborate and confusing theology becomes. Eventually, it loses all sense and we wind up with mental gymnastics tying us up in knots.

If evolution is true, what does it say about the kind of God that might exist? This would not be a God who planned every detail.  This would be the kind of God who was interested in unleashing life and seeing where it led.  This would not be the kind of God who was worried too much about death.  Death is a natural part of life and most creatures, especially those with the biggest brains and best cognition, can only survive by eating other living things.  They only develop in symbiosis with their food source; other living creatures.

Cheetahs become faster in order to catch fast prey. Snakes become more poisonous in order to more quickly immobilize their food. Owls develop night vision in order to sneak up on rabbits, mice, and other animals.

These traits develop because they help animals survive.  These traits are honed at the expense of other creatures. Inflicting death on fellow creatures keeps other creatures alive.....otherwise we would all be plants surviving on sun, water, and chemicals.

Well, that's very different than the God we have conceived of.

The God of evolution would also be a God whose work was never finished. Instead, there would be a constant, perpetual motion in all living things.  There would be no day of rest, no period at the end of the story.  If evolution is true, then we are not the end; we are only one form in a chain of possibilities, one step leading to who-knows-where in a million years, one permutation of sentience in the universe.

Evolution makes us small and fragile and not entirely sure of our own long-term survival. And that is vastly different from the type of God which Christians imagine.

Underneath the complicated theology of Christianity that exists there a couple of important points:

That we are important...the crowning, final achievement of Creation.

That we will live forever...that our survival is/will be eternal.

That the story ends with us...there won't be higher, better beings on Earth.

Evolution says "meh" to that....at least in the way that we think of it.

1 comment:

limey said...

What an excellent summary, and very well explained.