Deep Resonances between Science and Theology, Part 6
Today's entry was written by Michael L. Peterson. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.
In part five of this six part series, Peterson concluded his discussion on major scientific themes, specifically focusing on the inter-connectedness inherent in the physical world. Part six delves into an even deeper theological study of this relationship between evolution and Christianity.
In The Trinity and the Kingdom, Moltmann anchors the original act of creation and its continuance in the inner-trinitarian love of the Father for the Son. The Father’s engendering love for the Son calls creation into life through the power of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling Spirit, then, permeates the entire cosmos—every atom, super nova, and biological form—with life-giving energy. In God in Creation, Moltmann writes: “Through the powers and potentialities of the Spirit, the Creator indwells the creatures he has made, animates them, holds them in life, and leads them into the future of his kingdom.”1 This pneumatological approach to creation is thoroughly perichoretic, displaying the Spirit’s transcendence (containing creation) and immanence (contained within creation). This is not a dominance-submission model of God and creation but rather a deeply relational one in which God not only brings creation into existence but also enters into it. And the free loving response he seeks is cooperation with the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit forms a pattern of relationships with creation analogous to the perichoretic relations within the life of the Trinity. Thus, the unfolding future of the world is not a pre-determined script but more like an improvisation between God and creatures.
John Polkinghorne affirms the Spirit’s providential guidance in the workings of the world studied by science:
The actual balance between chance and necessity, contingency and potentiality, which we perceive seems to me to be consistent with the will of a patient and subtle Creator, content to achieve his purposes through the unfolding of process and accepting thereby a measure of the vulnerability and precariousness which always characterize the gift of freedom by love.2
Providential guidance is also seen in the astonishing drive within creation towards increasingly elaborate forms of life, which eventually results in a rational, self-aware creature that can be said to bear the divine image. Fundamental anthropic fertility was built into the fabric of the universe from the start, but its actual form of realization was explored and fulfilled by the contingency of evolving history. So, Gould’s conviction that the chanciness of evolution would never again produce soulish animals lacks the theological insight that God has willed that there be rational-moral-physical creatures capable of intimate fellowship with Him. Intriguing echoes of this theme can be found in the words of eminent scientists, words consistent with the convergence theory of Simon Conway Morris. Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson has suggested that the universe, in some sense, “knew we were coming.”3 In The Goldilocks Enigma, Paul Davis, cosmologist and recipient of the Faraday Prize, argues for a grand cosmic plan that makes the universe “just right” for life.4 Of course, the fact that that biological life should emerge and that rational and moral capacities should come to be present in animal form is, again, part of the oddity of it all.5 What this must mean is that the theme of relatedness in God’s economy is played out both in our intimate connection to matter and in our destiny in the higher life of God. Relatedness is, moreover, exemplified in the most astounding way in the Theandric One, God uniting with humanity forever. So, both creation and incarnation symbolize that the special dignity of humankind depends neither on its inhabiting the center of the universe nor on Homo sapiens being a separately and instantaneously created species.
The doctrine of creation assigns value and meaningfulness to the universe and its history. And the creaturely status of humans and the rest of nature entails that nothing that allows itself to be taken into the life of God will be irretrievably lost. Scientists tell us that the universe will come to an end—either in a “big crunch” as gravity overcomes the expansive effect of the Big Bang or by continued expansion as galaxies fly farther apart until they become gigantic black holes and collapse in upon themselves. Things will end in either a bang or a whimper, but end they will. And each human being—as a psychosomatic unity—ends in death. Science can tell us in great detail about death but cannot envision a destiny beyond death; yet science has not the last word. If all is not to be futility, the doctrine of creation must be inseparably linked to eschatology, which projects the hope that there is a destiny beyond death, a hope anchored in the faithfulness of the Creator who is also Redeemer. The damage suffered by all of creation, then, is being overcome by the Spirit’s activity which uplifts, restores, and transforms—making redemption not only personal, but corporate and cosmic as well. Christians believe that the new creation, arising from the old, has already begun with the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has become the bridge between the divine life and creaturely existence. So, the ground for eschatological hope is the faithful love of God testified to by the Resurrection.
The intimate relatedness of reality makes this one world, a cosmos, not reducible just to the universe described in theological terms (since science illuminates natural phenomena in a way theology cannot) or to the universe as studied by science (since theology supplies revelatory content not available to science). All things are connected in the God who is the very source of their connection—such that perspectives not only from science and theology, but from ethics and aesthetics as well, tell us one-truth:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-3 RSV)
Although the concept of Christ as the Word (logos) implies order, unity, and intelligibility in creation, a Trinitarian-kenotic-perichoretic Christian understanding goes even further in affirming creation’s decidedly evolutionary character in God’s economy, establishing mutual and deep resonance between the evolutionary themes of theology and science. Christian faith, then, must see science as revealing a world which is a reflection of God’s ways—making science itself sacramental, a visible sign of an invisible grace. And science, like all sacramental realities in the created world, is but a shadow of the greatest sacrament, the Incarnation in which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14 RSV).
Evolutionary thinking is integral to a complete vision of reality—a vision which both subsumes and transcends the results of natural theology, biblical theology, and a theology of nature—as it seeks to incorporate all we know into the synthetic activity of systematic theology. The historic, orthodox Christian theological tradition will find this holistic vision fruitful as it seeks to be an ever relevant witness to the Creator and Redeemer who bestows the gift of finite existence, works more by process than by episodic interruption, and ultimately offers liberation from transience and decay as the hope of all creation and fulfillment of all human longing.
1. Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God, trans. by Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), p. 14.
2. John Polkinghorne, One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology (West Conshohocken, Penn.: John Templeton Press, 2007), p. 82.
3. Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 250.
4. Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007); previously titled Cosmic Jackpot.
5. Of course, we Thomists have always affirmed the connectedness of humanity with the rest of physical nature: the soul is the form, or immensely complex information-bearing pattern, of the body. And this is entirely consistent with bearing the divine image.
Michael L. Peterson is professor of philosophy at Asbury University. He is also managing editor of Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers. His books include Reason and Religious Belief (Oxford); God and Evil (Westview); With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy of Education (Notre Dame); and Evil and the Christian God (Baker). He has produced multiple edited volumes and journal articles.