A Roman Catholic perspective on evolution

From Vox Nova, a relatively new, stanchly Roman Catholic blog with multiple contributors. The specific post (in response to the position of a Republican presidential candidate) is More on Brownback and Evolution.

How should a Catholic treat this topic? Well, there is no inherent conflict between faith and evolution, as long as boundaries are respected. A person of faith should not castigate scientific findings about evolution that are accepted by all but a handful of quacks, and a scientist should likewise refrain from arguing that evolution proves the absence of a Creator (it proves no such thing). It’s really that simple. …

Pope John Paul II stated very clearly in 1996 that “new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” Cardinal Schonborn, who has reflected a lot on the topic, sums it up: “I see no difficulty in joining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained.” …

It is fully in accord with reason to see the hand of a creator guiding the evolutionary process. At some fundamental level, Catholics must believe in an “intelligent designer”. But it is important to note that the American-created “intelligent design” movement does not merely postulate that God is the Creator of everything out of nothing and guides all of creation (sensible), but encroaches on scientific territory by holding that organisms appeared simultaneously (not so sensible).

By the way, the claim of some prominent neo-Darwinists that evolution proves the non-existence of God is equally ludicrous, as they step rather indelicately beyond science and into theological speculation, where they clearly have no expertise.

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23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michael (a.k.a. Snaars)
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 21:58:10

    the claim of some prominent neo-Darwinists that evolution proves the non-existence of God is equally ludicrous , as they step rather indelicately beyond science and into theological speculation, where they clearly have no expertise.

    Well, evolution proves the non-existence of a god who created everything in literally six days.

    Reply

  2. Jamie
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 22:22:46

    The American intelligent design movement holds that organisms appeared simultaneously? I am not aware that this is true. Which American IDers (who are not creationists) hold this position, exactly?

    Reply

  3. Jamie
    Jun 05, 2007 @ 22:41:24

    I just read the original post at Vox Nova, and I don’t think the author makes very much sense. As far as I can tell, he (she?) must be either conflating intelligent design with creationism, or must misunderstand ID.

    The author says at one point in the post, “Intelligent design joins its more irrational sister movement [presumably a reference to Creationism] in trying to debunk the claims of evolution.” This is true, in the sense that ID proponents do not believe evolution is a thoroughly random process (rather, it is God-guided). However, as far as I am aware, ID theory still accepts the idea of an old earth and of common ancestry.

    Now, presumably the author of the Vox Nova post would agree with ID proponents that evolution is not a random, unguided process. This contradicts the science the author claims to uphold. So why is he (she?) labeling herself as being compatible with science, while criticizing ID for being incompatible?

    Reply

  4. Knotwurth Mentioning
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 09:11:54

    I believe in a full creationist point of view, but I have no qualms about the animals having appeared simultaneously. A single day, perhaps, but in those 24 hours, tons could have taken place, from animals popping out of the ground right through animals evolving quickly enough into other species that there would be missing links between the different species, perhaps? I don’t claim to be a biologist, but I do know that Darwin’s statement that the biggest problem with his theory is the lack of proof, and that holds up to this day when you consider the sheer number of skeletons that should be remaining somewhere of the animals in transitory stages, should the process have taken billions of years.

    And the other question I have is how they can suppose that evolution doesn’t contradict the presence of God, since the basis of evolution is natural selection. If there’s a guiding hand behind it, there is now supernatural selection, and the entire idea of there needing to be billions of years for the odds to play themselves out goes completely out the window. If God were guiding evolution, then how come there needs to be any huge amount of time to get from one stage to the other? If the basis of the theory of evolution is kaput, then I don’t see how you can say it can possibly go hand-in-hand will creationism, or at least attentive creationism. The only option I can see there is that God went BAM here’s a bacteria, and then left it all be, which would demand the question why he would care about us, now that we’re through the evolutionary process to this point, if he didn’t care to guide the process from the start.

    Sorry, Vox Nova, but I don’t see the two cooperating quite as nicely as many people would like to believe.

    Reply

  5. addofio
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 10:54:50

    To me, the significant issue isn’t so much the truth of evolution, or of the existence or action of God in the creation of the Universe, but of the level of respect (or lack thereof) of the discourse. That is, people are welcome to debate the truth questions–they will in any case, though no one seems to ever persuade anyone else away from the view they already hold; but what is problematic in the current world is the tone of the debate and what grows out of that. The name-calling, contempt, and imputations of stupidity or venality that have been increasing attributes of public debate around various questions of science vs. religion only provide a surrounding atmosphere that encourages mindlessly extreme reactions and actions ostensibly based on one’s belief system, and in no way contributes either to a resolution of the issues or to people being able to find ways to co-exist and cooperate in an increasingly crowded world.

    Publicly holding people up to ridicule and contempt for beliefs they hold that may be very important to them, however much one may have reason on one’s side, and however wittily (I’m thinking of Dawkins here), or fulminating agains the evils of the godless or spiritually blind, may rally the troops on one’s own side of the conflict, but only consolidates the opposition against you. It contributes to division and polarization; nuance and gradations of opinion become lost in the increasing emotionalism of the rhetoric. I do not think these are good outcomes.

    Thus (in my long-winded way, I’m finally getting to the point) I welcome statements such as you quote from Vox Nova, since the tenor is one of rapprochement. Presumably the intended audience is Catholics, who presumably believe in God. Therefore the intent is to allow religious Catholics to also accept the evidence and reason of science with regard to evolution. There may be a secondary agenda of persuading atheists that belief in God is not ipso facto irrational, but I think that’s not the main purpose. In any case, the intent seems to be to find a way for religion and science to co-exist, in the world or in an individual, in contrast to setting up a belief system in which they are ineradicably opposed and therefore one must ultimately destroy the other. Whatever one believes about God or evolution, or science in general, why/how would that be a bad thing?

    Reply

  6. Bill
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 12:12:02

    It would seem on this issue I am more concurrent with my Catholic Christian brothers, than my protestant church beliefs, but then I subscribe to a more Metaphorical approach to scriptures.

    As for Jamie’s assertion that the author is “conflating intelligent design with creationism” that is correct but there is little separating these schools as several sources I have read describe ID as a Neo-Creationist school of thought. As to the issue of simultaneous creation Jamie is partially correct

    Phillip E. Johnson the so-called father of Intelligent Design may not likely support simultaneous creation, but aside from the main backer of ID (the Discovery Institute) many other Christian Fundamentalist Creationist groups are backing ID

    It is worrisome that ID at its roots was not a scientific endeavour Johnson acknowledges that the goal of the intelligent design movement is to promote a theistic agenda cast as a scientific concept (see quote below) So when the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial found that intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature, and simply an attempt to put a patina of secularity on top of what is a fundamentally religious belief. Johnson would not likely disagree.

    “If we understand our own times, we will know that we should affirm the reality of God by challenging the domination of materialism and naturalism in the world of the mind. With the assistance of many friends I have developed a strategy for doing this,…We call our strategy the “wedge.” pg. 91-92, “Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds” Phillip Johnson, 1997

    As for Knotworth’s approach, If the actions happening in those 24hrs are sped up then can that period be measured in hours as we know them? I would rather take a metaphorical approach to the Genesis story than attempt to rationalize evolution into 24hrs (morning and evening I think was the definition of a day) as much as other more liberal ID proponents attempt to rationalise evolution into the Genesis story.

    Religion deals with the spiritual and Immortal, Science with the physical and mortal. Attempting to merge the two issues, or rationalise them is probably not possible without a full knowledge of all of nature and when we get to that point, I am sure God will be waiting there to say “now do you get it?”

    Reply

  7. Jamie
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 12:14:33

    Addofio, I’d read the whole original post on Vox Nova. Maybe your perspective will be different than mine, but I didn’t take the tone of the post to be quite as congenial as you are taking it.

    Reply

  8. Stephen
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 14:13:38

    Jamie:

    Here are a few quotes from the original post and my responses to them:

    While they accept the idea of “microevolution” (within-species changes), the intelligent design crowd casts doubts on “macroevolution” (“large scale changes, leading to new levels of complexity”.)

    I think this is the crux of the author’s objection to ID. Whether it is an accurate characterization, I don’t profess to know. I haven’t studied the ID literature because I agree with Bill: the movement is merely a Trojan horse aiming to introduce religion into science classrooms in public schools.

    (To be clear, I share some of their concern about secular education, but I think ID is a disingenuous response to the problem.)

    Knotwurth correctly points out that atheistic scientists argue for a purely natural process while Christians argue for a supernatural process. When the author of the Vox Nova post says that he (she?) accepts the theory of evolution, he clearly means it in a modified sense: he accepts both micro- and macroevolution, but believes both were directed by a purposive Creator.

    Notice that the denial of evolution is concentrated in a small group of American evangelicals, and is not an issue in any other country.

    Perhaps this is one of the statements that offended Jamie, but I don’t see it as objectionable.

    As a Canadian, I have frequently made the same point in dialogue with American atheists, who tend to assume that Christianity by definition opposes evolution. On the contrary, most Christians in Canada accept evolution as a scientific fact, as do most Christians in Europe. (I’m not sure it’s true outside of Europe: e.g. in Africa, where the Anglican Church espouses a very conservative strain of Christianity.)

    One of the reasons I published this post was to illustrate that point. The Roman Catholic Church speaks for many millions of Christians, and its official position is that evolution is “more than a hypothesis”.

    We simply cannot appeal to faith to dismiss basic scientific tenets.
    At the same time, it is fully in accord with reason to see the hand of a creator guiding the evolutionary process.

    I believe this is the crux of the author’s argument. Like Bill, I agree with it.

    I oppose ideology in all its myriad manifestations: political, feminist, religious, secular, nationalist — whatever. By “ideology”, I mean a dogmatic conviction to any position that is no longer open to evidence that is inconsistent with the conviction.

    When the author quotes Pope John Paul II, he is pointing out that the Roman Catholic Church has modified its theology to accommodate new evidence from the domain of science. Of course, the Catholic Church has not always been so progressive (and still isn’t on, for example, women’s issues).

    But if evolution is “more than a hypothesis”, other Christians need to follow the example of their Roman Catholic brethren. That is, we must accommodate and adapt to the newly established facts (whatever their source), instead of ducking our heads in the sand out of a prior, ideological commitment.

    Is evolution “more than a hypothesis”? To what “new knowledge” was John Paul II referring? I intend to address that topic in a follow-up post.

    Reply

  9. M.Z. Forrest
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 15:48:22

    Thanks for stopping by the group blog. To answer some of the questions:
    1) Morning’s Minion is a man.
    2) The view of John Paul II, that evolution is more than a hypothesis, is no more a teaching of the Church than gravity would be. The Church – I’m not trying to produce an apologetic here. There are better resources to address any objections than me. – doesn’t see herself as an agency of all knowledge. The Church has been given specific revelation and that is salvation offered through the cross of Jesus for which she has been charged to spread throughout the world. She therefore avoids judgement on matters of the other sciences and instead focuses on the ethical implications.

    For example, the Church has stated that homosexuals are not required to seek treatment in order to change their desires. The Church is in fact open to the possibility that there may even be a gay gene. She instead focuses on the revelation given: no matter the circumstance, homosexual relations are immoral. Avoiding any apologetic here, I think you’ll see that this is a moral claim and not an anthropological claim.
    3) Theology is probably best expressed as the application of reason to faith. The most basic of those claims, “How do I know there is a God?”, cannot be answered by the physical sciences. One cannot provide a counter-argument to Aquinas’s Proofs for the Existence of God through the physical sciences. Aquinas addresses this:
    Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God’s existence.

    Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.
    The rest can be found here. (This will also probably put this comment the Akismet filter.)

    I enjoyed reading your gentlemen’s commentary, and I thank you again for linking to the group blog.

    Reply

  10. Jamie
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 15:56:19

    Stephen: I’m not actually sure why this post touched a nerve with me, considering that I personally am not an ID proponent. I guess I am a bit frustrated at the sloppiness (or more likely the intentional carelessness) of the Vox Nova author. It simply is not accurate to lump ID and creationism together and try to discredit one by its association with the other. I don’t understand why people insist on this dishonesty.

    In point of fact, ID proponents and creationists have been known to antagonize each other somewhat. True, some conservative Christians (I think from here on out I’m going to boycott the word “fundamentalist”) support ID, but many IDers take great pains to distance themselves from the creationist movement–they genuinely don’t support it.

    Likewise, some American creationist organizations (probably the most popular is Answers in Genesis) openly express their disagreement with the ID movement, which they think is harming their own cause.

    So there is genuine conflict between the two groups. Regardless of how many creationists express support for ID; the two movements still disagree on major issues (like the age of the earth and the issue of common ancestry), and lumping them together is totally not fair.

    While they accept the idea of “microevolution” (within-species changes), the intelligent design crowd casts doubts on “macroevolution” (”large scale changes, leading to new levels of complexity”.)

    I don’t know exactly what the author means by this, because as far as I know, the ID movement does believe in evolution over long periods of time (which presumably means macroevolution).

    When the author of the Vox Nova post says that he (she?) accepts the theory of evolution, he clearly means it in a modified sense: he accepts both micro- and macroevolution, but believes both were directed by a purposive Creator.

    I find this ironic, because such a position contradicts science, no? Science is all about randomness, not divine guidance. So I am struggling to figure out exactly how the Vox Nova author differs in her beliefs from ID proponents. The difference between them, presumably, is not in their religious and scientific views, but on the matter of politics and how the issue should be handled in the public sphere (and the classroom).

    Bill:

    It is worrisome that ID at its roots was not a scientific endeavour Johnson acknowledges that the goal of the intelligent design movement is to promote a theistic agenda cast as a scientific concept

    What do you mean, “not a scientific endeavour”? Obviously, ID is not naturalistic in nature. If that’s what you mean by science, then no, it’s not scientific. But who says science must be purely naturalistic? That’s the whole point: Johnson and other ID proponents argue that science has erred in becoming a purely naturalistic discipline. To say that it is “not a scientific endeavour” is kind of begging the question, then, don’t you think?

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  11. Bill
    Jun 06, 2007 @ 23:42:48

    “at its roots” is the key to that assertion Johnson’s foremost goal was not to forward science but to “affirm the reality of God.”

    Reply

  12. Bill
    Jun 07, 2007 @ 01:07:29

    Maybe I should explain that further Jamie your correct in pointing out the vagueness of that note. Science as I know it goes from Hypothesis to experimentation to theory. Johnson’s affirmation of the reality of God is not a hypothesis to him but a truth on which he builds his case.

    A hypothesis (from Greek ὑπόθεσις) consists either of a suggested explanation for a phenomenon or of a reasoned proposal suggesting a possible correlation between multiple phenomena.

    The demand for scientific proof of hypothesis means acceptance according to the rules of science. “Fully established scientifically” or “scientific consensus” implies direct measure of a causal hypothesis at the statistical level of a 95% confidence interval, 19 times out of 20. Not to be confused with mathematical proof (100%), correlation data, democratic measure (votes of scientists or conclusions of scientist), and a level of acceptance as determined by a non-scientific standard (a political standard or one set by an agency or group) or the measure of the acceptance of a theory. (I used Wikipedia for lack of a handy text)

    The argument is, that given that ID begins with the affirmation of God and does not seek to prove his/her existence, then it is unscientific.

    Defining ID to begin with the hypothesis that what exists implies a creator, would have been more scientific, but Johnson begins with faith in God or as he says “affirm[ing] the reality of God.”

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  13. Stephen
    Jun 07, 2007 @ 04:34:48

    M.Z. Forrest:
    The view of John Paul II, that evolution is more than a hypothesis, is no more a teaching of the Church than gravity would be. The Church … doesn’t see herself as an agency of all knowledge. … She therefore avoids judgement on matters of the other sciences and instead focuses on the ethical implications.

    I take your point, that the Church is no more qualified to reach scientific conclusions than Richard Dawkins is to reach theological conclusions; moreover, that evolution is not a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. I appreciate the strengths of this approach, which respects the boundaries between one discipline and another: each to his own area of expertise. (Although your reference to “the other sciences” implies that the Church is a science, which is a bit odd.)

    But, with respect, it is not true that the Roman Catholic Church avoids judgement on the question of evolution. Pope John Paul II’s statement judges evolution to be “more than a hypothesis.” I’m sure he deliberated very carefully before reaching that conclusion, and chose his words with equal care.

    Then, consider Morning’s Minion’s post. MM argues that Sam Brownback is not fully converted to Catholicism:

    American fundamentalists believe God’s word is a fixed text rather than reason incarnate, making the complementarity between faith and reason less essential. I think that Brownback, a Catholic covert from evangelical fundamentalism, still may have some distance to travel in this area.

    To be clear: MM doesn’t say, “Sam Brownback doesn’t accept evolution; therefore he isn’t fully Catholic”. There’s an additional link in the chain: (1) Brownback doesn’t accept evolution; (2) therefore Brownback doesn’t correctly understand the relationship between faith, reason, and scripture; and (3) therefore Brownback still hasn’t left Protestant evangelicalism entirely behind.

    Ultimately MM is utilizing the Church’s pronouncements on evolution to measure Brownback’s progress on the road from evangelicalism to Catholicism.

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  14. Stephen
    Jun 07, 2007 @ 04:43:23

    By the way, everybody, Michael’s comment on this post was misidentified as spam by WordPress’s filter. I have no idea why!

    It’s back in its rightful place, but it’s way up at the top of the thread where no one will see it now. 😦

    Reply

  15. Jamie
    Jun 07, 2007 @ 11:48:34

    Bill:

    The argument is, that given that ID begins with the affirmation of God and does not seek to prove his/her existence, then it is unscientific.

    Hmm. This is a little complicated. On one hand, you are right that Johnson takes God’s existence as truth, not hypothesis. In this sense, he has a “theistic agenda.”

    But technically speaking, I don’t think ID begins with the affirmation of God while skipping over the obligation to prove His existence. The whole point of ID is to provide scientific evidence of the existence of an intelligent designer. So while ID scientists might believe in God and bring this worldview to their work, they are not, in their science, assuming God’s existence from the outset. Rather than assuming it, they are attempting to provide evidence for that assertion.

    I realize that still doesn’t address the question of whether or not ID is “at its roots” a scientific endeavor. On one hand, I know it’s true that Johnson, etc. have some sort of mission to undermine naturalism. But of course this is what they would do if they were persuaded of God’s existence. Does that make their science illegitimate? I don’t know. But I’m a little hesitant about saying that “the goal of the intelligent design movement is to promote a theistic agenda cast as a scientific concept.” Such a statement implies that the movement is dishonest and that it isn’t based on real science, all because it has an agenda. I’m not (yet) persuaded that’s warranted.

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  16. Stephen
    Jun 07, 2007 @ 12:50:16

    In support of Jamie’s comment —

    Every scientist operates within his or her paradigm. Do you suppose that Richard Dawkins approaches science thinking, “Maybe this experiment will provide evidence that God exists”? No, he is only alert for evidence against God’s existence.

    The old scientific ideal (scientists are objective and their hypotheses are neutral) has been discredited since Thomas Kuhn‘s work in the 1960s:

    Kuhn’s approach to the history and philosophy of science has been described as focusing on conceptual issues: what sorts of ideas were thinkable at a particular time, what sorts of intellectual options and strategies were available to people during a given period, what types of lexicons and terminology were known and employed during certain epochs and the importance of not attributing modern modes of thought to historical actors.

    Taking this general stance, Kuhn’s book argues that the evolution of scientific theory does not emerge from the straightforward accumulation of facts, but rather from a set of changing intellectual circumstances and possibilities. (emphasis added)

    In other words, scientists think squarely within the paradigm of their culture. How does a paradigm ever shift?

    In any community of scientists, Kuhn states, there are some individuals who are bolder than most. These scientists, judging that a crisis exists, embark on what Thomas Kuhn calls revolutionary science, exploring alternatives to long-held, obvious-seeming assumptions. Occasionally this generates a rival to the established framework of thought. …

    The majority of the scientific community will oppose any conceptual change, and, Kuhn emphasizes, so they should. In order to fulfill its potential, a scientific community needs to contain both individuals who are bold and individuals who are conservative.

    It is now generally recognized that Kuhn is right: every scientist operates within one paradigm or another. That in itself is not a fatal objection to ID, in my view. When detractors say ID proponents are not doing science, the criticism is grounded elsewhere:

    Modern science is characterized by what philosophers call “methodological naturalism” — the pragmatic assumption that every physical phenomenon has a natural, versus a supernatural, explanation. … Since ID invokes a supernatural being to explain the formation of “irreducibly complex” physical structures, it does not employ methodological naturalism. Thus, by modern standards, it cannot be called “science.” …

    Methodological naturalism is a good thing for science. Imagine what would happen if it were abandoned. If the problem is difficult or the mechanism “irreducibly complex,” divine intervention could be invoked, allowing the scientist to effectively give up and move on. …

    In the face of “irreducibly complex” biochemical structures, most scientists have rolled up their sleeves and worked to demystify the complexity; IDers, in contrast, have plugged in their Intelligent Designer and derided further inquiry as “scientific materialism.”

    I’ve addressed this problem before. For example, little progress was made in curing epilepsy as long as it was seen as evidence of demonic possession. Only when people assumed that epilepsy had a natural cause could they seek to cure it (except by prayer, of course).

    For good reason, science excludes God as a variable. This is not a conclusion from scientific research, it’s a methodological assumption of scientific research. Foolishly, some scientists then get all excited because they’ve explained things without reference to God. It’s completely tautological.

    Hence the point of the Vox Nova post, that scientists cannot legitimately pronounce that God doesn’t exist. On the other hand, ID does appear to be operating in the realm of religion, not science.

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  17. Morning's Minion
    Jun 09, 2007 @ 21:44:03

    Thanks for all the comments on my Vox Nova post! My knowledge of the “scientific claims” of ID stems from the (very long and detailed) New Republic essay by Jerry Coyne. I recommend it. He shows quite clearly that ID goes far far beyond recognizing a rational Creator to actually challenging much of the evolution evidence.

    But the real issue is: we should not be mixing apples and oranges. Yes, we believe there is an “intelligent designer” in the universe, but no, we have no authority to challenge the claims on science. This works both ways, as neo-Darwinists also have no right to wade into theological speculation. Keep “physics” and “metaphysics” apart. This was very much the guiding philosophy of the late Stephen Jay Gould. With this in mind, teaching ID as an “alternative” to evolution is ludicrous.

    And yes, this is only an issue in the US because literalist Protestantism seems to exist only in the US.

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  18. Stephen
    Jun 12, 2007 @ 22:51:28

    By the way, the claim of some prominent neo-Darwinists that evolution proves the non-existence of God is equally ludicrous, as they step rather indelicately beyond science and into theological speculation, where they clearly have no expertise.

    I disagree. If our understanding of evolution is accurate, humans aren’t exactly special. We’re just another species that probably wouldn’t exist if we started the whole process of evolution over again. I’m curious how a Christian could justify belief in their god, realizing the universe wasn’t designed with us in mind.

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  19. Stephen
    Jun 13, 2007 @ 12:51:14

    First, I’m quite prepared to accept that God cares for all of creation. Not least humankind, but not exclusively humankind, either.

    Second, I would argue that God takes a long-range view. From a human perspective, 80 years seems a very long time. If we’re told that the universe existed for billions of years without us, that might seem to suggest that we’re a mere afterthought.

    But that’s a function of our subjective perspective. Presumably a billion years is a snap of the fingers to God.

    It may be that we are the point of creation (or its crowning glory, per Genesis) even if God took a slow, circuitous (evolutionary) route to our creation.

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  20. Stephen
    Jun 13, 2007 @ 14:15:28

    First, I’m quite prepared to accept that God cares for all of creation. Not least humankind, but not exclusively humankind, either.

    You can’t deny that the god of the Bible somehow favors humans. Did Jesus die for the sins of my dog too? Does God answer the prayers of penguins? When was the last time YHWH made a covenant with the willow trees?

    But that’s a function of our subjective perspective. Presumably a billion years is a snap of the fingers to God.

    But how can you assume (let alone verify) that? I think you’re making the mistake of trying to define your god into existence. We haven’t been able to recognize the Christian god, let alone any of its traits in any realm beyond wishful thinking.

    It may be that we are the point of creation (or its crowning glory, per Genesis) even if God took a slow, circuitous (evolutionary) route to our creation.

    Are you suggesting evolution has arrived at its final destination? A slow path would work, but evolution doesn’t stop. Like I said earlier, if we went back and changed a couple natural variables, our species almost certainly wouldn’t exist in its present form. I guess you could say God controlled the conditions that shaped our species, but this idea of a “rain god” died thousands of years ago.

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  21. Stephen
    Jun 13, 2007 @ 14:56:26

    Stephen:
    You can’t deny that the god of the Bible somehow favors humans.

    I didn’t deny that God favours humans; I referred to the statement in Genesis that human beings are the crowning glory of creation.

    (Which, on second thought, is not a direct quote from Genesis, but a theological interpretation of certain statements in Genesis. Oops!)

    Did Jesus die for the sins of my dog too? Does God answer the prayers of penguins? When was the last time YHWH made a covenant with the willow trees?

    You’re very close to mockery here. As a general principle, it’s a good idea to get some sense of who you’re in dialogue with before you start shooting off your mouth. If you take a little time to explore my blog, you’ll find that I am intelligent, educated, thoughtful, and definitely not an ideologue. If you’re interested in respectful dialogue on religion and many other matters, you’re in the right place.

    As for your argument (assuming you want me to take it seriously): neither dogs, penguins, nor willow trees are sentient organisms. Surely you and I can agree on that much. Therefore it is ridiculous to speak of the sins of a dog, the prayers of a penguin, or a covenant with a willow tree.

    Precisely because human beings have a higher (intellectual, emotional, and/or spiritual) capacity, it is not ridiculous to suppose that God could enter into a covenant with a human being, or answer our prayers. For the same reason, it is not illogical to think of humankind as having a special place in God’s designs for creation.

    Are you suggesting evolution has arrived at its final destination? A slow path would work, but evolution doesn’t stop. Like I said earlier, if we went back and changed a couple natural variables, our species almost certainly wouldn’t exist in its present form. I guess you could say God controlled the conditions that shaped our species, but this idea of a “rain god” died thousands of years ago.

    Whether God directs evolution purposefully is precisely the question at issue. Obviously Roman Catholics believe that God did. I’m not Roman Catholic, but I agree with the Catholic Church on this point.

    If God guides evolution, does that make him/her a “rain god”? In my view, that’s an illogical leap. I don’t see that the conclusion follows from the premise.

    Has evolution arrived at its final destination? That’s an interesting question, and I don’t presume to know the answer.

    If God exists, and if God did plan and direct evolution (as I believe), perhaps God has some further purpose that has yet to be disclosed to us. I believe the Bible contains a lot of wisdom, but its authors do not claim to reveal all mysteries to us. On the contrary:

    Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? … For from him and through him and to him are all things. Amen.
    (Romans 11:33-36)

    I understand this text to mean that Christians should not presume to know the full mind of God. We don’t need to know whether evolution has reached its final end, and God is not obliged to reveal things that we don’t need to know.

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  22. Stephen
    Jun 13, 2007 @ 17:27:01

    Yeah, sorry about that. I have a tendency to get a bit overly-sarcastic, and sometimes I forget how offensive it can come off, especially online.

    Precisely because human beings have a higher (intellectual, emotional, and/or spiritual) capacity, it is not ridiculous to suppose that God could enter into a covenant with a human being, or answer our prayers. For the same reason, it is not illogical to think of humankind as having a special place in God’s designs for creation.

    I guess I was confused then. We agree that the human species is somehow “special” to the god of the Bible, even if it’s just because we’re sentient?

    If God guides evolution, does that make him/her a “rain god”? In my view, that’s an illogical leap. I don’t see that the conclusion follows from the premise.

    If we assume God directs the process of evolution, he is reduced to the natural environmental conditions that select the best suited genetic combinations: plagues, weather phenomena, mountains, predators and other ultimately purposeless natural occurrences we know have never required supernatural intervention. I guess you can call natural selection “God”, but it’s more of a personal choice than necessary explanatory tool.

    Has evolution arrived at its final destination? That’s an interesting question, and I don’t presume to know the answer.

    Yes, but science does. We understand that living things are constantly mutating and adapting to their environments. It’s sort of like Newton’s laws of motion. There isn’t really any reason to believe it would randomly stop. Unless of course, everything stays exactly as it is from now on. I suppose an all-powerful deity could manage to find a way as well, but there should be signs of this interaction.

    I understand this text to mean that Christians should not presume to know the full mind of God. We don’t need to know whether evolution has reached its final end, and God is not obliged to reveal things that we don’t need to know.

    I don’t mean to sound rude, but I think this is the real, essential difference between faith and reason. Faith tells us to accept things we won’t necessarily ever understand and reason tells us to keep asking “why” and “how”.

    Reply

  23. Stephen
    Jun 14, 2007 @ 05:47:22

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    We agree that the human species is somehow “special” to the god of the Bible, even if it’s just because we’re sentient?

    Yes, God has a particular regard for the human species, but not just because we’re sentient. You have to reverse cause and effect here.

    I maintain that there is a purposeful Creator in back of the evolutionary process. That is, we didn’t just happen to evolve into sentient beings. Rather, God had this goal in mind even before s/he set out to create the cosmos.

    Our sentience gives us a capacity for a relationship with God (beginning with the potential to be aware of God’s existence) that other creatures lack.

    I realize this is not what scientists (at least, atheistic scientists) mean by evolution. They regard it as a random process with no purpose, no end goal. If they’re right about that, then it may still be possible to be a theist, but I think the Christian faith would cease to have any meaning at that point.

    (And even that is open to debate. Philosopher Richard Kearney has written a book called “The God Who May Be”, in which he is arguing for an open-ended view of God and history. In Kearney’s view, even the nature of God is not predetermined, but will assume its ultimate shape as a consequence of history. Yet Kearney is arguing from within the stream of Christian thought.)

    If we assume God directs the process of evolution, he is reduced to the natural environmental conditions that select the best suited genetic combinations: plagues, weather phenomena, mountains, predators, [etc.].

    Now I understand what you meant by the “rain god” remark. Thanks for explaining.

    I acknowledge that scientific discoveries have knocked Christian theology out of its traditional shape to a considerable degree. I’ve wrestled with some of the implications myself. For example, I have acknowledged that extinction episodes pose a real problem for a theistic interpretation of evolution.

    In my more cynical moments, I would go so far as to say that the evidence, on balance, is against the existence of a Creator of the sort that Christians believe in. Nonetheless, I continue to hold out hope that Christianity is true. One need not take a rigid, literalist approach to scripture; and I call in subjective experience as evidence in support of the Christian view of God (i.e., a personal, loving deity).

    I suppose one could say that I’m exploring the possibility of a hybrid between the Deist view of God (one who sets the cosmos in motion then ceases to have anything more to do with it) and the stereotypical Christian construction of God (the God of Tammy Faye Bakker is so involved in her daily life that he would tell her what socks to put on in the morning).

    In other words, God evidently permits the cosmos to tick along according to the “laws of nature” to a considerable extent. But Christians — even those who do not subscribe to the Intelligent Design movement per se — continue to doubt that evolution accounts for every detail of the cosmos: or for the “big picture”, for that matter. Whether we focus our attention on the forest or on the trees, we see evidence of God’s workmanship.

    There isn’t really any reason to believe [evolution] would randomly stop.

    I agree, there’s no evidence to suggest that evolution is about to stop, either of its own accord (“randomly”) or via an intervention of God. That’s one reason that my mind is open to the possibility that God has some greater design in mind that has yet to be realized.

    I think this is the real, essential difference between faith and reason. Faith tells us to accept things we won’t necessarily ever understand and reason tells us to keep asking “why” and “how”.

    I understand where you’re coming from, and I take your point. But you misunderstood my motivation in quoting the scripture.

    I was responding to your assumption that Christianity cannot accommodate an ongoing process of evolution that might transcend human beings as the highest point in creation, the apple of God’s eye. My point was, there’s nothing in scripture to foreclose that possibility.

    Scripture informs human beings about their relationship with God, but that’s only one story. There may be greater tales yet to be told that the authors of scripture never dreamed of. That’s where Paul’s admission that he doesn’t know the full mind of God is relevant.

    I continually question received truth: whether it comes from theology or science! One of the ways that truth emerges is via dialogue, and I intentionally position myself where worldviews collide. In my view, science provides a humbling and salutary critique of theology; but I think scientists may likewise have more to learn from theology than they know.

    Reply

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