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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

God in Evolution

I think God is expansive and so is true religion.

Last week a good friend of mine visited the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY as part of a road trip with members of her church, and she found it really informative and, I think it's safe to say, she believes in creationism even more after visiting.

Now, I believe in evolution. 100%. I recognize that it's technically a theory and not a particularly popular one in some Christian circles but it seems to make sense and I trust the consensus of the scientific community that it's by far the best explanation available of how we are here (not why). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a true religious conservative, said in 2007 that evolution was not contradictory to faith, and that's good enough for me.

The more interesting part of the whole creationism v. evolution debate for me isn't the arguments but the premises. What are our starting points and what do we think is at stake?

On one side is the sovereignty of God and the Bible with evolution being viewed as threatening both. On the other side is a belief that man can know through the natural world our origins and and that humanity is older than the 5000 years claimed by Scripture and many years of Christian tradition. And if you believe that the Bible isn't literal in the creation story, does that open up a Pandora's box for subjective biblical  interpretation?

I don't think so. At all. But I don't condemn those who do. The friend in question is actually one of the most ardent pursuers of truth I know, and very intelligent besides. It ultimately doesn't matter whether I stand with one theory and her another. I think we're united in something more important - that what matters is whether your view of God is expansive or restrictive. And those are categories that can't be tied neatly to either creationism or evolution.

I can only speak from my own perspective here but I grew up in an unhealthy Pentecostal church that imposed all kinds of boundaries and barriers on God. God was a giant put inside a cigar box. The rules, hard-line stances, and simplicity I'm now sure were what we all do - ego games that help us feel in control and powerful. It's a much easier existence when you have absolute certainty that you know.

So many times denominations and individuals (including yours truly) simply have to know. How could we live with uncertainty or with ambiguity otherwise? Outside of the most simplistic forms of Christianity we at least recognize that faith takes an acceptance of Mystery. And faith takes not knowing, not in the sense of "believe what we tell you because you'll never understand it" but in the sense that life and struggle and purity necessarily mean a lack of certitude.

Christianity talks about the "root sin" being Pride. It was Pride that made Lucifer and 1/3 of the heavenly hosts fall. And we even label Adam & Eve's fall as the sin of pride: they wanted to be like God. But do we stop to ask, "How exactly were they trying to be like God?" They ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In essence, they committed the sin of wanting to know! They wanted God-like minds, adult minds. Fascinating that Christ implores us to be like children if we want to inherit The Kingdom, isn't it?

We have a closed fist. We need an open palm.

I'm starting to believe that when we can accept an air of mystery and are able to not know (again, not in a heady sense but in a controlling and dualistic sense), then we are really on the right path. And we're open to the infinite possibilities of our Infinite God.

Franciscan Richard Rohr uses the image of the Buddha's hands in his enneagram material. Often one of the hands is literally grounded and the other is a flat palm, raised up, and open to infinity. Grounded and yet infinite, what Rohr calls God as both "abyss" and "utter foundation".

Buddhists say the open palm isn't a symbol of being swallowed into infinity but rather of fearlessness - Abhaya - and of deep security and peace.

I think this kind of expansive God who goes beyond our cultural and human borders is what I stumbled upon in my own spiritual awakening in college. And what I think we keep stumbling upon when we embrace more and more of the Divine Mystery.

I see God in evolution. I don't think there's anything spiritually wrong with believing in a 6 day creation or in a 10,000 year old Earth. But for my part, those categories didn't help me. I found a much more expansive God without them.

If you accept popular scientific consensus that the universe is 14.5 billion years old, our solar system is 4.5 billion, life on earth 4 billion, multi-celled life about 700 million, earth after the dinosaurs about 65 million, and actual human history 200,000 years old, then isn't God even more of an infinite mystery? If you take all of this history, Christ-as-man appears at the last possible moment in the last possible second, in the last scene of the last act of an incredibly elaborate, seemingly infinite story.

That God makes himself/herself known in only the last 5,000 years of this timeline would indeed be a problem. But if we believe that Christ is the Word and that all matter and form were made through him, then Christ is a revelation not 5,000 years in the making but 14.5 billion! Our knowing of God is evolving. If anyone can even begin to wrap their head around that, they should instantly be proclaimed a saint because such knowledge would be absolutely transformative.

I don't hold that everyone needs to believe in evolution. Those either/or categories of "doing it right" just aren't that helpful at the end of the day. It's really about an expansive view of God and God being more than we can ever know and bulging beyond our cigar box. "He's not a tame lion" as C. S. Lewis put it and we need to stop pretending that because we've fashioned a whip, God will jump through our hoops and never stray outside.

Whatever you believe, let's have an expanding view of God and find more room than we can ever hope for in that Vastness.

Related Posts:
The Real and True Enemy
Of Saints and Halos
Where is God, the Right or the Left?


  1. Sam,

    I could be reading your post too quickly, however, I think it is important to make your premises very clear:

    1. Who is expansive? God? Humans (Christians)? Both?
    2. Though Christ is the Logos - the agent of creation along with the Father and the Spirit - and the "spermatic Word" (-> Justin Martyr) is found in all of creation (matter, ideals/forms/philosophy) b/c in him we live and move and have our being, all things are IN HIM and can grow "expand" in our knowledge and being IN HIM. But because he penetrates all reality does not mean that his being is ever becoming. If our universe is expanding, and we believe that it is, it is WE who change.
    3. Therefore, is he immutable? Your post seems to imply that he isn't.

    I haven't done a lot of reading along these lines, but your perspective here reminds me of Tielhard de Chardin whose teachings were largely condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.


  2. allow me to clarify: I should say that SOME of what you have said here reminds me of de Chardin. my comment previous would insinuate that I have lumped you in along with him. I am asking for clarification.


  3. Let me preface all of this with "though I've studied theology, I'm obviously not a theologian." But to answer your questions:

    1. "Who is expansive?" Not who but *what*. The "what" that is expanding is our understanding of God. To see God as Mystery means, I think, to be open to our own view of God expanding. The mere fact that we have knowledge of evolution, in contrast to most Christians throughout history, means that we can learn something revelatory about God through it. It's adding to our understanding (which can always increase) and not changing God in my view.
    2. This is a great point. I would not say that Christ was ever-becoming either. But as you stated much better than I could, Christ is and always has been present in creation. The climax of that revelation was the Incarnation and Resurrection. I agree with you.
    3. I don't think God is mutable and I hope that was clear to others. But we certainly are. I simply question the view that claims because we have developed Christology and other theologies that the depth of our understanding can never change. I wonder if these theologies, properly done, should have a paradoxical effect. They should both clarify and give us categories and yet deepen mystery and force us to admit our categories are so often inadequate.

    I appreciate that yours is a theological and classically trained perspective because I can't offer that. But I hope this clarified my meaning(?). Also, I'm only very vaguely familiar with Teilhard and I can't claim to be like or unlike him at this point.

  4. There's so much I want to say in response to this. I think what I love best about your blog is that sometimes it makes me angry because I disagree so ardently... and other times it makes me want to shout with delight. And sometimes those feelings are present in the same post.

    First of all, I love that you call God expansive. Heck, the universe itself is expanding (ostensibly because God wanted it that way, or maybe because that's the only way it could be as a thing created and inhabited by God). I love that you don't see biblical/doctrinal conflict with the "old universe" model. I agree 100%. An old universe does nothing to undermine God's infinite majesty, and does everything to confirm it. Faith is not about believing in the unseeable, it's about trusting in it.

    I disagree with a minor point you made... the one about the nature Adam and Eve's sin. You say that their act was one of trying to become "like God" or more specifically like "adults." I agree with that. But aren't we called and commanded to godliness? Yes, that act was one of disobedience, but it ultimately set into motion the covenants and the Law and ultimately the fulfillment of the Law (Christ), which appears to have been the plan all along (if Christ was truly "with God in the beginning"). I'm not really talking about fate or causal determinism as much as I'm just asking what is good for humanity? Knowing or unknowing? God had to punish his children for their disobedience because he is just, but how many human parents wouldn't be a little disappointed if their child never showed enough curiosity to get in trouble?

    I know this is sticky stuff. Probably heretical. But I wonder if God DOES want us to know more. Maybe he does want us to be like him. Maybe he does want us to be "adults." A child, even as an adult, is still a child of his or her parents. But there comes a point when that child matures—"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." If we are the bride of Christ, doesn't that mean that we've left our Father's house? That we're adults now?

    As for the immutability of God... well, he may be immutable in terms of his nature or his desires. But certainly not in his behavior, at least not in human terms. The very existence of the new covenant precludes immutability because it is a paradigm shift. God changed the way he viewed humanity. He changed the way he judges us. And he asked us to change the way we live in response. And that's demanding, and as you say, expansive.

    1. I still maintain that God is immutable, even in his behavior. But I don't particularly care for a "Jesus as satisfaction for God's justice/wrath" view of the atonement. That's not to say you're arguing that but many people who agree God changed the way he judged and interacted with us do believe it.

      I wonder if the knowing we're talking about is all that clear. My own definition isn't sharply defined. To be more Godlike, in a sense, I do think is a point of human life. It's holiness. And holiness from seeing and knowing God and not from rule following. But I think this is different from the sort of judgment associated with Eden and God's knowledge of good and evil. That judgment is absolute and ultimately God's. We have to discern for ourselves on earth - what you call being like an adult - but it's not an absolute claim to judgment. At least I don't think so.