Monday, December 7, 2009

Theology and Evolution

2001: A Space Odyssey - Stanley Kubrick (1968) - Final Scene

How do you "put together" the theory of evolution and the affirmation of God's providence and/or continuing creation?

Jurgen Moltmann's three points on p. 196-197 of his God and Creation are especially helpful here to start. First, evolution is not concerned with the original creation itself, but is interested in shedding light on the ordering and development of creation. Second, this intersection between science and theology happens in a discussion of continuous creation (creatio continua). Finally, the human being is not the meaning and purpose of evolution, nor is the human being the crown of creation. In light of these realizations, we can talk about a biblically-based eschatological vision in line with an incomplete cosmic history of evolution. What we can say about the human being and his/her place in cosmic history and in continuous creation is that the human being is both a creature in the fellowship of creation and acting as creation's representative (imago mundi) and also as God's representative in the community of creation (imago dei) (pp. 189-190). Humanity has a special place in creation in this way, but it is a responsibility to open, loving participation and representation in the continuous creation.

Moltmann then proceeds into a discussion of evolution based around the metaphysical question: "Is the universe a determined system, or a partially undetermined one? Is it a 'closed' system or an 'open' one?" (p. 201). Over the course of the ensuing dialogue, Moltmann draws a picture of the evolutionary cosmos as an "irreversible, communicating system open to the future." (p. 204.) Some touchstones of this system, and the individual systems that comprise the whole, are: its participatory (highly communicative) nature, a trending towards the "universal symbiosis of all systems of life and matter"; its anticipatory nature, a movement or yearning towards self-transcendence (God and godliness); and its capacity for deepening complexity and interdependence (pp. 204-205). What does this mean for continuous creation? For one, it means that God both preserves creation through a constant Yes and prepares the way for creation's future completeness in the fullness of God. When we talk about creatio continua, therefore, we also need to talk about creatio nova, and creatio anticipativa, which, putting the three together, describe God's creative activity as sustaining, redeeming, and preparing creation for eschatological fullness, perfection, and unity (p. 209). Continuous creation participates in and points to God's other open, redeeming, and future-oriented activities.

I find this connection between the openness of the evolutionary cosmos and the openness of God's creative activity as incredibly compelling. It complements the picture of the perichorectic trinitarian community present in God. The perichorectic community is an open, future-oriented, interdependent, and highly communicative system. It engages what we know about the scientific principles of evolution and reframes them in light of what these principles say about God and humanity's place in the world. First, God is constantly opening up his creation and healing its brokenness, and we understand this activity through Jesus' actions on the cross. The God who opens up closed systems is one who would take all of the negativity and sin of the close systems onto God's self in a loving act of healing forgiveness. God desires wholeness for his creation, and the promise suggests that the evolutionary cosmos is moving creation closer to this future reality in God. Theology points to what humanity's role should be in this activity, as a proxy for both the creature and for God, as a loving participant in the perichoretic creation. Humanity's worldview towards creation should not be one of confrontation or separation or arrogance, but one of mutuality, belonging, and loving-ness. Humanity is called to acts and worldviews of wholeness that promote wholeness in the world and that engage creation holistically.

Commentary is mine. Quotes from Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 101.

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