ESSAY VII: THEOLOGIES OF AN EVOLVING CREATION
Robert J. Schneider
Everything exists in God. All we can perceive is the activity of nature, but with faith we can see God at work. The tiniest particle of matter and the smallest moment of time contain something of God's concealed activity. God hides behind the curtain of his creation's business.
From Abandonment to Divine Providence
Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751)
I began Essay IV on big bang and the universe story with a reference to paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), and Essay V on evolution with a quotation from the eminent biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975). I didn't tell my readers that these scientists were Christians. Teilhard, who uncovered fossils of Homo erectus in China during the 1930s, was a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit Order) and a pioneer in integrating Christian theology with evolutionary thought. Dobzhansky, who immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union, did important work in the field of population genetics and was instrumental in the development of the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory. He also distinguished himself openly as a practicing Russian Orthodox Christian (Greene 91-113).
I am making this point to challenge the notion, so firmly implanted in the minds of many people, that no evolutionary scientists are Christians, or that one cannot be both an evolutionist and a Christian. In fact, some young earth creationists disapprovingly quote Dobzhansky's statement that "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" without ever mentioning that Dobzhansky was a Christian. This fact makes me wonder if they have ever bothered to read his article in The American Biology Teacher (1973) with that title. Had they done so, they would have learned about his Christian faith and read his statement on creation and evolution: "It is wrong," he wrote, "to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist." They also would have read his tribute to another Christian who embraced evolution and who influenced him spiritually, the same Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
"There is no doubt at all that Teilhard was a truly and deeply religious man and that Christianity was the cornerstone of his worldview. Moreover, in his worldview science and faith were not segregated in watertight compartments, as they are with so many people. They were harmoniously fitting parts of his worldview. Teilhard was a creationist, but one who understood that the Creation is realized in this world by means of evolution" (Dobzhansky 129).
Were Dobzhansky and Teilhard the only Christians in the sciences who brought evolution and creation together, one might choose to dismiss them as oddballs, but in fact they are among many thousands, here in the United States and elsewhere, who have done so. They include many evangelical Christians, among whom are members of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) (see Introduction). These men and women also maintain with Dobzhansky that "evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive alternatives." A few of these scientists will appear in this essay, but mostly I will introduce theologians, some of whom have also been practicing scientists, who are bringing to contemporary Christian thought ideas about how God relates to a creation that is evolving.
Darwin and Divinity: A Historical Perspective
What these men and women are doing is hardly new. Beginning in the thirteenth century, theologians adapted their understanding of creation to the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic model of an earth-centered circular cosmos, so different from the ancient Hebraic model (essay II). Then, after some struggle with the Copernican remapping of the cosmos and the Newtonian model of a world machine, theologians eventually found ways to accommodate their thinking to this cosmology. The current reflections on God's action in a creation known to be evolving, the universe of Darwin and Einstein, stands very much in this tradition of faith seeking understanding.
Sadly, the great majority of Christians are unaware of this history. They are also not aware that the work of bringing creation and evolution together flourished in Darwin's day.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century many prominent evangelical and reformed theologians and scientists in both the United Kingdom and North America concluded that evolutionary science is not in conflict with Christian faith in creation.
During the decades following the publication of The Origin of Species, Darwin enjoyed the support of many Anglican clergy, including leading educators and theologians; some were country parsons who studied nature as well as scripture (Phipps 86-95). Theologian Aubrey Moore described Darwin as one who, "disguised as a foe, did the work of a friend," for thanks to him Christianity must now understand that "God is everywhere present in nature" (cited in Peacocke, 1998, 357). The prominent Calvinist theologian James Orr (1844-1913) was one among many who accepted evolution while disagreeing with some aspects of Darwin's own interpretation of the process. His words were not untypical:
Assume God—as many devout [Christian] evolutionists do—to be immanent in the evolutionary process, and His intelligence and purpose to be expressed in it; then evolution, so far from conflicting with theism, may become a new and heightened form of the theistic argument. The real impelling force of evolution is now from within… (Orr, in Livingstone 142)
This re-evaluation of the ancient doctrine of God's immanence in creation became a theme in the writings of evolution's supporters among American scientists and theologians. Biologist Asa Gray (1810-1888) and geologist James Dana (1813-1895) were part of an alliance of evangelical evolutionists. Both were active churchman, committed to traditional Christian doctrine. Gray, America's foremost botanist, was a friend and correspondent of Darwin's. His extensive studies of American flora had led him to abandon separate creation, and he found in natural selection a convincing explanation for the great variety of plant species (Livingstone 62-64). Dana held pride of place among American geologists. At first a progressive creationist, he came in time to accept evolution, and saw natural selection as a natural law or method that pointed beyond nature to a Lawgiver. Gray and Dana rejected the notion of evolution as materialistic and aimless. Holding to "a strictly scientific Darwinism," they were convinced that evolution did not contradict belief in design and purpose in nature. Because of their stature as scientists and evangelical churchmen, they were influential in establishing evolution among members of both groups (76-77).
Likewise, thinkers in the reformed tradition were relating theology and science in a positive way. They included Scottish Presbyterian philosopher James McCosh (1811-1894), who became president of Princeton University in 1868, and Presbyterian theologian Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921), a Kentuckian and professor at Princeton Seminary. McCosh devoted himself to developing a natural theology that incorporated evolution (Livingstone 106-112). Warfield, one of the most highly respected thinkers of his era, was a thoroughly orthodox Calvinist, and, notably, perhaps the most articulate promoter of biblical inerrancy; yet, he saw no conflict between Scripture and science when it came to understanding evolution as an expression of God's creative activity. "I am free to say, for myself," he wrote, "that I do not think there is any general statement in the Bible, or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Gen. I & II, or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution" (Warfield, in Livingstone 118). Warfield could say this because, following Calvin, he "held that scripture did not need to be interpreted literally when it referred to nature" (see essay III). Furthermore, "the findings of science could be enlisted to help discover proper interpretations of scripture" (Noll and Livingstone 64).
Like other theologians sympathetic to evolution, Warfield read deeply and discerningly in the field and kept abreast of developments. And like his Congregationalist brethren Gray and Dana he distinguished between "evolution" and "Darwinism," meaning by the latter a wholly materialistic process, and accepted the former while rejecting the latter. To his understanding of God and nature Warfield applied the concept of concurrence, expressed by the Latin word concursus. He first had used concursus to explain how the Bible could be the inerrant, inspired work of the Holy Spirit and at the same time the work of its human authors. The same is true, he said, of Nature, God's other "Book": it operates by secondary causes, the so-called laws of nature, which include evolution, with which God, the Primary Cause, endowed the universe at the beginning of creation, while concurrently it is guided, governed, and sustained by God's superintendent Providence (Noll and Livingstone 69-70).
These men were among the most influential of a large number of nineteenth-century churchmen who integrated a scientific understanding of Darwinian evolution with a comprehensive theological worldview anchored in conservative Christianity.
Unfortunately, their story is hardly known among evangelical Christians today. It is ironic that at the very time when the discovery of DNA and research in molecular biology were providing much more compelling evidence for evolution, the movement known as young earth creationism began to make an impact on fundamental and conservative Christians in the United States. Since 1960, the young earth creationist movement and since 1990 its "Intelligent Design" variant have succeeded in persuading many people in North America that evolution and creation are opposed to one another, and that evolution is an atheistic philosophy that leaves no room for God.
Evolution vs. Evolutionism
I hope to help the reader understand the distinction that Gray and Warfield clearly understood and made between evolution as empirical science and evolutionism as materialistic philosophy. Today, many evangelicals as well as other Christians in North America and Europe accept the science even as they reject the evolutionism of scientific materialists like biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel Dennett. These materialists claim that matter, energy, space and time are all that exists and reject the notion that there is any design, purpose, and meaning to the world and to the development of life. They argue that the scientific theory of evolution explains everything, and that there is no need for a deity to account for the world. The universe is a "brute fact": it simply exists, and that is that. According to their extreme form of reductionism, biological evolution has one blind and undirected aim: the propagation and survival of an organism's genes. Tragically, the young earth and intelligent design creationists have accepted this materialistic characterization of evolution, and in their rejection of the agnosticism and atheism of its proponents, they have also rejected the science.
Were McCosh and Warfield here today, they would agree with the young earth creationists (as would every Christian!) in rejecting the materialists' claims, but they would also distinguish the philosophy from the science. I would expect them to join the efforts of a new generation of theologians that have educated themselves in, and in some cases practiced, the sciences of big bang cosmology, quantum physics, molecular biology, genetics, paleobiology, and other sciences which have emerged during the twentieth century. Having a much more developed empirical knowledge of the world than the one available to their nineteenth-century predecessors, these men and women are showing how evolution and creation can be brought together to provide a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of God's creation.
These new thinkers criticize evolutionism just as strongly as the earlier evangelicals did. Roman Catholic theologian John F. Haught is but one example. He calls attention to the nature of evolutionary materialism: it is a metaphysical belief system based on scientism, the belief that science provides the only path to truth. Far from being scientific, these beliefs are "gratuitous assumptions about nature that arise from personal and social preferences" which have nothing inherently to do with science (Haught, 2001, 107-108). In reducing the essence of reality to a purely material process, the materialists have shown themselves, Haught argues, to be scientific literalists who are unable to imagine that there are more levels of explanation for the phenomenon of life than the single reductionistic level they have latched on to (Haught, 2003, 108). The Christian, however, can go "deeper than Darwin" to the Ground and Source of all that is. There, in the depths of creation the God of evolution comes to be revealed as the God of Christian Faith.
Creation Theologies for an Evolutionary Universe
I turn now to the main focus of this essay and summarize some of the major concepts these thinkers have developed to bring theology and the natural sciences together in conversation. Their thinking remains rooted in the Church's biblical and theological traditions, for they reflect on how the Triune God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--relates to an evolving universe. Many assert that the classic doctrines of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) and continuous creation (creatio continua) are consonant with Big Bang cosmology and biological evolution. Some see continuous creation through primary and secondary causation as a useful model for understanding God's action in evolutionary processes.
They are also helping to restore the true meaning of the term "creation." Most people assume that it refers simply to the origination of the universe. But biblically speaking, it means much more. As the influential German evangelical theologian Jürgen Moltmann and others have emphasized, it encompasses original creation, continuous creation, and new creation (Moltmann 206-214).
"Creation" is a theological, not a scientific term. It refers primarily to a covenantal relationship between God and the universe, and only secondarily to origins.
When this fact is properly understood, then there is no reason to think that the modern scientific world-picture is in conflict with the doctrine of creation. Rather, big bang and biological evolution are providing theology with the stimulus to think new thoughts about how God relates to the creation.
I realize that many reading this essay will find it difficult to accept the notion that creation and evolution belong together. The belief that they are opposing and conflicting concepts has become so ingrained in the minds of many Christians that it is hard for them to fathom that the Triune God of Christian faith, the God of the Bible, may work out his creative purposes through an evolutionary process. They have been taught that they must make a choice: either creation or evolution. These new theologians are inviting them to see that this is a false choice and to consider a "both/and" alternative. I ask those who might be resistant to this option to let their guard down for a moment and consider the following theological concepts that bring the two together.
"In Whom we live and move and have our being"
Contemporary theology has put forth a variety of new models of God's relationship to the creation, yet all agree on one thing: God is to be understood not as intervening from outside the creation to perform creative acts, but as interacting with each and every creature within the creation itself. As Roman Catholic theologian Denis Edwards puts it, the Triune God "is present to every creature in its being and becoming" (Edwards 32-33).
God's presence pervades every part and particle of the whole universe throughout space and time from its beginning in the big bang to the emergence of each new living species.
The traditional theology of God's immanence in continuous creation, emphasized by their nineteenth-century forebears, has been accorded even greater appreciation by today's theologians.
That God is in all things is consonant with another notion that has been put forward in recent years--panentheism. One can find historical traces of it in both western and eastern orthodox theology (Clayton), though the word itself was popularized by English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). Panentheism is not the same as pantheism, the concept that "all things are God." Rather, panentheism is the concept that "all things are in God." Theologians in various traditions have offered different ways of defining and modeling this God-world relationship. I shall focus here on the ideas of Moltmann and Anglican theologian Arthur Peacocke.
"In the panentheistic view," Moltmann writes, "God, having created the world, also dwells in it, and conversely the world which he has created exists in him" (1993, 98). He writes of God "making space," a nothing (nihil) to which God gives being (creatio ex nihilo). "God does not create merely by calling something into existence…. In a more profound sense he ‘creates' by letting-be, by making room, by withdrawing himself" (88-89). Moltmann's language expresses "the idea of the world, including humanity, as enveloped by God without losing its true distinctiveness…" (Peacocke, 2004, 145). His spatial imagery does not refer to location, as if the world were a part of God, but to an ontological relation, i.e., a distinction in the nature of being: the created world exists in but is not identical with the uncreated Creator.
In concert with Moltmann's theology, Peacocke writes that "God is best conceived of as the circumambient [i.e., surrounding] reality enclosing all existing entities, structures and processes, and as operating in and through all, while being ‘more' than all. Hence, all that is not God has its existence within God's operation and Being" (Peacocke, 2004, 146). This created other is the universe discovered and described by the natural sciences, the world we now recognize to be characterized by cosmic and biotic evolution (ibid.).
Other panentheistic models have been suggested, but all reveal a common theme: the world is given existence, energy, life, nourishment, and continuous creation by the God "in whom we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:15) (Clayton 253-254).
Providence and Chance: primary and secondary causality
Not all theologians are persuaded that panentheism provides a theologically adequate model for the God-world relationship, yet all do agree that God is to be understood as the immanent Creator. Several models have been proposed to account for divine action in the world. I begin with an older and traditional one. Recall that B. B. Warfield used the language of concursus and secondary causality in describing God's creative activity. He was employing a concept that goes back to the thirteenth-century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274). Nature, Thomas asserted, operates by natural laws—he called them secondary causes—through which God the Primary Cause works God's providential purposes in creation (see Essay II). Warfield extended this concept to include evolution as one of those secondary causes. This tradition has been attractive to some scientists in evangelical and reformed traditions. Terry M. Gray, an ASA fellow, computational biochemist, and member of the Christian Reformed Church, is one. He finds in concursus as it is articulated by Warfield's Princeton colleague and mentor, theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878), a way to account for God's immanent activity in nature: God effects his providential ends through the natural processes by which life continues to develop (Gray, 2003(2)). For Gray, "all of the events envisioned by an evolutionist are under God's oversight" (Gray, 2003(1), 286). Keith B. Miller, a field geologist, ASA fellow, and member of the Evangelical Free Church of America sees God's relationship to an evolving creation in a similar way:
Christians with a high view of scripture should not fear the involvement of secondary causes in God's creative acts. In fact, a progressive creative history involving secondary causes seems to me most consistent with God's providence and immanence in creation, as well as His transcendence over it. God is the source of all created reality but has given the physical universe a role in its own creation. God thus affirms His creation not only in its existence but in its dynamic activity (Miller 1993, my italics)
The concept of secondary causation is shared by scientists in non-evangelical traditions as well. Roman Catholic Jesuit and astrophysicist William Stoeger also holds that God works through the laws of nature, using them as instruments to fulfill God's intended purposes: "If we put this in an evolutionary context…we can conceive of God's continuing creative action as being realized through the natural unfolding of nature's potentialities and the continuing emergence of novelty, of self-organization, of life, of mind and spirit." Such an understanding of God preserves the doctrine of God's transcendence: God is not a cause like natural causes (Stoeger 249, also quoted in Barbour 102).
A Fully-Gifted, Self-Organizing, Freely Creating Universe
Physicist Howard J. Van Till took this concept a step further through his principle of a "robust formational economy." The evidence science has gathered from nature, he asserted, may lead a believer to conclude that God has "thoughtfully conceptualized and fully gifted" the creation from its initial formation. These divine gifts have made it possible "for the creation to organize and transform itself from elementary forms of matter into the full array of physical structures and life-forms that have existed in the course of time" (my italics). One must understand "creation" not as "the imposing of form…but the giving of being, a uniquely divine act" (Van Till 188).
God has endowed the creation from the beginning with all of the capacities, potentialities, powers, and pathways to become the universe we experience.
The nineteenth-century Anglican minister Charles Kingsley, an associate of Darwin, would likely have agreed with Van Till. He wrote that God has made a universe that is able to make itself. This notion that the universe enjoys a "free process," as Polkinghorne put it, just as human beings enjoy free will (1996, 46-47), troubles many people in the case of biological evolution. How does God act as Primary Cause concurring with a process as random as genetic mutation? How are we to understand the freedom that the world apparently exhibits in the unpredictable development of life through chance and natural selection? One way lies in seeing the interplay between chance and natural selection as a secondary cause. Peacocke, who pioneered in DNA research as a physical chemist before he became an Anglican priest, uses the language of Lutheran eucharistic theology, to describe the universe as a sacrament of God's presence: God works "in, with, and under" the processes of the natural order. Far from being a threat to a notion of a creating God, "the processes unveiled by the biological sciences," he states, "are God-acting-as-Creator.... God is the ultimate ground and source of both law (‘necessity') and ‘chance'" (Peacocke, 1993, 360-363). Roman Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson, invoking the concept of concursus, puts it this way:
God uses chance, so to speak, to ensure variety, resilience, novelty, and freedom in the universe, right up to humanity itself. Absolute Holy Mystery dwells within, encompasses, empowers through the evolutionary process, making the world through the process of things being themselves, thus making the world through chance and its genuinely irregular character. If God works through chance, then the natural creativity of chance itself can be thought of as a mode of divine creativity in which it participates (Johnson 363, 365; see also Haught, 2001, 106-107).
Thus evolution through the interplay of chance and natural selection is not in conflict with the doctrine of creation but can be understood to be the very process that God intends for and works within the creation. The universe as creature participates in the creativity of its Maker.
Just as a composer, Peacocke suggests, is present in the music that the performers make through their own interpretation and talent, so God is not only present in the compositional elements God created but also in the music the world creates (Peacocke, 1993, 359-360). Roman Catholic theologian John Haught and Anglican quantum physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne both write (echoing Kingsley) that God has graced the world with the freedom to make itself, and that God is present in this free process (Haught 2000, 39-40; Polkinghorne, 1996, 50). The freedom that the creation displays in its divinely-gifted operations is consonant with God's purposes and ends.
These models of God's relationship with an evolving creation do not answer the question that so easily arises in one's mind: just how does God act? Behind the question lies the understandable human desire to be able to point to God's "fingerprints" in natural processes, or to find a "causal joint" where God's creative activity could be identified. How reassuring that would be to so many believers! Intelligent Design advocates claim that they are able to do so, and I believe that this is a major reason for the popularity of this new movement. I will deal with their arguments and criticisms of them in a later essay. Most theologians, however, take the position of Polkinghorne that "divine action will always be hidden." "[The] intermingling of providential grace with the freedom of nature will not be demonstrable by experiment though it may be discernable by the intuition of faith" (1996, 72).
The Creator as Lover
In reflecting on an evolving universe which has been given a role in its own creation some theologians have emphasized a biblical model for the Creator that differs from the Absolute Monarch determining each and every event in nature.
The God of evolution is the God whose very nature is Love (1 John 4:8).
Whitehead characterized God's relationship to the world as that of a persuasive Lover, and others such as Edwards, Haught and Peacocke have offered variations on Whitehead's theme. Consider that the love relationship is the fundamental and most intimate of relationships, and that the essence of love is to persuade rather than coerce. Consider further that the experience of the beloved is to flourish and grow and emerge into fullness of life as a result of being loved. If this is so in human experience, then in a much more profound way God's divine, unconditional love for the creation must be such as to invite, to entice, the creation into ever more complex levels and ramifications of being. To accomplish this, the God of infinite love "freely accepts the limits of loving finite and created beings, [and] accepts the integrity of nature, its processes and its laws." God invites the world through the complex interplay of all of its elements to emerge into more novel forms and greater beauty through the evolutionary process (Edwards 41-42; Haught, 2000, 40-41).
The Vulnerable God: Creation, Kenosis, Suffering and Redemption
Many Christians are likely to be uncomfortable with the notion that the Creator may be something less than the "omni-" God of classical theology, the God who is omniscient and omnipotent, exercising absolute power over the creation at every moment of its existence. Yet the notion of a vulnerable, self-limiting God is itself biblical. An important passage in Paul's writings has proved to be illuminating in this respect. In the Letter to the Colossians (1:17), it is said of Christ (panentheistically) that "in him all things hold together." Yet, of this same Christ Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians (2:5-8) that "though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, … [and] humbled himself…." The Greek noun for "emptying" is kenosis.
Kenosis has become an important concept in the thinking of many theologians today. Applied to God's relationship to an evolving creation, it suggests that God freely and graciously withdraws absolute power over the creation in order to "let the world be," to allow the world to experience its possibilities. Kenotic theology invites the believer to think of God's relationship to the creation in a way that brings out love's humility (Murphy, 2003(1), 372). Moltmann reflects on St. Paul's words that "love is patient" (1 Cor. 13:4):
God acts in the history of nature and human beings through his patient and silent presence, by which he gives those he has created space to unfold, time to develop, and power for their own movement. We look in vain for God in the history of nature…if what we are looking for is special divine interventions. Is it not much more that God waits, and awaits…, that ‘he is patient and of great goodness' (Ps. 103:8)? ‘Waiting' is never disinterested passivity, but the highest form of interest in the other. Waiting means expecting, expecting means inviting, inviting means attracting, alluring, enticing. By doing this the waiting and awaiting one keeps an open space for the other, gives the other time, and creates possibilities of life for the other. This is what the theological tradition called creatio continua [continuous creation]… (Moltmann, 2001, 149).
Creation as kenosis is, in the words of Polkinghorne, "the work of Love." It is God's love not God's power that is almighty. This almighty and unconditional love empowers the creation to explore and unfold its evolutionary possibilities.
However, an evolving creation brings into even sharper relief a fact that has always challenged Christian theology, the troubling question of theodicy: how can a benevolent and loving God allow so much physical and natural evil in the world? If evolution is creation, then how does the theologian who takes this view justify God's allowing a process that has led species into dead ends, deaths and extinctions on a massive scale? What sense can one make of all this apparent brutality and destruction of life in the biotic universe that counts life's evolutionary history in millions of species over billions of years?
One way to address this tragic question is to look for an answer in the idea of a loving, self-emptying, vulnerable God. Just as in human affairs love must allow the beloved freedom to make mistakes and even fall into tragedy, so God's love for his autonomous creation must take the risk of allowing evolution to lead individuals and species to suffering, death, and extinction (cf. Haught, 2001, 114-115). Such vulnerability is not weakness, but strength--the strength of love.
Some theologians have found an answer to theodicy in the Theology of the Cross that comes out of the Lutheran tradition of the Protestant Reformation. George Murphy, an ASA fellow with a doctorate in physics and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, sees in the cross of Christ God's answer to the suffering of the natural world as well as human sin and suffering. Through the Son's humbling himself and being obedient even to death upon the cross (Phil. 2:8), God accepted and endured a violent act of suffering. The passion of Christ is "a claim that God suffers with the world from whatever evil takes place" (Murphy, 2003(2), 87).
In the suffering of Christ, God identifies with and shares the suffering not only of humanity but of all creation. God suffers with a suffering world.
Roman Catholic theologian John Haught also views evolution and the immense suffering experienced in the creation in the light of the cross:
Reflection on the Darwinian world can lead us to contemplate more explicitly the mystery of God as it is made manifest in the story of life's suffering, the epitome of which lies for Christians in the crucifixion of Jesus. In the symbol of the cross, Christians discover a God who participates fully in the world's struggle and pain…. Evolutionary biology not only allows theology to enlarge its sense of God's creativity by extending it over measureless eons of time; it also gives comparable magnitude to our sense of the divine participation in life's long and often tormented journey (Haught, 2000, 46; also cited in Peters and Hewlett 144).
Evangelical theology has tended to focus upon the cross as an act of atonement for human sinfulness. However, the New Testament makes clear that in the suffering of the cross, God in Christ enters into a redemptive relationship with the entire cosmos, the whole creation that is "groaning like a woman in labor," awaiting its release (Rom. 8:19-25). Through Christ "God was pleased to reconcile all things...by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20). In Christ's passion God identifies with all the struggles and tragedies of the evolving creation from the beginning. Through Christ's resurrection God brings to the whole creation the hope and promise of the future that will be fulfilled when some day, in some way--a mystery too deep to imagine--all things will be taken up into the life of God in Christ (Eph. 1:10; cf. Moltmann, 1993, 91). If, as in panentheism, God "in the beginning" makes a space to let a world be, so, in Paul's ecstatic vision, in the end God will take this evolving world into God's self, "so that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
"I am the Alpha and the Omega": Teilhard's Eschatological Vision
This vision of the end of creation (eschatology is the theological term for it) appears in exalted form in the writings of the man I introduced at the beginning of this essay, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I conclude this survey by introducing a few features of his remarkable theology of creation. Dobzhansky rightly noted that for Teilhard, science and faith were "harmoniously fitting parts of his worldview."
Probably no other thinker has proposed a theology that so thoroughly understands evolution as the instrument of God's ultimate purpose for the creation. Teilhard's writings reveal the mind and heart of one who was scientist, theologian and mystic.
For Teilhard evolution is creation, a genesis still unfolding. From the big bang toward an end that Teilhard calls the Omega Point ("omega" is the last letter in the Greek alphabet), the whole universe is evolving, and it does so with a divinely implanted directionality, even as it is free to make itself. Its story is one of a continuous progression of increasing complexity from elementary particles to multicellular organisms. In the biosphere of earth, evolution has led life through ever-new degrees of consciousness to human self-consciousness and a new level of complexity which Teilhard calls the noosphere, the sphere of human thought (Haught, 2001, 134). In humanity evolution has become conscious of itself.
At this point Teilhard moves from a philosophical to a visionary theology. In human beings evolution has entered a new stage. Despite evolution's branching character, creation is moving toward convergence and eventual unity, and this new stage of genesis is manifested in the evolution of human thought. Progressing toward "a sort of super-consciousness" expressed in social integration and spiritual maturity (Teilhard, 1959, 250-253), humanity will eventually unite in the mystical Body of the resurrected and exalted Jesus Christ. He is the Omega Point, the center of reality (cf. Rev. 22:13). The One who "guides from within the universal progress of the world" (Teilhard, 1969, 75), is also the Telos or end to which the evolutionary process, focused in humanity, will come to its fullness (cf. Eph. 1:10). Evolver and evolved shall merge into one (1969, 181), united "by the differentiating and communicating action of love" (1955, 308). In this panentheistic vision, "Creation, totally dominated by Christ, will be lost in him and through him within the final and permanent unity, where (in St. Paul's very words…), ‘estai ho theos panta en pasin' [‘God will be all in all' (1 Cor. 15:28)]" (1969, 75). Inspired by the ecstatic language of his spiritual mentor St. Paul, Teilhard brought a mystical sensibility to his evolutionary eschatology. His is a spirituality of evolution.
The theologies presented here represent a continuum of views about God and creation, ranging from a traditional theology of divine sovereignty over nature's operations to those which acknowledge in the creation a considerable degree of free process. I've included Warfield's conservative model of a superintendent God creating concurrently with secondary causes; Van Till's robust formational economy principle; the model of continuous creation through chance and selection found in Peacocke and Johnson; the God of Love giving the world freedom to make itself, as portrayed by Edwards and others; the kenotic theology of Moltmann and Polkinghorne; the theology or symbol of the cross found in the writings of Murphy and Haught; and Teilhard's eschatological vision of evolution's completion and fulfillment in the cosmic Christ. Yet, these constitute only a selection of a larger spectrum. To keep the exposition from becoming unduly lengthy I have reluctantly omitted, as knowledgeable readers will recognize, the contributions of process theologians and those who are reflecting on ways of understanding divine action in the light of quantum theory, chaos theory, and information theory. These concepts are interesting and worth looking into, and for that purpose I direct the reader to the works of Ian Barbour, John Haught, John Polkinghorne, William G. Pollard, and Robert Russell listed in the bio-bibliographies you will find by clicking the "Resources" link below. Another useful source is the book by Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa listed in the "Selected readings" which follow this essay.
The discerning reader will have noticed that I did not use the phrase "theistic evolutionist" to characterize the thinkers who appear in this essay, even though some of them might accept this label. I do not use it because I think that it is inadequate. The phrase puts the emphasis on evolution (the process) instead of on creation. and fails to convey the theological doctrine that we live in a created universe, which is the belief of every Christian who appears in this essay. Furthermore, "theistic" is a rather pale adjective to refer to the God of Christian Faith: it lacks the dynamism of the concepts and models we have looked at. I suspect that most would be uncomfortable wearing the label "creationist," because it has become so identified with the young earth views they so firmly reject, and because in the public mind "creationist" is usually seen as opposed to "evolutionist." But I am not. However befuddling it may prove to be to some, I insist on calling myself an "evolutionary creationist." I think this phrase best conveys my belief that the God of biblical faith has empowered the universe and life with the ability to evolve, and that God continuously creates through these evolutionary processes.
Selected readings (for a fuller bibliography with notes on authors go to Resources )
Barbour, Ian G., When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners? San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
Clayton, Philip and Arthur Peacocke, ed., In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God's Presence in a Scientific World. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.
Dobzhansky, Theodosius, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution," The American Biology Teacher 35 (1973) 125-129. (http://people.delphiforums.com/lordorman/light.htm).
Edwards, Denis, The God of Evolution: A Trinitarian Theology. Matwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999.
Giberson, Karl W. and Donald A. Yerxa, Species of Origins: America's Search for a Creation Story. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002
Gray, Terry M., "Biochemistry and Evolution," in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, ed. by Keith B. Miller. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003(1), p. 256-287.
Gray, Terry M., "Give Me Some of That Old Time Theology: A Reflection on Charles Hodges' Discussion of Concursus in Light of Recent Discussions of Divine Action in Nature." Paper delivered at the 2003 Conference of the American Scientific Affiliation. (http://www.asa3.org/gray/GrayASA2003OnHodge.html).
Greene, John C., Debating Darwin: Adventures of a Scholar. Claremont, CA: Regina Books, 1999.
Haught, John F., Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003.
Haught, John F., God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.
Haught, John F., Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution. Matwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001.
Johnson, Elizabeth, "Does God Play Dice? Divine Providence and Chance," in An Evolving Dialogue: Theological and Scientific Perspectives on Evolution, ed. by James B. Miller. Revised Edition. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2001, p. 353-370. (http://www.aaas.org/spp/dser/evolution/perspectives/johnson.shtml)
Livingstone, David N., Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967.
Miller, Keith B., "Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 45 (1993) 150-160. (a condensed version is available at http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1993/PSCF9-93Miller.html).
Moltmann, Jürgen, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993.
Moltmann, Jürgen, "God's Kenosis in the Creation and the Consummation of the World," in The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis, ed. by John Polkinghorne. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001, p. 137-151.
Murphy, George L., "Christology, Evolution and the Cross," in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, (2003)(1), p. 370-389.
Murphy, George L., The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003(2).
Noll, Mark A. and David Livingstone, "Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield on Science, the Bible, Evolution, and Darwinism," in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, p. 61-71.
Peacocke, Arthur, "Biological Evolution—A Positive Theological Appraisal," in Evolutionary and Molecular Biology: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. by R. J. Russell et al. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory, 1998, p. 357-376.
Peacocke, Arthur, "Articulating God's Presence in and to the World Unveiled by the Sciences," in Clayton and Peacocke, p. 137-154.
Peacocke, Arthur, Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming—Natural, Divine, and Human. ("Theology and the Sciences Series") Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993.
Peters, Ted and Martinez Hewlett, Evolution from Creation to New Creation: Conflict, Conversation, and Convergence. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Polkinghorne, John, Quarks, Chaos and Christianity. Questions to Science and Religion. New York: Crossroad, 1996.
Phipps, William E., Darwin's Religious Odyssey. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002.
Stoeger, William, SJ, "Describing God's Action in the World in the Light of Scientific Knowledge," in Chaos and Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action, ed. by R. J. Russell et al. Vatican City: Vatican Observatory, 1998, p. 239-261.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, SJ, Christianity and Evolution. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1969.
Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, SJ, The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper & Row, 1959.
Van Till, Howard J., "The Fully Gifted Creation," in Three Views on Creation and Evolution, ed. by J. P. Moreland and John Mark Reynolds. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999.