How Could God Create Through Evolution? Part 2

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July 26, 2010 Tags: Problem of Evil

Today's entry was written by Bethany Sollereder. 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.

How Could God Create Through Evolution? Part 2

This blog is the second piece in a series by Bethany Sollereder. The first entry is found here.

Last week we looked at how our very good evolutionary world necessarily includes unpleasant realities like earthquakes and pain. This week, we are going to look at why God might have created a world through evolutionary processes. What is the advantage of a world where pain and death are necessities? What is gained by an evolutionary process that would not be present in an unchanging, static, ‘perfect’ world? Why did God not simply create heaven in the first place? These are questions of huge theological significance and are not going to be satisfactorily answered here. I do, however, hope to offer some starting points for discussion.

I began to look at these questions by researching Irenaeus’s theology of creation. Irenaeus of Lyons was a second-century Church Father, and one of the Church’s greatest theologians. One of the most intriguing parts about his theology is that he understood the creation as being made in immaturity. Most of us imagine the world of Genesis 1-2, or the original creation, as a perfect world, where everything is already completed, and where Adam and Eve were meant to live out their lives in a perfect existence. Apart from multiplying and filling the earth, there is not a lot of room for growth, either physically or spiritually, for humans or for creation because everything has already “arrived.” In a radical re-imagining of this story, Irenaeus pictures Adam and Eve in the garden as children––not perfect, but on a journey toward maturity and perfection. This is because perfection is not something you can give to an infant; it must be grown into. Irenaeus argues, “For as it certainly is in the power of a mother to give strong food to her infant, [but she does not do so], as the child is not yet able to receive more substantial nourishment; so also it was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this [perfection] being as yet an infant.”1 So, God does not force something on to humanity that it is not ready for. Perfection was not something that could be implanted; it had to be journeyed toward. And so Irenaeus gives us our first value of an evolving world: room for the growth and development of humans.

Now, let’s extend this argument to the wider cosmos. Just as humanity is not created in static perfection, the world around is not fully completed either. Colin Gunton, reflecting on Irenaeus, writes, “Creation is a project... It has somewhere to go.”2 There is value in saying that creation has the freedom to grow, that it is an ongoing project. A world with freedom must have choice, and this is present in a world with a long evolutionary history. The cosmos, like humanity, is created very good, but it is not created in its final state. This giving of freedom (and perhaps even limited autonomy) to the creation is, I would argue, more consistent with the nature of divine love than a creation where everything is determined. God gives true freedom to humanity, leading to moral choice, and true freedom to creation, leading to evolutionary development. This is God’s act of love, and this is why God did not just make heaven in the first place.3 Freedom and growth are valuable, and God delights in them.

A third value given through evolution is the ability to move toward a goal. And that begs the question: “Where is evolution going?” I would argue that evolution was moving toward developing a community of beings which carries God’s image and amongst which God would be made incarnate. The Incarnation was not a contingency plan brought in when humanity sinned, but rather was one of the original purposes of creation. This concept is one of the great contributions of Irenaeus––creation was always headed for the Incarnation! Also, this creation was always part of the journey toward new life. God’s promise of a new creation is not a contingency plan either!4 The new (or, rather, renewed) creation, as described at the end of Revelation, was always part of the plan. I don’t think that any theodicy can say “this world is good” without also pointing forward to the time when there will be no pain, no death, and no tears, under some new and unimaginable reconstruction of the universe. Keep in mind that we do tend to imagine the new future as static in some ways. Many of the values that are achieved here (such as having children or freedom of moral choice) are not imagined to exist there in the same way. In no way does saying “this is a good world” undermine the Christian hope in the world to come. Actually, recognition that this life was always meant to be renewed can help our Christian walk. The spiritual growth coming from this world is seen most easily, perhaps, with the example of death.

In the present world, physical death is the most poignant reminder of our mortality. While we grasp at immortality through various means, we find it is always beyond our reach. The suffocating horror and fear that accompanies many of our encounters with death reminds us finally that we are not God. Yet it is in those moments of deepest agony that our need for the hope of resurrection is the strongest.

What do we do with death? In light of the new creation, death is a transition from this life to the new life. It is a leap of faith that God always intended, and one which God himself did not avoid. In the lives of saints and martyrs, we see a taste of what physical death was intended to be (I am speaking here of physical death without sin; our present experience of death is horridly marred by sin and the reality of spiritual death). We see how many of the martyrs approached death with peace, acceptance, and even joy––to lay down their lives and be called into the presence of God. I believe that this was the original intention of death. Death was to be a transition, a final giving up of oneself into the enfolding arms of God. Our bodies go to decompose and support new life, while our trust is placed in the promise of the resurrected life.

I want to be careful here. This does not mean that we should not grieve death. Even Jesus, when he was at the tomb of Lazarus, wept openly, even though he knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. There can be a strange disconnect, where if we Christians say something is good or natural, we sometimes feel we should then be able to avoid a real emotional response to the situation, or that faith means not being broken by certain situations. This is not what I am advocating. Encountering death should make us weep, because the loss we experience is real. Christian hope makes us more human, not less––we should feel more deeply, not less. But we should also feel differently. We grieve, knowing that there is hope and life and renewal ahead. We know that physical death does not have the last word, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We hear Paul’s triumphal cry “Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?…The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”5 Our path is not to avoid pain and death, but to walk through them, following our Lord and Savior in life, in death, and in resurrection life.

Speaking of Paul, I feel that I should acknowledge the big white elephant in the room. Someone will ask, “Doesn’t Paul say that death came through the Fall? How do you deal with the biblical texts where death is called the enemy of God?” This will be the topic of next week’s entry.

Notes

1. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, MI: 1975), IV. xxxviii. 1.
2. Colin Gunton, The Triune Creator: A Historical and Systematic Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 56.
3. Here, I mean “heaven” in the sense of the new heavens and the new earth of the eschatological future, not the current dwelling place of God.
4. Read, for example, N. T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008).
5. 1 Corinthians 15:55-56.


Bethany Sollereder has a Master's Degree in Christian Studies from Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. Her focus was on science and religion, and her thesis was entitled "Evolutionary Theodicy: Toward an Evangelical Perspective." She has been accepted into PhD studies at the University of Exeter and hopes to start in 2011. Bethany's first degree was in intercultural studies. Bethany's other great love is 19th century British history, so when she is not reading about science and religion, she can usually be found reading Victorian literature.

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Edge - #23636

July 27th 2010

Great series so far. With arguments like these I may very well find my faith again.


Dunemeister - #23645

July 27th 2010

Several people have objected to the idea that God might have had to create A&E in innocence/imperfection on the grounds that an omnipotent God surely could have created them perfect—whatever that means. I have a couple of questions about that objection.

1. How do we know what it takes to create perfection? Can God create real perfection in humans (or whatever would be an image-bearer of God) instantly, or does it require honest-to-goodness maturation? How would we know if the latter half of that disjunction is false?

2. How do we know what omnipotence implies? Does omnipotence carry the obligation to actually use it, or does wisdom or other factors call for restraint?

In short, is it not possible that in order to achieve the perfection sought, God had to use processes of maturation—physical and ethical—to get there? How would we know that an omnipotent God could or should have done otherwise? Shouldn’t we rather marvel at what God has done rather than complain about what he could have done? Doesn’t the complaint presume rather much about our own understanding?


Justin - #23647

July 27th 2010

James - #23616

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

That’s not an apologetic anymore.  Sorry.  Plantinga has done some outstanding work, I agree.  But this is no longer a given.  BTW, I’m a Christian…


Mike Gene - #23649

July 27th 2010

Hi Greg (#23582),

Isn’t this premise a bit odd, if you think about it?  To propose that God takes an inherently unpredictable, messy, chaotic, wasteful and cruel process, and calls it a plan?  Unless god continually monitored and shaped the process along the way, there would be no telling what the end result would be.  Compared with shaping someone from the dust, turning to a process that takes billions of years seems a bit much.  Genesis gives us a cozy picture - small world, carved out of the waters, shaped into a habitat for man (even woman is a late addition,  as man’s helper).

When I think about it, I reach a different conclusion.  Consider.


Mike Gene - #23650

July 27th 2010

Genesis gives us a cozy picture - small world, carved out of the waters, shaped into a habitat for man (even woman is a late addition,  as man’s helper).

If science had confirmed this view, I think I would have a serious doubt about God that could not be shaken.  I could not help but wonder if “God” was really a super-intelligent alien who had created a little habitat to experiment and/or play with its pets. That is, there was no God, only an imposter like something from a Star Trek episode. This is because creation would not inspire a sense of awe and would seem to testify to a creator that was “small.”  While this possibility always remains, I don’t take it seriously when pondering the size and age of the Universe.  It boggles the mind and elicits a sense of awe that, in my mind, stamps out this possibility.

There is a difference between putting us in a box and putting us on an island.


Mike Gene - #23651

July 27th 2010

To propose that God takes an inherently unpredictable, messy, chaotic, wasteful and cruel process, and calls it a plan?

The same exact complaint can be made if we substitute human history for natural history.  Human history has been an inherently unpredictable, messy, chaotic, wasteful and cruel process, yet my existence is seamlessly tied to it.  And like all Christians, I have no problem with viewing human history as part of a plan that is all leading to a specific destiny known by God. 

What this all means is that evolution adds no additional problem to the mix. As far as arguments against God go, it is superfluous.  Even if the “cozy picture” had explained the origin of the first man and woman, my own existence would still be tied to an inherently unpredictable, messy, chaotic, wasteful and cruel process that followed.  So the “cozy picture” would not rescue us from your problem; it would just amplify that problem as explained in my above paragraph.


Mike Gene - #23652

July 27th 2010

Unless god continually monitored and shaped the process along the way, there would be no telling what the end result would be.

For beings limited by space and time, this is true.  But God is not constrained in this way. He has always known the end result,  which is the very reason why this reality exists instead of an infinite number of possible realities that could have been created.


Mike Gene - #23655

July 27th 2010

Oh, and one more thing - evolution is not as “unpredictable, messy, chaotic, wasteful and cruel” as many people think it is.  But that’s another topic.


James - #23671

July 27th 2010

Justin:

I might not be as current as you in philosophy (I’m just a geologist) but can you maybe cite someone? Or provide a link showing how premise one is no longer a given? Thanks-


James - #23673

July 27th 2010

As far as my understanding goes-
You can either be realists or anti-realists about the existence of moral objectivity (or normativity).
Such projective accounts of moral normativity, of moral qualities and facts, offer one naturalistic explanation of the appearance of normativity… one that Mr. Greg Myers seems to adhere to.

A projective explanation thus avoids the need to posit God as the best explanation of the fact that moral normativity appears to exist.

But projectionism is false to our experience and gives rise to forms of moral skepticism that are corrosive of moral thought and action. We can’t rule on such issues here. (For a very clear form of moral projectionism see Mackie 1977)

So my contention is that people who do not accept premise one display such a high level of skepticism that they could hardly function if they held true to to that skepticism in their day to day lives.


Tulse - #23678

July 27th 2010

Dunemeister writes: “Can God create real perfection in humans (or whatever would be an image-bearer of God) instantly”

If such a god is indeed omnipotent, the answer has to be yes.  This is not a matter of logical impossibility, and thus must be within the capabilities of an omnipotent being.

“How do we know what omnipotence implies? Does omnipotence carry the obligation to actually use it, or does wisdom or other factors call for restraint?”

You’re absolutely correct that a being is not obligated to use their omnipotence, but that undercuts the original argument, which was that the only way humans COULD get to perfection was through historical processes, rather than being created that way.  The arguments presented in the original post assumed that a creator COULDN’T simply start with perfect people.  If you argue that a creator could, you now have to argue as to why such a being DIDN’T, which gets back to precisely the problem the original post was trying to solve.


Justin - #23680

July 27th 2010

James,

You probably know a lot more about philosophy than I do, actually.  All I’m saying is that, as far as I’m concerned, we can’t just take #1 as a fact.  We have to show evidence to support it.  I don’t see faith as a geometry proof that works if we state the first few steps correctly.  I think the game has changed, at least with the scientists (of which, I am one).  Perhaps the philosophical arguments works for non-scientists?  I don’t know…


gingoro - #23684

July 27th 2010

Tulse @23523

“But surely that is yet again implying a lack of omnipotence, no?”

It depends on the meaning of omnipotence.  Omnipotence could simply mean the ability to do all that can be done, all that God decides to do, not necessary anything that a human could imagine.  Where do you find the meaning of omnipotence you assume supported in scripture?  I have trouble finding much support for omnipotence in scripture period except that God can bring forth creation from nothing, can intervene in nature and work miracles, in short He is much much more capable than mankind is. 

Some human rulers are spoken of as being omnipotent by which we mean their power is not limited by courts or legislatures. 
Dave W


Tulse - #23686

July 27th 2010

gingoro writes: ” I have trouble finding much support for omnipotence in scripture period except that God can bring forth creation from nothing, can intervene in nature and work miracles, in short He is much much more capable than mankind is.”

If a creator is merely “much more capable than mankind”, then such a being is not really all that different from a super-powered alien.  Are any beings who are more powerful than humans gods?

And if a creator is not omnipotent, then that means that there is some pre-existing limit on its power, and therefore it did not create everything.  If one is to believe that the god of the Christian bible is indeed the creator of all things, it is necessary for such a being to be omnipotent, otherwise the creator did not create the limits that prevent its omnipotence.


Bernie Dehler - #23687

July 27th 2010

James said:
“1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.”

Is that like saying:

1. If Garden Fairies don’t exist, then flowers don’t grow.

Because we know that flowers grow due to garden fairies.


James - #23696

July 27th 2010

@ Bernie Dehler:

I don’t think premise 1 parallels your analogy given the fact that objective morals are valid and binding independent of human opinion. This obviously points to some type of transcendency with the best candidate being God (given that we know about the cosmological and teleological arguments- given the historicity of the risen Christ, all other arguments that support evidence for a creator God)

To consider your analogy would be to abandon science, because we know that flowers germinate, produce food through photosynthesis and grow-

To consider my premise however, we can explore what science tells us about the natural world, and deduce with what it can’t tell us… and how it only leaves room for a subjective moral code among humans… but wait! We seem to apprehend this realm of morals that are valid and binding independent of human opinion- where does this come from? What’s the simplest explanation? It’s obvious that science can only get us so far until we reach something that truly metaphysical…


merv - #23701

July 27th 2010

Greg Myers - #23599 wrote:  ” ...  it is like being forced to turn the wrong way out of the gate - making it that much harder to get to our destination.”

Greg, you have pointed out that Christians have no more foundation for any objective reality than anybody else—- or conversely that such “foundation” as we do have for any morality is common to everybody and not dependent on God.  —-all certainly true from the atheist’s perspective.

You also seem to suggest in your posts that past moral systems were inferior ... e.g.  slavery, sexism, racism, etc. that we are beginning to progress beyond now ... indeed toward some destination.  Here is (are) my question(s) for you:  On what basis can you judge one culture’s morality as better than another’s?  I’m not interested in what basis Christians allegedly DON’T have.  I want to know what you DO have.  You seem to claim an objective perch from which you can monitor what you call “progress”—- progress towards what, Greg?  Can you tell us anything about the destination you have in mind above?  Why should the morals of Greeks of thousands of years ago in their relationships between men and boys now be judged as inferior? 

—Merv


conrad - #23712

July 28th 2010

Well Merv ,....Slavery DID get worse in this country.
  There is an old slave plantation in New Orleans called “the Laura”  and they had slaves before they were a part of the USA.
The earlier slavery conditions were much milder.
No one died in slavery.
They were eventually set free with a savings account and usually moved into New Orleans at a certain age.
It was only after New Orleans became a part of the good old USA that slaves lost ALL RIGHTS!


merv - #23719

July 28th 2010

I didn’t know that, Conrad, and sadly—it’s not too surprising.

Even more broadly, I’m suspicious of the general theme that moral systems (or our adherence to them) have progressed from worse to better.  I think we do manage to give lip service to better systems today—- i.e.  we decry genocide, racism, slavery, etc.  & rightly so.  But in actual practice there are many large parts of the world today, including here in the U.S. where conditions are pretty horrible, just as they were in many parts or times of the ancient world as well.  Some of our tendency towards keeping up moral appearances is a luxury of the affluent.  In parts of the world where survival takes on larger importance, slavery and sexual exploitation are still common trade.  —and probably all the worse because of our pretension that they aren’t supposed to exist any more.

—Merv


Rob Berry - #23823

July 29th 2010

1)  What is perfection?  I don’t think perfection can be described in scientific language, yet it may “exist”

2)  Can perfection be reduced by an impact / interaction with imperfection?  I think NO

3)  Could humanity have even been created as “perfect” in the first place - if so (I muse) we would not be reading this. We would not be ... we. 

I think I am arguing that ADAM (theological, nonsensical, or historical Adam, or even humanity in general terms) was not conceivably “perfect” at creation. 

IMO, one may not move toward perfection.  It would require a new creation, or a new self, a new vessel, etc…

On a lighter note:  Plantiga’s 1st premise is not solely his work.  As discussed, if that premise is false, you’d better be part of the warrior elk or risk being on the losing side of natural selection, in which case -  your science, philosophy, and theology will only serve as a heat source for the harry guys left who populate our earth.  Unfortunately, they will probably worship something and we’ll have to start from theological scratch.


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